…𝑨𝒔 𝑩𝒉𝒖𝒕𝒂𝒏’𝒔 𝒄𝒊𝒕𝒊𝒛𝒆𝒏𝒔 𝒆𝒂𝒈𝒆𝒓𝒍𝒚 𝒆𝒎𝒃𝒓𝒂𝒄𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒎𝒊𝒔𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝑮𝒆𝒍𝒆𝒑𝒉𝒖 𝑴𝒊𝒏𝒅𝒇𝒖𝒍𝒏𝒆𝒔𝒔 𝑪𝒊𝒕𝒚 𝑺𝑨𝑹, 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒓𝒆’𝒔 𝒂 𝒈𝒓𝒐𝒘𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒔𝒆𝒏𝒔𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒐𝒑𝒕𝒊𝒎𝒊𝒔𝒎 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒆𝒏𝒅𝒐𝒓𝒔𝒆𝒎𝒆𝒏𝒕 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝑯𝒊𝒔 𝑴𝒂𝒋𝒆𝒔𝒕𝒚’𝒔 𝒗𝒊𝒔𝒊𝒐𝒏, 𝒔𝒊𝒈𝒏𝒂𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒂 𝒄𝒐𝒍𝒍𝒆𝒄𝒕𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒃𝒆𝒍𝒊𝒆𝒇 𝒊𝒏 𝒂 𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒔𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒔 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒔𝒑𝒊𝒓𝒊𝒕𝒖𝒂𝒍𝒍𝒚 𝒆𝒏𝒓𝒊𝒄𝒉𝒆𝒅 𝒇𝒖𝒕𝒖𝒓𝒆
Susmika Subba & Sonam Deki
On December 17, 2023, commemorating Bhutan’s 116th National Day, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck unveiled an ambitious vision to transform the country into an economic hub for South Asia. Central to this vision is the development of the Gelephu Mindfulness City Special Administrative Region (SAR) in the southern part of the Kingdom. His Majesty outlined plans for strategic investments in green energy, physical and digital connectivity, infrastructure, and education.
In a recent series of interviews, citizens expressed their optimism and enthusiasm for the city’s upcoming development plan, known as the SAR. They shared their perspectives on how this urban transformation is poised to shape the city’s future.
Dhan Kumari Subba, a Gelephu resident, highlighted the hope that the SAR plan brings to their lives. She emphasized the potential benefits not only for the current generation but also for their children, who are expected to grow up in a city meticulously designed with essential amenities.
Lopen Thukten Jamtsho from Zhung Dratshang expressed, “In contrast to other Mega Cities where the entire country undergoes transformation, the SAR is distinctive in that the city will be constructed with a blend of modern and ancient architecture. Furthermore, the city is rooted in mindfulness and closely aligns with Buddhist principles.”
Lobzang Dorji, a Private Entrepreneur, eagerly anticipates the transformative impact of the SAR project on Gelephu. He sees the initiative not only as a source of economic potential but as a catalyst for innovation and growth. The prospect of a well-planned and thriving urban center is not just exciting- it’s an opportunity to contribute to and benefit from the dynamic future that Gelephu’s SAR project envisions. He is optimistic that this initiative will redefine the city, unlocking new horizons for businesses, fostering a conducive environment for entrepreneurship, and ultimately shaping a prosperous tomorrow for all.
Yeshi Zimba from Wangdue Dzongkhag believes that the SAR plan holds the key to economic growth for Gelephu. Zimba anticipates an increase in population, leading to greater market opportunities that will attract businesses and talent. The recent unveiling of the Gelephu town’s future design has showcased significant improvements in infrastructure. This enhancement is expected to elevate the overall quality of life, drawing even more people to the city. She said, “Additionally, the diverse population resulting from people coming from different countries will create a rich tapestry of cultures, languages, and traditions, fostering a vibrant and cosmopolitan atmosphere.”
Karma Choden, one of the civil servants, said, “The prospect of a meticulously planned city not only excites me but also fills me with hope for a more efficient and organized urban landscape. I believe this initiative will not only enhance the quality of life for residents but also provide a conducive environment for sustainable development. The anticipation is high, and I am optimistic that Gelephu’s future, as envisioned by the SAR project, will bring about positive changes, fostering a thriving and harmonious community.”
Kinga Lhamo from Dagana Dzongkhag echoed similar sentiments, emphasizing the prospective success of the SAR plan. Lhamo anticipates that the plan will not only boost the local economy but also contribute to self-sufficiency. Additionally, she foresees the creation of employment opportunities for individuals who, despite completing undergraduate studies, continue to face challenges in securing jobs. She said, “The prospective success of the new Gelephu plan, known as ‘SAR,’ holds the promise of boosting our economy. This, in turn, can contribute to our self-sufficiency and create additional employment opportunities for individuals like us who have completed undergraduate studies but continue to face challenges in securing employment.”
Sangay Wangmo expressed, “Upon reviewing the master plan and the design, I am genuinely enthused about the anticipated outcome. Furthermore, we hold high hopes that this initiative will play a pivotal role in revitalizing the country’s economy.”
Sonam Lhaden said, “Given the high unemployment rates among our youth, we are optimistic that the implementation of the SAR will not only generate employment opportunities but also contribute to retaining our talented young individuals within the country.”
In a similar vein, 54-year-old Dorji Wangdi remarked, “A significant number of our youth are currently employed in prominent companies in the Middle East, such as McDonald’s. They have likely acquired valuable skills and experiences, and the prospect of them bringing back these capabilities to contribute to the SAR is promising.”
Dawa, a resident of Thimphu, expressed, “We are united and steadfast in our efforts to support and embrace the economic vision presented by our beloved His Majesty.”
The Gelephu Mindfulness City SAR will cover an area of 1,000 sq. kms, or 250,000 acres. This is only 2.5 percent of the total surface area of the country but has the potential to create a significant multiplier effect by generating economic activity and investment in the Kingdom. At the same time, His Majesty emphasized that the Mindfulness City is being created for the sake of Bhutanese in the country and living abroad. The SAR will bring gainful employment opportunities and enable citizens living abroad to return to the Kingdom to take jobs in technology, healthcare and other careers of the future.
Mindfulness City will be at the heart of an economic corridor linking nearly two billion people in South Asia and Southeast Asia, connecting some of the most vibrant economies and cultures in the world. The SAR will have administrative privileges and will host companies on the cutting edge of sustainability, technology and finance. Mindfulness City will attract businesses and residents which align with Bhutan’s unique culture and Buddhist values, prioritizing sustainability and spiritual wellbeing.