The to and fro heli-taxi service between this Himachal Pradesh tourist resort and Chandigarh will now ply thrice a week, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said on Monday. Also, the chopper will now land at the Annandale ground, the picturesque flat highland just three kilometres from Shimla’s Ridge, but will take off from Shimla airport at Jubbarhatti, 22 km from here. “Seeing the response of the tourists, we have decided to ply the heli-taxi service on every alternate day in a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” Thakur told reporters here. Earlier, it was operated twice a week — every Monday and Friday.
The Chief Minister said the defence authorities have given permission to the state to use its Annandale ground for the heli-taxi’s landing. A prime chunk of land surrounded by thick forests, the Annandale ground has been under the Army’s control since World War II. Thakur said the state is awaiting permission from the Central government to start a mountain ride between Manali and the majestic Rohtang Pass, which remained marooned in snowfall almost round the year.
Officials told IANS that for boarding the chopper in Shimla, one has to go to the Jubbarhatti airport, which is an hour-long travel from here. It will land and take off from the Chandigarh International Airport, some 18 km from Chandigarh. With the launch of the heli-taxi service on June 4, the travel distance between Shimla and Chandigarh was reduced to just 20 minutes.
The Chief Minister has offered his official helicopter on the Shimla-Chandigarh route. The state government in association with helicopter service operator Pawan Hans Ltd launched this service, cutting down the earlier four hours’ travel time. Each sortie, with 18 passengers on board, will offer a minimum fare of Rs 2,999 per person.
The helicopter takes off from the Jubbarhatti airport at 8 a.m. and reaches Chandigarh at 8.20 a.m. And from Chandigarh, the flight takes off at 9 a.m. and reaches Shimla at 9.20 a.m. The Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp has started a shuttle bus service between Shimla and the airport for the heli-taxi passengers. The ticket is Rs 200 per seat.
The normal taxi fare between Shimla and its airport is between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,500, which travel agents say is too high for a person who is travelling at an affordable air fare of Rs 2,999. Himachal Pradesh, known for its apples and picture-perfect tourist spots, attracted 19.6 million tourists last year, 2.9 times of its population. It has 63 operational helipads across the state, as per the state’s Economic Survey 2017-18.