A taste of the skies with balloon rides in Araku

In a multi-mosaic world A hot air balloon makes an attempt to land in the lush fields during the Araku Balloon Festival   | Photo Credit: Nivedita Ganguly

There was a splash of colours – of rolling greens, dazzling yellow and meandering roads. Then, we saw a herd of something moving – more ambling than running. From a couple of thousand feet above sea level perched in a floating hot air balloon, whatever we were looking at appeared as small as farmyard toys below us.

We were up in the grey skies of Araku Valley, the quaint hill station about 120 km from Visakhapatnam, over the verdant hills and caressing breeze of the Eastern Ghats as I take my first balloon flight at the Araku Balloon Festival.

Romantic journey

We had taken off from a flat area near Bosebeda village, on way to Araku. In a basket barely enough to squeeze in two medium-built individuals with two cylinders placed in corners, the cheerful yellow balloon piloted by the charming Atiqah Khairudin from Malaysia kissed the cloudy skies minutes after it flew off the ground. It was a little chilly thousands of feet up and the views were nothing less than spectacular. But the best word to describe the short but exciting experience was gentle – a gently anxious take-off, gentle floating flight and a mildly edgy, gentle touchdown in a random farm field, a few kilometres away from the take-off site. Atiqah tells me that that hot air balloons are often a place where many a romance blooms where a brave boyfriend pops the question! “Sometimes, it is also a way to rekindle a lost love story where older couples come and renew their vows,” she adds.

Nature’s gems

As we silently float over fields of yellow niger flowers, interspersed with navigating streams and green valleys, Atiqah looks down and exclaims: “This is the most picturesque vista from the ultimate vantage point — the air!” The windy skies make me a bit nervous, but the pilot assures me that it is going to be the most exciting experience of my life. Hot air balloon rides are determined by the wind direction and it is often the call of the pilots whether at all to embark on the journey in the skies, how long to carry on and when to start the descend. Araku’s proximity to the Odisha border, a region known for Naxalite activity, and the direction of winds was a bit of deterrent. But the first day’s airborne journey, though for a short time, unravelled the beauty of Araku in ways never discovered before! “That’s the charm of going on a hot air balloons. You stumble upon the rarest of nature’s gems where no cars, helicopters or any other modes of transport can take you,” remarks Atiqah, almost reading my mind.

The first day of the event gave the organisers and pilots some nerve-wracking moments. With weather predictions indicating rainy days ahead, they launched a helium balloon to determine the wind direction. The smiles on the faces of the team of world’s most experienced pilots who arrived in the valley from 13 countries removed all apprehensions. And soon with favourable wind conditions, they unravelled and inflated 16 balloons, including three specially shaped ones - seahorse Neptuno, Iwi the Kiwi and Bee.

Panoramic view

As my journey in the skies almost nears an end, Atiqah says, “This beautiful piece of jewel is such a discovery for balloon pilots. It can be a great way to showcase its beauty to people who want to experience the grand panoramic view from the hot air balloon.” As we sail over the tribal hamlets and agricultural fields, all around us the sky fills with more hot air balloons looking like tiny dots of colourful confetti.

The winds have stabilised a bit, but the next challenge is to find a spot to land. Each balloonist has two radio sets — one for the pilot and the other for the staff below. While I find myself immersed in the magical scenes unfolding before me, Atiqah gets ready to land and sends a message from her radio set. “The most different way to fly a hot air balloon is to fly low and the most challenging part is to get a deal landing,” says the confident young pilot. By now, the winds have again picked up pace. Beneath us, there are just fields of yellow niger fields. As she prepares for the final part of the landing, I can sense a slight anxiety in her voice. “We are heading for a bit of an adventurous landing this time. Just hold on!” she instructs.

While I tightly fix myself to the corner of the basket, the balloon makes quite a strong impact on the field as we hit the ground. For a second, my heart is in my mouth. Within no time, my anxiety meets the curious, excited faces of the villagers from the neighbouring tribal hamlet who run towards us to greet us with a warm hello. “This is the best part of ballooning. Wherever you land, you are always welcomed with such warmth,” remarks Atiqah, while we both get hold of the rope to pull the dazzling yellow balloon to the ground.

(Araku Balloon Festival was an initiative of AP Tourism in association with E-Factor and SkyWaltz)

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 12:17:10 AM |

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