It gets difficult to peel him away from the massive object that measures about 70 feet in height. Next to it is a 90-foot-high 2.0 theme balloon with images of Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar.
The open ground inside Loyola College is a scene of much excitement. It is the venue for the curtain- raiser of the Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival, that has been taking place in Pollachi for the last three years. “For the fourth edition this year, we are expecting at least 50,000 people,” says Benedict Savio, who started the Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival in 2015. He says that in the first year, the festival drew 2,000 visitors from the villages around Pollachi. The next year, the number swelled to 8,000, with visitors flocking in from Karnataka and Kerala.
“It has helped in creating tourism and in the economic development of the area,” says Savio. The hotels are all gearing up for the 2018 edition, and even locals have opened up their houses as Airbnb properties, to accommodate tourists. There are camping sites as well.
The festival in Pollachi receives hot air ballooners from all over the world. “So far, we have only one participant from India,” says Savio. Pilots Bartek and Marlena from Poland, who have been flying hot air balloons for over two decades now, are here to participate in the event for the first time. “We heard of this festival in Pollachi and wanted to participate. We have flown in Bahrain, Europe, Africa, Malaysia, Singapore…” says Marlena.
The couple has also been organising the balloon festival in Poland since 2004. Bartek then gets busy filling the balloon with cold air, and then with hot air. Every time flames from the burner come in, there are more gasps of awe.
As the four vibrant balloons are set up, the crowd goes into a frenzy clicking pictures. And even though Chennai doesn’t have permission to fly hot air balloons, the onlookers aren’t deterred from having a good time.
“The climatic condition in Chennai is not favourable for this sport; also, it has an active airport, so we can’t conduct the festival here. We invite everybody to come to Pollachi to enjoy the sight of the balloons in the air,” adds Savio.
(Adhiban presents the Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival in Pollachi, between January 10 and 16. It’s organised by Global Media Box and The Slaves restaurant, in association with Department of Tourism, Tamil Nadu. For details, log on to www.tnibf.com)