At the beginning of February 2020 I received an invite to an inaugural festival in Meghalaya, a hilly state in north-eastern India, known as the Scotland Of The East. Hosted by SkyWaltz Balloon Safari’s based in Jaipur the event took place between the 7th – 15th of March at Shillong, Meghalaya. The large music and cultural festival was run by E-Factor Entertainment and the Meghalaya State Government designed to showcase the beauty of the region and promote itself to tour companies around the world.
Sadly the onset of Coronavirus and restrictions on large crowds meant the event had to be scaled back, although the press and government officials attended en masse and the message travelled far and wide. Daily we flew dignitaries, the press corps and television crew into the sky for unforgettable balloon rides.
Just getting to our wonderful glamping site in Meghalaya was an adventure. After a nine hour flight to Delhi, we had to self-declare as to which countries we had visited in the last month, and onward we went via plane to Guwahati. Sitting on the port side we had views of the Himalayas. We had seen from the forecasts that rain was falling in the mountains but from hot Guwahati it was unimaginable. A four hour car journey the following morning had us climbing higher and higher, the temperatures cooled and we encountered rain.
We arrived at a café/bar called ‘Highwinds’ which made us reconsider briefly! Behind here was our glamping site and the launch field was two Kilometres up the road. It was bucketing it down with rain, we were damp, cold and it was just like Scotland, high up in the Janita Hills. We were warned the site was a mud bath and the organisers were clearly disappointed by the rude early arrival of high winds and monsoon weather. We had wondered what we had let ourselves in for because we had not seen one landing site on our drive down and all the paddy fields were waterlogged!
The next morning day one of the festival we went to see the launch site which resembled an old quarry. It was here the festival would have been held, and a huge stage had been erected, along with huts made from bamboo for all the planned stalls. We met our balloons and crew and all nine balloons took to the air and flew North East with lots of steerage over villages, schools and stone quarries amongst the most incredible scenery in the hills. After an hour we spotted a school playing field and with not many other options to land, travelling at 14 knots with what looked like only hills and forests ahead we had to make it. Lining up to land and suddenly from nowhere thousands of locals running and screaming towards us. It was for the first time that anyone here had a seen a hot air balloon before.
The weather held and we managed to fly every slot over the remaining 7 days. The organisation was outstanding with every balloon having its own truck, a local driver and crew for the duration. An additional wagon would pick the pilot and his guests up to return them home whilst the crew managed everything. We were spoilt.
I flew a 77 thousand cubic foot balloon built by Ultra Magic Balloons for SkyWaltz and flew two guests daily. My final flight is one that I will remember most. Out of 11 Balloons that took off that day Andrew and I flew side by side at a few hundred feet down into the valleys sometimes even feeling the spray from a waterfall behind us as we followed the river with only a balloon and hills in sight. After about 35 minuets we shot up to three or four thousand feet to get a strong push to the right towards a village called Jowai where we found somewhere to land. I reached an altitude of 9,000ft AMSL and 26 knots on different flights.
The flying here was truly out of this world. You can find some of our videos on our YouTube channel @flyawayballooning.
I really cannot wait to return here, great camaraderie, excursions, exploring and wonderful meals of breakfast, lunch dinner and a free bar with live music daily, then to a cosy bed! My thanks goes out to our crew and local drivers for all their help. I returned home with a G & T in hand back to LHR and walking into a different world!
At the end of December, Vijay Shah, the minister of Madhya Pradesh Forest in central India, announced a ground-breaking new aeronautical adventure in the region.
Home to the world-famous Bandhavgarh National Park, which is known for its large population of endangered royal Bengal tigers, the region has announced a brand-new attraction to delight tourists and visitors to the park – a hot air balloon safari that will offer guests the opportunity to encounter these majestic cats from the serene comfort of a hot air balloon basket.
Closer to home, you can set off on your own hot air balloon adventure. Whilst you may not be able to spot any wild tigers, you can still take in the landscape in the skies over Bath, Bristol and the South West. #flyfab