Harjap Singh Aujla
International airports are very few and far between in India. But the state of Punjab is luckier in this sense, its Western metropolis Amritsar has a fully functional international airport and its state capital Chandigarh is in the process of getting one. Thus far there was a problem of air and rail connectivity between these two most important cities. The foreign tourists visiting this region used to complain about the non existence of train and air connectivity between these two cities. In order to address this problem in 2011, a non-stop Doronto train service was introduced by the Indian Railways between Amritsar and Chandigarh. This once a day round trip service has met with some success, but due to the odd time at both ends and non-stoppage at the intervening large cities, this train connection has not seen much success all these months.
Air connectivity between the two cities did not exists until recently, but in July 2012, a new aviation company Air Mantra based one of its planes in Amritsar and started a twice a day service between Amritsar and Chandigarh. This seemingly a skeleton service has the far reaching potential of integrating the international and domestic aviation services in this region.
Amritsar’s international connectivity these days is only second to New Delhi’s in Northern India. Via Qatar Airways hub in Doha Amritsar is now connected to all the European capitals as well as with London, Washington D.C., New York, Houston, Melbourne and South Africa. Amritsar’s connectivity with Birmingham in the United Kingdom via Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan is better than even New Delhi’s. Due to being the seat of administration, Chandigarh has an edge over Amritsar in domestic connectivity. Chandigarh is presently connected with New Delhi, Bombay, Jaipur and Bangalore and Amritsar is connected with New Delhi, Bombay and Srinagar only. They both can use each other’s connectivity for mutual advantage.
So far the fliers to foreign soils based in Chandigarh could fly out of the country via New Delhi only. Now with the start of two flights a day to Amritsar, the passengers in Chandigarh can also use the Amritsar route too. Similarly, the tourists and other passengers willing to fly from Amritsar to Jaipur and Bangalore can fly via Chandigarh. The interdependence of both these airports and the connectivity of Amritsar with Bombay has already started having a positive impact on the high end hotel occupancy in Amritsar, which has gone up by ten percent in Amritsar. I am sure the hotel occupancy in Chandigarh must also have gone up by a few notches. During the coming autumn and winter, the tourist flow to Amritsar will also grow and it will become a lot easier for the pilgrims to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple.