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Around the world in 20 days

A ride in hot air balloon is just as easy as chewing an iron ball, yet it is a possibility with Bernard Piccard, the world's first man to circumnavigate the globe in a record time. In Delhi this week as a UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador, he helps explore many an adventure tale. RANA A. SIDDIQUI reports... .

Photos: S.Subramanium.

A word for goodwill: Bertrand Piccard, Lara Dutta and Vishwa Bandhu Gupta. Photos: S.Subramanium.

THREE GAS cylinders, one burner, 3 full size ropes and four rods, a plywood base and a basket of leather border - was all that made `Thunder 140', a balloon of 3, 400 cubic meter size, weighing 9, 200 kg. A balloon that had one important man taking ride at Ballooning Club of India near Damdama Lake at Haryana this week. Bertrand Piccard, the world's first man to circumnavigate the globe non-stop in a hot air balloon in a record time and also United Nations Populations Fund's Good Will Ambassador to India.

In India to raise public awareness about reproductive health and other social issues like gender equity along with Lara Dutta, former Miss India, also an UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador, Piccard unravelled many interesting incidents that this adventure and "philosophical sport" as he puts it, unfolds.

A balloon promise: Bertrand Piccard with `Thunder 140'- hot air balloon at the back drop

Piccard, who broke the world record by being the first and only man to have a non-stop-round-the-world balloon flight in March 1999, in 19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes flying 45,775 kilometres, has an altogether different outlook about balloon adventure. "It is not a planned sport. Here, there is no predefined destinations where you fly. You only adapt," he informs. A balloon pilot is hung in the air if the whether conditions or the wind flow is unfavourable. "In this sport, I can't say that I have to go that side like on road, water or air. Here, it is the direction of the wind that determines the move. We have to change our direction with great difficulty in case an altitude problem emerges. The helium gas filled inside balloon helps change the direction".

Piccard, for whom, it is "just a hobby" being from an illustrious family lineage of aero-sciences, says that sometimes it is very difficult to get permission from a country like China to fly over their country. "It takes two years to get permission", he informs.

Unfortunately in India, there are ample balloon events like India International Balloon Mela, inflated balloon structures at sports and kid-oriented but no adventure sports for reasons many. "It is a very tight, compact, small and elite community. Moreover, in India, we depend on weather conditions to take this adventurous game. Because this sport needs winters and our country mostly have hot or moderate weather," says Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, the first Indian hot air balloon pilot having an experience of 30 summers in flying at national and international events and a record holder in highest Indian altitude reach. Though he agrees that India has passenger and sports fly through hot air balloon but the sport has not been elevated commercially. "It needs a big operation," he says.

For those interested to become a balloon pilot, the eligible age of getting licence is 16 years.

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