I’d booked a sightseeing tour with a difference – a hot air balloon ride at Jaipur.
At 5am at my hotel I got in the car, Sky Waltz had sent for me and set off in the clear lilac dawn through streets mercifully free of traffic.
The actual departure point for these rides is only decided on the morning according to weather, especially wind, conditions, but I was lucky and we headed to the magnificent Amber Fort, a few miles from Jaipur city centre and simply the most wonderful backdrop for a balloon ride.
When we arrived, right below the fort on a wide field were three vans in a row each attached to a basket lying on its side and, spread on the ground, the huge, unwieldy balloon skins.
The passengers were divided up into the baskets after a swift cup of chai, clambered in, safety briefing, the gas was switched on, the balloons inflated, and we gently rose as dogs barked furiously at the sight.
The massive walls of the 16th century fort, home to the Rajput Maharajahs, shimmered in a biscuit colour in the pale morning light, row upon row of walls and battlements and ramparts, all protecting the inner core of the palace.
Surrounding the fort are the Aravalli Hills with ancient walls snaking along the tops, and the typical bare and brown summer landscape of Rajasthan.
We sailed on what seemed to be hardly a breath of air over the vast courtyard to admire the intricately carved gateway, over the formal mughal garden where we had watched a fed-up dancer performing after the sound and light show a few evenings before, over Maota Lake and admiring a view that was never intended by the builders to be seen by humans.
The ride was silent, punctuated only by the sudden short roars of gas the pilot switched on to lift the balloon up to another air stream, and the murmurs and camera clicks of the four other passengers. The other two balloons had drifted away in other directions and we were alone in the sky but we felt totally safe in the hands of the professional English pilot. It was exciting and tranquil at the same time which sounds contradictory!
We silently crossed above the fort and over Amber village where more dogs barked and we saw the rooftops of the ramshakle houses not far below, the carved spire of a temple, bright patches of well-watered gardens, and occasional flashes of vivid colour and sparkle as a woman walked along.
In the distance smoke floated horizontally from the chimneys of the brick kilns on the plains, and ridges like rocky pastry crusts were scattered ahead as far as we could see.
A pair of peacocks on the side of one of these hills cawed despairingly at the tops of their voices. In a semi-circle below us were the tops of the compounds of the tiger and lion rescue centre where circus tigers rest out their days in privacy and quiet.
Blocks of new luxury hotel huddled in a little formal group to one side of the main road along which we watched the Sky Waltz car follow to see where we ended up, and we cruised over brown fields and patches of scratchy trees, eventually decorously sinking onto the gound as gently as we had taken off an hour earlier.
I don’t think any of us wanted to get out but we regretfully climbed out of the baskets as the crew held them down, then watched the balloons deflate and be folded carefully away in vast tarpaulins.
We each took away a certificate and utterly unforgettable memories of a day trip of Jaipur that was definitely out of the ordinary!
Travel tip shared by Tara