Lhakpa Quendren

Gelephu – Following the official announcement of the upcoming Mindfulness City, Gelephu residents are filled with excitement, placing their ultimate hopes on the project for a prosperous economic venture.

For almost a year, residents anxiously awaited the official announcement to decide the fate of their business operations. This is because their businesses struggled for survival as customers dwindled. Some hotels and restaurants are closed, while others are on the brink of closure.

Sonam Lhamo, a restaurateur on the outskirts of Gelephu town, is among many business operators who had initially planned to quit the business. Now, her story has changed. As the promising project excites the nation, business operators like Sonam are hopeful about advancing their businesses.

To tackle post-pandemic challenges affecting her business and family, she decided to sell a four-acre plot in Sarpang to repay loans that could not be sold. “I eagerly awaited the formal announcement of the mega plan for Gelephu to decide the future of my business,” Sonam Lhamo said. 

In what is considered a turnover of events, some residents who initially planned to leave for abroad have now dropped their plans as the project brings renewed hopes to the people.

A Gelephu resident who resigned from the civil service a year ago and has been awaiting an Australian visa has canceled his plans without a second thought. He owns about five acres of land in Gelephu and now intends to stay to seize the opportunities coming his way.

“I have opted to postpone the launch of the visa application due to the potential opportunities in construction, employment, and business,” he said. “Just like everyone else, I also had plans to go abroad with the hope of earning a decent income for a secure future.”

The government recognises the concerns of Bhutanese leaving in large numbers and the high attrition rate. However, no interventions or alternative measures were taken to address these issues, according to the residents.

“If the planned project can provide a decent income for living, I see no reason to go abroad. Instead, Bhutanese people living abroad might also consider returning,” said another resident. 

Excited about the major development in their area, residents are eager to learn the detailed project report, which not only concerns economic prosperity but also focuses on social and emotional well-being.

In early March of this year, residents informally learned about the city project, which was then followed by the suspension of major renovation, construction activities, and land sale and purchase in Sarpang.

While the residents remained assured that the project is planned for the economic development of the country, this informal discussion has also left many of them feeling both excited and worried at the same time, particularly those who own properties in Sarpang.

“It is clear that people won’t be affected; instead, they will benefit. The detailed project will also consider economic, environmental, and social aspects. But we are more excited to know what will happen to the people within the area and our properties,” said a retired civil servant in Gelephu.

A retired teacher said, “His Majesty has an excellent plan, and we must support it. The change is inevitable because there is a need for income generation and employment creation. We expect to hear plans about the residents here.”

“If we are to move from here, we must support the project for the greater interest of the nation. His Majesty granted my five-acre land during the zhisar (resettlement),” said a resident in Shompangkha.

If what reliable sources say is true, the project will be implemented in phases. The project will commence with the first phase, from Tareythang to Serzhong, followed by the second phase, from Singye to Samtenling. The last phase will take place in Gelephu.

According to the residents, people from five gewogs opposite Mauchhu—Tareythang, Umling, Chhuzangang, Serzhong, and Jigmechholing—have submitted accounts of their valuable trees like areca nut and agarwood to their respective gewog administration.

While not officially confirmed, sources say that the project will prioritise state reserve land and private land will not be affected. On the other hand, according to some sources, there will be four options for private properties—land replacement, shareholder, on lease, and takeover.

While the moratorium on the sale and purchase of land is still in place in Sarpang, some landlords continue to sell their land and properties.