Ever seen the Taj Mahal from 3,000 feet above and from a distance of just 500 metres? Well, this could be your lifetime chance as the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department is hosting a hot air balloon festival in the vicinity of the monument November 14-16.
More than 15 hot air balloons from Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the UAE and the US, as also India, will fly tourists and adventure lovers, for a fee, at the festival that has been envisaged to promote tourism in and around the Taj Mahal, officials told IANS.
The organizers SkyWaltz and the UP Tourism Department promise that the three-day extravaganza will recreate the pageantry and elegance of the Mughal era, while setting new benchmarks in the realm of lifestyle tourism.
"The festival's itinerary has been tastefully pre-packaged to offer a glimpse of the rich culture and heritage of Agra, spiced with adventure and unique insider experiences - all set against the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Taj," SkyWaltz business Manager Naveet Bali told IANS.
The excursions will include visit to monuments as well as the renowned Kalakriti Cultural and Convention Centre, along with royal dining experiences in the regal city of Agra. All clearances from the ministry of defence and the Indian Air Force (IAF) - since the area around the Taj is a no-fly zone - have been taken and permissions for the event has also been granted by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the Agra district administration and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
The gondollas of the baloons can accommodate the pilot and up to four passengers, each of whom would have to pay in the region of Rs.8,000 ($125) for the flight.
Bali further informed that the company has a foolproof safety record of flying hot-air balloons and all measures are complete. Registrations would begin from November 1. The festival has been divided in three parts - Taj Sky view, Agraban and Nightglow.
In the first, the balloon rides will reveal the Taj in its hidden subtleties only when viewed from the unique vantage point offered by a hot air balloon reflecting in the surrounding waters, reaching unto the skies.
In the second, the ride will be along the Red Fort and other important landmarks of the Mughal era. The third will be held in the evenings - a lively night glow concert that will showcase the spectacular sight of the balloons lighting up the dark night sky along with musical accompaniment.
The evenings will also be capped off with performances and entertainment from local and nationally recognized music and dance performers, officials of the tourism department informed.
Director General (DG) and Secretary Tourism Amrit Abhijat told IANS that the festival was a first of its kind and was a very serious and innovative effort to promote lifestyle tourism in the state.
"Based on the experience of the Taj Baloon Festival, we would replicate it in Varanasi and Dudhwa also," he said, while informing that Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was expected to inaugurate the extravaganza. "He has been the force behind the show and we all are looking forward to his participation in the event," the official said. Yadav is also likely to take a balloon ride.