Friday, January 13, 2023

Why we should tread softly in the Himalayas...Pakyong, Sikkim, Nov2017

While the sinking of Joshimath, in large part due to human activities has caught the attention of the nation, I was witness to a similar event in another Himalayan state,ie Sikkim caused by anthropogenic activity which has now been largely forgotten.

Pakyong airport, 30 km from Gangtok at an elevation 4590ft (1399m)was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24Sept 2018. It was constructed by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) at an estimated cost of Rs 605 crore and was touted be an "engineering marvel" for its soil reinforcement and slope stabilization techniques keeping in view the altitude it was built at. 

After inauguration, only Spicejet operated a Bombardier Q -400 on the Kolkata -Pakyong route and under Visual Flight Rules since there no navigational aids or radar at the airport which will permit IFR flight.

Building the airport caused severe distress to the slopes around the airport and the landslide problem in the area has been adequately documented by Dr Dave Petley in his blog here.

I visited Pakyong on 05Nov2017 and met some local contacts who said almost 164 buildings/homes large and small, located below and around the runway had been damaged due to the sinking caused by the airport construction.  

I have placed images of buildings being dismantled and other images of Pakyong airport below:


I took these photos in Nov2017 and after that I have not visited Pakyong. 

What I know from media reports is that adequate compensation has been doled out to all the affected people there so there is silence from that end.
What I am not sure is about the health of the mountain because I believe the runway is under repair/ extension.

No flights have operated to/from Pakyong for some time now, for reasons unknown to me.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim HImalaya