Whilst in Jaipur, I was offered an amazing opportunity – the chance to fly in a hot air balloon. I’ve never done it before so of course, I jumped at it. I was picked up at 5.15am which was a bit of a rude awakening seeing as I’d only got in at 1.30am from the party the night before! We drove for about half an hour out of the city to the site they had selected for today’s flight. The balloon company are constantly monitoring the winds and had been flying “test balloons” since 4am in order to establish the best place from which to take off. They hadn’t been able to fly the previous two mornings and were keen to get the balloons off the ground today for a group consisting mostly of hosted travel professionals to whom they were keen to promote the experience.
So, as we were driving out of Jaipur there was still the chance that we would have to turn back. But as we pulled off the road, we were told that conditions were good and they were preparing the balloons! After a safety briefing mainly about the crouching position we were to take when we came to land, the balloons were starting to be inflated and we were told which balloon we should head for once we were given the word. There were 12 people, 6 in each of the two balloons. Once the balloons were inflated, we were told to go and climb into the baskets.
Before long, the ground crew had released the balloon and we were floating up, up and across the Rajasthani countryside. The pilots normally try to fly the balloons over the Amber Fort which would have been pretty cool but because of the initial uncertainty over whether we would fly at all, they decided to play it safe to ensure we got up in the air. It was still an amazing experience. You don’t fly very high and can still see clearly everything that is going on below – all the curious villagers looking up and as you fly over the rural houses you can see down inside as they tend to be walled courtyards with open-air living so you could see people getting up from their beds! The peace and quiet and floating high is broken fairly regularly with the bursts of the burner which is fairly loud but you soon get used to it. It’s also very hot! 6am in Rajasthan at this time of year is a pleasant temperate climate but heat from the flame took the temperature to well over 40 degrees – in fact, it must have been over 50 degrees as it was 42 degrees during the day and my skin didn’t feel like it was being grilled like it did from the burner! The flight lasted just under an hour and we landed in a field near a village. As instructed, we crouched down with our backs against the side of the basket – back towards the direction we were landing so that if the basket tips over, you supposedly just end up lying on your back in a curled up position. I was expecting the landing to be bumpy but it was very smooth and gentle and most importantly, upright! As we were coming down, we could see all the villagers running towards the balloon and when we landed they crowded around us – they have only been flying balloons in India for a few months and it is still a huge novelty for villagers to see the balloons.
Before all too long I was heading back to my hotel to quickly pack before my 8.30am departure for the airport for a less exciting kind of flight back to Kathmandu.
Breathing life into the balloon
Flying over the Rajasthani desert
A birds-eye view from the balloon
Curious villagers coming to greet the balloon