New Delhi: Fancy watching the Ganga ghats early in the morning or catching up with a morning election rally in Varanasi? If you are flying to Varanasi, make sure you reach a day in advance. It’s difficult to reach the city by air before 8am, even as the high-pitched electoral battle in India’s most populous state shifts to the eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh, including Varanasi.
On 21 February, passengers on a flight from Delhi to Varanasi were in for a surprise when the pilot informed passengers that though the flight would reach Varanasi approximately 30 minutes ahead of the scheduled time, the landing could be delayed. The flight reached Varanasi before the scheduled landing time of 8am, but continued to circle around the city even though the runway was empty.
While the flight managed to reach the airport ahead of schedule, it couldn’t land in Varanasi as the airport only opens at 8am.
Lal Bahadur Shastri airport is located approximately 20 kilometres from Varanasi.
According to the Airports Authority of India (AAI), the airport terminal has a capacity of 150 international and 250 domestic arrivals and departures.
AAI, which runs Varanasi airport, typically has limited watch hours under which flights can land. In fact, from 10 March, the watch hours will be tweaked to accommodate flights only from 6am to 10am and from 6pm to 10pm compared with 8am to 9.15pm now, as the airport will be closed for runway maintenance during the rest of the day, according to an airline executive, who did not wish to be named. The airport blames these restrictions on limited resources, including staff, the executive said.
Uttar Pradesh is in the midst of its seven-phase polling. Varanasi goes to poll in the last phase, polling for which will be held on 8 March, and has witnessed a lot of political and media visitors in the past few weeks. Results for the UP polls will be announced on 11 March along with those of Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur.
UP is seeing a three-cornered contest between the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Tarun Shukla contributed to this story