I can’t forget my last visit to Rajasthan as it was so different from any that I ever taken! One of my favourites was hot-air ballooning near Jaipur. It is not something I would normally consider but it is one of the many special experiences that you should include when visiting and therefore a must for me to try out too!
I have been to Jaipur in Rajasthan before but this hot-air balloon safari was really different. I stayed at the gorgeous Samode Haveli, a majestic old mansion tucked away in the heart of the old city. There was a time when I thought nothing of getting up at 4:45 am but my body no longer finds the very enjoyable at all! When I set the alarm for 5:15 am for the next day I was not a happy camper but boy was it worth it!
I also kept on pacing up and down through the night due to the fear of sleeping through the alarm so when I finally got up at 5:15 am I could have quite easily dropped off into a deep slumber.
Satpal, my ever so cheerful driver duly arrived and we set off to the site from where we were scheduled to lift off from. In India it is a totally different experience; my flight was absolutely incredible and my pilot - the first qualified Indian pilot who has flown balloons around the world in differing weather conditions - was fantastic.
Jokes apart, getting inside the basket does take some effort! Though I have to admit that while I was not initially impressed with my extremely early start to the day, the views across the hills as we took off immediately made it worth the effort!
Before the flight, our pilot had expressed the hope that knowing the wind direction, we might fly directly over the Amber Fort. But when the balloon started lifting up, the wind had other ideas. The lift off was so very smooth, I didn’t even realise that we had started flying when we were just a few feet above the ground; it was our pilot who pointed out, “Look we are already flying!”
The ascent was gradual and before we knew, mountains, sandy dunes, verdant plains and glistening lakes stretched out beneath us as we flew ever higher, propelled by the sudden flare of flames.
Sadly we did not fly towards the Amber Fort and when one of us asked why, the pilot said, “It is where the wind takes you and I cannot control the direction!” We still however got the most amazing view of the fort for quite some time even though we were steadily moving away from it.
We floated effortlessly back down over towns and villages, where we were chased by children on bicycles and even spotted a herd of deer. Seeing the countryside from this vantage point was a magnificent sight. There is no rush or urgency and it is peaceful, serene and incredibly beautiful.
Before I knew it, my hour’s flight was over and we were planning how to make a good and smooth landing - an experience in itself as you have to look down below to find a suitable spot. You are then taught how to adopt the safe landing position and once the gigantic balloon is then packed back up.
We now had to wait for the ground crew to find us! Just joking as they had been in touch constantly with the pilot through the wireless device. I will always remember the swarm of local children who appeared as if from nowhere to meet the balloon as we landed and disembarked and the unbridled excitement on their faces at such a sight.
Our pilot asked them to talk to the ground crew on the wireless and tell them our exact location. Soon the children directed the ground crew to our landing spot. This was incredibly special experience for me and one that I will cherish for many years to come.