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It was the closest,says Nitin Mohan,that he has come to having an out-of-body experience: Miles and miles of green fields were gliding away below me,the sun was rising against the hill and I could reach out and touch the treetops, says Mohan,40,promoter-director of menswear brand Black Berrys,describing the awesome experience of watching the world from a hot-air balloon.
A craze in countries like Turkey,Australia and the UK,the trend of taking a joyride on a balloon is all set to take off in India once the season begins in August. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation recently granted no-objection certificates to more than 10 companies, says Vishwa Bandhu Gupta,honorary secretary of the Ballooning Club of India and owner of the company Bandhu Aerospace,which supplies balloons to the Indian Army. Gupta estimates that the ballooning industry,now worth only a few crore rupees,will increase tenfold in three years. Among those who obtained their NoCs in February is the Tiger Balloon Safari,whose director JS Rathore is upbeat as more resorts and tour operators are showing interest in the sport.
Ballooning,say enthusiasts like 49-year-old Anil Wason,offers an experience unmatched by the ant-sized views from an airplane window or the noisy intrusion of the helicopter. Once it is set free,the pear-shaped balloon,fired up by gushing hot gas,soars with the wind and can shoot up to the height of a 90-storey building in a minute. After the initial adrenaline-charged experience,the balloon reverts to a steady calmness. As Rajeev Duggal,CEO of Select City Walk mall in Saket,says,Nothing comes close. Jai Thakur of Delhi-based E-Factor Adventure Tourism adds that the older enthusiasts of ballooning are those whove already tried bungee jumping,whitewater rafting and handgliding and are now looking for an experience rather than a kick.
Mohan,who flew with E-Factor,says the sport has already created a buzz in the upper middle class social circuit of the city and he himself cant wait to get airborne again. While Delhiites mostly take off from sites in Gurgaon,Sohna and Manesar,the best views unparalleled in the worldare of the forts and palaces of Rajasthan. I was staying at the Samode Palace in Jaipur and had spent a lot of time admiring its interiors. But nothing prepared me for the view of the palace that I got from the balloon. It was fabulous, says Duggal. If Rajasthan is too far away,Thakur suggests you check out the flights from Neemrana Fort,where the Aravalli hills form a spectacular backdrop.
Balloons can carry two to six people,besides a pilot. Pilots,like the balloons,are sourced from countries like France and Spain. Safety and quality of the flight are of paramount importance. Hence,ballooning is an expensive hobby,an hour-long flight can set you back by around Rs 10,000,though for Rs 500 we provide tethered flights to schoolchildren and some adults who merely want to go up and down and not fly, says Gupta.
Wason,who took almost 10 flights last year with Bandhu Aerospace,says his wife and daughter accompany him. We fly over Damdama lake and sometimes as the breeze drops,the balloon skims the surface of the fields and then rises again. You can be at 2,000 ft one moment and then,drop down to 200 ft the next. Its a perfect family outing, he says. Though the pilot manipulates the balloon,Wason says hes picking up tips on his journey to the clouds.
Bandhu Aerospace: 23716665
Tiger Balloon Safari: 32988466