A Memorable Ballooning Adventure In Cappadocia

Last update: 23/10/2014

By Salbiah Said

Last of a three-part feature on Cappadocia's Splendour

ISTANBUL (Bernama) -- The clear skies and light winds at dawn in Cappadocia on Sept 17, 2014 was the key barometer for a group of Malaysians on a visit to Turkey, to take their first flight in a hot air balloon.

It was the best flying weather and the right time to capture the essence of Cappadocia, famed for being one of the best places in the world for ballooning.

Of the 40 people in the group, 15, including this writer, took a bold step to embark on this aeronautical adventure in a hot air balloon owned by Kaya Balloons.

Turkey's Cappadocia region in central Anatolian province of Nevsehir, is characterised by fairy chimneys and caves and a unique historical heritage. It is best known for its unique moon-like landscape, underground cities, cave churches and houses carved in the rocks.

The group was on a 10-day "Istanbul Kami Datang" (Istanbul Here We Come) tour of Turkey from Sept 12 to Sept 21, organised by the Association of Women and Wives of Bernama Employees (Benita) and Vreka Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd.

BALLOONING FOR FAINT-HEARTED

The Malaysian experience shows that hot air ballooning is also for the faint-hearted. Of the 15, only one who suffers from acrophobia, commonly known as fear of heights, decided to take the plunge at the eleventh hour after being coaxed by the tour guide, Melih Tunali.

For Bernama's Centre for Excellence Senior Manager, Syed Khedher Syed Ismail, the mere thought of going up so high in the sky, what more in a hot air balloon, caused a wave of adrenaline to rush through his body.

"I couldn't sleep the whole night when my wife mentioned that she wanted to try the air balloon. I wasn't sure whether to join my family or stay in the hotel room", said Syed Khedher, who brought along his only daughter and niece.

Thanks to Melih, who said: "What is there to be afraid of, I had been up there eight times", Syed Khedher decided to join the group on the eve of the hot air balloon expedition.

"I was nervous at first, but slowly and surely enough, I managed to overcome the fear, especially after seeing a four-year old child from a different group organised by Vreka, joining us and enjoying the balloon ride".

DEFINING MOMENTS

"It was amazing to see the stunning landscape from the air and the view of the mountains was breathtaking. Floating in the air at 700 metres high with no engine and being together with my family up there, were moments that I will cherish for the rest of my life", said Syed Khedher.

The defining moments were captured when the balloon stopped at regular intervals during the ride.

"When the balloon stopped for a few minutes up there amid the peaceful surrounding, that was the time when we appreciated the greatness of the Creator. Subhanallah (Glory be to Allah). The simple celebration and flight certificate ceremony upon landing, were absolutely memorable", said Syed Khedher.

On the morning of the flight, the crew picked up the group at the hotel before dawn and drove to the Kaya Balloons site office in the town of Gerome, for a simple breakfast buffet. Shortly thereafter, the group headed out to the launch site and spent around 20 minutes watching the process of filling the balloons.

It was an incredible sight watching the scores of balloons getting ready for take off.

SPECTACULAR LANDSCAPE

The group, including Benita president Rohana Mustaffa, joined five others - a Malay couple (another batch under Vreka) with their four-year old daughter Dina and a foreign couple. All boarded the basket as the sun was peeking over the horizon. The burner was ignited blasting fire and hot air into the balloon and propelling it up in the air.

Within moments after lifting off, everyone on board was hypnotised and at ease while they effortlessly drifted over the magical vista. The group hardly noticed that they were leaving the ground as they joined other balloons, whose inverted teardrop shapes silhouetted against the sky.

The flight was peaceful and smooth, even at high altitudes, thanks to Kaya Balloons pilot, Ersin Has, who expertly manoeuvred the balloon through the rocky mountains of Cappadocia.

Ersin gently steered the balloon low into Love Valley, skirting over the whimsical rocks, at times, hovering just metres off the ground. This is where stone pillars resembling mushrooms, cones and pyramids are found, naturally formed by erosion of the volcanic rock.

Floating up to 2,296 feet (700 metres), closer to the fluffy white clouds, one could feel peace and tranquility as the Earth slowly descended and rotated below.

BALLOON FOLLOWS THE WIND

"This is as far as it goes as the balloon follows the wind. We can only go as high as 700 metres", said Ersin.

It is not possible to directly steer a balloon since it follows the wind. A pilot will use the varying wind directions at different altitudes to steer the balloon during hot air balloon rides.

Not only was Ersin a confident and safe pilot, he was also entertaining. While he occasionally cracked jokes during the trip, he also had his focus on the balloon.

The basket was divided into four sections, each holding five to six people. Ersin was in the centre to navigate.

Among the group, Hazlinda Hamzah, a producer of Bernama TV documentary, "1001 Destinasi: Malaysiaku", also kept Ersin busy with her questions, including why he kept firing the burner.

"Just for fun", said Ersin, who chose to answer in jest. He later explained that he had to keep firing the burner at regular intervals throughout the flight to ensure that the balloon continued to be stable.

COLOURFUL BALLOONS

Everyone was so comfortable in their own wicker basket as Ersin steered the balloon to gently drift over and between distinctive rock formations, and then float up over rippled ravines.

At some stage, some members tried to break the silence by asking, "Are you okay Syed?", who was apparently mesmerised by the aw-inspiring panorama of Cappadocia. Syed Khedher smiled and raised his hand to give the okay signal.

Some members were more excited to see the mind-blowing view of colourful balloons all over the sky against the weirdly shaped yet beautiful rocks or to actually be floating 700 metres above ground in a balloon.

The 'Parachute Valve' at the very top of the balloon is what is used to bring the balloon down towards the ground. The pilot pulls it if he wants to bring the balloon down. This cooling of air causes the balloon to slow its ascent.

Ersin had been communicating with the ground crew about the group's expected landing location. He skillfully and gently lowered the basket onto the back of the trailer.

It was a smooth and successful one-hour flight. Ersin gave away the certificates to 20 people, with four-year old Dina and Syed Khedher drawing the loudest applause.

FOCUS OF MOVIE MAKERS

Cappadocia, or Kapadokya in Turkish, is often referred to as "The Lost World" and "The Land of Lunar Landscapes". Its natural wonders have become the focus of attraction for international television and film producers, including from Malaysia.

Besides many Turkish movies, French movie star Jean Reno's "Empire of the Wolves" and American actor and filmmaker Nicolas Cage's "Ghost Rider II" are some of the famous movies shot in Cappadocia.

It is said that the extraterrestrial look of Cappadocia landscape inspired American film director and producer George Lucas to create the desert planet Tatooine for the "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" epic movie. However, the movie was not filmed in Cappadocia.

Astro will release Malaysian director Bernard Chauly's "Manisnya Cinta di Cappadocia" (Love in Cappadocia) on Dec 11 in Malaysia. The film is a romantic drama about a young woman whose ideal for love and marriage is tested when she is torn between the man she loves and the man her parents prefer.

It was partially shot in this historic region of Turkey. Chauly's last film "Istanbul Aku Datang!" (Istanbul, Here I Come!) (2012) was also filmed in Turkey and grossed RM3.6 million at the Malaysian box office.

-- BERNAMA