India recently inaugurated its 100th airport at Pakyong in the state of Sikkim. And according to people who have visited the place, it is one of the most beautiful airports in the world.
The Pakyong airport
Pakyong is situated about 20 miles from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. The airport, which is carved out from a mountainside, has been described by many experts as a marvel of engineering.
Under construction for more than nine years, the airport is spread over an area of 201 acres and is located 4,500 feet above sea level. Its terminal building is said to have a maximum capacity of 100 people at a time. SpiceJet airlines also made a test flight at the airport recently.
“I am extremely happy to know that the maiden flight of SpiceJet to Pakyong airport landed safely,” The Hindu quotes Chief Minister of Sikkim, Pawan Kumar Chamling, who also went on to add that it was “a momentous occasion for Sikkim and the Sikkimese people.”
The construction of the airport was beset with several challenges. Engineers had to find a way to carry out the heavy earthwork construction at the project site. They also had to transport equipment through the narrow, winding mountainous roads. From April to September, the construction work was mostly hindered by the monsoon rainfall. The region is also prone to high seismic activity, which only added to the difficulty of the construction.
The Pakyong airport is located 77 miles away from the Bagdogra airport in West Bengal and about 37 miles from India’s border with China. Commercial flights will reportedly start October 4, 2018.
Focus on tourism
The new airport is expected to bring in more tourists to Pakyong and boost the tourism revenues of Sikkim. Prior to the Pakyong airport, tourists had to fly to Bagdogra and then travel by road to Sikkim. This used to deter many people from visiting. However, with the construction of the new airport, tourists can fly straight into Sikkim and enjoy its beauty.
“Air routes are availed more by the foreign visitors. They contribute to the tourism business volume significantly with much higher level of spending compared to the domestic visitors. Hence, increase in FTA [foreign tourist arrival] directly pushes up business volume. Interestingly, almost every foreign visitor wants to visit both the places together [Darjeeling and Sikkim]. In case of any problem in that, they prefer avoiding entire region,” The Economic Times quotes tourism consultant S. Sanyal.
Being a landslide-prone state, several tourists used to avoid visiting Sikkim as they did not want to risk getting stuck there in case a landslide blocked the NH10 highway that connects the state with the rest of India. But thanks to the Pakyong airport, visitors can now confidently fly in and out of the state without worrying about getting trapped in the region due to any landslides.
It is estimated that Sikkim has an accommodation capacity of 8,000 beds, with 10 percent being premium class. The current occupancy rate of the beds is about 60 percent. As such, the state is fully equipped to handle any increase in the number of tourists once the Pakyong airport becomes operational in October. Along with foreign visitors, tour operators are betting that the addition of an air travel option will attract more domestic tourists, contributing to the revenues of the local populace.