Imagine this. You are floating above the world, carried away by the wind. You’re gently passing over valleys with the sun stinging your eyes and the wind in your hair. This is no psychedelic vision instigated by acid trips. Far from it. This out-of-the-world experience was part of the second edition of Araku Balloon Festival that was held from January 18-20, in Araku Valley, Andhra Pradesh. From 3,000 feet high, Araku's wide-open spaces under the sunny skies is a map to remember. The festival event was organised by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism in association with E-Factor Adventure Tourism Pvt Ltd.
The line-up comprised 16 balloons from India, Thailand, Turkey, US, France, Spain, Malaysia, The Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Japan, and Belgium. The balloons themselves were far from ordinary, featuring Bruno Clown, Honey Bee, Baby Car and Happy Children. “Araku has the potential to become a ballooning hot-spot. It is an experiential holiday, offering a fantastic opportunity,” said E-Factor founder and CEO Samit Garg. Until now a largely a ‘by invitation’ event, the organisers and state officials hope to start commercial operations in November and will decide on the fee depending on the interest the festival generates.
The picturesque Araku Valley is a three-hour drive from Vishakapatnam. The glamping site promises a ‘middle of nowhere’ pitch. Step out of the luxurious tents in the morning to see a valley enveloped in fog. So dense is it that even at 9 am, you fear that the balloon would stay on the ground. Unlike most ballooning sites where the take-off time is planned in advance to allow sky aficionados to witness the sunrise while cruising 2,500 feet above sea-level, in Araku take-off depends on the fog. Once it cleared around 9.45 am in the valley, the pilots got their balloons ready for flight.
Wout Bakker of Thailand, who led the team of pilots, said, “Hot air balloons are always at the mercy of the elements. As soon as the sun blazes overhead, it starts changing the temperature thereby generating unsteady breezes.” Though such weather is unsuitable for flying, most of the pilots at the festival were amazed that even at 10.30 in the morning, the valley offered a steady and gentle wind that could keep them going at 10-12 km/hr. Flying one of the biggest balloons, the 57-year-old Bakker had a seven-member team riding in his balloon. He has close to a quarter century of experience in the air—a highlight of his career is a seven-hour balloon flight from Germany to Italy.
Besides ballooning, the three-day festival had entertaining ‘Para-motoring’ displays, tethered flights and musical ‘Night Glows’. There were also exclusive excursions to the famed Araku valley coffee plantations and the countless waterfalls. Chasing the clouds at Araku could sweep you off your feet. Literally. MDY