‘Great honour’: Namal Rajapaksa on being onboard first flight to land at Kushinagar airport
Namal Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's minister of youth and sports, described as a “great honour” for him and his delegation to be on the first flight that landed at the Kushinagar International Airport in Uttar Pradesh, inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday. Speaking to reporters after arrival, he also expressed hope that the opening of the airport will lead to even more people from his country visiting Kushinagar, and India.
“It's a great honour for myself and my delegation to be on the first flight to land at the Kushinagar International Airport. Already, there are many tourists coming to different states of India from Sri Lanka and all over the world. Most of us (foreign visitors) travel to Kushinagar via land. Having direct access to cities such as Kushinagar will be always a great helping hand for tourism,” Rajapaksa said.
Tourism between the two countries has always been very “robust,” the minister further said, adding that Indians, in large numbers, visit the island nation. “We also have Sri Lankans coming to different places in India, especially Varanasi, Prime Minister's (Narendra Modi) constituency. Now we believe that opening up Kushinagar will increase the number of travellers from Sri Lanka, and also those from all over the world, especially the Buddhists,” Rajapaksa added.
The city is a sacred site for the followers of Buddhism as this is where Lord Gautam Buddha is believed to have delivered his final sermon, and also the site of his salvation or “Mahaparinirvana.” Buddhists comprise nearly 70 per cent of Sri Lanka's more than 20 million-strong population.
The very first flight to arrive at the newly-built airport departed from Colombo with a 100-member Sri Lankan delegation, including Rajapaksa, in the early hours of the day. Besides him, the delegation comprises the country's PM and his father Mahinda Rajapaksa, ministers and Buddhist monks.