Hot, high and fun

Written by Taneesha Kulshrestha | Updated: Mar 25 2008, 06:50am hrs
It's the weekend and you are bored of doing the same things yet again. Movies, clubs, drinks with friends, dinner, youve done it all. You are desperate for change and are looking for a hint of adventure. Enter the aptly called Skywaltz, promoted by the adventure sports company E-Factors and the first commercial hot air balloon flight company in India. At present, it has two hot air balloons with a capacity of seating 11 people. For a sum of Rs 14,000, the company will pick you up from your hotel or residence, drive you 40 km to the picturesque Samode Palace, one of the best preserved heritage properties in India, serve you cookies and snacks, take you up in the skies for an unforgettable ride and a feast for the eyes, and then drop you back with memories of time well spent and an adventure to share and talk about.

This is what I got to do one fine weekend. My journey started from the countrys capital. Jaipur was a mere five hours away and we soon arrived at the stately Raj Mahal Palace Hotel built by the founder of Jaipur, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh for his favourite maharani, Chandra Kunwar Ranawatji. The place has been a host to celebrities like Prince Charles and Lady Diana, Jacqueline Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II.

My flight was at eight the following morning. I woke up looking forward to the day and as I nibbled on my toast, promptly at six thirty, arrived my cabbie. An hour later, the yellow faade of Samode Palace came into view and we drove towards a group of people amidst hectic activity. Our balloons lay as yellow, blue and red fabric on the ground.

Welcome to my office, said Steve Trieber, the pilot, as he took me and a fellow traveller inside a fast inflating balloon. We should be ready to go in 10 minutes, he added. And true to his words, the giant that could hold 150,000 cubic feet of air, was ready to be airborne just in that time.

We hopped on. My flight captain, Bill MacKinnon, an Irish policeman in his other avatar and one of the most adventurous men I have met so far, introduced himself and gave us some instructions that primarily included listening to him and not making any sudden movements when the balloon started its descent. The rope holding the balloon to the ground was untied, MacKinnon fed fire into the beasts belly and we went up and away. Soon, we were high enough to peer over Samode village rooftops.

I will now try and describe the experience. Hot air ballooning is somewhat similar to taking a walk in the clouds. One ambles along at ones own pace instead of whizzing past like one does in a plane. You can even touch the tree tops and pick that tempting flower and also go closer to that little speck on the ground that could be an abandoned fort or a secret hiding place. The point is that one can take ones time, float and breathe easy as the worries seem far behind and the air free.

It was time to come down. We landed without a hitch under MacKinnons care. There had been a crowd of local villagers and children following us through the flight. They now gathered round and started asking us all sorts of questions. They thought I was a Bollywood actress and I, bloating with hot air, played to the audience answering their questions about how the balloon flew, how much did it cost for a ride and myriad other questions. I wondered if it would be possible for the villagers to take a ride one day. The Rs 14,000 price does seem a little steep for an average day traveller.

We have had to invest a lot in purchasing the equipment and the costs have been quite high, said Samit Garg, director, E-Factor Adventure Tourism, justifying the cost. There is light at the end of the tunnel though. Garg expects the prices to come down as his business increases. Also, he will perhaps take the villagers up for a free ride now and then, he says. However, for now, he has enough takers at even this price. After all, when the sky beckons, few can stand not answering its call.