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Flights of fancy

Bs Reporter 

Hot air balloons

Hot air balloons are soaring high in Rajasthan.

It is hard to describe in words. The entire process from start to finish — watching the inflation, prepping up, the flight itself and the landing — makes for an invigorating experience,” says a traveller describing his first experience of flying in a hot air balloon.

According to independent research, flying on a hot air balloon consistently in the “Top 10 Things” people have always wanted to do. It is now fast catching on in Rajasthan. On average, 250 people take to the skies every month in the desert state.

“We began our operations in 2008 and since then hot air ballooning has really caught up,” says Paul Macpherson, chief of operations of Sky Waltz, the company promoting the activity in Jaipur, Pushkar, Neemrana and Ranthambhore. Sky Waltz will be launching flights in Udaipur next month. “We expect this number to grow to 350 a month in 2010-2011,” says Macpherson.

However, ballooning is more popular among foreign tourists as almost 60 per cent of the people queueing up for the flights are international travellers in the age group of 40-60 years. Locals taking to hot air ballooning are younger, between 30-35, informs Macpherson.

On average, a one hour flight costs $ 225 per person.

Pench Jungle Camp & Tiger Balloon Safaris is another company into charters as well as passenger ballooning and advertising ballooning. “We are getting a good response,” says Sanjay Sawhney, general manager of the company. The charters come at a price of Rs 1.5 lakh per day and are finding takers among Indians mostly, informs Sawhney.

Tourism experts believe Rajasthan has the potential to become a ballooning hub. “The state government is proactive, the people are very friendly and there are the open places you need for such an activity,” says Sawhney.

Flying over forts and castles, craggy mountains, sandy stretches and green plains is a major attraction for tourists. The companies are looking to cash in on this.

“Slow and silent, yet one of the most invigorating journeys you will ever take,” is how Alison McKay, head of creative services, Radio Clyde, describes his flight on the hot air balloon.

Hot air ballooning companies have sourced the balloons from renowned companies of the world. Pilots in Sky Waltz are from Europe and the United States, with thousands of hours of balloon piloting behind them. The ground crew is also well trained and the safety norms are the same as those followed elsewhere in the world.

So if hot air ballooning on your top 10 things to do list, then Rajasthan is the place to go.

First Published: Sun, November 21 2010. 00:57 IST