It’s still dark here in the old marble quarry hills of Jaipur as long crimson flames shoot into our balloon, transforming it into a brightly coloured globe, straining at its at its leashes, wanting to soar. We step into the gondola, and effortlessly arise.
If this is our first experience of hot air ballooning, or our twentieth, we’re still struck by the sweet miracle of flight, a miracle first experienced by a couple of intrepid Frenchmen on a field outside of Paris, more than 230 years ago.
Our pilot, a young fellow who spends half the year wafting over the Loire Valley, lets our balloon soar freely, taking us high over the Jaipurian countryside. The red Rajasthani sun appears on the eastern horizon, lightening the sky and our already soaring spirits.
And now we slowly descend, flying low over awakening India. We see neighborhoods coming to life, fly over grand monuments and dusty roads, hear dogs bark and motorcycles rev up. A shy young lady on her way to school shifts her books around so she can wave at us. A lady on a housetop stops putting up laundry, smiles, and continues her work. A bicycling boxwallah glances up, and peddles onward.
Our pilot chooses a landing spot, alerts the trailing ground crew, and sets us down in a field with barely a jolt. In what seems an instant, we’re treated to a very Indian experience: we’re the toast of the town, surrounded by beaming folks eager to take a selfie with us and tell us about their cousin who works in Silicon Valley.
As the ground crew deflates the balloon and packs it up, we say goodbye to our new friends, savouring a brightly novel Indian experience.