Crew members prepare hot air balloon flight during the opening ceremony at Pokhara, Nepal, on Nov. 17, 2018.(Xinhua/Sunil Sharma)
by Shristi Kafle
POKHARA, Nepal, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- When a giant colorful balloon appeared in the ground near the pristine lake of the Fewa Lake in Nepal's most popular tourism destination Pokhara on Saturday morning, hundreds of people gathered for the unusual scene with excitement.
Soon, few crew members ignited fire at the bottom of the balloon with the help of gas cylinders while the balloon slowly moved up towards the sky.
The historic moment was witnessed and appreciated by many including politicians, tourism and sports entrepreneurs, journalists and local people as the hot air balloon flight was commercially introduced for the first time in the city.
The inaugural flight, which was cut short due to high wind speed, was attended by Prithvi Subba Gurung, the chief minister of Gandaki province, whose capital is Pokhara.
"The hot air balloon will definitely contribute to the tourism of Pokhara. I believe that it will enable the tourists to spend more days in the city to indulge in such recreational and adventurous activities. It's a positive start," Gurung told Xinhua after experiencing the balloon flight.
He further shared that the balloon flight is expected to contribute to their mission to attract 2 million foreign and domestic tourists to the province in 2022.
Balloon Nepal Pvt. Ltd started the balloon flight service with an investment of 15 million Nepali rupees after receiving authorization from Nepal's Civil Aviation of Authority, with two balloons bought from a Spanish company.
"Through the balloon flight, one can feel the majestic Himalayan ranges and the beauty of Pokhara closely. We want to support the tourism of the country through this recreational aviation activity," company secretary Prabin Maharjan told Xinhua.
Maharjan said that as step one, the company is starting its commercial operation from Dhampus, a village located some 22 km away from Pokhara. The flight will enable the passengers to have a view of five mountains - Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Fishtail, Mardi and Himchuli.
According to the technical team members, the hot air balloon operation is not that complex, however it requires certified equipment and experienced pilot, and most of all, good weather.
Currently, the hot air balloon is being operated by a professional pilot from India along with Nepali crew members.
Pilot Nitesh Parheik, who has been working in this industry since last few years, told Xinhua, "Pokhara valley is beautiful and people can see the stunning views of mountains from the top, so I think it's a perfect destination for ballooning."
He also explained that the balloon works after heating the air inside it with the burner. After the heat, balloon becomes lighter that the cooler air on the outside which causes the balloon to float upwards. Generally, certified LPG gas cylinders are used to heat the air while the fabric used in balloon are fire resistant.
The pilot, who has an experience of flying up to 10,000 feet, told Xinhua, "The balloon flight is totally safe as we follow globally recognized standards of safety. Passengers' safety is always the foremost priority for us."
On the first day, at least three commercial flights were held while hundreds of people booked the tickets. For Nepali people, the flight costs Rs 11,000 (about 100 U.S. dollar) while it costs 160 U.S. dollar for a foreign tourist.
The 26-year-old photographer Yush Dangol, who experienced the balloon flight on the opening day, told Xinhua, "It was my first time for such air adventure and it felt really amazing. I could see the good view of the city from the top."
Air sports is quiet popular in the Himalayan country, especially in the lake city Pokhara, which has been the major attraction for tourists. Besides hot air balloon, Pokhara hosts air activities like paragliding, ultralight flights and sky diving among others.