Clicky

badge

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Skywaltz hotair Balloon ride experience in Pune

After a disappointing attempt last year [read more: Balloon ride cancelled, no refund], our ride was rescheduled and got second time lucky.

Last Saturday early morning,  drove to a pre-designated meeting point on Old Mumbai-Pune highway, near Talegaon. Skywaltz team was on time and after parking our cars in a restaurant nearby, we set off in Skywaltz arranged quails to a nearby village, from where the balloon would take off.

We were served tea/coffee and biscuits while Skywaltz ground crew prepared the balloon. Cabin and other stuff are brought down from the pickup truck and assembly began. First cold air was blown in and then hot air. Within minutes the balloon came to life and soon we were ready to leave. Using steps we got in. The basket has 3 chambers- one used exclusively by the pilot, along with gas cylinders and other accessories. Remaining two are for customers. Max 8 pax are accommodated on each flight. In our case, we were 6. Myself and my wife were given a chamber while another local family of 4 occupied the other chamber. With only two it was possible to move around a bit, but if there’re 4, it will be a little tight.
Slowly we lifted off, as Captain Hatem released more hot air into the balloon. Hot air is lighter than regular air, it lifts the balloon and the basket tied to it. We slowly lifted off and got moving. There’re no ways to control direction of a balloon as it is not powered to steer. It moves in the direction of wind. Wind direction could be different in various altitudes, so by varying the altitude, balloons can navigate a bit, by settling against the right wind direction. 

Linear speed of the balloon is very slow (in the video I’ve increased speed to 2x to save time). Max speed we reached during the flight was 15 knots, which is around 28kmph. Max altitude reached was 4300ft, for most of the flight duration we were between 2000-3500 ft approx. We could see the sunrise over the mountain, few lakes, dam and rivers from above. Early morning fog made it very scenic though it hampered visibility a bit. At some point in the journey, we could see street dogs would bark at the balloon and village kids waving hands. Landscape was just fine, not very eye catchy.
Skywaltz had a goPro hanging on to the balloon skin and at regular intervals, captain would take some photos/videos of the passengers using remote control. They would sell the videos + Photos for Rs 2500, Photos alone for Rs 1500.  Since I had my own goPro I didn’t bother buying these videos and photos. It would have given another angle (given its position, it would appear the photo is taken from another balloon from outside. Some photos/videos from that angle would have been nice, but spending a lot on them was difficult to justify after having spent lots of money on my own goPro.
Our flight lasted for about 50 minutes. Exact duration would vary depending on wind conditions, availability of safe landing spot and other parameters. We were asked to take landing positions, which is pressing ourselves against the basket walls. Landing will be little bumpy.

No GPS tracker for the balloon. After landing, we had to wait in the basket for about 30 minutes for ground crew to arrive. I was thinking ground crew would be trailing the balloon or tracking it via GPS, which I learnt is not the case. Pilot and ground crew communicate using radio, but there's no GPS. Pilot had to give some landmarks, one of the passengers who spoke local language spoke to villagers to get name of the village and direction, which was communicated to the ground crew via radio. Still they needed about 30 minutes to arrive, during which we had to stand in the basket and wait (If we step out, balloon would fly off- weight is needed to keep it on ground). Pilot kept releasing required quantity of hot air at regular intervals to maintain stability of the craft.

GPS devices are pretty cheap and I can't understand the reason why there's none on the balloon. In case of an emergency if none of the occupants can talk, communicating the location will be impossible and delay in arrival of help could cause lives. I request Skywaltz to act on it immediately-either ground crew should be able to track the balloon on a hand held device or someone in head office should be able to track the balloon and guide the ground crew in right direction.

Captain Hatem is an Egyptian national who was an aircraft engineer earlier, before taking up job as balloon pilot. He has been flying for about 12 years now, with 3 years in Turkey recently. (In Turkey Hot air balloon festival happens where dozens of balloons take off simultaneously. Sidney Sheldon's Doomsday Conspiracy novel has a mention of this hot air balloon festival.)
Once ground crew arrived, we got off the balloon, air was released from the balloon and it was deflated. We were given a certificate for completing the flight and had another round of refreshment. Skywaltz branded T shirts could be bought for Rs 500 and mugs for Rs 300. Using a netbook and portable DVD writer, captain burnt a DVD for our fellow passenger who wanted the video and photo.
It was a good experience to enjoy one time. Not sure if I want to do it again and again. At Rs 8000 per person, it is cheaper than what balloon rides cost abroad. (A balloon ride in Melbourne costs about Rs 20000)- location could be a bit more scenic, otherwise there isn't a huge difference.

A lot depends on weather on the day of the flight, Marketing materials that you see are clicked at best of the conditions and digitally enhanced further. Reality may not be that bright.

We were later dropped off at the restaurant where we had parked the car.

Watch this 3 min video of our hot air balloon ride experience. 
Similar: Skydiving Experience * 10 Adventure activities you can try in Karnataka * Scuba diving Experience 

20 comments :

santoshnc said...

Looks like a really great adventure....

R Niranjan Das said...

Love the vistas it offers.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Niranjan and Santosh

Anonymous said...

Which would you do again, flying in a balloon or a micro-aircraft? Is the one in Jakkur still operational?

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Microlight

Rathina Sankari said...

Great write up on the experience. I too had taken the flight a year back.
Penned my thoughts here
http://rathinasviewspace.com/2014/04/balloon-safari-romancing-the-sky.html

Meghana Hassan said...

Wow that looks like a wonderful experience, hope to plan sometime..

Puru@ShadowsGalore said...

Wow ! You finally made it this time. Love those misty shots :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Puru: Yes... I went to Pune only after confirmation that we'll get full refund if it gets cancelled one more time.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Meghana: Do try once.

@Rathina: I've read your post and commented on it last year itself :)

ladyfi said...

Wow - your shots are gorgeous!

Shrinidhi Hande said...

THank you

Nanda Kumar said...

The picture with SunBurst is awesome!

Nandakumar

http://randomscribblingpad.blogspot.in/

D.Nambiar said...

Wow! I've heard it IS slow, but I'm sure it was a great experience. I'd like to do a hot air balloon ride, pretty soon.

Lovely pictures. Love the one of the inside of the balloon.

D.Nambiar said...

Just watched the video, too.
Awesome!
A special 'like' for catching the reflection of the balloon. :)

I'm sure being up there early in the morning was a bonus.

Thank you for this post, Shrinidhi.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Nanda

Thanks D N. It is done only in the early morning. One ride per day. Do try.

niina sieppari said...

Lovely fogshots, dreamlike..

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Niina

Sheikh Faheem said...

Your Blog has ideally described the 'virgin experience of balloon flying. Nice photos which made me recall my first gliding experience. Price and other features were explained.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Sheikh