26.10.2011,Â Jaipur was celebrating Diwali… and we celebrated it in a different way. We went Ballooning !
There are very few places in India where Ballooning happens regularly; luckily Jaipur is one of them. Since Ballooning requires favorable wind conditions and relatively plain land to operate safely, it is a seasonal activity and is conducted for around six months every year. Depending on the deal you can negotiate and the discounts you get, a one hour balloon flight comes to around Rs.7500 per person; (Including pick-up and drop to your residence.)
“What plans for Diwali ?” Sangeetha asked.
“Well, let me plan something… we’ll go somewhere”
Since it would be a long weekend, most of the popular tourist spots would be crowded. Besides, I wanted it to be something special !… where to go? what to do ?
Sometime in 2009, when we were planning to drive to Rajasthan from Bangalore, we had done quite a bit of research on the things to see and do in Jaipur. So I vaguely remembered that Ballooning was conducted in few places in Rajasthan. Did some googling and got the contact details. Called up the Skywaltz folks and luckily enough, there were three seats vacant in the 26th October launch. Made the payments and reserved our seats.
“So, what plans ?”
“Well, it is a surprise”
“At least give me a hint !”
“Nope, just trust me.. you’ll like it”
The previous evening, told Sangeetha that we would have to leave early in the morning… she was really curious by now and started asking a lot of questions… Do I have to pack anything ? Will we need to carry our sleeping bags ? What footwear should I wear ? Will I need a hat ?… and I dropped quite a few hints. Finally she guessed it ! We are going Ballooning !!
The pick-up jeep reached our apartments at around 5.30am. We were the first pickup. Next stop was at a hotel to pickup two German ladies. The driver quickly made his way through the early morning traffic in the old city and headed out towards the Delhi road.
After a few kilometers, he took a diversion into the fields and proceeded towards the launch ground.
The balloons were being prepared for launch.
Tea and snacks were served while we watched the balloons being inflated…
Four Balloons were being launched that day, each with a capacity to carry 8 passengers and the pilot.
Within a few minutes, we were ready to takeoff !
The pre-take off briefing had been completed and we wriggled into the baskets before the balloon got fully inflated and within minutes we were ascending rapidly…
Since Balloons don’t have any directional control, the breeze decided the direction and speed of our flight… The pilot can only control the altitude. The max altitude we flew up to that day was around 500 mts.
Down below, the support vehicles were tracking the direction of our flight and were chasing to be there when we landed.
As we flew over the villages, the kids would get super excited to see the balloons !
Families would run up to their roof tops to gawk at the sight of the balloons floating by…
Though all the balloons started together, after about 20 minutes, they were all at least a couple of kilometers apart…
A curious buffalo
Soon, it was almost an hour and the balloon which was flying alongside found a good place to land.
Unfortunately for the pilot (fortunately for us ), our balloon was not positioned for a safe landing and the pilot had to gain altitude since we were over a village…
What was to be a one hour flight would get extended by another 30 minutes…
We flew over a few more villages, but there were no good landing spots since there were high-tension electric wires crisscrossing the landscape.
More happy families !
Finally we found a good landing spot and descended rapidly. The cattle grazing below were startled by the huge thing coming down on them and started running in all directions. Literally !
We braced ourselves for a rough landing and bang! we were on the ground. It was exactly 1 hour and 31 minutes since we took off.
Bill, the pilot, got onto the walkie-talkie and gave our coordinates to the support vehicles. After around 15 – 20 minutes, the vehicles reached our landing spot. We thanked the pilot for a wonderful experience and boarded the jeep for the drive back to home.
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