Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival begins in Pollachi

The Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival, a three-day carnival in Pollachi, showcases hot-air balloons from across the globe  

January 14, 2023 06:19 pm | Updated June 08, 2023 11:21 am IST

Colourful balloons paint the Pollachi sky

Colourful balloons paint the Pollachi sky | Photo Credit: PERIASAMY M

“The first rule of ballooning,” pilot Koen Audenaert from Belgium says, “is to forget all your troubles and enjoy the views.” As he speaks, the wicker basket in which we stand, that is attached to a 100-foot-tall hot-air balloon, begins to rise, powered by a blast of flame from its propane burner. Before long, we are skimming over green treetops in Pollachi, located 45 kilometres from Coimbatore. One thousand feet up, just after dawn, we have a 360-degree view of the misty Pollachi landscape laid out with rows and rows of coconut groves shimmering in the morning light. Startled by the balloon, a dog gives out a loud cry, soon interrupted by the distant call of a peacock. “Ballooning is the nicest way to see the world. It is the wind that decides what you get to see. It is never organised. You cannot steer and control the direction and therein lies the adventure. You just go with the flow. It’s a natural way of moving, what nature tells you to do, unpredictable but not dangerous.”

Farmers in the villages below seem awestruck by a giant hot-air balloon above their farms, and wave at the passengers and the pilot. After a 45-minute ride, the balloon lands with a thud. As many as 12 balloons, from Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, France, Thailand, Vietnam and the United Kingdom are parked at Right Kongu City, Achipatti on Pollachi Main Road as the eighth edition of the three-day Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival (TNIBF) takes off from January 13.

As many as 12 balloons are parked at the International Balloon Festival in Pollachi

As many as 12 balloons are parked at the International Balloon Festival in Pollachi | Photo Credit: PERIASAMY M

“This event is a family carnival. Visitors can also see the Tamil Nadu Tourism balloon,” says Sandeep Nanduri, managing director of Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) adding that it is being promoted on a big scale to attract tourists. “In countries like Mexico and the US, almost 150 to 200 balloons fly at the same time. When an event of such scale happens, the economy benefits from the multiplier effect with an increased inflow of tourists. We are showcasing the balloons as an entertainment option coupled with events like music festival, and kids carnival as it’s a long holiday weekend for Pongal.”

The objective is to put Pollachi on the tourism map. “If you want to fly a hot air balloon, come to Pollachi,” says Benedict Savio, founder, TNIBF and director, Global Media Box adding that 12 pilots from 10 countries are visiting Pollachi to fly these balloons.

Balloons over the treetops in Pollachi

Balloons over the treetops in Pollachi | Photo Credit: PERIASAMY M

A hot-air balloon is similar to an aircraft, and is made by companies that manufacture aircraft with the permission of the civil aviation authority. “Airport and ATC clearances are mandatory. The ocation has to be 40 kilometres away from the airport. Balloons adventure sport can take off only after getting all the legalities and certificates. Similar to an aircraft, there is a tail number to every balloon, and the pilots are basically aircraft pilots,” adds Benedict.

While these colourful travel balloons that fly at various festivals across the world can accommodate a maximum of two passengers on board, the passenger safari rides can take up to eight passengers. “We are planning to have regular ballooning activity,” says Benedict who has been in the field for 15 years and offers consulting for balloon festival tourism in Thailand and Taiwan. “At the festival, anyone can come and watch the balloons. It’s a spectator event for the public. We are planning a tethered experience in the evening.”

International pilots operate the balloons  at the festival

International pilots operate the balloons at the festival | Photo Credit: PERIASAMY M

Through the fest, they also plan to educate the public on how hot air balloon works as an entertainment option with limitations. “The balloon festival in Pollachi is a tradition and we are taking it to a bigger scale,” adds Sandeep Nanduri.

“Flying is possible here because of the open spaces and a picturesque location. In 2021, Tamil Nadu topped in terms of tourist inflows, both domestic and international. Tourists are discerning and we have to constantly provide new experiences. Coimbatore is an important city after Chennai, and its proximity to tourist places like Pollachi and Udhagamandalam is an advantage. We are adding coastal tourism, adventure tourism, and plantation tourism.”

Throwing more light on hot air balloons, Koen, who has flown many times across Africa, European countries, the Philippines, and Thailand, says it is not dangerous as long as one flies in the right weather conditions and is backed by a professional on-ground team. “If you are patient, you will always find a place to land. Today, my first flight here in Pollachi is unforgettable.”

The festival is on till January 15. Follow @tnibf on Instagram for more details

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