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Cloud capers – The Hindu

Cloud capers

Floating over the skies of Araku Valley, thrill seekers will soon get a unique bird’s-eye view of familiar sights. The picturesque Araku Valley will play host to the second edition of the International Hot Air Balloon Festival. Fifteen hot air balloons from 20 countries across the world will dot the pristine skies of Araku, a hill station near Visakhapatnam, from January 18 to 20 as part of the festival, organised by AP Tourism in association with E-Factor. The balloons will sail over the verdant valley with its tribal hamlets and agricultural fields.

The highlight of the festival will be the specially-shaped balloons like Baby Car and Flying Honey Bee from Brazil, Bruno Clown from Slovakia and Happy Chicken Egg from the Netherlands. The three-day festival will also see international champions and paramotorists from Europe providing some thrilling displays and stunts.

Cloud capers

The tickets for hot air ballooning are not available for sale. However, there are lucky draws and contests available on the website visakhautsav.in and people can try their luck and win seats for the morning flights and tethers.

While the balloons will soar in the skies in the early mornings, don’t miss the Night Glow Show at NTR Grounds on all three days of the festival, when the balloons inflate and light up to the beat of music at the centre of the valley. One of the highlights of this festival is the luxury camping facility set up near the venue with around 40 well-designed tents for travellers.

Tourism on the rise

The world over, governments and promoters are recognising the importance of using hot air balloons as a tool for tourism and employment generation. Places like Cambodia’s historic Angkor Wat, Turkey’s UNESCO World Heritage site of Cappadocia and Myanmar’s ancient temples of Bagan have seen a surge in tourist inflows after hot air ballooning activities were started. According to industry figures, the Hot Air Ballooning industry has been growing in India for the last three to five years at around 20 % year-on-year growth.

“The response for the first edition was phenomenal and has helped establish the brand name Araku from a much larger national perspective.

The tourism impact of this has also been extremely positive since all the hotel inventories were sold out during the festival time. The same situation is envisaged this year as well,” says Samit Garg, CEO and co-founder of E-Factor.

  • How to get there: Araku is located at a distance of 120 kilometres from Visakhapatnam. Cars and buses ply on the route regularly.
  • What else to do:

Joseph Llado, a veteran ballooning pilot from Barcelona with 38 years of experience, was floored by the undiscovered charm of Araku when he came for the first edition of the festival. “This is a gem of a place for hot air ballooning. Araku’s beautiful, hilly terrain makes it a fascinating place to explore,” he remarked.

According to Rick Astral, a ballooning pilot from Chile, his visit to Araku last year opened up a new vista of adventures. “Every moment we got to experience a new splendour,” said Rick Astral, a balloon pilot from Chile. Sukhbir S. Sekhon, a Malaysian pilot, who went up to one of the highest levels on the first day of the balloon festival last year, was overwhelmed by the “spectacular” green stretches of fields and hills. “It was a sight to behold! We went across a small hill and it was quite a discovery,” he said.

Landing her compact hot air balloon on the lush fields in a village of Araku, Atiqah Khairudin from Malaysia added, “This place is a beautiful piece of jewel and a great a discovery for balloon pilots. It can be a wonderful way to showcase its beauty to people who want to experience the grand panoramic view from the hot air balloon.”

The concept of hot air ballooning was almost unheard of about a decade ago. Today, hot air balloons soar over Indian skies like colourful confetti and is fast picking up as a great adventure sport in cities like Agra,Pushkar, Lucknow, Jaipur and even Tamil Nadu.

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