The much-awaited second edition of the Araku Balloon Festival has been flagged off in style. From painting the skies with spectacular balloons to thrilling the participants with bewitching sights, the three-day fest has much in store. Akshaya Nori, who was in Araku to be a part of the carnival, brings you his experience of the extravaganza.
“Starting off from Vizag, I had one thought in mind: How cold will it be in Araku? Snaking up the windy ghat roads, I could tell the welcoming chills of the hilly region. The trees, the greenery, the enchanting views and of course, the army of monkeys were all hinting to me at what was in store.
The coffee stalls on the Araku road, run by the local tribals, were a welcome break on this journey. It was 6 pm when I reached the camping site at the Araku Balloon Festival. The well laid out campsite, accommodating 75 tents, as compared to the 42 tents that were installed last year, was a sight to be seen.
Each tent was as good as any luxurious stay, equipped with comfortable four-poster beds, side tables and chairs. And not to forget the heater pads for semi-frozen souls like me. We then moved to the dining tent for dinner.
My dinner experience was as relishing as the food. I had the opportunity of meeting some of the international flight specialists. These were the hot air balloon pilots and paragliding experts. The intricacies of the venue (accommodation, security etc) and the flights’ schedule of the next day, were part of the discussions.
As the cold was setting in, I wore layered clothing and set in for a night that was chilly and we were off to sleep.
We were happy to hear we didn’t have to get up early. The fog was a bit of a hindrance for the flights to take off early. So, we were asked to be at the breakfast table by 7:30 am. We then got ready to get to NTR gardens, the designated take off-site.
The site of the balloons was a feast to the eyes. We were clicking pictures and we could see many bystanders watch the blown up balloons take off.
Apart from the normally shaped balloons, the special ones included a bee, a baby in a car, a clown and a duck. There was another balloon, called “The Friendship Balloon”, that featured a world map on it.
This special balloon intends to promote friendship and establish long-lasting relationships between people of different countries. Brought to the fore as a “Handover Balloon”, this special balloon is shared among different pilots worldwide, who would note the details of their flight before handing it over to the successor. Apparently, “The Friendship Balloon” aims at setting a new Guinness World Record by having been flown by the largest number of different pilots and only once each time.
I got the privilege to take a flight with “The Friendship Balloon”, which was being flown by an Australian Pilot. As the balloon soared high, we reached a height of 4,000 feet above the ground and the sight below was nothing less than breathtaking. The barren lands, the Vistadome train, cattle rearing, and some villagers waving to us was a spectacular sight to see.
On the other hand, my colleague flew in a balloon with a Malaysian Pilot. Visiting India for the first time, the Pilot was visibly impressed by the spectacle on offer. He also opined that given the vast open lands in Araku, the place can prove to be an ideal host for events such as the Araku Balloon Festival.
After being enthralled all through the flight, we set in for the landing. The landing was an experience in itself. We were told how to brace ourselves as per safety regulations. It was a bumpy yet very safe landing. Our balloon landed in the middle of the fields as the villagers came out running. They graciously helped us in getting out of the balloon, whilst the kids enjoyed watching us land.
All in all, this was an exhilarating experience… of great heights!”