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Thoughts on Travel, Photography and Life from Ian Lloyd

Ballooning Over Burma

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

I had the good fortune to be commissioned to do photography in Burma (now known as Myanmar) in the mid nineties before tourism really took off there. Travelling there at that time was fraught with difficulties and things never seemed to go as planned. One particular job was .... well, unusual.

I was shooting a balloon specially made for the inaugural launch of a ship cruising down the Irrawaddy River, run by the Orient Express train people. After careful planning and a recce, I got the balloon crew to launch it with hot air on a short tether near a couple of famous pagodas. A small army of helpers was there at dawn complete with a hired ox cart and horse and trap. The sun rose on the towering balloon and the monuments and pagodas looked great. I had only taken about half a dozen frames, when disaster struck. One of the tether ropes suddenly snapped and a gust of wind blew the balloon into the sharp steel spire of a nearby pagoda that ripped two of the panels! The mammoth balloon immediately started to deflate into a heap on the ground and as it did so it spooked a horse nearby who in turn kicked a poor young girl innocently watching the whole scene. It was a disaster all around for the photography but fortunately nobody was badly hurt. I suppose we had not done enough to placate the spirits of the place. It is, after all, the 1000 year old resting place of the ancient kings of Myanmar.

For the next three days I hung out in Bagan shooting photos for myself and exploring every temple in sight while the balloon crew tried frantically to get the rip repaired. In desperation they flew the balloon back to Rangoon and got the Burmese airforce parachute repair experts lined up to help sew spare replacement panels that were flown out specially from England. The frustration and problems mounted though as these new panels got held up by overzealous  customs officials in Rangoon.  And so in the end, I never did get my photos of the balloon rising majestically at dawn over the ancient plains of Bagan. 

As a footnote though, that first disaster didn't stop a thriving ballooning industry from developing. Bagan is now one of the best places in the world to take a balloon flight.

by Ian Lloyd