Imagine this—giant elephants, pigs, cows, ducks, roosters, and dragons floating in the sky above you. Now, for real—where do you actually see that? In the city of Taunggyi, capital of Shan State, in Myanmar, that’s where! Be there around early November and you’ll see how real they could get.
For three days, locals celebrate the Hot Air Balloon Festival in honor of the Sulamani Pagoda. But before the actual take off of the balloons, the pagoda itself is able to enchant with its fascinating story: In the Buddhist tradition, it is believed to have been built in Trāyastriṃśa (heaven of the 33 gods) by the king of the Tagyarmin (33 gods) from the hair strands of a prince named Theidatta. A temple built in heaven made from hair strands—now we get an idea why this temple is so revered; the story justifies the magnificence of the festival.
As soon as the harvest season is over, during the fairest month of the year, with clear skies and favorable winds, people from all over the place flock to the mountainous side of the Burmese country to join in the annual celebration. But the townsmen are the most excited; they have prepared for the festival so eagerly to be able to participate in the competition. Meanwhile, spectators await the most incredible hot air balloons that will adorn the blue backdrop up high.
There are two batches of hot air balloons to watch for: balloons in the form of animals that rise during the day and those decorated with paper lanterns at night. The day balloons seem more elaborate because of their shapes. Nevertheless, the evening balloons compensate with their intricate floral designs and interesting religious figures that truly amaze. Reaching six to seven meters in height and up to six meters in diameter, the balloons are giants indeed. The day balloons create a make-believe world in the air while the ones at night carry fireworks that light up the dark heavens.
Each of the balloons that take part in the festival is handmade. Traditional Shan paper as well as pieces of cloth is used. When working with fabric, the makers first soak the pieces in oil and wax for days before wrapping them around the iron frame of the balloons. About 400 people spend a month and a half toiling on a single balloon—tediously forming each part and then putting them all together. Now, do that math. With about 135 participating hot air balloons each year, how many people do you think dedicate how many hours of labor for the love of this festival?