Araku (Andhra Pradesh), January 25: Experience the exhilaration of flying in a hot air balloon while enjoying the panoramic view of a picturesque valley, stay in luxurious camps, go on nature trails to waterfalls, coffee plantations and strawberry farms. All this and more is set to become a reality in the emerging eco-tourism destination of Araku in Andhra Pradesh. After a successful second Araku Balloon Festival, the organisers are gearing up for a commercial rollout this year. On offer will be "glamping" or glamorous camping with resort-like facilities.
Sitting 3,000 feet above sea level in the eastern ghats and about 100 km from the port city of Visakhapatnam, the serene environs of Araku were abuzz last week as balloons of different shapes like 'Happy Chicken', 'Flying Honey Bee', 'Baby Car' and 'Bruno Clown' took to the skies, creating a riot of colours.
Organised by Sky Waltz Balloon Safari, a part of events management company E-factor, in association with Andhra Pradesh Tourism, the three-day festival saw participation by 21 ballooning teams from 15 countries, 70 camps, tethers and night glows, paramotoring displays, live music and excursions.
"This is a beautiful place to fly," Wout Bakker of Thailand told IANS on board the balloon he was piloting. With 25 years of experience, he has flown balloons around the world, including a seven-hour ride flight Germany to Italy.
"This region has good potential. There will be many people to buy a balloon ride here. If you have something special, they will come," said Sukhbir Singh Sekhon of Malaysia's hot air ballooning company Glowing Intuition.
The organizers and state officials hope to start the commercial operations in November this year as they believe that Araku can have two ballooning seasons in a year.
"Araku will become an attraction for ballooning. People will specifically come here for this. We are not seeing it as casual weekend holiday. We see it as experiential holiday," E-Factor Founder & CEO Samit Garg told IANS.
The interesting thing about Araku, according to Garg, is that sitting in a bowl, it has a micro-climate of its own. "Nowhere in the world do balloons take off at 9.30-10 am. Around the world balloon flights usually happen at sunrise and go on for two hours at the most. Thereafter, conditions are be not suitable for ballooning. From that perspective Araku offers a fantastic opportunity."
A balloon ride of 45 to 65 minutes costs Rs.14,000. The company charges $280 from foreigners.
Talking about the packages on offer, Kaushik Mukherji, Principal Advisor to the Andhra Pradesh Ministry of Tourism, told IANS that 2,600 online enquiries have been received in the last 40 days. A ride will cost between Rs.30,000 and Rs.79,000 with the stay ranging from one night to three nights. For a couple, a one-night stay, a balloon ride, food and beverages will cost Rs.30,000.
According to him potential investors are ready to invest in India's biggest ballooning and glamping product on the east coast. "The revenue model could be profit sharing or fixed sum per month or per year basis," said Kaushik.