It had been several years since I had watched Mary Poppins on a lazy afternoon in a friend’s living room as a child. I had marvelled at how the unusual nanny travelled. Toes pointed outwards, a magical bottomless carpet bag in one hand and an umbrella in another, Mary came in through the window to teach and entertain little Jane and Michael. I hadn’t thought of the movie in a while—and I had no idea that I would soon have my own Mary Poppins moment.

On a family holiday to Turkey in July, we spent two nights in Cappadocia after an eventful four days in Istanbul. Cappadocia is known for its rock formations called “fairy chimneys"—and for its churches that have been carved out of the soft rocks from volcanic deposits. Apart from the geological charms of this town, Cappadocia is a popular hot-air ballooning centre in Turkey because of excellent flying conditions and great views of the landscape. That’s why I was here—my first hot-air balloon ride, a few thousand feet above the ground.

At about 3.30am, our van pulled up in front of our hotel. I exchanged groggy hellos with other passengers and nodded off to sleep in my seat.

When the van stopped about an hour later, I opened my eyes to see what looked like a hot-air balloon party in the middle of a desert. The first morning light had started to appear. Flat, brown ground was draped with tens of deflated balloons in all colours—red, blue, green and yellow, all emblazoned with brand names. Other balloons already dotted the sky like colourful drops of paint. James Platt

Balloons on the ground being readied for the flight. Photo: James Platt
Balloons on the ground being readied for the flight. Photo: James Platt

My stomach didn’t flip, as I thought it might, nor did I start to feel light-headed. I felt weightless but comfortable because I had a solid surface to stand on. The air was clear and my lungs, so accustomed to polluted city air, thanked me.

The balloon went higher and higher to what must have been about 1,500ft. A group of grazing horses grew smaller and smaller. The balloon moved slowly—there were no jerks or surprises or sudden movements. We drifted further and further into the sky. When I looked around again, our balloon had joined about 30 of its friends. We were one of the colourful paint drops now.

It was quiet up there. The only sound I heard was the whirr of the loud blue flames in the centre of the balloon. For short periods, these flames were turned off and just the hot air inside the balloon was enough to guide it through its course.

The pilot controlled the flames which rose to a couple of feet, sometimes in short musical bursts, which at one point made him say, “I’m no pilot, I’m a DJ," and we all laughed. Although there were about 20 of us in the wicker basket, everyone seemed awed into a respectful silence. Up there, it was possible to reflect on life, its greater meaning and other lofty ideas in the gentle daylight. All that was visible for miles was clear sky. There were no clouds. There weren’t even any birds. It was blue for as far as I could see.

The flames, a few feet away, kept me warm. I felt like I was in front of a roaring fireplace during a snowy winter. The sun hadn’t come up over the horizon yet. But it seemed like the sky was preparing for the sun’s grand entrance. Bands of pastel colours started to stripe the sky like wallpaper borders in a child’s nursery—baby blue, butter, blush, dandelion.

And then we could see it. It was dramatic, like the sun in The Lion King, when it comes up over the African savannah—a big, fiery orange sun that replaced the pastels with ochre, saffron and mango.

We landed so perfectly that the ground staff was able to direct the basket directly on to a mini carriage so that it could be wheeled away. There were cheers, applause and a collective sigh of relief once we were on terra firma. The flames were switched off and the balloon took a few minutes to droop and flatten. Then it was folded and packed away as easily as a picnic cloth. We all hopped out of the basket and cheered with non-alcoholic champagne. One of the passengers celebrated his wife’s birthday by cutting a cake.

I’m no Mary Poppins. Yet, in the middle of those festivities that topped off a magical morning, I couldn’t help feeling like her.

Ayesha Aleem is a writer based in Bangalore, India. She will soon start writing for a luxury travel magazine in Mumbai.

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