Ballooning Over Jaipur’s Countryside

By Tom Cole July 19, 2016

An electrifyingly serene early morning flight over awakening villages and fields, topped off with a celebratory landing.

After a quick croissant and cup of coffee, we’re picked up from Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace and driven to a stately old marble quarry, where the balloon comes to life, 232 years and 277 days after Étienne Montgolfier became the first human to ride in the air. The technology has improved since then, but the theory and practice are much the same: fill a bag with hot air, and it rises.

(The Chinese had been using unmanned hot air balloons for military signaling at least 1800 years before the Montgolfier brothers’ richly decorated globe aérostatique lifted off from the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, outside of Paris. But humanity hadn’t been twiddling its developmental thumbs during those 18 centuries: our species’ single greatest creation, the Taj Mahal, was already 140 years old when Étienne arose. See this article for more about the inimitable Taj.)

We ascend along with the characteristically emphatic Rajasthani sun. Our young pilot Richard, a Sri Lankan, spends half the year here in Jaipur, and the other half ballooning over the Loire Valley. I stand next to him, admiring his dexterity and obvious enchantment with lighter-than-air flight.

We’re one of two balloons today, and our twin eclipses the sun before catching its own breezes and heading off.

We’d seen the Maasai Mara’s wildlife and its eloquent Rift Valley landscapes on another Micato ballooning journey (about which I hope to blog soon), but this suburban flight was quite enchantingly different. As we slowly descended we watch villages come to life, and exchange waves with villagers hanging laundry, young ladies walking to school, and citizens “on a river of bicycles, brooding on the Lord Krishna and the cost of living,” as James Cameron once wrote.

Richard, in constant communication with our support crew on the byways below, searches for a landing site, and finds one in a vacant lot. He does his pilot magic, the balloon wafts down with the slightest bump, and we’re back to the Indian earth. (My hand on the rail looks a little white-knuckley, but if I’d been holding a cup of chai, not more than a drop or two would have spilled.)

And within a couple of minutes we’re local celebrities. The once-lonely lot is thronged with welcoming folks young and old…many of them as eager to take pictures of us as we are of them. India is justly famous for its hospitality, elegantly planned or happily ad hoc. We remember that reception, and the rounds of picture taking, and the bright eyes of the Indian kids, as a heart-stirring finale to a tranquil but stunning aerial adventure.

We’re back to the Rambagh Palace in time for a lovely brunch on the veranda. I’m a little dubious about royalty in general, but the exquisite Rambagh, once home to Jaipur’s last maharajah, the great Maharajah Sawai Man Singh II, inspires respect for the exquisite taste of those old rulers.

All of Micato’s Indian Journeys feature a complimentary balloon jaunt…and the Rambagh Palace is our elegant home base in Jaipur.

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