KUALA LUMPUR – A four-day international hot-air balloon event kicked off near Malaysia’s capital on Thursday, with a motley collection of about 20 colorful balloons providing sky-scanners with an unusual sight.
The eye-catching balloons could be spotted floating over the streets of Putrajaya – located just about 35 kilometers (22 miles) to the south of Kuala Lumpur – as part of the 10th annual Putrajaya Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.
“I’m happy to see the young generation enjoying hot air balloons as I did when I first started, too,” the fiesta’s chairman, Mohammad Sobri Saad, had said at the event’s press launch on Feb. 25.
Balloonists stemming from 14 different countries around the world cranked up the heat to lift off their billowing airships in a bid to snag the coveted Rudy Trophy.
The trophy – named in honor of the fiesta’s late co-founder, Captain Khairudin Abd Rani – is awarded to the winner of a special competition requiring precision skills.
It involves a “hare” balloon first flying off on its own and landing at a specific spot before laying out a large piece of fabric that is targeted by the other aeronauts (“hounds”), who attempt to drop markers as close to the bulls-eye as possible.
This year’s fiesta also debuted a balloon “igloo” created by Spanish artist Jordi Enrique by recycling old balloons.
Over the upcoming weekend, the igloo was set to serve as a canvass for a light and motion show that promised to dazzle visitors after sunset.
The balloons come in a variety of shapes and sizes: this year, they include a sinister-looking clown from Slovakia, a caped teddy bear from Taiwan, a pink elephant from Belgium and a heart emblazoned with the word “Happy” from Japan.
According to Malaysia’s Islamic Tourism Center, for the first time in the event’s history, attendees this year would be offered “free-flying” balloon rides organized by the Asian country’s only commercial hot air balloon company, MyBalloon Adventure. They also have the option to mount tethered balloons thanks to the MyBalloon Club.
The ITC added that it was also bringing back the “Night Glow” spectacle, in which brightly-lit balloons dance across the night sky in sync to music blaring out of loudspeakers scattered through the area.
As their name suggests, hot air balloons are able to defy gravity through a simple physical principle: heating the air inside the fabric bag (technically called an envelope) makes it less dense than the colder air outside.
When a pilot wants to make the airship descend, he or she just needs to allow the air within the envelope to cool, although steering is limited to climbing up or down into winds, which determine the balloon’s direction.
Modern balloons can be traced back to unmanned Chinese sky lanterns that were first used in the 3rd century AD for military signaling and applied the same lighter-than-air technique.
But it was the history-making contraption developed by the French brothers Jacques-Etienne and Joseph-Michel Montgolfier in the 1780s that constitutes the blueprint for the manned balloons used today.
A decade after its first edition, the Putrajaya fiesta continues to delight visitors free of any admission fees.