SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka have arranged a special flight to bring back a group of 120 pilgrims who were stranded in the Buddhist holy city of Bodh Gaya (Buddha Gaya) by the floods that have ravaged parts of India. The elderly pilgrims are being sheltered by the Prelate of the Buddhist vihara in Gaya.
Bodh Gaya draws hundreds of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims each year, including large numbers from Sri Lanka. The pilgrims had been scheduled to travel by road to Chennai and fly to Colombo, but flooding shut down the Chennai airport, leaving them stranded in Bodh Gaya.
SriLankan Airlines CEO Captain Suren Ratwatte said, “Once again, SriLankan Airlines is responding rapidly to an urgent appeal and fulfilling our duty as the national carrier. Initially we tried to reroute these passengers through Calcutta, but given the situation and the stress these senior citizens are under, we thought it best to operate a special flight direct to Gaya. In the coming days we will expedite the repatriation of other pilgrim groups who are in Southern India as well, using special flights if required. This is an unprecedented national emergency that we must respond to.”
The Airbus A320 aircraft flown by budget carrier Mihin Lanka was scheduled to arrive in Bodh Gaya Sunday, December 6 morning and return to Colombo in the afternoon, with the flight expected to take three and half hours.
Keeping to its famed standards for hospitality, SriLankan has gone to the extent of arranging special vegetarian meals as the passengers are Buddhist pilgrims. Apart from a full complement of cabin crew, several officials from the airline’s offices in Colombo would be on board to assist the pilgrims.
SriLankan’s Flight Operations Department has arranged the necessary permits and overflying clearances rapidly given the nature of the situation. High Commissioner Esala Weerakoon has coordinated matters regarding the pilgrims with the vihare in Gaya where the pilgrims found shelter, and authorities in Bodh Gaya.