This bright orange colored hotel looks different as far as the eye can see, but unfortunately for its owner Vishnu Sharma, there is no one here to see this hotel.
This hotel in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal, has a spectacular view of the mountains.
But the hope of increasing the number of tourists could not become reality. One reason for this is the increasing tension between Nepal’s two powerful neighboring countries, India and China.
According to Lumbini Development Trust, about one million tourists will reach Lumbini in the year 2022. It was this number keeping in mind that the government spent about 76 million dollars on the construction of Gautam Buddha International Airport in May last year.
Most of the tourists coming here are domestic tourists, one third of the total tourists come from neighboring India.
This airport terminal, also known as Bhairahawa Airport, allows passengers to fly directly from Kathmandu instead of the 250 km road journey.
Despite this, the projected increase in the number of tourists never materialized. Some people associated with the travel industry also say that one of the reasons for this is the lack of promotion in the beginning and incentives not being given to international airlines.
Claiming to be heavily indebted, Sharma says, “The government asked us to spend on infrastructure, promising more international flights. But my hotel remains two-thirds empty. Now I am facing difficulty even in returning the loan.”
People associated with the travel industry argue that if international flights from this airport become regular then the number of tourists can increase.
But Nepalese officials say that India has not allowed large passenger planes to fly through its western airspace. This means that planes cannot fly over India to reach Gautam Buddha Airport. Access to Indian airspace will reduce travel distance and will also reduce travel expenses.
Some people in Nepal also believe that India is also worried about the fact that Gautam Buddha Airport has been built by China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport.
Tension between India and China
This airport is located near the India border of Nepal. From here in the west, there was a clash between the soldiers of India and China, the two big countries of Asia, in Arunachal Pradesh in December last year. This clash took place only seven months after the airport opened for international flights.
In the year 2020, at least twenty Indian soldiers were killed in the clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Galwan. At the root of this dispute is the 3440 km long border between India and China, called the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which is not yet clearly defined.
The presence of rivers, lakes and snowy mountains means that this line can change. Soldiers of the countries with the two largest armies in the world have come face to face at many places.
The border situation is also affected by the increasing political tension between the two countries. The relationship between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping is not very cordial.
Analysts say that dialogue is the only way to reduce tension between the two countries because in case of conflict, both the countries may have to lose a lot. There has been a war between the two countries only once in 1962, when India had to face a humiliating defeat.
Gautam Buddha Airport was to be an important part of the plan to increase the number of air passengers and lighten the load from Kathmandu Airport. For many years, Kathmandu has been Nepal’s only international airport. There is a huge crowd at this airport and it was closed for some time after the 2015 earthquake.
Waiting for Pokhara…
There is also a third international airport in Pokhara, Nepal. Situated in a very beautiful valley, this city is famous for its captivating views and views of Annapurna Mountain. But like Bhairahawa Airport, it is also facing problems.
This airport was started in January last year. Not a single international flight has landed at this airport yet, which was built with financial assistance of $21.5 million from China. Only one charter flight carrying officials and tourists from Chengdu, China had arrived here.
Currently, around 80-85 flights arrive and depart from Gautam Buddha Airport and Pokhara Airport every day. But experts say that to keep these airports running, it is necessary to increase the number of flights.
“I don’t think these airports can be made economically viable by just flying domestically,” says Tri Ratna Manadhar, former director of Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority. “Without regular international flights, it will be difficult to repay the loan.”
Pokhara International Airport chief Bikram Raj Gautam says Nepal needs ‘active diplomacy’ to convince countries like India to open their airspace for flights coming to Nepal.
Experts say that as long as India is not allowing traffic from the west, Nepal can try to attract tourists from countries in the east like Thailand, Japan and Cambodia.
Nepal Airlines has recently started international flights from Bhairahawa to Kuala Lumpur. Director of Gautam Buddha International Airport, Deepak Bajracharya, says that this will send a positive message to other airlines also.
However, Nepal’s Civil Aviation Minister Sudan Kiranti is hopeful that the dispute with India will be resolved soon.
Speaking to BBC, he says, “We are in constant touch with Indian diplomats and officials and we are having positive talks.”