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Published on: Nov. 28, 2021, 11:05 p.m.
Varanasi gets a Balloon Festival
  • From the balloons, you can see the river, the ghats, the temples, and the city at once – this is not possible in any other way

By Suman Tarafdar

The lure of Varanasi is age old, and residents and visitors alike have recorded their views of this ancient hub over the millennia. None, however, would have seen the city as it was viewed recently – from hot air balloons. The Varanasi Balloon Festival offered a new visual perspective to the labyrinthine lanes and sprawling ghats as 11 majestic balloons from seven countries including India gently floated over the city at dawn.

The festival, held from November 17-19 to coincide Dev Deepavali, when innumerable diyas or earthen lamps are floated on the Ganga at the ghats of Varanasi at dusk, making for a spectacular ‘river of light’. While the balloon rides were offered at dawn, the evenings saw laser shows and tethered balloon rides, adding to the customarily heady atmosphere of the evening aartis and musical performances.  

This new offering will add yet another experience for the explorers and will bring Varanasi as the top spot to be experienced for many premium and high value travellers from across the world, according to Mukesh Kumar Meshram, Principal Secretary, Culture and Tourism, Uttar Pradesh.

The balloons at the three-day festival were from Jaipur-based Sky Waltz, the first and most reputed ballooning company in India. “A good balloon flight is a combined experience of being in a balloon and being over a place,” said Samit Garg, Founder and CEO, E-Factor, an experiential events firm and the person responsible for popularising hot air ballooning in India.

Of course, most hot air ballooning across the world, such as the best-known ones in Cappadocia or Albuquerque or Bristol are usually over the countryside, generally offering views of spectacular landscapes. In India, Sky Waltz offers rides in places such as Jaipur and Pushkar, Hampi and Lonavla and Bandhavgarh among others. It had earlier worked with the state government in 2015 for the Taj Mahotsav. “It was then that we discussed how Varanasi or Kashi, the city of spirituality, could be experienced by a hot air balloon.  That’s how we started to work for it, and permissions are always complicated – getting aviation and ground district authorities together is crucial.”

Garg describes Varanasi as having a chaos – a combination of religion, spirituality and humanity. “Starting from the southern bank of the river, drifting over the river, and the old city, one gets to reflect and marvel at how old the city is. The closeness of the houses, with hardly any gap between them – can sense you cannot get from the ground.

There is no better way of seeing the city than through the sky – as you cannot traverse the city on ground. From the balloons, you can see the river, the ghats, the temples, and the city at once – this is not possible in any other way. The perspective that you get from being in a balloon is very different. Those for whom Benaras is important, this perspective is a game changer.”

Over the three days, the people who experienced the ballooning were not just positive but gushed over the experience. While there is no firm word yet on whether the event will be an annual one, it certainly created a buzz and added a dimension to a city that is a major religious destination already.

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