Monday, 30th October 2017

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Soaring high at Araku Hot Air Balloon Festival 2019

The 2nd edition of Araku Balloon Festival, packed in a lot of thrills

By Malancha Dasgupta
  • Published 30.05.19, 2:57 PM
  • Updated 30.05.19, 2:57 PM
  • 4 mins read
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Many of us have been to Araku Valley but have you ever got a bird’s-eye view of the picturesque valley? I was lucky enough to have got the opportunity earlier this year, when I hopped onto a hot air balloon for the first time in my life and sailed on the skies above Araku. Needless to say, it was an experience that left a lasting impression on my mind.

From balloon flights and paramotoring displays to balloon night glows and tethered flights, the second edition of Araku Balloon Festival, organised by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism, packed in a lot of thrills. 

Borra Caves
Borra Caves

Local touch

We took a flight to Vizag and drove down to Araku. Before we reached our destination, we visited the famous Borra Caves. Honestly, the look of the caves, which has got a makeover, did not impress me much, but its history did. Located 90km north of Visakhapatnam, in the Ananthagiri Hill ranges of the Eastern Ghats, the Borra Caves was discovered by a British geologist, William King, in 1807. It is said that apparently the Borra Caves were formed naturally 150 million years ago.

Just after coming out of the cave, Bamboo Chicken, a local dish, caught my attention. The place is lined with small shacks cooking Bamboo Chicken, also called Bongu Chicken.

The stay

The night we reached Araku, it was extremely cold and all we could see was fog in the valley. We were put up in luxury camps and were provided with electric blankets to keep ourselves warm.

Luxury tents
Luxury tents
Bamboo Chicken: Chicken was wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed inside bamboo, which was smoked on charcoal flame. Once cooked, the chicken was cut into small pieces and served with onion and lime.
Bamboo Chicken: Chicken was wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed inside bamboo, which was smoked on charcoal flame. Once cooked, the chicken was cut into small pieces and served with onion and lime.

The ride

I was super excited for my first experience in a hot air balloon. I woke up early in the morning, my eyes full of dreams of soaring high on the Araku sky riding on big balloons waiting for us to climb in. When we reached the ground, the picture, however, was a little different. There were deflated balloons lying flat on the ground and the captains were trying to fill them with gas. This takes a long time and it doesn’t happen in a jiffy, I learnt. As soon as the gas began to fill balloons, they rose like giant puppets. The basket below the balloon was held onto the ground with thick ropes. We were given our boarding pass, which was thrilling in itself.

Once we climbed onto our respective baskets, our adventure started. As soon as our balloon started gently floating hundreds of feet over the land, the valley slowly came into focus, with the early morning sun falling on our faces. We stood there clicking pictures and listening to the sounds of the burners firing up and filling our balloon with air.

The hot air balloon ride depends on the day’s weather conditions. We were lucky to get the perfect weather — a little wind that gave us the necessary push to soar high but not too windy to make the ride uncomfortable.

We landed quite easily, too, and before touching the ground we saw villagers, both old and young, running towards us. We took pictures with them before our car picked us up from our landing spot.

Tethered hot air balloon
Tethered hot air balloon

The night glow

For those who were not as lucky as me, Andhra Pradesh Tourism had organised tethered hot-air balloon rides. Here the rider climbs on to the basket and the balloon hovers a few feet above the ground for several minutes, but does not fly.

Like the start of my trip, it ended with a local flavour too. This time it was the local dance. Groups of young girls danced around a bonfire and before I knew, I found myself matching steps with them.

t2 caught up with two aerosport enthusiasts

Julien Marionnet
Julien Marionnet

Julien Marionnet from Spain

Aerosport: Paramotoring

The journey: I started paragliding from the age of 20. I used to see my friends paraglide and that attracted me. I started to go on flights with them and then got into a paragliding and paramotoring school in Europe. I studied paragliding and then got into paramotoring.

Each flight I have taken has been different because every time you are paragliding, you see new things. You stay away from all the problems and the reality. You get to make a connection with nature but, of course, when you discover a new landscape, it becomes even more enjoyable.

The flight at Araku: I have come to India quite a few times but this is my first time at Araku. The fog makes a huge difference here. When you wake up, the visibility is really poor but gradually you start seeing the trees and the depth of the valley. Surfing is mesmerising as you get to see the transformation happening in the morning.

We took off from the helipad to escort all the balloons. With these flights, the more time you travel the more you get to see.

Araku Balloon Festival is amazing. The passion of flight could gather so many people is something unique.

Udit Thapar and Rashi Gupta
Udit Thapar and Rashi Gupta

Udit Thapar from Delhi

Aerosport: Hot air balloon

The journey: I am an airline pilot but before that I got into hot air balloon and I am also into parashooting and skydiving. In 2005, I was exposed to hot air balloon for the first time and in 2008 I got the balloon pilot license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Indian regulator, the DGCA. I had my license but no one would allow me to fly their balloon as I had no experience. So I went ahead and bought my own balloons and the journey has been non-stop since then. I am a hobby pilot and I don’t fly passengers. I have about 70 hours of ballooning to my credit right now.

A memorable flight: I proposed to my wife, Rashi Gupta, on my balloon and that was my best flight. This was in my farm, which is 106km north-west of Delhi.

The challenges: It’s really hard in the Indian regulatory framework to do something that I have done. I was already an airline pilot, so I was fairly acquainted with the rules and regulations. It will be great if there are more pilots who like flying balloons as a hobby because that is the best way to enjoy the sport. For commercial pilots who fly passengers, it’s just a job, but for us it’s passion. If we have more private pilots then there will be an environment where balloon flying will be a common phenomenon all over the country. 

We loved these cute balloons...

Joker: Lubor Lelovits from Slovakia took charge of this balloon.
Joker: Lubor Lelovits from Slovakia took charge of this balloon.
Hatched Egg: Mees Van Dijk from Netherlands flew this balloon.
Hatched Egg: Mees Van Dijk from Netherlands flew this balloon.
Bumble Bee: Francisco Naccaratio from Brazil was in control of this balloon.
Bumble Bee: Francisco Naccaratio from Brazil was in control of this balloon.
Baby’s Day Out: Jose Eduardo Alves De Souza from Brazil was the pilot.
Baby’s Day Out: Jose Eduardo Alves De Souza from Brazil was the pilot. Pictures: Malancha Dasgupta