Man is rebellious by nature. He wants to defy gravity—fly, levitate, touch the sky. While parasailing and paragliding have already gained popularity in India, joining these high flyers is hot air ballooning.
28-year-old Anand Sukumar from Delhi took a hot air balloon flight two years ago, the occasion was special—he was proposing to his then girlfriend and now wife—but he insists that the experience itself is was very special. “We went for a morning flight at Manesar. The top view of the sunrise, feeling the air at that level and being surrounded by nature was all amazing. You feel really close to nature. Although you can do it alone for the kicks, it’s the kind of special thing you would really enjoy as a couple, with family or friends,” Sukumar says.
The experience is different from paragliding or parasailing, he explains, “In other rides there is a particular route to be taken and you may feel some tension if you’re flying alone. Whereas, in a hot air balloon ride you’re in the air for about 45 minutes, a crew of four to five accompanies you, the slow pace of the flight allows you to take in everything and you can move around in the basket to look out from the angle you wish.”
Although commercial hot air ballooning flights are not uncommon in Kenya, Turkey, Egypt, California, New Zealand, Australia, France and several other places around the world, the trend caught up India in 2008. Currently only two organizations in the country have Director General Civil Association (DGCA) licenses to conduct commercial flights and these flights don’t come cheap.
In India cost of ‘free flights’, in which the balloon is suspended in the air for 45-60 minutes to an altitude of 350-400 meters, ranges between Rs. 25000 to Rs. 30000 for a couple, or Rs.10000 per head for a group of more than five. A tethered flight, in which the balloon is tied to the ground and rises to about 200 meters, varies because it is organised for large groups and the time passengers want to spend in the air is a determiner too. But for every 10 minute ride you will pay in the range of Rs.1800-Rs.2400. The equipment and passengers are insured.
AGM of Sky Waltz, a licensed Hot Air Ballooning company, Gagan Kapoor says, “The main cost in hot air ballooning is gas and salaries to pilots who are professionals from UK, USA and India.”
Sky Waltz is based in Jaipur, they have been conducting flights on request in Pushkar during the festival, Jodhpur, Ranthambore, Neemrana and Manesar and Tiger India Safari, another licensed group usually does tethered flights in Pench, Madhya Pradesh, where it is based but can also conducts free flights or tethered flights at other locations on request.
43-year-old Ashish Gupta who went for a tethered flight shares his experience, “We got about 10 minutes in the air. It took time for the balloon to rise because we had to wait for the wind to become still, but what I wasn’t expecting was the blast of hot air which operators keep increasing and decreasing to go up or down. I don’t know whether better balloons are available but it must be difficult for those who spend days in them to travel around. ”
Would he have been better off without the experience?
“No it’s a new experience and I didn’t even think maybe I shouldn’t have done it. But I just didn’t expect the heat.”
26-year-old Udaibhan Singh, who also went for a tethered flight, faced the heat too, but that didn’t seem to bother him much. He says, “When the ride starts you have to bend down because operators blow heat to make the balloon rise. Once you’re up you don’t feel it, because there’s a lot of air. We had good guides and were briefed about everything in advance and overall the concept was great. I haven’t done other airborne adventure sports but I really loved being in the air and watching the expanse of the beautiful Pench Jungle, given a chance I would happily do it again.”
Choice of locations, which seem to have concentration in northern parts of the country, is not arbitrary. Kapoor says, “Indians who can spend will go for Hot Air Ballooning during their trips abroad. Therefore, we first set up this activity in Jaipur, which attracts a lot of foreign tourists and who will enjoy flying in its scenic background. They currently make for 80% of our clients. And it’s easier to do hot air ballooning in the north because this activity requires cold and stable weather.”
On the other hand Abhishek Agarwal of Tiger India Balloons says, “We manage to get a good number of local clients at our resort in Pench and about 10% of our total passengers are foreigners. “ Children below five and pregnant women are not allowed but there is no upper limit but for free flights. All that the passenger needs is the stamina to stand for an hour and the sense o f wonder to enjoy the view from the top.
Tiger Balloon Safaris