By Ashutosh Shukla

The airport to facilitate hassle-free movement of tourists to six Buddhist sites in UP and in north Bihar

PM to kick off International Bhudhist conclave in Kushinagar 

Lucknow: The Prime Minister Narendra Modi will
Inaugurate the much-awaited Kushinagar International Airport on October 20, being considered conduit to boost tourist inflow in the Buddhist circuit.

Sri Lankan President Lt Colonel Gotabaya Rajapaksa is likely to grace the inaugural ceremony by his presence along with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and a host of dignitaries, including ambassadors of around 15 countries to India.  

The airport will also witness the arrival of its maiden international flight from Colombo with the president and a 125-member delegation accompanying him on board, including Buddhist monks and pilgrims on the occasion. 

With the opening of Kushinagar Airport, the inflow of international tourists as well as outbound tourism are expected to increase by 15 to 20 percent in the coming years, because of its strategic location near Buddhist sites in both Uttar Pradesh and north Bihar. 

The airport will facilitate hassle-free movement of tourists from countries with sizeable Buddhist population in East Asia and South-East-Asia to the six Buddhist sites in Uttar Pradesh located in Kushinagar, Sarnath and Shravasti because of its better connectivity to these places, as well as Buddhist sites located in north Bihar.  In Bihar, Kesaria stupa, the largest Buddhist stupa in the world, and Vaishali are not far from Kushinagar and those willing can cover these sites in one visit with the opening of Kushinagar Airport. 

Earlier, the entry point for the Buddhist Tourists in India were Kolkata, Delhi, Gaya and later Varanasi, which are situated far away from one another. Besides, due to lack of air connectivity, it was time taking and most tourists could not even think of completing the circuit in one go.  Now, with the opening of Kushinagar Airport foreign tourists can complete their pilgrimage in considerably less time. 

Spread over an area of 590 acres, the International airport at Kushinagar boasts of world-class facilities. The eight-storied state-of-the-art Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower built at the cost of Rs 17.5 crore, has  become fully operational at the airport whereas   the navigation system for safe landing and take off of flights at the airport has passed the trial successfully. 

Meanwhile, a large workforce is being trained to enhance tourists’ experience under  the Ministry of Tourism’s Incredible India Tourist Facilitator Programme. These collective efforts are expected to boost the tourism sector in the region and will generate direct and indirect employment for thousands of people.

According to tourism industry experts, the Kushinagar International Airport will give a fillip to the development of Eastern UP with aviation, tourism and hospitality industries set to boom.   

The Buddhist circuit in India, including sites located largely in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are a big draw for Buddhist pilgrims, particularly from East Asia and South-East-Asia. However, the flow of tourists has severely been affected lately due to novel coronavirus pandemic. 

According to the available figures, Kushinagar received 8.98 lakh, 9.3 lakh, 9.7 lakh and  10.96 lakh tourists in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively, which dropped to 3.23 lakh tourists in 2020 due to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. Similarly, Shravasti received 2.2 lakh, 2.58 lakh, 11.32 lakh and 12.71 lakh in  2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively, which dipped to mere 0.17 lakh in 2020. 

According to the programme on October 20, Prime Minister Modi, President Rajapaksa and the accompanying delegation as well as Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath will also visit the Parinirvana (nirvana-after-death) site of Lord Buddha at Kushinagar.