Agra, India

From Cambodia to India, what a dramatic change! People everywhere, even at night. It seems like there is no day or night in India. People simply sleep when they are tired.

In India, I knew I was racing against the clock to get our airship flying. Our Swiss transport company had put us in an extremely difficult situation by announcing just three days before the airship was set to be shipped from Zürich to New Delhi that they had not made a Carnet ATA, the basic and essential document that is used worldwide for temporary imports.

Since we were still in Cambodia working from dawn to dusk at that time, the only thing that could help us now was the Indian government itself by accepting to officially sponsor the event at the Taj Mahal and, through that, accept the temporary importing of our airship.

The race was on. After getting to India, I spent two days at the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, one day at the customs building and took three trips back and forth by train in an overcrowded sleeping car from New Delhi to Agra. Never in my life had I spent that much energy to get something like this done. How frustrating that I was having to do all this running around for what would have been a simple situation if it had been properly planned.

On Friday in the late afternoon, a positive meeting with the Minister of Tourism and Culture, the Hon. Ambika Soni, a very charming and competent lady, gave the necessary impetus and official approval so that things started to move. And move they did … in just two days, the government signed an official letter for customs to waive the import tax on our airship and to expedite the clearance. It all got sorted out in just two working days, a world record in a country that has a huge and obviously effective administrative bureaucracy – perhaps the structure harks back to that in place when the British were in India.

It is amazing how the national animal, in this case the Indian elephant, resemble the nature of a country. Huge, slow-moving with a warm and very sensitive skin, he can move almost anything …

Without an N7W guardian angel, our airship would have never flown. In this case, the angel was Col.Yadav, an active Colonel in the Indian Army who also happens to be one of only five Indian certified balloon pilots and who took a leave from the army especially to help us with the event – so this guardian angel even had wings, in a matter of speaking!