WINE & DINE
Bagdogra Airport is located about 16kms from Siliguri township and is the nearest airport for Darjeeling. This small and cute airport has become a gateway to many great tourism places in North Bengal and Sikkim for both domestic and international passengers. Although the airport can accommodate some five flights at a time, there are no aero-bridges here. So once you land, you will need to walk along the tarmac.
This airport actually serves as a military air base and also allows the civilian flights to operate. Night landing facilities are planned to be installed shortly. I have come to this airport numerous times, both while heading for Darjeeling and also leaving for Kolkata. And over the years, I have hardly seen much changes other than some cosmetic touches inside and to the exterior of the building.
Passengers disembarking at Bagdogra airport
While road transport is the only means for those making onward travel to Darjeeling area, the Gangtok passengers have an additional option. There are regular helicopter services from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok.
Once you enter the arrival lounge, the toilets will be to your right. And straight ahead you will notice the West Bengal and Sikkim tourism counters. For Darjeeling, approach the West Bengal Tourism Counter for any information about hotels and travel bookings, pocket map, printed pocket guides, literature etc. A large board ahead says "Welcome to North Bengal".
As you walk in to the arrival lounge, on your left are two conveyor belts where your checked-in luggage will arrive. You will also see a red and a green channels along with an immigration counter. This is probably meant for the foreign tourists from Bhutan.
You will see signs for a restaurant upstairs. You can access the restaurant both on arrival and while departing. I always plan to take my lunch here on my way back from Darjeeling to Kolkata. It's a large dining hall with many tables laid out in rows seating four each. While departing, I would usually come here a little early and spend about an hour relaxing in the restaurant.
Heading towards the arrival lounge, Bagdogra
Try to take a table next to the large windows facing the runway and you will see planes landing and taking off. My favorite here is the chicken cutlet - two large pieces served with a portion of French fries. I love to accompany that with a beer. The restaurant has a full bar as well. Outside the restaurant, there are bookstores and a gift & souvenir shops.
Once you pick up your luggage at the arrival hall, walk towards the exit gate and just left of the exit door and inside is the pre-paid taxi counter. You can get taxis from here to various places in North Bengal and Sikkim including Darjeeling and Gangtok. There are no shared taxis or bus available from Bagdogra airport. The pre-paid taxi counter at the airport is usually open till about 7pm (depends on flight and availability of taxis).
Prepaid Taxi Counter, Bagdogra Airport
Next to the taxi counters, there is also a currency exchange booth. Inside and on the right side of the exit door, there are a series of airline counters, an office of the Assistant Manager and also a small coffee shop. Here you will also find a small booth saying "May I Help You?", basically an assistance booth for the arriving passengers.
As you walk out of the exit gate, you are likely to be circled by the numerous drivers asking you for your destination and offering you attractive rates.
TIP: If you want to save money, instead of taking a prepaid taxi you can come out and directly negotiate with the drivers. You can get much lower rates (sometimes half the prepaid rate). So what's the story? The prepaid counter will usually give you a West Bengal state registered taxi, which is a local private taxi (of Siliguri area). The local cab driver then starts negotiating with other drivers outside who have come from Darjeeling, Gangtok and other places to drop their clients and waiting for a return customer. Once the deal is struck (often at half the rate), you will be transferred to the other taxi. So if you come out and negotiate directly with those taxi drivers, you can cut out the brokering local cab driver, directly strike the deal yourself and get the benefit of lower rates.
Another way of saving money would be to group with some fellow passengers who have arrived at the same time, come out and take a taxi together. This way you can further split the cost. In fact, you will often find large vehicles like Sumos outside who take groups. But there is a no fixed shared rate as shared taxis or jeeps are officially not allowed at the airport area. But you do get them.
A caveat with prepaid taxi: While pre-paid taxi from Bagdogra airport is the prescribed transport to your destination, there is a huge shortfall with this when you are travelling to Gangtok. A West Bengal registered taxi will be allowed only up to the lower taxi stand (Deorali stand) in Gangtok which is 2kms below the town center. From there you will need to take another local taxi to reach your hotel. But if you happen to get a Sikkim registered taxi, you won't have this problem.
Bagdogra Airport Building From Outside
The car park is about 50 yards away from the airport building. If you are travelling to Darjeeling, then check out Bagdogra to Darjeeling to know about the route and the journey to the hill town.
1) Flights to Bagdogra: Information about flights that are operating between various cities of India and Bagdogra, flight timings etc.
5) Visit How to reach Darjeeling for complete information on reaching Darjeeling from various places in India and neighboring countries.
By Raj Bhattacharya
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