When people travel abroad, it's the allure of the distant locations, from the climate to the culture that's the motivation for the trip. Few people really consider the part of the trip that takes them there.
Starting Oct. 4th, expect a turnaround to those thoughts, as airline passengers heading for the province of Sikkim can add the breathtaking journey as part of the package, especially when landing at India's Pakyong Airport, carved from a mountainside in the Himalayas. Officially opened on September 24th, by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the airport is the first one in the province and was made possible by a group of ingenious engineers and some careful construction.
The airport, at roughly 4,500 feet above sea level, is leveled off by a giant 230-feet-tall retaining wall. That might make for safer landings and departures, but not without its fair share of visual drama. The runway is scarcely longer than a mile and beyond the retaining wall is a huge drop into the valley, a stunning treat for anyone with the fortune of having a window seat. Everyone else in the cabin taking a glimpse outside can still take in the splendor of the Himalayan mountains.
Naturally, the scenery from the air was hardly the motive for building the airport. The government recognized the necessity to have the facility constructed to service Sikkim, an area sandwiched between the rest of the nation and Tibet, and the only province in India that lacked air access.
Considered too remote and rugged for an airport, the only option until recently was via jeep, a four-hour jostle from West Bengal's Bagdogra airport. Then there's the political dispute with China, which doesn't officially recognize India's claim to Sikkim, and has been a bone of contention between the two nations for years.
Domestically, Sikkim is expecting more tourist dollars as well as increasing business opportunities, as the airport has a decent road to the provincial capital of Gangtok as well as other paths to a number of Buddhist monasteries. There's still one catch to a worry-free Sikkim venture, however, because of the dispute with China, visitors will still need to get an Inner-Line permit to get to the area.