Dancing with Balloons in Taunggyi for Tazaungdaing Festival
Guest post by my good friend Dani:
Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, is known for its pleasant weather and for being one of the cleanest cities in Myanmar. However if Taunggyi is specially highlighted in the circuit that tours the country is for holding the Hot Air Balloons Festival every November during Tazaungmon, the 8th full moon of the Buddhist calendar.
Tazaungdaing or the Festival of Lights is celebrated all over Myanmar. It’s when people offer new clothes to the Buddhist monks in a ceremony called Kahtain. During the night of the full moon, people light candles, lamps and lights. Weaving competitions are also held all around the country to provide new garments to the monks.
This tradition has grown to one of the greatest Myanmar festivals’ in Taunggyi. The capital city of Shan State makes itself more visible than ever for this occasion as it keeps on sending hot air balloons day and night during 9 days. It’s then when Myanmar people from all corners of the country and foreigners flock to the city by the thousands to witness the brightest, noisiest and most colourful festival of them all.
This year the festival started on the night of the 18th of November. The opening night is one of the busiest but I realized this was just a starter of what it was still to come. That night after shows of colourful traditional local dances, we could see the mesmerizing view of hundreds of lanterns and three enormous hot air balloons decorated with candles airing to the sky at the same time. It was special and something I hadn’t seen elsewhere before even though the lanterns can also be seen in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for the same festival, but just the lanterns. This all made me feel like an enchanted kid, being the protagonist of a magic fairy tale. And I am about to turn 40!
After the opening ceremony the party goes on at food stalls, street shops, promotional kiosks from all possible brands, fair rides, games and attractions that surround the festival ground in an almost 24 hours non stop shift. It’s definitely a big thing!
During the day, smaller balloons made of paper called “Ayoke” with the shapes of animals like birds and fish are launched. Flaming torches kept under the balloons fill them up with hot air until they release themselves in a subtle flight accompanied by the cheers, shouts and jumps of the crowd congratulating themselves for the success. But this riotous scene can’t really be compare with the one that awaits at night.
It’s at night the moment of the big show. After 8 pm one by one the different groups line up to get into the festival ground. It’s a ceremonious preparation. Hundreds of people belonging to different groups will wait their turn to build up and launch their balloon. In the end the whole festival is a competition and there is good money as prizes at stake.
Some balloons are decorated with tons of candles and lanterns lit forming different designs. These ones are called “Sein Na Pan” and are similar to the three ones I saw launched in the first night during the opening ceremony. But those ones combine alternatively with others even more appealing which are loaded with fireworks.
The “Nyi Gyi Mee” balloons are the great draw of the festival and what attracts most of the crowd. They offer a breathtaking experience since while the balloons are leaving the ground, the fuses of the fireworks they included are lit. Once in the air an amusing rain of sparks falls from the balloon displaying different fireworks shapes. As the balloon rises up the show gains intensity.
It’s as hypnotic as dangerous. Sometimes the fireworks go off before than expected reaching the crowds around the festival ground. It’s exciting to get close to the balloons but incidents happen, more often than imagined. This year I saw the fireworks of some balloons going off just a few meters from the ground as well as other balloons failing to take off completely or falling down even from already a quite high altitude.
If the balloon succeeds to fly, the crowds buzz with excitement, something that can go on for long time. I saw balloons still sending fireworks a good half an hour after they took off what I guess it must make a good opponent for the contest.
Daniel Calderón aka Dodi Fod, a restless traveller and storyteller. As a journalist went to the 5 continents. Since March 2014 is collecting stories around Myanmar and South East Asia. Passionate about languages, different cultures, literature and cinema. Lately experimenting with making documentary films. See his work in his blog Dodi Fog and his Facebook page Traveling Flip Flops.