Flying into the light

Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia


Cappadocia is one of the most visited tourism centers in Turkey, and understandably so. Cappadocia’s landscape owes its origin to eruptions from two volcanic mounts, the last one being about 8000 years ago. Over years, the outflow cooled to produce interesting rock patterns – perfect for watching from the skies.

Cappadocia also has one of the world’s best hot air ballooning sites. Even before we reached Turkey, Sudha and I had planned to try it out. We booked our flight on a balloon just before leaving Istanbul after our tour operator assured us that it would be phenomenal.

We woke at 4:30AM and proceeded to the launch site. We were directed to a hotel’s breakfast table with the name of our pilot – Francisco – as others gathered in. After the passengers for the day’s trip had all assembled (around 20 in all), we drove down to the valley where the balloons were ready.

Francisco already had our balloon inflated and ready to go. Below the massive balloon hung a small wicker basket, cleaved into two sections for passengers to climb into, and one for the pilot and controls. We got basic instructions for landing – crouch position till the basket hits the ground – and then we were off. Francisco had four propane blowers on a panel overhead, with which he controlled the flight. The blowers hissed a huge flame into the balloon to heat the air, as it blew dragon breaths in, we soared gently overhead.

This being off season, there were only around 50 balloons in the air. During peak season times, we were told, there were more than a hundred balloons taking off simultaneously.

As we rose over the valley, the sun kicked off his slumber and started peeking over the horizon. What a beautiful sight it was! Warm golden light oozed out of the horizon, gently brightening the landscape in front. The rock formations started taking shape in the valley. We also noticed that many of the formations had windows and were earlier used as houses.

A thin mist hung from the sky, and balloons that drifted higher melted into it, with just the wicker basket bobbing below.

We soared over the valley from an hour, watching the town wake. And then, just as slowly as the balloon rose, we started our descent. Francisco maneuvered it gently, till the basket landed on the back of a container pulled by a truck. As we prepared to get off, he started deflating the balloon, even as his helpers pulled the top towards the ground. As the air was sucked out of the balloon, it swayed indecisively, then slowly collapsed sideways to the ground. The ground staff deftly walked on it as it lay on the ground, squeezing the air out and then packing it.

As we got off, we had a small champagne party to celebrate – what an adventure it had been!

More on Turkey below:

Or read all my travel posts here.

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