Varanasi Hot Air Balloon Festival, an experience of a lifetime above the ghats of Ganga

By Nivi Shrivastava

For most regular Joes, flying is a mundane activity given that there’s not much we can do in a cramped aircraft anyway. If one could make it more fun, imagine the joy of floating a little above the earth’s surface, tucked in a wicker basket tied up with a giant balloon above your head. On a hot air balloon flight, (yes, it’s the lightest aircraft known to humankind so every trip is called a flight with a proper ticket) one gets to experience the real joy of flying with a dash of adventure — no one can predict where the balloon will land and that’s something to watch out for. Aloft a hot air balloon flight, you float cross colourful landscapes below and wave at random ant-sized humans who you can barely see. This actually is bird’s-eye view in the literal sense.

Hop on the hot air balloon: Recently, in the holy city of Varanasi, we experienced the hot air ballooning festival with E-factor Entertainment, which specialises in curating heritage festivals to attract upper crust travel and adventure enthusiasts from all across the world. At first appearence the ancient city of Kashi aka Varanasi aka Benaras, India’s most popular holy destination, might appear to be an unusual choice for air-borne adventure activities. But the views of the Ganga riverfront and the ancient structures bordering ensure a spectacular sight-seeing aerial trip. Whether you’ve been to Varanasi once or many times, the sights, smells and stimulating sounds of the city always overwhelm your senses.

The Varanasi Hot Air Balloon Festival with UP Tourism and E-Factor Entertainment (Picture copyright: Nivi Shrivastava)

A city famous for temples, serpentine streets and gastronomical delights, the visual panorama laid out before is tough to miss and impossible to ignore. The old-world charm of the city and the famous ghats of Ganga have fascinated travellers since ages bygone. The historic constructions and monuments dot every turn of the streets as you stroll through the chaotic yet lively city which is home to a variety of human activities in every nook and corner. But that is to be seen when you walk about. Gliding above the city on a misty morning, from around 800 feet above the ground, we witnessed the bright tangerine sunrise and radiant rays shimmering on the calm Ganga surface. Everything seemed to turn into liquid gold and it magically transformed the shades of the sleepy city.

The city of Moksha as seen from above: The city of Varanasi is a living paradox, where the spiritually energized Kashi entwines seamlessly with a sluggish yet regal Benaras in the twisted bylanes. The visual appearance is evident in the ancient architectural landmarks sprinkled across the city, and we could easily spot the structural demarcation as we floated above.

The signature ghats like the Dashashwamedh Ghat is the main ghat in Varanasi close to Vishwanath Temple, where a grandiose Ganga aarti makes for a spectacular sight every morning and evening. A little ahead is the famous Manikarnika Ghat, which functions as a crematorium all hours of the day, and looks like hazy spec engulfed in smoke from a height. A remarkable monument that can be spotted from a distance is the Aurangzeb’s Mosque. It has two octagonal minarets and this historic structure stands on the north-west direction of Well of Knowledge or ‘Gyan Vapi Kund‘, establishing the religious co-existence since centuries. Moving ahead, we could spot multi-colored homes with geometrically defined terrace areas, stacked together like a lively lego installation. 

An ode to the city of Varanasi:
Post sunset, the city ghats glowed with the exuberance of the Ganga aarti and an ultra-high-tech laser show across the 80 ghats to commemorate the occasion. The Varanasi Hot Air Balloon Festival with UP Tourism was a one-of-a-kind initiative for many reasons, and the interesting bit was to capture the beauty of the holy city during the festival of Dev Deepavali (a festive occasion when the entire city is covered in lights and zest of Gods celebrating Diwali). To add an element of novelty during the festive celebrations, Mukesh Kumar Meshram, principal secretary at Culture and Tourism, mentioned, “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.”
Post-Covid, these activities are designed to build authentic experiences around sustainable tourism. Whereas, Samit Garg, founder of E-factor, believes, “The new age travellers are seeking a new brand of tourism that is not a singular product but translates into a series of unfamiliar novel yet transformative ‘experiences.’ The rise in exploratory and experiential travel over the standard approach to leisure is the new trend.”

When you are up in the air:
If you are ever planning on taking hot air balloon flights just remember a couple of things before you hop on – wear comfortable non-flowing outfits and don’t carry anything that you could possibly drop. Everything else is just smooth sailing depending on the wind direction. The process of flying in the balloon is equally fascinating. Most pilots are trained in the art of creating their flying machines and they prefer to carry their own balloons wherever they go. The first step is to lay down the entire balloon bag (or envelope) on a flat surface and attach it to a suspended wicker basket, which carries passengers and the pilot. The preferred time for taking a flight is early morning before sunrise to avoid direct light and heat once the sun is up. The source of hot air is usually a cylinder that burns liquid propane to create an open flame that keeps the balloon floating in the air. So watch out for the constant heat and noise from the ignition in the sky.

(Experience courtesy:  E-Factor Entertainment)

The writer is a Delhi-based blogger, and you can reach her at [email protected])