Bagdogra is the main Airport for North Bengal and Sikkim, it is also the gateway airport of Bhutan and Eastern Nepal. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) code for Bagdogra is IXB. This used to be primarily an Indian Air Force base. Now the Airforce base has mostly been shifted and the airport has gained substantially in prominence over the years. The airport is located at a distance of 14 km from Siliguri, 125 km from Gangtok and 90 km from Darjeeling.
It is an international airport with flights connecting Paro in Bhutan and Bangkok in Thailand. There are occasional flights to Kathmandu as well. The Airport is connected Directly with Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati, during tourist season airlines also arrange direct flights to Bagdogra from other major cities such as Mumbai and Bangaluru.
The Airport and the problems it faces
Bagdogra Airport is spread over a relatively small area of about 14 acres. Although traffic has grown tremendously over the years and it continues to be one of the fastest growing airports in the country, the infrastructure here has not kept up with a growing number of tourists. In 2016 – 17, total passengers handled by the airport has been about 1.6 million. Yet the capacity of the Airport according to official record is to handle about 700 passengers (arrival and departure together) in an hour.
The problem could be solved to an extent if the airport was used for long hours. However, most airlines prefer to operate flight during peak day hours. The airport is majorly used by tourists who prefer to arrive here during day time so that they can come down straight from the tourist destinations to the airport or directly reach the tourist destinations from Bagdogra. Hence night landing facility though installed is rarely being used here.
As a result, the number of passengers handled during the peak hours and peak season is way beyond the official capacity of the airport. So don’t be surprised if you see a long queue at the airport while you arrive to board your flight after the tour.
The Airport currently has five aprons. Flights arrive and depart during the day between 10:00 Hours to 18:00 Hours. The airport authority has been trying to set up a CAT III infrastructure but has not been able to do so at the time of writing this article due to a shortage of land.
Planning Your Arrival and Departure at Bagdogra
So how should you plan your arrival and departure from Bagdogra airport? If you are a tourist and going to arrive at Bagdogra, it is recommended that you book a flight that arrives early. Most tourists want to visit places such as Darjeeling or Gangtok immediately after arrival. Darjeeling is about 3 hours drive whereas Gangtok may take about 5 hours depending on present road condition and traffic, which is quite heavy on this route. So if your flight arrival is after 4 PM, for example, you may end up reaching Gangtok sometime around 10 PM, which though not unusual during peak season, is also not recommended. We do not recommend traveling after dark in the hills. So either you can book a flight that arrives early, or you can start your tour from Darjeeling or Kalimpong which are nearer destinations than places in Sikkim which is further.
Similar caution should be practiced for your departure as well. If you are traveling from Gangtok or Pelling, note that the distance of 120 or 140 km is not commensurate with the time it takes to travel. It is not unusual to get into a traffic jam in the hilly terrain and take as much as 6 hours to reach Bagdogra from Gangtok. So for departure, we would recommend starting early from your destination and keep a couple of hours in hand extra. Every year several tourists miss the flight due to eventualities such as traffic jam, a flat tire or similar, so be safe than sorry.
If you are departing through Bagdogra Airport, it is recommended that you plan your arrival at the airport minimum 2 to 3 hours before actual departure time.
Getting a vehicle for the onward journey
The Airport is in a remote area. The nearest city is Siliguri about 14 km away. So if you are stranded, help is not always easy to get. We understand on arrival you are eager to start and reach your destination as early as possible. The best way to do so is to pre-book your taxi. Our fleet of vehicles is at your service. You may contact our helpdesk executives and get a quote for your drop to the hotel.
If you decide to arrive at the airport without pre-booking the taxi, your best bet is the airport pre-paid taxi service inside the airport. They provide decent service at a reasonable cost for most of the year. However the taxi service is unionized here and you may not get the vehicle you might be looking for. Especially if you are arriving late in the evening or during peak season, it is not unusual that the required vehicle is not available as you require them. Also, the heavy passenger load at the airport during peak hours mean long queue for the prepaid taxi.
Many tourists prefer to come outside the airport looking for a bargain. We would highly recommend against this, as there are numerous touts around the Airport who can take you for a ride you would best avoid. If you happen to arrive at the airport without pre-booking your cab, try to book it before leaving the terminal gate. If you are stuck, get a vehicle to Bagdogra town or Siliguri city where your options are much wider.
Staying near the Airport
Most tourists would prefer to travel to the hills rather than staying near the Airport. However, if you have an early flight to catch, or you are arriving by a late flight, it sometimes makes sense to stay near the Airport on your first night. Choice of hotels close to the Airport is limited, you may contact our helpdesk executives for a choice of hotels near Bagdogra. We would recommend staying in Siliguri town. Though the town does not have much attraction for tourists, it has many hotel options and is just about 30 minutes drive away from the Airport.
The nearest tourist destination near Bagdogra is Mirik and Kurseong. Mirik is about 50 km away and takes an hour and a half to reach. Kurseong is 42 km and little over an hours drive away. So if you are really keen on your hill sojourn, you may consider these two places for your first and last night. Among the major destinations, Darjeeling is about 70 km and takes 2.5 hours to reach.
Distance from Bagdogra to tourist places
Darjeeling – 70 km
Kalimpong – 80 km
Pelling – 145 km
Gangtok – 125 km
Ravangla – 125 km
Namchi – 100 km
Bhutan Boarder (Phuentsholing) – 170 km (However the journey is through the foothills and travel time is relatively less at about 4 hours)
Nepal Border (Kakarbhitta) – 20 km
Jaldapara National Park – 140 km
Gorumara National Park – 75 km
Bagdogra Town is about 11 kilometers from Siliguri, regular buses and auto-rickshaws ply on the route. There is also a railway station where railbus has been introduced. There is a large market in the lower Bagdogra area which serves Indian and foreign goods for the armed forces personnel and people from Siliguri. The Bihar More is the hub of activity where the National Highway 31 divides. The main road goes towards Kolkata whereas National Highway 31C moves towards the Nepal Border of Panitanki via Naxalbari, the birthplace of Naxal movement in India.
The town is divided into two parts, Upper and Lower Bagdogra, the Upper area around NH31C beyond Bihar More is mostly residential. The Lower Bagdogra area apart from residences also has commercial establishments, schools, college, rail station etc. The original entrance to the Airport was also through this area but has now been shifted to a new entry point about 2 km ahead of Bihar More.