Sometimes an airport is just a strip of asphalt on a flat bit of land outside of town. Other times, as with India’s new Pakyong Airport, it’s a breathtaking piece of engineering on the roof of the world.
Set in the Himalayan mountains at a height of over 1,400 meters (4,593 feet), the facility serving a remote area of Sikkim state offers one of the most dramatic airport approaches on the planet.
Its inauguration on Monday also marked a milestone for aviation and travel in India.
“After the opening of the airport there are now 100 operational airports in India.” said Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, during a speech at Pakyong’s opening ceremony on Monday.
“This airport was built at a cost of $68.7 million and showcases our engineers, workers and their potential — how the mountains were cleared, the ditch was filled, the heavy rains they dealt with. This is truly an amazing feat of engineering.”
As part of that work, an 80.38 meter embankment was built to make space for the 1.7-kilometer-long and 30-meter-wide runway, which is enclosed by deep valleys.
The airport’s 2,380-square-meter terminal can accommodate up to 100 passengers.
But its real asset is the incredible Himalayan scenery — a widescreen landscape captured in a series of stunning images by Indian photographer Rajiv Srivastava, who runs the website Imazin India.
First commercial flights to the region
The airport will enter commercial passenger service when SpiceJet, one of the country’s largest low-cost airlines launches two daily routes to Pakyong Airport (Pakyong-Kolkata and Pakyong-Guwahati) from October 4.
The Pakyong-Kolkata flight will take around 1.5 hours and the Pakyong-Guwahati route will take slightly longer than an hour.
The flights will offer some much-needed accessibility to the region. Before the opening of Pakyong, the nearest airport to Sikkim’s state capital of Gangtok was Bagdogra, in West Bengal — a five-hour drive.
Pakyong Airport is only 30 kilometers south of Gangtok.
Boosting tourism in Sikkim
It’s hoped that the new airport will boost tourism in the region.
Bordered by Bhutan and Nepal, the northeastern state is known for its scenic Himalayan landscapes, boasting 28 mountain peaks, 21 glaciers and more than 200 lakes.
“Sikkim is the beloved destination of tourists,” said Modi during the inauguration ceremony.
“Once the airport becomes operational, the number of tourists is going to go up. The new airport will also provide employment for the youth and in turn, hotels, guest houses, restaurants, tour guides and so on.”