When hot-air balloons bloomed in Araku Valley

Ananya Revanna Chennai | Updated on January 09, 2018

Neptuno, the seahorse, lit up during the night tether at the three-day balloon festival in Araku Valley. NIVEDITA GANGULY   -  Nivedita Ganguly

India’s first balloon festival showcases skills of pilots from 13 countries

The greying skies of Araku Valley, near Visakhapatnam, came alive this week as colourful hot-air balloons from around the world floated hundreds of feet off the ground at the first Araku Balloon Festival.

Experienced pilots from 13 countries – Australia, New Zealand, France, Malaysia, Belgium, the US, Italy, Brazil, the Philippines, Switzerland, Spain, South Korea and India – navigated the Eastern Ghats in Andhra Pradesh to get a spectacular view of the lush green terrain.

Breathtaking view

The bright yellow of niger flowers and the golden brown of freshly harvested paddy complemented the dark forest green, painting a picturesque view as people bobbed along the valley. Hundreds of people from Visakhapatnam and the surrounding villages of Araku came to watch the take-offs and night tethers (when balloons are tied to the ground and lit up at night) from November 14 to 16.

Organised by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department and E-Factor’s SkyWaltz, an adventure tourism company, the balloon festival was the first of its kind in India. So far, most ballooning in the country has been restricted to dry, flat lands in Jaipur, Pushkar and Agra.

The first day of the event was nerve-wracking for the organisers and pilots as they launched a helium balloon to determine the wind direction. With favourable wind conditions, they unravelled and inflated 16 balloons, including three specially shaped ones. The seahorse Neptuno, Iwi the Kiwi and Bee were the star attractions at the night tethers.

Led by instinct

New Zealander Rick Astral, owner of Iwi the Kiwi, said that the wind conditions were perfect for flying, but the hilly area made landing a challenge. “While people these days use fancy equipment to help them fly, I rely on my instinct,” he says. In fact, most pilots at the festival relied on their instinctive ability to read the winds.

While Araku is a beautiful location, its proximity to the Odisha border acted as a dampener. Most rides didn’t last for more than 10 minutes as the winds blew the balloons in the direction of the State, close to a region known for Naxalite activity.

Along with flights and tethers, visitors got a chance to enjoy the culture of the unexplored region. Visits to the Borra caves, the Tribal Museum, Chaparai and the numerous other waterfalls of the valley were part of the experience. Dimsa dancers showcased their talents at night.

(The writer was in Araku Valley at the invitation of E-Factor and AP Tourism Department)

Published on November 16, 2017

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