| NYL |
Humans used to look at the sky and fantasise about gliding above the earth like the birds.
Some tried wearing artificial wings on their arms; others envisioned being pulled by birds in flight.
It wasn’t until 1783, when two French brothers, Joseph Michel and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier, launched a manned hot air balloon in Paris, that mankind actually triumphed.
Flying high above the earth in a hot air balloon was my dream ever since I saw the graceful creations in the air during a trip to Melbourne.
The chance to ride on one finally came when I was in Cappadocia recently.
Located in the dry plains of Anatolia in central Turkey, Cappadocia is one of the most unreal places in the world. It’s what I imagined the terrain of another planet might resemble. Home to the most incredible rock formations, it is also the top place in the world to take a hot air balloon ride.
Our day began in the chilly early morning, just before sunrise.
Sleepy but excited, I assembled, along with other flyers at our hotel and waited for confirmation that the weather was safe enough to fly.
But it was not – due to strong winds, our flight was called off that morning. However, all was not lost as the balloon company rescheduled a flight in the afternoon after the winds had died down.
When we arrived at the site, the balloon was already prepared and ready to go with several staff members filling the balloon with hot air and securing it ready for launch.
We had just enough time to snap some beautiful photos of the surrounding area, spotted with brightly coloured balloons taking off, before we were ushered on board.
Our balloon carried 28 passengers and our pilot. It was a tight squeeze and I wondered how it would go up with such a crowd.
Luckily, our friendly pilot, a Turk named Ali explained to us how the balloon worked. He had many years experience flying in Cappadocia and was very informative about the region and flying procedures.
The take-off was completely smooth and gentle. Our balloon rose to join those a few minutes ahead of us, and we watched others take off below us.
The countryside around Cappadocia has been carved out of the volcanic rock over the centuries by wind and melting snow to reveal amazing colours, textures and shapes unique to the region.
It was still a truly spectacular panorama combining the dramatic landscape, crystal skies and bright balloons silently gliding, interrupted with occasional sound of the firing of the burner to keep our balloon filled up with hot air.
Our afternoon was relatively quiet with only around 50 balloons sharing the clear, azure sky with us. The only way I knew we were moving was by watching the passing scenery.
But in the balloon you cannot feel any movement as you drift silently.
Most of us hardly spoke, only the wind whispered to us. We were each on our own adventure.
We saw interesting rock formations, fairy chimneys and pigeon holes in Rose Valley, and houses and churches carved into stones in Uchisar.
We were very low at some points and sometimes we went higher to get a really big picture of the area.
While we enjoyed the view, Ali was hard at work, using the winds to navigate the balloon through the air.
After an hour, it was time to land. According to Ali, that is the trickiest portion of the flight because he is unable to steer the balloon to land in the exact same spot every time.
“Landing is not an exact science, but I’m going to land on the back of a pick-up truck,” he announced.
We thought he was joking at first, but realised he was serious. By communicating with the ground crew via walkie-talkie, he told them the location where the balloon was expected to land and asked them to get ready for touchdown.
However, as we were about to land, the balloon nearly got entangled in a tree. But Ali’s skills of bringing the balloon back up and down were impressive! True to his words, we finally landed safely onto the back of a pick-up truck.
Back on terra firma, we were treated to sparking grape juice toast as part of a tradition associated with hot air ballooning.
Each of us also received a certificate of achievement to commemorate our adventure.
The balloon ride was definitely an experience of a lifetime for me and even now I can still close my eyes and dream of floating and seeing the dramatic landscape in Cappadocia.