Araku Valley Balloon Festival
“WOULD YOU LIKE TO RIDE IN MY BEAUTIFUL BALLOON?
We have a go for launch! Up, up, and away! My thoughts of anticipation are interrupted as I felt my body jerked upwards. The surprise caused me to lose my balance and I hastily grabbed for the safety rope. My stomach felt like it had flipped when I felt a blast of the cold, early morning air. But then the warm blow from the burners firing over my head served to calm my nerves.
I opened my eyes and looked down. I was floating above the earth! I looked down and watched the waving spectators grow smaller as the balloon climbed into the sky. It was like so many dreams I had of flying. But this time, the feeling was real.
I had never been in a hot-air balloon before and had not really known what to expect. I was torn between watching the landscape below recede and marvelling at the wonderful sky above. Off in the distance, a grey shadow presaged rain, but the sky overhead was an unblemished blue, save for the warm, yellow ball of fire floating just above the tree-clad hills. The colourful hues of the balloon above lent an air of wonder to the world around me.
The Araku Valley below spread below me in a random pattern of wood-clad hills, checks of tilled earth and stretches of grass – all presenting a checkerboard of brown, green and yellow hues – while houses, huts and other structures seemed to like playing pieces sparsely scattered across the giant board. I could also see light sparkling in streams and fields of flowers glowing yellow in rolling across the Eastern Ghats.
The four of us continued to climb – the almost total calm around us was broken only from the soft rush of air and the bursts from the burner that drove us ever higher. Our launch site quickly receded as we soared over the valley. We reached our maximum altitude of 1,000 feet at around 6:30 am, and the rainbow colours of the other balloons around seemed to enclose us in a world of almost unimaginable peace.
We spent a good 45 minutes in the air, but that seemed far too short a time when the pilot told us that we had to begin our descent. I felt like I do when being rudely awakened from a marvellous dream only to find myself in bed. But, as though in compensation, the pilot had one more surprise for us.
ARAKU BALLOON FESTIVAL
Andhra Pradesh Tourism organised the Araku Balloon Festival in association with Sky Waltz and E Factor. In November, sixteen balloons from thirteen countries conducted morning flights and tethered evening flights. Para-motoring stunts thrilled spectators, and invitees were able to experience the delights of glamping.
We got a warning when he instructed us to bend our knees, clamp our elbows around the safety lines and brace our backs against the edge of the basket. Then came the surprise! A sudden and hard thump rocked us as we collided with the ground. We bounced up and down a few times until we finally came to rest.
This was the very first time that I had experienced the wonders of balloon flight. Andhra Pradesh Tourism had arranged this Araku Balloon Festival – in association with Sky Waltz and E Factor – in order to make the world aware of Araku’s unique beauty. The festival ran for three days and 16 balloon crews came from 13 countries from all over the world including Brazil, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom. Para-motoring experts also exhibited their stunting skills. Invitees were treated to glamping (luxury camping) as part of promoting Araku as a destination for international ballooning and parasailing enthusiasts and in order to attract heli-tourism.
People came to the festival in hundreds from Visakhapatnam and beyond to witness first the balloons taking off in the early morning light. The days passed in a cloud of balloon clouds and looping flights of para-motoring. The nights came alive with ‘night glow’ displays of tethered hot-air balloons glowing and swaying in the breeze. The nights pulsed with balloon light and regional music. By all accounts, the most impressive balloons on display were Iwi the Kiwi, the seahorse-shaped Neptuno and the giant Bumble Bee.
Araku has long been popular with tourists for the Borra Caves nearby, Bongulo chicken (chicken smoked in bamboo), its local coffee, and its native tribes. I loved the flavour that Araku chocolates added to my coffee, and I heard that the strawberry farms in the area provide luscious flavours. I stepped out my tent on my way to dinner one night when I came across women from the Pooja tribe singing and dancing around the campsite fires. They were performing Dhimsa, the traditional dance of Visakhapatnam. Suddenly, a rather beautiful dancer, who was holding a peacock feather in one hand, pulled me into the group. Others came by and joined in until it seemed that the whole campsite was dancing.
I was eventually able to escape and enjoy the whole scene – the magic of the music and the dancing, and the serenity of the Araku night sky above. The day’s adventure and the evening delights finally took their toll, and the luxury tent provided a comfortable place to fall asleep and dream of soaring.
Flying free. In a sense, Araku will always mean that to me.
HOW TO GET THERE
By rail: Visakhapatnam station is the nearest. Direct trains to Araku are available there.
By road: Araku is well connected by road, and it is a pleasant drive Visakhapatnam. If you drive down from Vizag, which takes around three hours, you can also stop at the marvellous Borra Caves along the way.
WHERE TO STAY
Araku has limited but well-equipped options for overnight accommodation. The Valley Resort if luxury is what you want. Haritha Mayuri is an option if you want to be closer to nature. But for a truly remarkable experience, nothing beats glamping!
WHAT TO EAT
You just have to treat yourself to Araku’s famous Bongulo (bamboo) chicken. And be sure to sample the local coffee, a pack or two of Indian spices and chia seeds at very low prices!
For more information, visit the website of the Araku Balloon Festival
• Visit the Borra Caves, India’s deepest caves. They date back a million years.
• Be sure to take in the Tribal Museum – it provides remarkable displays of tribal lifestyles in the Eastern Ghats.
• The area’s spectacular waterfalls and reservoirs are a must-see.
• Visit Araku’s renowned coffee plantations, and keep an eye out for bee-keeping yards.
Some Images From Our Trip To Araku Valley Balloon Festival