The number of Indian tourists visiting Nepal by air has been growing significantly over the years, thanks to the increasing air connectivity between Kathmandu and various cities of the southern neighbour.
A total of 16,234 Indian tourists came to Nepal by air alone in March this year as compared to 9,628 in the same month of 2011. This shows that the number of Indian visitors increased by 68.6 per cent last month in comparison to the same month last year.
In the first three months this year, altogether 37,543 Indians traveled to Nepal, while the number of Indian travelers who had visited the country during the same period last year stood at 26,144.
The revised Air Services Agreement (ASA) signed in 2009 has attracted more Indian airlines to operate their flights to Kathmandu. Naturally, this has helped in increasing the movement of travelers between the two countries. As per the new ASA, the designed airlines of each of the countries are entitled to operate 30,000 seats per week to/from the specified points.
Arrivals from India, the largest tourist source market for Nepal, are expected to go up further in the days ahead, as Buddha Air, a leading private sector carrier of the country, has already penetrated into the vast Indian market.
Since March 1 this year, Buddha Air has been operating scheduled four weekly flights (Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) between Kathmandu and Varanasi. The airline is also in the process of resuming its services between Kathmandu and Lucknow, the Capital of Uttar Pradesh in India.
Varanasi, one of the oldest cities of the world, is regarded as a holy place of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. The city is well-known for spiritualism, mysticism and the Indian philosophy. These are reflected in various sects, temples, Ashrams and Ghats on the banks of the Ganges River. Varanasi, which is also known as Banaras and Kashi, offers a glimpse of the age-old Indian civilisation.
The Ghats on the Ganges River are the main centre of rituals and religious activities. The Vishwanath temple, Durga temple, Bharat Mata temple, the Benaras Hindu University (BHU), and the Archaeological Museum located Sarnath are the main tourist attractions in Varanasi. Another vital place to visit in Varanasi is the Alamgir Mosque. The city showcases an excellent blend of Hindu and Mughal styles of architecture.
Varanasi welcomes a large number of pilgrims and other visitors interested in culture from across the world annually.
Considering the age-old religious and cultural ties between Nepal and India, especially Varanasi, Buddha Air has focused on pilgrims, business travelers and holiday-makers.
"The Kathmandu-Varanasi route holds unlimited prospects, as a lot of pilgrims from Varanasi and neighbouring cities are interested to visit Kailash Manasarovar in Tibet, and the Pashupatinath temple, Manakamana and Muktinath in Nepal," said Ambuj K. Narayan, director of Classic Holidays.
The travel company is also the general sales agent (GSA) for Buddha Air in Varanasi.
The tour operator, together with the airline, has offered amore attractive tour packages targeting Indian as well as foreign tourists. "We have received positive responses from our clients," Narayan said.
According to him, Buddha Air that has already gained popularity in mountain flights and domestic services in Nepal is also popular among foreigners visiting Varanasi. "As they have already traveled by Buddha Air, they prefer it even in Varanasi," he said.
The period between September and March is a favourable time for foreign tourists, including Nepalis, to visit Varanasi. "For Nepali visitors, we have introduced special tour packages," he said.
He said that the demand would be higher during the peak season. "We could operate daily flights on this route during the season," he added.
He further said that the tour company is creating packages for incentives groups as well.
Udhav Subedi, Country Representative of Buddha Air in Varanasi, said that the airline has been able to win the hearts and minds of more travelers because of its credibility, reliability and punctuality.
"Although we are new on this route, we have been able to compete with the national carrier of India-- Indian Airlines," Subedi said.
He said that Buddha Air would include casino, wildlife and other adventure products in its packages.
"Looking at prospects, we are optimistic that we will be able to increase the number of flights on the Kathmandu-Varanasi sector," he said.