Goa from Above: Up, Up and Away in a Hot Air Balloon
Whether you fancy yourself embarking on a fantastical quest such as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days or as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz– floating adrift on a hot air balloon ride across a bucolic landscape in Goa is probably one of the more tranquil moments you will experience while on vacation in India. Far apart from the clamor and frenzied pace of the capital city of Delhi and its surrounding environs, a hot air balloon ride in South Goa is an experience that is sure to catalyze introspection and a meditative mindset.
It was British historian and biographer of the Romantic era, Richard Holmes, who articulated, “The first rule of ballooning is to forget all your troubles and let the world fall away.” And arguably with Tiger Balloon Safaris, an adventure outfitter in India, it is possible to do just that, while taking in salubrious views of the countryside. Tiger Balloon Safaris, operating since 2013, has become one of India’s first outfitters to begin lifting tourists off the ground, enabling them to see the world anew.
Armed with the ardent desire to ascend to the “heavens”, man has been taking to the skies for more than two centuries now. However, commercial hot air ballooning, such as we know it today, did not begin until the 1960’s with the advent of the propane gas burner. Before then, experimentation with the concept of hot air ballooning began with the Montgolier brothers from France who were credited with successfully initiating the first unmanned flight in October 1783. Furthering the research of the Montgolier brothers, a chemistry teacher by the name of Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier and a French Aristocrat launched the first flight with humans on board a month later in 1783. Ten years later, the first hot air balloon was launched in America and thus began an era of ballooning frenzy throughout the world. Even literary works in the late 18th century, echoed man’s obsession with flight and ballooning; multiple references to the balloon craze can be found in Romantic literature from 1785 to 1830-one of the most notable being by Scottish Poet, Robert Burns, in his iconic poem “To a Louse.”
Once deemed safe for human passengers, hot air balloons were used in battlefields such as in the French Revolution and in the American Civil War before becoming a venerated object of sport and leisure, centuries later. Many outfitters including Tiger Balloon Safaris, began offering bespoke packages and packages lasting anywhere from 60-90 minutes, depending on an individual’s operating budget. For the past five years, Tiger Balloon Safaris has worked collaboratively with the government of Goa to further diversify their tourism products and promote adventure tourism services throughout India. Undoubtedly, hot air balloon rides are a brilliant way to explore the unparalleled beauty and serenity of Goa’s rustic landscapes and to create enduring memories.
Before embarking on a hot air balloon ride, it is always prudent to do some background work, like checking the record of the company, in addition to the experience and certification of the pilot. I cannot say that I entirely did my due diligence in this area prior to take-off, as I primarily relied on customer reviews from my hotel visitors’ guidebook. I did however find out, through the course of the sixty minute balloon ride that our pilot was from Poland and had been flying since the age of 14. I also learned that the owner of the company who was originally from Panjim region of India and on board our flight, had relentlessly pursued his childhood dream of being an aeronaut since the age of nine. In addition to looking for a highly experienced pilot and outfitter, I would also recommend that you book your flight at the beginning of your vacation, as hot air balloon rides are contingent upon weather conditions-with optimal conditions for flying being clear visibility and low wind speeds.
Prior to take-off, we were given the standard safety instructions about appropriate behaviors while in flight and briefed on how to prepare for landing. A mix of excitement and incertitude glazed over the faces, as this was an inaugural flight for many on board. Although this was my second journey on a hot air balloon ride, I also hoped that that the winds would “welcome us with softness.”
What never ceases to amaze me is the extent to which the world seems ardently captivated by the wonders of air travel. As the pilot and ground crew worked to unfurl and inflate the balloon, and mount the wicker basket, a sizeable group of friends, family and intrigued passers-by began to congregate on the launch field. It was as if the news of the flight had been propagated across the local news outlets and radio stations. It was as if all those assembled had come to bid farewell to a college-bound teenager or a loved one setting off on a journey around the world. Once untethered and airborne, a mix of unabashed delight and apprehension were strewn across their faces.
As the balloon slowly ascended into the sky, the once familiar faces resembled miniatures on a toy set, eventually becoming polycentric shapes on a dotted landscape. We gently drifted over the lush greenery of the region, floating past meticulously manicured farmlands and emerald green paddy fields. To the east, hues of peachy oranges and marigold yellows poured out from the sun and across the horizon, signaling the beginning of a new day.
It was only the occasional blast of flames from the double propane burners that punctuated the mesmerizing serenity and stillness of the early morning- a stillness that would blanket the city for another thirty minutes or so. We continued to drift over large expanses of green foliage, effortlessly floating between time and space for the next forty-five minutes, occasionally rousing interest from those below, awakening to a grand new day.
The beauty of hot air balloon rides, besides the unique vantage point, is that everything is re-rendered in luminous colors- from a dusky country road to wide swathes of sugary white sand beaches. As we approached our landing, skimming over clusters of thatched roof houses and coconut and mango trees, you could see the excitement that had been generated by the passage of the balloon. Locals began to congregate on the streets below, pointing upwards, fascinated by the inverted, orange “teardrop” gliding through the air. Upon landing, which was seemingly uneventful compared to the hour flight, we were greeted with fervent enthusiasm and applause.
Hot air ballooning indeed appeals to a wide range of people- children, adults, scientists, writers, travel enthusiasts and “settled people” alike. It awakens the creativity of the artist, provides catharsis for the life dreamers, and beckons the intrepid traveler, while capturing the imagination of all.
*If you are looking to create life-long memories, enjoy breathtaking scenery and engage in a transformative experience, then hot air ballooning is the travel trend for you. Simply contact Tiger Balloon Safaris at http://www.hotairballooningingoa.com when you are ready to take your hot air ballooning adventures international.