On the previous day itself, a fateful hot air balloon had crashed in the Carterton region of New Zealand killing 11 passengers after getting stuck in the electric wires. It sounded creepy while it was airing on the BBC news but we did not want to dampen our spirits.
Global ballooning, one of the most trusted names for this sport became our escort for the day. We had been asked to reach the starting point at the Hilton hotels reception at 5:00 a.m. We quickly signed forms to take the entire responsibility of any mishappenings that might happen during the adventure. Soon after that we were made to jump in a mini van and taken to Kakarook Park for the take off. The park in itself was a delight to watch. A beautiful lake amidst the curvaceous roads, wooden bridges and chairs placed over the pitch green finely chopped grass to watch the ducks floating in the crystal water .
The setup of the balloon takes close to 1 hour, and the staff seeks volunteering from the passengers for the same. As girls shirk from moving their butts so I rather preferred to capture some pictures around. Meanwhile the volunteers pulled the balloon out of the cars with the help of attached cables , opened it slowly by rolling it outwards spreading it on the ground like a cheese slice on the bread and attempted to heat the air inside the balloon to create buoyancy partially by ignition of burners and partially by blowing cold air into it with the help of air coolers. After filling the belly of the balloon for around 30 minuets the flimsy looking balloon turned into a gigantic flying machine. As per the instructions we jumped into the Gandola (the basket to carry passengers). One hard push by the staff and the balloon took a flight to conquer the territory of the sky fighting through the clouds just like warriors in the battleground. We were soon flying over the lake and there were several other multicolored balloons flying sky-high.
The flight that we booked was for the Melbourne skyline route (Colossal buildings in the Yarra river area), but the pilot informed us that the destiny of the ride is decided by the wind, which gave me the first jitter that the pilot was probably not the right choice. Surprisingly the wind traced a path upon the residential area. To gain altitude the ignition was started and to drop the altitude the ignition was stopped. While dropping we almost touched the heads of the wooden houses (which gave me a second jitter of suspicion for the pilot) and people on the ground waved at us in excitement. On the contrary immense height blurred the view to the city due to blindness caused by the clouds below. The whole excitement of surrendering to the sky with open arms sent shivery thrill to electrify my body. I took an aerial view of the entire city which included box like structures, toy cars, green sketches, well at least they appeared to be like one from the naked eye. The brisk air was very cold but was being nullified, time and again by the heat of the balloon.
The shadow of balloon fell on the clouds and my eyes sparkled at the view. This journey was special for everyone. An Aussie man had gifted this to his wife to celebrate the 35 year old bond that they shared. A daughter surprised her mother with the big ride on her 60th birthday and my Jiju had surrendered to my unruly desire to get on the monster as a gift to save his marriage.
So after an hour of the flight, it was coming to a close and the pilot had informed the staff about the landing in an open golf ground. We were all asked to hold the Gandola firmly, facing opposite to the landing and crouch a bit. We followed the instructions and turned our faces which luckily kept us from the witnessing the collision that was about to happen. As the balloon descended the pilot lost the estimate of the drop. The landing missed by seconds and almost reached the boundaries of the ground. It bumped into a huge tree and collapsed just before landing. The Gandola tilted some 2 meters above the ground and like a ring a ring a roses rhyme we all fell down. My free fall rested on my back and sent a steep pain down my butt. All of us got up quickly and took a look at what had happened. The balloon was stuck in the tree and the Gandola had detached from it. Stunned by the sudden jerk, everyone other than the 60 year old lady who was surprisingly clicking her own pictures while lying down, went furious. To pacify the situation the old lady laughed out loudly which made me think that the jerk had affected her head. The others followed her in the laughter exercise to bring peace but I could not even spare a smile as I had clearly hurt my back.
My Jiju, questioned about the careless landing to the pilot but no explanation could have helped. I got up and waited for the entire process of packing up the balloon to complete so that I could go back home and narrate the whole story to my sister. Back home, my sister in a winning tone expressed that how she was right to caution us for the silly ride. She expressed her remorse for my pain and applied me a balm. The pain was severe that lasted for 3-4 days and costed me 30$ for the doctors fee, a 2 day bed rest and an extension of my trip in Australia by a week.