The airport at the top of the world

Nick Myall
Wednesday 26 Sep 2018

The runway at this beautifully simple and elegant mountain airport has one of the tallest "reinforcement" walls in the world

India's 100th airport, has been inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the northern-eastern state of Sikkim. It could well be in the running for the award of the ‘world's most beautiful airport’.

The Indian state of Sikkim is a tiny former kingdom in the Himalayas and is home to Kanchenjunga, the world's third-highest mountain. The isolated state is connected to the neighbouring countries of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal through eight mountain passes.

According to the BBC, the state's first airport at Pakyong, some 30km (18 miles) from the state capital, Gangtok, and carved out of a mountainside has been described as an "engineering marvel".

Only 60km from the border with China, the airport is located on top of a hill above Pakyong village at 4,500ft (1,371 metres) above sea level and it's spread across over 201 acres.

The entire airport, including the runway, has been built on land which was itself created by building an embankment wall as high as 263ft in deep valleys. The engineers at Punj Lloyd, an Indian company which built the runway, says it is one of the tallest "reinforcement" walls in the world.

The airport is flanked by deep valleys at both ends of the 1.75km-long runway. It has two parking bays and a terminal building, which can handle about 100 passengers at a time.

Difficult topography and hostile weather conditions made this nine-year-long project "extremely challenging and exciting", according to a spokesperson for Punj Lloyd.

Commercial flight operations from Pakyong will begin on 4 October. The airport is expected to boost tourism to Sikkim, which is home to a number of peaks, glaciers and high altitude lakes.

Nick Myall

News editor

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