KHOTANG: Flying to Kathmandu and southern cities is not only faster for Khotang folks, but it is cheaper too, compared to travelling by a bus. So air service becomes the first choice for anyone travelling to the country's capital and regional or zonal headquarters.
The Nepal Airlines Corporation charges Rs 2,150 on the Lamidanda-Kathmandu route while Sita Air has priced the half-an-hour service at Rs 2,175. The fare for the 25-minute flight to Biratnagar is Rs 1,495. From the newly-opened Manamaya Rai Khanidanda Airport, which lies close to Diktel, the district headquarters, air tickets to the capital city are priced at Rs 2,687. There are, however, no flights to Biratnagar from this airport. Flight tickets to Biratnagar and Kathmandu from Thamkharka Airport cost Rs 1,325 and Rs 2,365, respectively, according to Narendra Udas, Khotang station manager of the Civil Aviation Authority Nepal.
On the other hand, it costs Rs 4,000 and takes three days to travel by a bus to Kathmandu. According to Gopi Udas, president, Transport Entrepreneurs' Organisation, bus fare on the Diktel-Bhojpur route is Rs 600, on Bhojpur-Leguwa Rs 600, Leguwa-Dharan Rs 250 and Dharan-Kathmandu Rs 700, with additional food and accommodation costs. All this amounts to over Rs 4,000.
To travel 300 kilometres between Diktel and Biratnagar, it costs Rs 1,000 more by bus than an aeroplane. "To reach regional headquarters Dhankuta and Zonal headquarters Rajbiraj by a bus, it costs extra in the same proportion, and, of course, extra hours. This has caused a lot of problems for the common people," CDO Keshav Raj Acharya said.
Bus transport is operated on the Diktel-Jayaram-Ghurmi-Katari road. Not only do locals prefer to travel via air, even light goods are transported by aircraft. Clothes traders often charter planes to bring in goods. "To bring important items on time, air service is the best option," says Poshan Basnet, who owns a fancy store in Diktel.
"We transport agricultural items and seeds via air," Raju Bajimaya, proprietor, Bajimaya Agro-Vet said. Passengers have also complained that the planes carry little of their goods and more of businessmen.
On the land route, syndicate system, though the government has outlawed it, is another hurdle. On the Jayaram-Ghurmi-Katari road section, transporters are required to unload and load unnecessarily. Uppin Kumar Rai, vice president, Khotang Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said the cost of goods has increased a lot due to the fare hike caused by the unfair practice. He said there are syndicates on three sections: Jayaram-Ghurmi, Ghurmi-Katari and Katari-Lahan. On each instance of unloading, Rs 5 is charged per kilogram. A truck that makes an entry on the route has to pay something between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000, said Gopi Udas.