The ninth edition of Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival showcased special balloons shaped like elephant and frogs

Imagine a scene plucked right out of a whimsical dreamland: the soft glow of dawn spreads over the sprawling spectacle of Pollachi, lighting up its carpet of coconut groves. From high above, nestled within a gently drifting hot air balloon, this enchanting tableau unfolds in all its glory. Amid these serene flights, a special balloon – one shaped remarkably like a grey elephant – gracefully ascends. Its pilots, Mark and Lisa Stokoe from the United Kingdom, guide the balloon’s rise. “This elephant can fly,” declares Lisa, the co-pilot, beaming with pride about Elii, the star attraction at the recently-concluded Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival (TNIBF).

The charming story of Elii is just one of many such marvels at this year’s festival, an event that is rapidly putting Pollachi on the international tourism map. Pilots from across the world, including the UK, Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam, were present, showcasing their uniquely-shaped hot air balloons. Benedict Savio, the founder of TNIBF and event director of Global Media Box, explains that the festival’s aim is to draw international attention to the beauty and potential of Pollachi as a tourist destination.

The Stokoe family, passionate about travel and hot air ballooning, are planning to display Elii at balloon events around the globe. From the globally revered Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico to festivals in Turkey, Thailand, and Spain, Mark and Lisa are hot air ballooning enthusiasts with a mission. They clock in around 30 flights a year, with Lisa noting how each one offers a novel thrill thanks to the spectacular views. This shared family passion also serves as a catalyst to connect with people from various walks of life. “Every flight is different, and it’s the thrill of beautiful sights that draws us,” Mark shares.

Ballooning is not just about the thrill, however. It also boasts an economic advantage for the localities where festivals occur, as it generates a significant multiplier effect on the local economy through associated events like music festivals and kids’ carnivals. Attendees and pilots alike revel in the experience, which is generally deemed safe thanks to the natural flow of the wind and the guidance of professional ground teams.

The process of crafting these special-shaped balloons like Elii involves careful planning and execution—cutting and sewing fabric into the desired figure, then adding extra fabric to provide the precise contours and features of the creation. As Lisa waves enthusiastically to the ground spectators from the skies, she shares insights into this intricate process, while Mark, with 12 years of piloting experience, assures that as long as one observes the correct weather conditions and has a support team on the ground, the activity is far from hazardous.

Lisa, besotted with the enchanting vistas and the cordiality of the local population, voices her hope to return next year, capturing the sentiment of many who have visited or taken part in this aerial extravaganza. For updates on future events and a chance to experience this unique blend of adventure and community, hot air balloon aficionados and the curious are invited to follow the @tnibf page on Instagram.

With this year’s festival wrapped up, the skies of Pollachi have returned to their usual calm. But for a few splendid days, they were transformed into a canvas of vibrant shapes and colors, painting memories that will float in the minds of participants and onlookers alike for years to come.

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