COLOMBO: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today announced that India's flag carrier Air India would begin direct flights between Colombo and the city of Varanasi from August.
Modi, who is on a two-day visit to Sri Lanka, made the announcement of the flight service during his address at the inauguration of the International Vesak Day, the biggest festival of Buddhists. He said the flights will allow "my Tamil brothers and sisters" to visit Varanasi, the land of Kashi Viswanath.
At a distance of 10 kilometres from Varanasi, lies Sarnath, one of the most revered Buddhist pilgrimage centres. It is believed that after attaining the enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, it was in Sarnath that Buddha preached his first sermon, sanctified as Maha Dharm Chakra Parivartan.
The direct flights will aid pilgrims from Sri Lanka, a Buddhist-majority country, to visit Sarnath.
Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh is the parliamentary constituency of the prime minister, from where he contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
This is Modi's second visit to Sri Lanka in two years. He arrived yesterday primarily to attend the International Vesak Day celebrations and his vist is aimed at reinforcing the traditional connect between India and Sri Lanka.