By Lobsang Wangyal
Tibet Sun OnlineNews, 28 July 2015
The Tibet Balloon, “Tashi Gyaltsen”, flew with 433 balloons in the skies of France on 26 July in a world record event produced by Lorraine Mondial Air Ballons.
The balloon, made with the design of the Tibetan flag, joined balloons representing 40 other nations, and flew for 90 minutes over the French countryside of the Lorraine region in front of thousands of spectators. This was the balloon’s first-ever free flight and first public appearance. The flight also became a part of a world record for the greatest number of balloons standing in a single line.
The Lorraine Mondial Air Ballons event has been held every two years in Chambley since 1989, and is the biggest ballooning event in the world.
In a press conference held after the event, it was announced that Chinese authorities had attempted to prevent the Tibet Balloon from participating.
Event organiser Philippe Buron-Pilatre said that the officials from the Chinese consulate had protested the appearance of the Tibet balloon. They claimed that allowing the Tibet Balloon to fly would undermine relations between France and China.
The organisers explained that the event is non-political in nature; that the balloon is simply a representation of the Tibetan national flag representing the ideas of peace and compassion, and does not carry any derogatory slogan or political message. They insisted to the officials that the balloon was free to fly.
Flying the Tibetan flag in China-occupied Tibet means arrest, imprisonment, and torture by the Chinese authorities – an everyday reality for Tibetans in Tibet.
The birth of Tibet Balloon
The idea for the Tibet Balloon arose from two people from the United Kingdom, who had an interest in both hot air ballooning and the issues facing the Tibetan people.
Heaven Crawley has worked with refugees for more than 20 years and most recently has been working with young Tibetans in Sikkim, northeast India. Heaven is also a hot air balloon pilot. Paul Dopson is a commercial hot air balloon pilot who has flown at many high-profile international events for a range of clients.
Heaven and Paul have often flown the Tibet flag from their own balloon, and many people have asked about it. They realised they could build a hot air balloon in the design of the Tibet flag, and it could be seen by even more people and raise awareness of the Tibetan issue, as well as of the ideas that it symbolises.
A Facebook page was established to generate interest in the project around the world, and over the months that followed a number of generous individuals made donations to enable the balloon to be put into production.
The design of the Balloon
At nearly 100 feet tall, the Tibet Balloon is the largest Tibetan flag in the world according to Heaven and Paul. The design of the balloon was commissioned from the balloon manufacturer. It displays two flags, one on each hemisphere, so that the full flag can be seen from any angle.
History of flights of the Tibet Balloon
The inauguration ceremony for the Tibet Balloon was held at the Buddhist Monastery of Garraf (Sakya Tashi Ling) near Barcelona in northern Spain. There the Balloon was blessed by Ven Jamyang Tashi Dorje Rinpoche, and given the Tibetan name “Tashi Gyaltsen” (Auspicious Victory Banner).
The Tibet Balloon was first launched at the Monastery on 11 July 2015. After the flight on 26 July with Lorraine Mondial Air Ballons, it is planned to fly it in the UK and around the world, to draw attention to the Tibetan issue and raise funds for charitable organisations working to support the cause of Tibet.