15th November 2013 in Taunggyi, MyanMar (Burma).

The October/November full moon in Myanmar is a time for celebration of light and for festivals. One of these is the fire balloon festival in the mountain town of Taunggyi, east of Inlay lake. 
We had decided to visit Myanmar a while ago and take advantage of the rawness of the country before tourism really takes flight. Myanmar has really only been open for general tourism for just about 2 years (you have always been able to visit, but was recommened that tourists didn't due to the government policies).
We always look to find a highlight to pin a trip on, and festivals and unusual celebrations are always a good place to start (it can usually be a great reason to take wonderful and inspiring photographs to record the event(s)).
Whilst researching Myanmar, we had heard about the Fire Balloon festival in Taunggyi, which runs for a week before October/November new moon. Each day of the festival is host to hot air paper balloons, several metres in length and in shapes of various animals that are launched and sent floating over the local town (if they don't spontaneously combust on take-off, a relatively common occurrence). In the evening the carnival really gets going with the launching of more traditionally shaped balloons carrying cargoes of sweets and/or fireworks. We hired a taxi to take us to the Taunggyi for just after 4pm (when daylight ends). 
Walking into the festival felt like a typical music concert with lots of people milling around, creating an overwhelming party atmosphere. We were very lucky to arrive when we did as things were just getting going and the crowds had not yet built up to huge volumes. Our first stop was a new Fire Balloon being prepared for take-off, and a chance to get to the front of the action to see the sequence of events. 
The paper balloon was laid like a pancake, without any barriers or safety precautions (I did mention it was raw at the start of this article).
(The balloon was manually lifted to allow the bamboo fire poles to be inserted, as well as to position the coloured candles on the outside. You can see the place holders drawn on the outside of the balloon in the picture below).
There were many people with collections of unlit candles in coloured holders; their job was to light them, and pass to the people decorating the balloon.

Once the balloon reached about a quarter of its fully inflated size, the coloured candles and holders were brought to the balloon and attached to the sides, at already marked locations.
You can see the different colours and patterns that are made in the next couple of images. The festival is also a competion and prizes are given to the most impressive/beautiful entry.
You can see the almost fully inflated balloon below as well as the decoration of candles.
The fuel container is filled with fuel, and inserted into the balloon, ready to be set alight to take the balloon on its  journey.
It didn't take long for the balloon to become fully inflated and turn into the final balloon shape, all elegant and beautiful. Under the balloon, quite a few men were arranged holding the balloon in position and inserting the fire poles into the hole at the base, as well as holding it down. 
You can see the coloured lanterns from this view, as well as the full height of the balloon before it's launched.
The fire poles had been positioned into the hole at the base of the balloon, to keep it inflated and provide height.  Once ready for take-off, the fire poles were removed and replaced by the fuel container.
(The only camera i had was the Fuji x-Pro1 with a 35mm F1.4 lens. This meant that to get the action and record the drama and events, we had to get almost under the balloon (luckily there was not a lot of health and safety going on ;-) ). 
We had a chance to experience the excitement and adrenaline that the guys under the balloon must have been feeling. For the few moments that we were under the balloon, the heat was intense - how these men were able to stay there for what must have been 15 minutes or so was difficult to imagine). 
One of the fire poles that are used to initially inflate the the balloon can be seen below.
Holding the Fire Balloon in place seemed to be a challenge, requiring many people to keep it stable and to make sure the balloon was ready to fly without a hitch.
The fire poles are made from bamboo, you can clearly see them in position below. 
You can see in this photograph a tail has been added to the balloon, made of mostly coloured candles. In other balloons that we saw, they had used a huge box of fireworks.
You can see the fire balloon in the photograph below including the tail.
As soon as the balloon had been successfully released, the team that made it, as well as the crowd, played gongs, music and created an amazing party atmosphere, celebrating a successful launch. 
With the competitive nature of this festival, other balloons may not have been as decorative as our initial balloon (shown above), but none the less were attractive and had been painted with different religious symbols (Buddha) etc.
The other balloons held unique surprises, and instead of candles, some were carrying huge boxes of fireworks. Once the balloons took flight, the fireworks started and continued high into the atmosphere. 

Some of the balloons, however, never actually made it very far. One of these managed to self ignite from the initial fireworks and fell back to earth, creating a large fire in the pedestrian walkway of the festival. The fire engines tried to move into the scene, but with the amount of people in the way it was impossible for them to pass. We don't think anyone was hurt and the fire seemed to be put out quite quickly. Luckily the party atmosphere soon resumed.
Hardware notes
This project was entirely shot using the Fujifilm x-Pro1 and the 35mm F1.4 Fujinon lens, including the video footage. The camera was held on a Zacuto Target Shooter.
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