Up, up and away!

Up, up and away!
PUTRAJAYA: “Make sure you bend your knees and hold on tight when we are about to land” Balloon pilot Derek instructed both cameraman Samsul Kamal Latip and I.

We followed his instructions and prayed to God our flight will go well.

With a few more blasts of the burner and our basket slowly lifted off the ground.

Derek Hancock was our pilot for the day. With his 17 years of experience, I placed my trust for my life in his hands and held on tight to the basket.

The hot air which was lighter than cool air of the morning lifted our hot air balloons up skywards above Presint 2, Putrajaya.

Another blast and we rose higher towering above the beautiful landscape of the government office buildings, bridges and the lake below.

I was enjoying the sensation of vertical flight until I felt a sensation of the balloon descending.

I realized our hot air balloon had started to lose height as if we were about to make an unintended splash into the lake below.

That’s when I started to panic, just a little bit.
I am perfectly okay with heights but my fear is the exact opposite!

“Oh my God the lake! The lake! We are getting closer and closer to the lake!”

“What happens if we drop right in and make a splash landing into the water? How are we going to stay afloat with the balloon collapsing on us?”

“Will there be crocodiles?” (I swear I saw something that looked like those reptilian monsters from above).

Those were the thoughts that came across my mind.

However the cool air above the lake somewhat calmed me a bit.

Then I realised why Derek hovered above the lake. It was to get more of the cool air to help project the hot air balloon to a higher elevation.

As we gained altitude, I asked the American balloonist who had experience flying all over the world, “what was so special about Malaysia?”

Due to its location near to the airport, hot air balloons are not permitted to above 1000 feet (304.8 m) above Putrajaya while in flight.

Hovering low in flight is a novel experience for Derek as he does not enjoy the same privilege back in his home base in the US.

Derek’s professionalism and commanding presence banished my earlier fears of our hot air balloon crashing – after all it was not too long ago that some tourists were killed in a hot air balloon mishap in Egypt while on an aerial sightseeing flight.

Our flight on the other hand was smooth sailing, there was nothing to be worried about.

My one observation was that riding in a hot air balloon is almost like being cooped in a sauna. Imagine the burner which furiously blasts naked flames within feet of one’s face to provide lift for the balloon every 5-10 minutes.

But all in all it was a wonderful experience having the wind carry you to your destination. I was told you can’t really steer the hot air balloon, having control only for vertical motion. Speed is an issue as you can only travel as fast at the wind blows.

However flying in a hot air ballo¬on has to be one of the most serene, enjoyable activities you can ever experience. And the bird’s eye view from where we were, was simply breathtaking.

The highest we flew was about 500 feet (150 m) before we slowly descended.

Time to land. Derek first spotted an empty vast ground and pronounced that that was where we were to land.

He signalled us to hold on the sides of the basket and reminded us to bend our knees.

“Ok here goes!” I tried to brush the thought of our basket rolling on the ground with us in it.

“Thud.”

Perfect landing and we were back on terra firma

I thanked Derek for the lovely hot air balloon ride and thanked the organisers, AKA Balloons for allowing us to tag along on their media flight test to prepare for the upcoming Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta this weekend (28 – 31 Mar).

There will be hot air balloons shaped in the figures of monkeys, cats, clowns and Smurfs flying over the skies of Putrajaya.

There will be over 20 balloons from 14 countries participating in the fiesta over the weekend.

Like me, visitors will also be able to go on the hot air balloon ride and experience it for themselves.