PM Modi announces direct flight from Varanasi to Colombo

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a direct flight between Colombo and Varanasi during his address at the 14th International Vesak Day celebrations, a day that marks the birth, enlightenment and passing away of Lord Buddha.

Sri Lanka is hosting the International Vesak Day for the first time. The theme of this year's event is 'Buddhist teachings for social justice and sustainable world peace'.

Modi, who is on a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka, met Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and interacted with leading Buddhist spiritual leaders in the country.

Modi arrived in Colombo on Thursday evening where he was received at the airport by Sri Prime Minister Wickramsinghe and other senior ministers.

Both prime ministers later arrived at the Seema Malaka Temple, where they were received by the chief monk of the Temple, among other dignitaries.

The prime minister offered flowers at the altar of the temple. Modi and Wickramsinghe together pressed a switch for the lamp-lighting ceremony on the eve of Vesak Day, characterised by brilliant multi-coloured lights and a fireworks display.

He said the direct flight between Colombo and Varanasi will begin from August this year, adding that the flight will ease "travel to the land of Buddha."

"My Tamil brothers and sisters will also be able to visit Varanasi, the land of Kashi Viswanath," Modi said.

The Prime Minister also mentioned terrorism in his speech stating that it is a "clear manifestation of this destructive emotion."

The prime minister is set to inaugurate the 15-bed Dickoya Hospital, which has been built with assistance from India. Reports state that India will give $2.6 billion as aid for the hospital. The prime minister is also scheduled to meet representatives of the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC) and hold a meeting with representatives of the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TBA).

Modi will then arrive at the President's Palace for a lunch hosted by the Sri Lankan President. He is also set to visit Sri Dalada Maligawa Temple (The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic), where he will sign the visitor's book and interact with Mahanayaks.

Although no bilateral talks are scheduled between the countries during the prime minister's visit, the meeting of the leaders is set to give a fresh boost to India-Sri Lanka relations.

"I will be in Sri Lanka for a two-day visit starting today, 11th May. This will be my second bilateral visit there in two years, a sign of our strong relationship," Modi had said before arriving in the country.