Myanmar hot-air balloon festival returns with a bang

4. Hot Air
Revellers prepare to release a tortoise-shaped hot-air balloon during the Tazaungdaing Lighting Festival at Pyin Oo Lwin Township in Mandalay, Myanmar, on November 6, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
PYIN OO LWIN, Myanmar — Thousands of people have gathered in the hills of central Myanmar for the annual Tazaungdaing light festival, which marks the end of the rainy season with a fiery night-time display of exploding hot-air balloons.اضافة اعلان

The celebrations in the former British hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin have not been held for two years because of the COVID pandemic and unrest following a military coup.

But on Sunday night, rival teams began launching 76 aerial artistic creations, competing for marks in aesthetics, teamwork, height reached, and time spent in the air.

The balloons were propelled upwards about 100 meters above ground using the heat from a fire, then fireworks within the balloons exploded in a spectacular burst of lights across the inky sky.

The festivities are a rare respite from the economic misery and violence wracking much of the country, almost two years after the military’s power-grab.

“We are holding our festival here, but we are sorry for what is happening elsewhere,” said Aung Myat Thu, 37, who spent months working with friends on a balloon. “When we were preparing for the competition, we all worked alongside our worries.”

The hot-air balloons featured an array of artwork, from images of Buddha to traditional motifs, with one designed in the shape of a polar bear.

Some of the participants attached dozens of red, white, and yellow candles to their balloons before releasing them into the chilly night air, to huge cheers. Crowds ambled between stalls at a temporary fairground while traditional dancers performed.

While the Tazaungdaing tradition is rooted in Buddhism, the hot-air balloon contest was started by British colonialists in the late 19th century.

Previous editions have drawn tens of thousands of local and foreign visitors, attracted by the color — and danger — of the gathering. The balloons are loaded with fireworks, and any miscalculation of the timing of lighting the rockets can result in catastrophe. In 2014, three people were killed at Tazaungdaing celebrations in Taunggyi in neighboring Shan state when a balloon crashed onto spectators below.

Tin Mar Lwin, 41, was beaming on Sunday night after sending off her balloon, which was decorated with a huge red and gold Buddha seated on a lotus leaf.

“I want the situation to be stable like this,” she told AFP. “I want peace. I’m hoping for it. I’m happy coming to this event.”

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