Sikkim, which is right now connected to the rest of India only by road, is now finally getting its airport, five years late but ready for operation. When I joined Sikkim Manipal University for my MBBS studies, I thought it would help me reaching home easily and faster. Anyway, it’s good that it’s getting operational. It is the first greenfield airport to be constructed in the Northeastern Region of India.
Sikkim tucked away in the lap of majestic Himalayas, will now be a more feasible tourist destination for people all over the globe. Though it is the second-smallest state in India, its picturesque and unparalleled beauty knows no bounds. Sikkim is mostly characterized by plunging and steep valleys, lush subtropical woodlands and rhododendron groves rising in the north to the snow-covered white-top peaks of the eastern Himalaya. Mount Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, lies partly in Sikkim and partly in Nepal. It rises with an elevation of 8,586 m (28,169 ft).
Sikkim’s connectivity to the rest of the country is dependant only on a single road — NH–10 — passing through the state of West Bengal. Apart from landslides that are frequent in this zone, political turmoil in north Bengal over the demand for a separate statehood for Darjeeling has also repeatedly caused disruptions to traffic. The people and tourists are the poor hostage in such situations.
Once my parents were returning home from Gangtok, they had to take a detour because of landslide stopping the traffic on the highway. They reached Bagdogra airport via Rambi Bazar and Kurseong and it took them around seven hours. One of my dad’s school batchmate was then posted in Siliguri and they had planned to meet over lunch before my parents take their flight. They were meeting after three decades. So my parents left Gangtok early in the morning. Because of the delay due to landslide, my dad could meet his friend for a few minutes at the airport. His friend drove down to the airport to meet my dad. Also, once they were coming to see me and they were much delayed due to a huge landslide and they had to wait for clearance of the road. I travelled very early in the morning during the agitation days so as to reach Siliguri before the agitators were on the road.
Tourists from all over the world come to the state of Sikkim via Bagdogra airport or New Jalpaiguri railway station, which are around 124 km away from Gangtok, the capital town of the state. It takes around 4-5 hours to travel from Bagdogra or New Jalpaiguri to Gangtok, by road. The airport will prove to be highly beneficial to Sikkim. It will boost economic activities in the state.
As per Wikipedia, the land for the airport was carved from the mountainside using massive geotechnical ‘cut and fill’ engineering works. These state-of-the-art geogrid soil reinforcement and slope stabilisation techniques were employed as traditional retaining structures and embankments were ruled out as being unfeasible. The company, which completed the project with partners Mott MacDonald and Punj Lloyd, won the ‘International Project of the Year’ award at the Ground Engineering Awards 2012 for its work in constructing 550 m wide, 1.7 km long, and nearly 75 m high reinforced soil walls and slopes at the site. The airport lies in seismic zone IV, classified as High Damage Risk Zone. The airport, built at an estimated cost of Rs 605 crores ($91 million), is among the tallest reinforced soil structures in the world.
Built at the Percheda top, around 30 km south of Gangtok, the Pakyong Airport can accommodate two ATR 72 aircrafts at a time. The Pakyong Airport is at an altitude of 4,700 ft and ranks among the five highest airports in the country.
This airport project has been delayed a lot. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to inaugurate the much-awaited airport. I wish it’s opened soon.