Uttar Pradesh’s third international airport — after Lucknow and Varanasi — will be inaugurated in Kushinagar later this month. The inauguration will be most likely done at the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 20.
Union Tourism Secretary Arvind Singh, while speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Buddhist Tourism Conference in Varanasi, said that the airport is being opened keeping the demand of the sector in mind, particularly the wide interest of nationals from South East Asia to visit Buddhist sites in the region.
A special delegation from Sri Lanka, led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, will arrive via a chartered flight to take part in the inauguration event. Singh said representatives from 13 countries with a large Buddhist population — including Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia and Nepal — will also be invited for the ceremony. Since the airport will mainly service the Buddhist Tourism circuit, a special invite has been sent to 100 Buddhist monks for the inauguration event.
While the inaugural flight will land from Colombo, other specific routes that this airport will service have not been finalised yet, Singh said, adding that whether international or domestic — this decision will be taken on the basis of airlines’ interest, tourist footfall and applications received by the Ministry of Civil Aviation for sector-wise approval.
“Things will also depend on how the demand picks up post the Covid-19 situation,” he added. From October 15, the government has also allowed e-tourist visas to chartered flights, while individual travellers on scheduled commercial flights can get visas from November 15. The resumption came after a 18-month-long hiatus on the arrival of international tourists in the wake of the pandemic.
Officials said since Kushinagar is situated strategically near the Nepal border and also close to Bihar, the direct air route would turn it into an ideal destination for Buddhist pilgrims from within the country as well as across the world. Kushinagar is an important historical site as Buddha is said to have attained Mahaparinirvana there. It is also the mid-point of the Buddhist circuit, which consists of pilgrimage sites at Lumbini, Shravasti, Kapilvastu, Sarnath and Gaya.
In the next couple of years, the state will get two more international airports. While the Jewar international airport is expected to be ready by 2023, the Ayodhya international airport is aimed at facilitating religious tourism.