You can’t say that Nepal is not ambitious. Despite its planes being barred from European airspace, the landlocked Himalayan nation plans to have three international airports up and running by the end of 2018, giving travellers two alternatives to the ageing facilities at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.
The first of these new hubs, at Siddharthanagar (Bhairawa), will receive its first international flights in 2017, providing a handy new route to the birthplace of the Buddha at Lumbini and Chitwan National Park in the Terai plains. The second, at Nijgadh near Hetauda, is more controversial, as a vast area of jungle will need to be cleared for its construction, but a new highway through the mountains will link the airport to Kathmandu in just a few hours.
The Nepali government plans to fund construction of the 80 sq km Nijgadh airport – set to be the largest in South Asia – by selling the timber from the estimated 600,000 trees that will need to be cut down to clear the site.
The area is densely wooded with Sal (Shorea robusta) trees, which yield a durable hardwood that is popular for construction across South Asia. However, environmentalists have decried the project, which will also displace large numbers of village people living in the area.
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Until these new hubs come online, air travellers will continue to be dependent on Tribhuvan International Airport, which is reached by a notoriously challenging flight route passing close to the ridge of the Nepali Himalaya. Patchy maintenance and poor facilities have earned Tribhuvan the unenviable title of worst airport in South Asia, with the hub being voted tenth worst airport in the world in 2016.
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