Flashback to a theatre in Pune, year 2009. The movie Up played on screen and with my eyes wide open, I nurtured a dream of flying in a hot air balloon just like the protagonist of this evergreen movie. Turns out, dreams do come true, the Universe does conspire to make them a reality, if only you believe in them with all your heart. A big shout out to Skywaltz and Uttar Pradesh Tourism for a surreal experience with my first Hot Air Balloon Safari at Taj Balloon Festival, Agra.
When it comes to adventure tourism in India, one never really thinks of Uttar Pradesh as a probable destination. But it’s time to change that and with Taj Balloon Festival, U. P. Tourism is taking a huge leap forward in the direction. The second season of the festival, from Nov 25th to Nov 30th 2016, being held at PAC Grounds, Agra is a huge success, both in terms of rising awareness for adventure tourism opportunities in U.P. as well as for locals and pilots who came in from all over the world. With pilots from fifteen countries (including India) participating this year, the site for the festival is a riot of colors and the excitement is unprecedented. I was fortunate to be a part of this ballooning extravaganza and happy that the dream of flying in a hot air balloon finally came true.
— UP Tourism (@uptourismgov) November 28, 2016
We reached PAC Grounds on the evening of 26th Nov, the second day of the festival. While mornings are reserved for serious business, evenings are laid back and musical with Taj Balloon Glow Fest. Local as well well known bands play melodies while the colorful balloons glow in the dark. It takes a while to realise that this isn’t a dream where you’re at a foreign location, but our very own Agra. A magical evening merges into darkness of the night in no time and by 8:30pm the balloons are all wrapped up for a good night’s sleep.
— UP Tourism (@uptourismgov) November 29, 2016
The real deal begins early in the morning. As early as 6am, the balloons and pilots were back to the grounds even though it was still dark. Surrounded by crew members, balloons were now being inflated. The sun wasn’t up yet, as if waiting for the last of the balloons to get in shape before the day begins. There was an unprecedented energy in the atmosphere and I couldn’t wait to get onboard one of these colorful balloons.
The whole process of unwrapping and inflating takes time and I utilized that in clicking colorful pictures. Anywhere I looked, there was a dream unfolding, and a little something glowing with the power of flight.
Soon, the sky was colored with a thousand shades and I could not take my eyes off this beautiful sight. Fifteen balloons, ready to take off and capture the skies of Agra – a sight so beautiful that I am sure even Shah Jahan would have loved it…
Among the fifteen balloons participating this year, there are three special balloons in the form of characters Happy Egg, Bob the Lobster & Smurf.
Luckily, I was scheduled to fly on the cutest of them all, the Happy Egg from Denmark. Our pilot was a passionate man and had flown over the skies of many countries. He explained to us the dos and the don’ts of flying in a hot air balloon as well as asked us to brace ourselves for the skies. The four of us were now ready to experience a dream.
Just when the balloons started taking off, the sun decided to show up too. As if it didn’t want to miss sharing the sky with these colorful balloons.
Here’s what happened next. Thanks to Saumya for capturing my excitement. Words aren’t enough to explain what I felt!
Within a matter of minutes, we were up in the sky and ready to leave the city behind. I cannot begin to tell you how surreal and beautiful it all was.
And then appeared the Taj, in all it’s morning glory. Goosebumps that appeared on my body are probably the only way I can describe the moment.
We stared at the Taj as long as it was visible and then a city landscape took over. Agra’s narrow lanes being a predominant feature, this was such a huge contrast from the beauty our eyes had just seen. Concrete towers also found a place in my picture below, standing tall. I couldn’t help but wonder if Taj was visible from top of those towers.
We left the city behind and in a couple of minutes, another drastic change in landscape below told us that we were already flying over small towns and villages. No more concrete jungles but farm lands and small huts now were a dominant feature. I was engulfed in a strange calm, with silence all around, wind messing with my hair and singing a melody I will never forget. I think this was close to a state of trance.
Soon, the state was broken by excited village kids, who waved at us. We waved back and they started running, trying to follow us. Soon, an entire village was behind us, trying to gauge the direction we’ll take and the place we’ll land. Since the past two days, Agra and neighbouring villages have been waking up to colorful balloons in the morning sky, and by now, they were quite aware of the routes these balloons take.
This was one flight I wished could continue forever. But now, a good forty minutes from when we began, we were getting ready to land and the pilot instructed us to duck in for a smooth landing. We followed the instructions and soon touched the ground. Sans the shockers of an airplane, I was expecting it to be a bumpier landing than it actually was. A huge thud sound and a jerk later, we were back to the earth. To our amazement, the kids had beaten us to the spot and were already waiting where we landed. They were excited to see such a huge balloon which could carry people on board.
Taj Balloon Festival is a great initiative by U.P. Tourism, in association with Sky Waltz and I hope this will be an annual thing in the Tourism Calendar of India in the upcoming years. Even Winnie The Pooh agrees that it’s hard to be brought down when you have a balloon.