Staff Reporter

Gelephu—The Gelephu Special Administrative Zone will commence with the expansion of its airport to an international airport with works commencing from March this year.

The domestic airport with a runway length of  1.5km and catering to only ATR aircrafts will be extended to 2.5km to accommodate  bigger aircrafts like Airbus A320 and eventually to a full length of 3.5km so that even the biggest aircraft (A380) could land.

The airport extension works include diverting the two seasonal Aipoli streams (the streams are dry in winter) on the North mouth of the current airport, to Paithakhola near Samtenling. 

The airport extension decision was taken before the idea of the Gelephu Mindfulness City and land owners, whose land fell in the area into which the airport would extend, have been either given land replacement or compensated.

A few hundred metres below the airport lies the dry port which would be connected with a 47-km railway line from Kokrajar in Assam. It would initially be only for goods. The airport, together with railway connection and improved roads would create a multimodal transport hub. 

The Tareythang National Service site with a built up area  covering close to 1.2 million square feet would be repurposed for the Gelephu Mindfulness City.  

Numerous options are being explored how best to utilise the centre that is half complete and stalled considering the mega project.

The Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport (MoIT) has prepared a detailed project report for a four-lane express road connecting Tareythang to Gelephu. This is due to the connectivity to the international airport and other modes of transport coming to Gelephu. The current distance of over 40 kilometers would be shortened to 12 to 15 kilometers by building an 800-meter bridge across the Mauchhu reducing the travel time to less than 15 minutes. 

The existing road was constructed to connect villages and communities, and it takes an hour and 20 minutes to get to Tareythang from Gelephu. The detailed project report (DPR) for the express road will be prepared by MoIT. 

Similar to the Tareythang NS site, there are 700 acres of land in the Jigmeling industrial site, where the infrastructure is laid and the site is ready for any form of repurposing. 

The mega quarantine center in Jigmeling would be used as a training facility for various expertise, including that of engineers, human resources, among others. 

For landlords confused about the future of their land holdings, there is nothing to worry about. Everyone would be part of this GeSAR story and vision, to leave no one behind. As of now, the core team is working towards determining the modality of the land. Not just Gelephu, but the entire Bhutanese citizenry would be part of the historic project. 

“It is our responsibility as Bhutanese to fulfil this vision that His Majesty has for the country. We have to be very progressive, even in terms of our thinking,” a private sector member said. 

There are proposals to build majestic temples for Tara Kulikuli and Tshepamey, a set of eight cremation grounds, Vajrayana centre, among others. A dzong, similar to the Paro Rinpung dzong, will be built at Phulari, above Edi village and about 15 minutes drive from Gelephu town.

However, as the special administrative region is based on the concept of  a mindfulness city, backed by spiritual and religious practices, the mega project would be preserving and promoting an environment where thousands of acres of land will be immersed in natural environment and cultural landscape, keeping the settlements and farmlands intact.  

The GMC centre 

The under-construction Sarpang Dzong which is structurally unique in the southern part of the country, showcases an innovative design like contemporary heritage sites. It will be repurposed as the administrative centre for the GMC. 

With complete architectural features on the outer side, the inner side of the dzong aligns with modern designs to provide a conducive environment for both monastic and administrative offices. The dzong includes five administrative blocks, and another block can accommodate 150 monks for the monastic body, inclusive of their lodging. 

The construction of the administration blocks has been halted since last year to accommodate newer plans. The construction work is scheduled to complete by the end of December 2024. The interior furnishing work has begun, however, it is expected to take some time.