It’s dark outside as we drive through the quiet Jaipur streets in the early morning. There’s none of the usual loud beeping horns and colourful bustle that fills the city during the day. I’m excited and a little anxious as we make our way to my first and much anticipated hot air balloon ride.
Waiting at the launch site a team of young men stand beside a table set with a welcome thermos of Chai and sweet biscuits. As we savour the sweet tea, the crew get to work spreading the balloon out on the dusty ground and preparing the basket.
The black sky begins to lighten and the thin warm glow along the horizon gradually grows, changing from red to various shades of orange.
Launching the Hot Air Balloon
Francisco, our pilot is a Spaniard from Madrid. He starts to inflate the balloon with cool air from a large noisy fan. Then he lights the burners and a roaring sound interrupts the morning stillness.
We draw closer to the warm glow of the flame. Hot air pours into the balloon which slowly starts to billow and rise above us. My heart rate quickens as I climb into the basket using small holes woven into the wicker basket wall.
Francisco runs through the safety instructions and then the crew release the basket. The balloon slowly and quietly rises into the pre-dawn sky. We float silently above the patchwork of fields as the sun begins to peak over the horizon.
A little white chapel gleams against a background of low rugged hills in the distance, the rough rocky surface broken only occasionally by small green bushes.
Floating Silently above a Village
Cattle in a small enclosure skitter and scamper, frightened by the sound from the blast of hot air above them.
As the word spreads, villagers put aside their morning chores and run to the flat roofs of their homes to stare upwards. Some stand staring in awe at the green and yellow apparition floating above their heads, others wave. One young man films us using his mobile phone.
Occasionally, Francisco releases a burst of hot air, the roar breaking the peace as we drift towards a little village. He allows the balloon to drop down, skimming tree tops and drifting silently above the awakening village.
Children race through the field laughing and jumping up trying to reach the basket as we smile and wave back.
Unexpectedly, a lump develops in my throat and a tear forms my eye. Here am I having an experience of a lifetime and a glimpse of Indian village life from the privileged position of a hot air balloon while only metres away villagers gaze up at me.
Landing all too soon
All too soon we leave the village, the balloon floating on the whim of the wind. Francisco searches for a suitable place to land and settles on a small pocket of ground not far from the village. He reminds us to hold on tightly, to brace and not to leave the basket until told to do so.
The basket lands with a thud. A sudden gust of wind drags us along towards a row of trees. There’s a feeling of urgency among the crew. Francisco jumps out the basket gesticulating as he issues instructions to the crew. The balloon needs to be brought under control.
Villagers gather around the landing site. Like us, they watch as the crew frantically grab at the billowing balloon pulling in the sail, squeezing out the air. Finally, we’re given the all clear and climb out the basket.
I feel exhilarated. The memories of floating above a little Indian village will remain with me forever.
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