Flying one with the birds
Balloonists from Spain, Brazil, the United Kingdom, the United States, Thailand, Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, and Vietnam participating in the festival said the unsuspecting ‘surprises’ they are posed with while flying is what keeps them going.
The 8th edition of the Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival organised by Global Media Box in collaboration with the State Tourism Department began on January 13 at Achipatti Grounds, Pollachi. Managing Director of Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation, Sandeep Nanduri, who visited the grounds a day before the event for a preview of the hot air balloon, said, “Unlike its massive popularity in other countries, the balloon festival is not a common affair in India.
“Global Media Box has been organising the balloon festival on a small scale for quite some time now. This year, the Government decided to step in and help. We are having several pilots participating from different countries and we are really excited to see these balloons fly as it is a rare sight.”
Commenting on how there are not many Indian balloonists he said, “I think events like this will educate and make people aware of the concept of ballooning. Many people don’t realise that there are such opportunities for them to explore. There are institutes abroad that train pilots to get their commercial flying licence in ballooning. So, I think an event of this scale is a good start to getting Indian balloonists.”
While unpredictability and the unknown scare a lot of people. These pilots, or balloonists, find comfort and beauty in it. Balloonists from Spain, Brazil, the United Kingdom, the United States, Thailand, Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, and Vietnam participating in the festival said the unsuspecting ‘surprises’ they are posed with while flying is what keeps them going.
Speaking to DT Next Trijnte Offringa, the only female pilot part of the crew from the Netherlands, talked about what she loves the most about flying, “For me, it’s the sense of freedom. I feel like a bird when I’m flying. What makes it more exciting for me is you know where you start but you don’t know where you are going to land.”
Having participated in all the editions of this festival she said, “Through the years I can see how it has gotten bigger and grander. Initially, there were only four balloons and now there are 12 balloonists participating in this event. It is really exciting.”
Koen Audenaert from Belgium said, “Sven (another pilot from Belgium) and I were discussing that as balloonists what adds quality to our career is having two or three wow moments every year. But, it’s difficult for us to choose because every ride is different and is an experience in itself.
“You are posed with different climate conditions, you see different scenery, and even the people you meet are different. The unpredictability is challenging and I like the challenge. I think that’s another reason why I have been able to do this for so many years.”
For Nghia and Tawin Dumkhum from Thailand, it is their first time participating in a balloon festival in India. “We have travelled across several countries flying our balloons and yet, we had never visited India until now. The team and I are really excited to be here and we are looking forward to building relationships and bonds with these wonderful pilots,” said Nghia.
While everyone talked about what they were looking forward to Sebasfj from Spain said the coconut trees bothered him a lot, “The area is surrounded by coconut farms. It sure will make a beautiful sight when you are on top, but finding a convenient area to land among those trees is difficult. But then again, as a balloonist, you don’t get anything easy.”
On the day of the preview, all the balloons were in the air and flying across several farms and villages. People of Vadigapalayam, a tiny village in Pollachi, rushed out of their homes to wave at the colourful and gigantic balloons. A child in the village shouted, “Ey! Seekrama va. Inga paaru evlo periya balloon (ey! come quickly. Look at this big balloon)”.
This increased the footfall on the day of the event and both locals and tourists travelled to have a glimpse of the balloon. “Seeing them in all their glory at the break of dawn is such a surreal experience. I had seen them flying around yesterday and insisted to my husband that we come here,” said 40-year-old Sakthi Rajeswari from Pollachi.
On the other hand, Vasudha Karthik brought her family all the way from Bengaluru for the event. “Our daughter told my wife and the grandkids that she wanted to surprise us and asked us to get ready. We reached Pollachi having no idea what she had planned. She woke us up in the morning and brought us here to see the balloons.
“Even though I cannot ride it, just having seen it in my lifetime has made me happy. I’ve only seen it in pictures. I never imagined seeing on in real life,” said S Santhanam, a senior citizen.
In addition to the hot air balloon, the three-day event had food stalls, live music performances and a helicopter ride.