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EXPLAINED: How Kushinagar Airport Seeks To Boost Travel On The Buddhist Circuit, Lift Local Economy

An international pilgrimage centre, Kushinagar is where the Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana (Image: PMO)

An international pilgrimage centre, Kushinagar is where the Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana (Image: PMO)

It is India's 29th international airport and has been developed by the Airports Authority of India at a cost of Rs 260 crore

And, with the arrival of a flight bearing Buddhist pilgrims and monks from Sri Lanka along with a Lankan government delegation, India’s 29th international airport at Kushinagar is all set to begin operations with an eye on easing travel on the Buddhist circuit. As it is inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi, here’s what you need to know about the airport.

How Was The Kushinagar Airport Developed?

The airport in the north-eastern UP district of Kushinagar, which lies about 50km east of Gorakhpur, has been built at a cost of Rs 260 crore by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) in collaboration with the Uttar Pradesh government.

The airport is spread over 589 acres with its terminal building — which can handle 300 passengers in peak hours — standing on an area of 3,600 sq.m. The airport has a single runway has four parking stands for A-321 type aircraft.

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Reports say that the then Samajwadi Party government in UP led by CM Akhilesh Yadav had cleared the airport in January 2014 under the Design-Build-Finance-Operate-Transfer (DBFOT) basis. After the project failed to attract continued interest from private developers, it was handed over to AAI.

How Will It Help?

While approving its status as an international airport in June last year, the Union Cabinet had said in a statement that it will “offer improved connectivity, wider choice of competitive costs to air-travellers (and)… result in boosting of domestic/international tourism and economic development of the region".

The civil aviation ministry has described the airport as being “the centre point of the Buddhist circuit", which comprises pilgrimage sites at Lumbini, Sarnath and Gaya. It said that a tour of Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar, Shravasti, Rajgir, Sankisa and Vaishali — all key destinations on the Buddhist circuit — can now be covered in shorter time thanks to the airport at Kushinagar, which is expected to contribute to a 20 per cent increase in tourist arrivals for the Buddhist circuit.

The airport will facilitate direct connectivity with South Asian countries and, hence, improve accessibility for tourists and pilgrims from Sri Lanka, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, etc.

The ministry had also said that the airport will serve a population of more than 2 crore people living in its hinterland spread across 10-15 districts and would also “be a great support for large migrant population of eastern Uttar Pradesh and western/northern part of Bihar". Additionally, it is also expected to boost “opportunities for export of horticultural products like banana, strawberries and mushroom", all of which would led to increased job creation for locals.

What’s The Historical Significance Of Kushinagar?

As the place where he died and attained ‘mahaparinirvana’, Kushinagar holds an important place for followers of the Buddha. It was in Kushinagar that the Buddha delivered his last sermon and was cremated at Ramabhar at Mukut Bandhan.

A stupa constructed over the Buddha’s ashes was later renovated by Mauryan emperor Ashoka. Kushinagar also finds a mention in the accounts of Chinese travellers Fa Hsien and Hieun Tsang.

The district administration says that Kushinagar is also important for the followers of Jainism as it is associated with Lord Mahavir, the 24th tirthankar of the Jain sect. It adds that it “is believed that Lord Mahavir passed away or attained Parinirvana at Pawa… identified with present-day ‘Fazilnagar’… 16 km southeast of Kushinagar".

The district is also considered to be an important centre for the Vaishnav, Shaiva, and Shakti traditions, the district administration says.

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first published:October 20, 2021, 10:50 IST