There are times in life when you realise that the impossible is possible. One such moment comes when you stand on a ridge overlooking the southern flat lands of Gelephu and you reflect on His Majesty The King’s Royal vision for Bhutan’s future. Small landlocked Bhutan suddenly feels like a vast land, extending as far as the eye can see. 

You envisage a unique city of modern suburbs built among the fertile farmlands, pristine foliage, and rich forests which are home to a diverse range of wildlife. Communities live and work in innovative structures of mud and stone, wood and bamboo. They are connected by custom-designed bridges over the natural flow of rivers and streams. And they are linked to the world by road, rail, and international aircraft that land on a modern runway which cuts through the green fields. 

Bhutan’s era of transformation means that these dreams are coming to life. When proverbial sayings come alive, a small country that dares to be different becomes a real phenomenon. When challenges are converted into opportunities, you thrive. When imagination is, truly, the only limit, you change the world. 

The Gelephu Mindfulness City is not an overnight decision to urbanise and convert the countryside into towns to facilitate commercial activities. Nor will it be a living space hidden away in Bhutan. The idea is to construct and transform the gentle slopes into an ideal habitat where man and nature exist in interdependence. It is Gross National Happiness interpreted into urban living.

How do you make the impossible happen? A key characteristic of the transformation is the elevation of our reference points and aspirations. An example… for the rural communities of the past, crossing Mao Khola (river) which sprawls across one kilometre was impossible. For modern planners who have seen Japan build a 54-kilometre rail tunnel under the sea and the 21,380-metre Incheon bridge, there are comfortable options. 

Bhutan is already a tourism hotspot. When you nurture the sub-tropics of Gelephu into a biodiversity hotspot to merge with the temperate valleys of Bhutan and then to the far reaches of the northern glaciers, you create an ecology that brings the body, mind, and soul together. “We imagine a place that could be nowhere else,” writes Bjarke Ingels, the architect of Gelephu Mindfulness City. “(Gelephu) will attract businesses and residents which align with Bhutan’s unique culture and Buddhist values, prioritising sustainability and spiritual wellbeing.” 

As the news of Gelephu Mindfulness City spreads, these dreams are already being translated into potential realities for human society. Interested investors observe that the quality of health and education services can be raised to the best of human capability by employing the right skills. And where else in the world can that be done in an unspoilt environment such as Bhutan? Hydropower, solar, and wind can be tapped to produce green energy. The living atmosphere of Gelephu will be defined by the spirit of Vajrayana Buddhism and Bhutanese culture. 

How do you prepare to move into a new era? How do you cope with the stress of transition and the collateral impact of change on this scale? To achieve a vision of the magnitude that we are beginning to sense, His Majesty has emphasised the importance of unity and harmony and, therefore, the efficiency of our small population.

As far back as 2008, His Majesty advised Bhutan’s first elected Parliament: “We must remember that our greatest strength throughout history has always been the unity of spirit and purpose of our people – One Nation, One Vision.” 

In 2014, His Majesty reminded the second Parliament. “My dearest hope is that you will remain united in your efforts to not only meet the short-term needs of the people but also the long-term goals of our nation. In spite of the changing government and leadership, there must be continuity in our vision at all costs.” 

In 2020, His Majesty encouraged the third elected government as he personally led the battle against the Covid Crisis: “There is nothing we cannot achieve as a nation – our people are capable, skillful and resilient. Time has now come to take our responsibilities more seriously than ever before.”

The sagacity of the Royal advice strikes home this year. The 20 dzongkhags, 205 gewogs, 47 constituencies, five political parties, all the government, semi-government, and non-government institutions merged to elect, not a political party, but a government to execute national development. Although a political map of the constituencies seem to indicate geographic divisions, the close fights in each constituency indicates that if there is a sense of regionalism, it is superficial. 

Here, again, we welcome the advantages of the distinct Bhutanese identity. Many countries around the world have villages and small towns that have more people than Bhutan’s 700,000 or so population. Small countries like Bhutan can be flexible, creative, and swift. Our claims that the Bhutanese population is one extended family implies that we can function as a close-knit community. 

 The repeated Royal emphasis on unity means teamwork. Bhutan has a modern history of planning well and implementing poorly, exacerbated by a lack of coordination among the agencies of governance. Even with Cabinets formed by one party and a civil service of trained professionals, we have seen strong inclinations towards turf protection. 

The rules of national planning and good governance tell us that, when we discuss issues of national importance, we pool different perspectives on shared concerns. It is important that we agree to disagree. Given the magnitude of the vision that is unfolding before us, the exchange of multiple views is vital as is the coordination among different sections of our society. This means all of us are involved in the transformation of our nation. 

Bhutan’s fourth government assumes executive powers at an exciting and challenging time. We have just overcome an invisible enemy. Now we reach for a visible goal. The destination is transformation. The course is clear. “Once we set our sights on a goal and when the King, government and the people unite, we can accomplish inconceivable goals (His Majesty The King 2020).” 

Contributed by

Dasho Kinley Dorji