Sikkim’s first airport, located 4,600ft above sea level, is in Pakyong, some 13 kilometres from Gangtok, the state capital. Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the airport. But watch out, air tickets are really expensive. Services start October 4, with a Spicejet plane .
On Tuesday afternoon, a flight from Calcutta to Pakyong for October 4 was quoting at Rs 9,405 a seat. Calcutta to Bagdogra on the same day costs Rs 2,414.
Till Tuesday afternoon, 69 seats on the October 4 flight had been sold compared to 29 for the new 6am flight to Bagdogra. The Pakyong flights scheduled for October 15 to 18 are full, according to a SpiceJet official.
Anyone wanting to take a flight about six weeks from now would still need to shell out Rs 22,000 for a round trip. Flights to Bagdogra, so far the nearest airport to Sikkim, are considerably cheaper.
“I wanted a ticket to Pakyong for October 22. The return fare was showing Rs 22,000. I went ahead with the booking thinking it will be worth it,” said a resident of Ballygunge Place who can’t stop gushing about pictures of the airport that a friend had WhatsApp-ed to him a few days ago.
The airport was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, fulfilling a dream that took long to take off but could be worth the wait for travellers used to making a 124km road journey to Gangtok from Bagdogra airport or New Jalpaiguri railway station.
The cheapest ticket on the Calcutta-Pakyong sector has been fixed at Rs 2,600 under a central scheme to promote flights to smaller destinations. This price is restricted to about 25 per cent of the available seats.
The subsidised seats for the first few weeks have long been gobbled up and what remains are only the premium tickets, SpiceJet officials and travel operators said.
SpiceJet is also launching its third flight to Bagdogra from Calcutta, scheduled to take off at 6am. Airline officials said the demand for seats on that flight was much lower compared to that for Pakyong.
The airline will use 78-seater Bombardier Q400 series aircraft for both flights. The Pakyong flight will take off at 9.30am and arrive at 10.55am.
SpiceJet officials said demand had exceeded their expectations. “During our market survey, we had predicted an average 80 per cent occupancy. But on most flights during the festive season, 90 per cent of the seats are sold out,” said Debjit Ghosh, the regional sales head of SpiceJet.
An official at Mayfair Spa Resort & Casino said guests who would usually visit three or four times a year were now enquiring about weekend bookings. “Earlier, an entire day would be used up in travelling. This flight has changed that.”
He said once the flight starts operating, demand would possibly increase even more.
Such is the frenzy already that several hotels and resorts have approached SpiceJet for tie-ups, sources said.
“About 40 per cent of passengers to Bagdogra proceed to Sikkim. We expect most of them to fly to Pakyong now,” Ghosh of SpiceJet said.
For Sikkim, for which tourism is the main source of revenue, agitations in Darjeeling over the past few years have been a big blow.
Many tourists could not visit Sikkim last year because of the unrest in Darjeeling from June till September. National Highway 10, which connects Gangtok to Siliguri, had been cut off for months.