A hot-air balloon flight is often one of the options offered to tourists when they visit Egypt, particularly, in the west bank area of the Nile valley opposite the city of Luxor which is located on the east bank. This is the one attraction that can introduce an element of fear into the hearts of those thinking of taking up this option. But the rewards for those up to the challenge are great and can result in becoming one of the highlights of the holiday. There are no age restrictions but you must be agile enough to climb in and out of the basket and be able to stand for the duration of the flight. Flights are often advertised as “Over the Valley of the Kings” or other similar description, but where you fly and in what direction depends on where you start from and in which direction the wind takes you. The flight usually involves crossing the Nile in a small boat, then being transferred by truck or four wheel drive vehicle, to the balloons location. After the flight, the same vehicles pick you up and return you to your boat for your trip back to the east bank and return to your hotel or cruise boat.
The basis of how the balloon works is that warmer air rises in cooler air. This is because hot air is lighter than cool air. The actual balloon (called an envelope) has to be so large because it takes such a large amount of heated air to lift it off the ground. To help keep the balloon in the air and rising, hot air needs to be propelled upwards into the envelope using the burner. The burner uses propane gas to heat up the air in the envelope to move the balloon off the ground and into the air.
The burner is fired at regular intervals to ensure that the balloon continues to be stable. To move the balloon upwards the pilot opens up the propane valve which lets the propane flow to the burner which in turn fires the flame up into the envelope.To move the balloon downwards, a ‘Parachute Valve’ at the very top of the balloon is used to bring the balloon down towards the ground. It is essentially a circle of fabric cut out of the top of the envelope which is controlled by a long chord which, when pulled, opens the valve, allowing hot air to escape, decreasing the inner air temperature. This cooling of air causes the balloon to slow its ascent. A gentle decent can also be initiated by burning less often as the balloon gradually cools due to heat loss from the warm surface of the balloon. If a pilot wants to move in a particular direction, they simply ascend and descend to the appropriate level and ride with the wind. This is however limited to the variation in wind direction on the day which may not be consistent.
One striking thing that can be clearly seen from the balloon, is how the terrain changes when the land is no longer irrigated. The line between fields with crops, and the desert, is very distinct. This helps to demonstrate the importance of the Nile throughout Egypt’s history, and how this great river has held the key to life and death in Egypt throughout the ages.
As stated earlier, what you see during your balloon flight can differ, but the opportunity is there to see things that are not normally seen when you take the standard scheduled trips, such as some of the less visited temples, or a different view of some of the more popular attractions, such as the Colossi of Memnon. Whatever you see, you can be assured it will be something that will remain in your memory for many years to come.