… first Bangladeshi tourists to visit GMC with SDF discount

Lhakpa Quendren

Gelephu—Raisa Islam Aishy, a 23-year-old Bangladeshi tourist, remains inspired by the promise of the planned Gelephu Mindfulness City (GMC) and the opportunity to witness the transformation of this endeavour firsthand.

With her cousins Nishat Tasnim, 24, and Anika Ibnat Haque, 22, she embarked on a five-day trip to Bhutan for their vacation. The adventurous trio from Mohammadpur in Dhaka is the first group of Bangladeshi tourists to explore the GMC.

Raisa Islam Aishy is a student of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto in Canada, while Nishat Tasnim is pursuing a degree in Computer Science and Engineering, and Anika Ibnat Haque studies Bachelor of Business Administration, both at BRAC University in Bangladesh.

Although their stay in Gelephu was short, just for a night of June 5, their experience has left a lasting impression on them.

The visionary Gelephu Special Administrative Region (GeSAR) has sparked excitement not only among local residents but also among young people from neighbouring countries even before developmental activities are implemented.

For Raisa Islam Aishy, the GMC sounded like an incredible opportunity to witness Bhutan’s development firsthand. “We have heard about the GMC project, which is being designed by the King. As young Bangladeshi girls, we wanted to follow the milestones of GMC and see how we can also benefit from it in the future,” she said.

She believes GMC is a unique city that will benefit Bhutan, especially in terms of tourism. “The new Gelephu international airport will accommodate multiple airlines, promoting access to tourists from other countries. The project will also bring Gelephu to the international limelight,” she said.

“We had a very different experience visiting Gelephu compared to other cities. The place felt very safe, the people were friendly, humble, and helpful,” Raisa Islam Aishy said, describing Gelephu town as quiet, clean, and green, just as they had imagined.

What made their trip even more valuable was the opportunity to meet with former Prime Minister Dasho Dr. Lotay Tshering, where they learned about His Majesty’s vision for GMC. The former PM is stationed in Gelephu to assist His Majesty in executing GMC’s developmental activities.

The road trip from Paro to Gelephu, they said, is worth it despite the hilly and curved route, as they experience some scenic routes like never before.


SDF reduction initiative

The cousins were the first to benefit from the reduced sustainable development fee (SDF) for Bangladeshi tourists, announced by the government on June 2. This reduction, from $100 per person per night to $15, is equivalent to the fees levied on tourists from India.

Thanking the government for the cheaper SDF system, the young students, who ventured out on this trip mostly using their savings, say that the reduction in SDF played a key role in their overall enjoyment of the trip in Bhutan.

“With the discount on SDF, we were able to spend our money towards other activities and costs, such as river rafting, horseback riding at Taktsang hike, and purchasing Bhutanese handicraft souvenirs for friends and family,” said Raisa Islam Aishy.

When asked if the SDF reduction justified their visit, she said, “This new initiative will encourage many other tourists to visit Bhutan, as it reduces their overall expenses by a large sum and makes the vacation more affordable.”

Inspired by the adventurous trip stories of their parents, who visited Bhutan in 2019 and 2023, they have chosen to undertake a trip with their cousins.

“Bhutan as a travel destination is not as hyped as other places. But Bhutan has a lot to offer, and anyone who does not have this place listed in their bucket list is definitely missing out,” said Raisa Islam Aishy.

They departed for Dhaka on June 8 from the Paro International Airport and wanted to share this with Bhutanese, “The people of Bhutan are extremely friendly, respectful, and welcoming, and we learned so much from your traditions, practices, and cultures that we hope to take back home with us.”