New Delhi, Sept. 17: Jain pilgrims to Parasnath in Jharkhand could soon be able to fly directly to Dhanbad from several cities across the country, with a plan underway to introduce chartered flight services.
“A number of companies in the field as well as Jains have shown keen interest in the service, so we are trying to facilitate the air ferry service for Jains. Under the proposal, small aircraft like the 19-seater Dornier and nine-seater Cessna Caravan will be pressed into service to ferry passengers till Dhanbad from Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Calcutta and Delhi, who will then be taken to Madhuban by choppers,” said Siddhartha Tripathy, managing director, Jharkhand Tourism Development Corporation.
On an average, about 21 lakh pilgrims annually visit Parasnath — also known as Shikarji — in Giridih district. Parasnath is one of the holiest places for Jains because 20 of the 24 Tirthankaras are believed to have attained Nirvana there.
“Religious leaders of both the sects — Digambars and Shwetambars — are very interested in the new proposal and want the service to start at the earliest,” Tripathy said.
Most pilgrims now travel by train or road to Madhuban, which is at the base of the Parasnath hill. Since Dhanbad airport has no scheduled flights — it services only chartered flights — some visitors take flights to Calcutta and then drive down five hours.
A meeting was held earlier this month at the Jharkhand Investment Centre in New Delhi among representatives of major air charter operators, senior state government officials and members of Jain associations to discuss the proposed air charter service, sources said.
The government believes the proposal, which came from the air operators, is commercially viable and has the potential to boost tourism in the state, officials said. So it is looking at a Diwali launch and the tourism department is planning to get the Dhanbad airport, from where it would take 10 minutes by helicopter to reach Parasnath, re-carpeted.
Discussions on the air fare are on. “The fare will largely be market-governed and will depend on the type of aircraft and number of passengers — decided by operators as per existing norms.
“Tentatively, we believe a passenger coming from Mumbai will have to pay Rs 25,000-30,000 for a one-way journey. We hope the new initiative will pump the economy around the pilgrim centre and in the state as there are so many related sectors that grow when people with high-expenditure capacity come and stay in the state,” Tripathy said.