Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday inaugurated India’s 29th international airport in Uttar Pradesh’s Kushinagar in the presence of Namal Rajapaksa MP, son of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and a 125-member delegation — the first passengers at the airport.
Kushinagar is the place where Gautam Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana. The grand inauguration ceremony for the airport, which is being seen as a major conduit in the Buddhist circuit to boost tourist inflow, was also attended by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and a host of dignitaries, including ambassadors of around 15 countries to India.
With the opening of this airport, the inflow of international tourists, as well as outbound tourism, is likely to go up by 15-20 per cent. The airport will offer a hassle-free movement to tourists to six Buddhist sites across Uttar Pradesh and in north Bihar- Kushinagar, Sarnath, Shravasti, Kesaria stupa, and Vaishali.
Earlier, the entry point for the Buddhist tourists was 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 complete the circuit in one go. However, with the opening of the airport foreign tourists can complete their pilgrimage in considerably less time.
Spread over an area of 590 acres, the International airport 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 also 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.
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 a mere 0.17 lakh in 2020.
Buddhism is considered to be an important bridge that connects the people of India and Sri Lanka. The advent of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC is linked with the arrival of Prince Mahendra (also known as Arahant Mahinda Thera) and later of Princess Sanghamitra (Arahant Sanghamitta Theri), the children of the Indian Emperor Ashoka, during the reign of king Devanampiya Tissa in Sri Lanka.
Buddhism is also central to the civilizational connect between the peoples of the two nations. Underscoring these bonds, PM Modi announced $15 million for the promotion of bilateral Buddhist ties during the Virtual Summit with PM Mahinda Rajapaksa in September last year.