Leh airport makeover: India exerts soft power to win over strategic border region

Leh is an extremely popular tourist destination and extremely crucial in terms of defence strategy as the Union Territory of Ladakh shares its border with Pakistan, China and Afghanistan

Leh airport makeover: India exerts soft power to win over strategic border region
An artist's impression of the new terminal at the Leh airport

India’s highest commercial airport, the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Ladakh's Leh town, is getting a makeover. Under the much-needed upgrade, this majestic airport surrounded by high peaks of the Himalayas will get a multi-level terminal building, which will be able to handle 20 lakh passengers annually.

The world-class terminal is expected to be completed by September 2021. It will be spread across 19,000 square metres along with fixed link bridges and a utility building covering around 3,340 square metres.

The new terminal, which is being built at 3,256 metres (10,682 feet) above the mean sea level and equipped with modern facilities, is estimated to cost Rs 480 crore. The move is expected to double the capacity of the airport. “We handle around nine lakh passengers per annum. Once this building is functional, we will be able to handle around 20 lakh passengers annually,” said Sonam Nurboo, the airport director.

The majestic Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport. Image courtesy: Wikipedia

Leh is an extremely popular tourist destination and extremely crucial in terms of defence strategy as the Union Territory of Ladakh shares its border with Pakistan, China and Afghanistan.

A large number of adventure enthusiasts visit Leh during the peak winters for the world-famous Chadar Trek, walk on the frozen Zanskar river, rare snow-leopard-spotting and trekking on snow-capped mountains.

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) hopes the new terminal will help to boost returning visitor numbers, as global travel resumes with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions both in India and across the globe.

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This move also showcases India's soft power and its continued efforts to win over and strengthen the strategic border region of Ladakh that was cut out of the terrorism-infested Jammu and Kashmir as a separate Union Territory last year.

The new terminal at the Leh airport will be a mix of Buddhist wisdom and modern ethos

The Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport was constructed back in 1985, but the airport could handle only a limited number of flights. The construction of the new building will allow handling five to six flights at a time.

Features of the new terminal:

1. The AAI claims that the terminal will be a four-star GRIHA-rated energy-efficient building.

2. It will have 18 check-in counters to handle more passengers and tourists. The domestic terminal building, once finished, will be able to handle peak-hour capacity of 800 passengers.

3. The terminal will have inline baggage handling systems.

4. It will have a centralised cooling and heating system to ensure passenger comfort during the extreme winter conditions. The temperature dips to -25 to -30 degree celsius during the winter.

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5. The multi-level terminal will include three aerobridges and will provide parking space for 200-250 cars.

6. It will feature a double-insulated roofing and wall system.

7. There will be LED lights with sensors, solar power systems and a sewage treatment plant in line with the objective to enhance infrastructure in an eco-friendly manner.

Work in progress at the Leh airport

8. The design of the building will reflect ancient Buddhist wisdom entwined with a modern ethos, incorporating Buddhist design elements in the overall look and feel of the building.

How it will help Leh

1. Leh is mostly dependent on tourism. The new terminal will allow more tourists to this Himalayan town.

2. Boost the local economy as more tourists will camp round the year.

3. The connectivity to Ladakh is cut off due to extreme cold and snow during winters. This new terminal will help in keeping it connected with the mainland.

4. The new terminal will also give employment to the local youth.