The main focus of the 116th National Day was the Gelephu Mindfulness City Special Administrative Region (SAR) project announced by His Majesty The King.
The project was Bhutan’s biggest open secret with it widely being discussed and speculated on for months on end.
In the popular imagination, the Gelephu SAR was seen as being another Singapore or a Dubai of sorts.
However, once details of the project came out many Bhutanese were pleasantly surprised to find a city that is in harmony with Bhutan’s nature and culture and at the same time builds on it.
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, prioritising sustainability and spiritual wellbeing.
The Gelephu Mindfulness City will cover an area of 1000 sq kms, or 250,000 acres which is 2.5 percent of the total surface area of Bhutan.
The future Gelephu Special Administration Region, located on the India-Bhutan border, will leverage its location and connectivity to South- and Southeast Asia to lay the foundation for the country’s future growth and create economic opportunities for its citizens through investments in green technology, education, and infrastructure.
The city increases in density from the rural and recreational highlands to the urban and dense lowlands and will have 35 streams and rivers flowing through it.
Shaped by waterways, Gelephu becomes a land of bridges, connecting nature and people, past and future, local and global. Like the traditional Dzongs, these inhabitable bridges turn into cultural landmarks, doubling as transportation infrastructure combined with civic facilities.
The natural elements and the existing infrastructure, agriculture, and utilities of Gelephu naturally create eleven distinct neighborhoods across the 1000+ km2 area.
To protect existing and future development against flooding in the monsoon season, paddy fields will be established along the site’s rivers and tributaries, running from north to south. These will further function as biodiversity corridors for local flora and fauna, leaving the migratory routes of elephants and other wildlife undisturbed.
Each of the bridges house key destinations within the city: the new airport, a Vajrayana spiritual center which allows glimpses into the daily practices of the monks and masters of mindfulness; a healthcare center as a meeting between Eastern and Western medicine; a university that exposes its academic activities; a hydroponic and aquaponic greenhouse putting ancient farming practices and modern agro-science on display for the daily commuters; a cultural center to immerse and educate visitors about Bhutanese culture and customs; and a market adorned with Bhutanese textiles.
Local materials – wood, stone, and bamboo – will be used in the new buildings, inspired by vernacular motifs such as rabsel, cornices, ornaments, and roofscapes.
The Special Administrative Region (SAR) in Gelephu as the economic hub will have the autonomy to formulate laws and policies that are needed. It will have executive autonomy and legal independence.
The SAR will be an economic hub inviting foreign investment by providing a conducive business environment and compelling incentives. Bhutan’s economic hub will offer all that and more.
There will be screening process to ensure that the companies and people who come to Gelephu are sensitive to Bhutanese culture and traditions, respect Bhutanese identity, and shares Bhutan’s values.
With inflow of foreign investments, there will be construction of offices, residences, schools, hospitals, and businesses such as shops, restaurants, and hotels.
His Majesty said the growth in economic activities will offer greater opportunities to the private sector.
Economic growth will generate demand for goods and services. The benefits will encompass all dzongkhags, especially farmers, providing niche and lucrative markets in the country for all products. With FDI, there will be more jobs for the youth, with international salary scales and greater access to technology and skills.
His Majesty emphasised three immediate priority areas that will support the Gelephu project: Energy, Connectivity, and Skills.
His Majesty said people will think that the main goals of the Gelephu project are to attract investments, boost trade and businesses, and create employment.
His Majesty said, “During my reign as King, and for our generation, this is one of the most significant undertakings. It is an inflection point, a moment in history that is very important for us.”
His Majesty highlighted Bhutan’s inherent advantages, pointing out that small countries like Bhutan are not trapped by legacy and can innovate swiftly to implement plans that other countries might hesitate to pursue.
His Majesty emphasised 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.
On 19 December, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) shared its masterplan for Mindfulness City. BIG’s plan is informed by Bhutanese culture and the country’s strong spiritual heritage.