Jayprakash Narain International aiport, Patna may be still struggling to match up to its name. But it's Bodh Gaya that will be going international sooner.
The news is, that Air India, Minhin Lanka of the emerald isle-Sri Lanka, Druk Air, Bhutan and Phuket Airlines of Thailand are about to resume international services from Bodh Gaya by October.
"Its cheer time for air passengers in Bihar. The development augurs well and is in sync with Bihar's growing stature as a tourist region, which saw it besting even Goa last year with around 11 lakh tourists visiting the state. But, what is of more interest to international and domestic tourists is the recent emphasis of the Nitish Kumar regime, to promote Buddhism as a major tourist revenue spinner, visible from his visits to China and Bhutan and the promise of overland connectivity too", says tourism minister Sunil Kumar Pintu.
The air connect is largely Buddhist tourist centric with south and southeast Asian traffic in mind.
Fittingly, the resumption of air connect is to coincide with the famous Kalachakra puja, which draws thousands of foreigners and followers of the religion to the ancient and historic city, which is a major pilgrimage for Hindus too.With the officers training academy of the Indian Army also coming up on July 17, the services would only get momentum.
Said the manager of the Bodh Gaya airport, A.Biswas: "Mihin Airlines of Sri Lanka would restart its services on the Colombo-Gaya-Varanasi and Colombo-Gaya-Colombo route from August 6. Tourists and pilgrims would be able to avail its services twice in a week"
On the other hand, international air services on the Bhutan-Gaya-Gaya-Bhutan and Thailand-Gaya-Gaya-Thailand routes respectively by Druk Air of Bhutan and Phuket Airlines of Thailand is also to start by October.
Besides, Air India is slated to resume its services on the Kolkata-Gaya-Yangon route from October 10, mainly for Buddhist and business traffic between India and Myanmar.
However, New Delhi would also be well served through Air India's Delhi-Gaya-Varanasi and Gaya-Varanasi-Delhi flights, also to start by October.
A rough estimate by the Tourism Department puts the expected number of pilgrims to Bodh Gaya at around 8 lakhs for the Kalachakra Puja and other Buddhist religious occasions in 2011-12.The presence of the highest Tibetan spiritual guru-The Dalai Lama at Bodhgaya between December 28 and January 12 and the visit of Karmapa Yugen Thinley Dorjee is also expected to draw a large number of foreign and domestic tourists in the coming season.
Sources say that approximately Rs 500 crore is expected to be generated during the Buddhist season this year.