Burma Balloon

Bagan Myanmar (formerly Pagan Burma)

Ballooning over Bagan in 1995

I just got back from Burma (now known as Myanmar) and the whole week was ...well, unusual.

I was shooting a balloon specially made for the inaugural launch of a cruise ship running down the Irrawaddy River, run by the Orient Express train people. After careful planning and a recce, I got the balloon crew to put it up on a short tether near a couple of famous pagodas. We were all there at dawn complete with a hired ox cart and horse and trap. The sun rose on the balloon and the monuments and everything looked great. I had taken about six pictures, just waiting for the light to get better 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 pagoda and ripped two of the panels! It immediately started to deflate and come down 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 desperately to get the rip repaired. They flew back to Rangoon with it and finally got the airforce, who repair parachutes, to help. Unfortunately, the spare panels coming out from England (which should have been packed with the balloon in the first place) got held up in customs in Rangoon. To cut a long story short, the repair wasn't completed in time so they decided to use some of my previous photos for the launch press kits. 

As a 2013 postscript to that story, 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.