The efforts made to organise the International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Shiraz was started two years ago, by hot air balloon pilots of the “Open Europe Skies” association from Krakow. The municipal authorities of Shiraz really wanted to organise the 1st International Hot Air Balloon Festival.
It should be remembered that Iran is ruled by fundamentalist religious groups, not familiar with openness. That’s why our presence and the very hot air balloon flights were suspicious to them. We had fixed “carers” for the entire period of our stay. It was entirely opposite to the cordial reception from the municipal authorities. Immediately after landing at the airport we were welcomed by the mayor at the room designated for official delegations, where we were given fresh fruit and drinks. Each of us received symbolic roses after a short greeting.
“Ordinary” people in the streets were really kind to us. They came to us, talked to us and were keen to start discussions. The openness is particularly visible among young people who speak English fluently and are willing to exchange e-mail addresses.
There were not many Europeans in Shiraz, a city located approximately 1000 kilometres south of Tehran. We landed at our target destination on May 19th. 14 hot air balloons (50 persons) came with us: 11 from Poland, one from Lithuania, Austria and Switzerland (each). Our company was represented by SP- BII “TENT GROUP” team. We have spent 10 days in Iran. The organisers guaranteed a lot of attractions and numerous trips. We have visited:
– Persepolis (ruins of the seat of the rulers of Persia from 500 BC), Tehran (the former residence-palace of the Shah of Iran), the mountains, the waterfall located 3000 m above sea level, a skiing centre in the very mountains, near the salt lake and, of course, at a market place.
We were supposed to participate in a competition in Iran, but virtually none of the races took place. We only managed to organise a night gala and a show on a tether at the stadium. The security services, the army and representatives of the municipal authorities were the only viewers of the event. We did one flight on the last day of our stay. Immediately before the start it turned out that pilots can only fly if a soldier gets on board. The soldiers had radio stations and weapons in holsters. Some of the pilots decided not to fly. Others regretted their decision. The soldiers opened the parachute flap behind the pilots’ backs, thus forcing the balloons to land, or closed gas valves in the cylinders. They even tried to force the pilots to turn left or right (which is not possible when you are flying a balloon) or land immediately, while there was nothing but city buildings under the balloons. After the odd flight some of the soldiers came to the hotel to apologise for the situation. They said they had received an order to do so.
To sum up then, it is a great success that the balloons flew to that country at all, for the first time in history. The hospitality and friendliness of the people made up for all of the difficult situations with the flights.
Seeing the commitment of Shiraz authorities in organising the Festival we think there is an opportunity to organise such event there in the future. We recommend going to Iran as a tourist. There is no commercial tourism in the country. It is safe provided that you stick to the rules established there.