It was dark when the company van picked us up from our hotel. We were still sleepy but excited for our first ever hot air balloon ride. We reached Sultan Tours company office in Goreme, Cappadocia at 5:15 am and drank hot Turkish tea. The crew divided visibly excited tourists from all over the world (Europe, Americas, Far-east) into batches of 25. Our batch comprised a large, bubbly group of girls traveling from Japan to Cappadocia just to experience ‘World’s most popular and searched on Internet’ hot air balloon ride. We all boarded company van and made our way through chilly morning wind to open ground near Rose Valley where balloons were getting primed.
Hot air balloon rides depend a lot on the weather conditions especially wind intensity and direction. It becomes difficult for the pilot to control the direction in high intensity wind. Also, hot air balloon operates on the principle of difference in the density of the atmospheric air and that of balloon. Hence, it can be experienced during dawn or dusk when sun does not heat atmospheric air to maintain differential densities. After our pilot Serkan explained this simple science, it started making a lot of sense to all of us on why we woke up so early!
The pilot’s instructions were brief – no destination, no seats or seat belts – just hinge ourselves to the basket during take-off. There are hardly any accidents and we had chosen trusted tour company – hence we knew we were in safe hands. The takeoff was smooth; within minutes we were floating in the air. Unlike my paragliding and much more adventurous sky-diving experience, there were no jitters. As we rose up, drifting in the air, the pilot maneuvered the balloon through the pointed peaks of fairy chimney rocks. Occasionally, the pilot would cut really close to the chimney rocks just for thrills.
As we rose higher up, there was a sense of calmness. There were no earthly sounds and the we looked at the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia beneath us. It was indeed surreal experience and the heavenly silence was only pierced occasionally by pilot’s radio signals.The crescendo of the hour-long ride was viewing golden sun rising far over Mt. Erciyes among myriads of colorful balloons in the sky. Far beneath us, we spotted a herd of sheep in the open fields. We were high up in the air admiring natural beauty of the region while our fellow Japanese riders were engrossed in clicking photos by the thousands.
After about an hour started our descent. The pilot signalled the ground crew and we could locate our van following us on the ground. Finally, pilot found open space and ground crew positioned the empty trailer for the landing of balloon basket on it. We landed on the trailer with a soft impact after wobbling for a bit. The crew handed a memento (certificate) to us and champagne bottle was popped open and served to all of us! We were indeed ‘Cappadocia High’ at the end of the ride.
Where: Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey
How: There are a plenty of balloon operators – Sultan, Royal, Cappadocia. We opted for Sultan Tours and booked online through Viator.
Cost: 150$ per person – inclusive of pick-up and drop-off and Champagne breakfast.