GMC: Journey towards the next level of urbanism

GMC: Journey towards the next level of urbanism

While promoting tourism, PM Dasho Tshering Tobgay doled out the concepts of Gelephu Mindfulness City during his last India trip

The Prime Minister (PM) Dasho Tshering Tobgay’s role during his last visit to India was more akin to a marketing officer, talking at length and breadth about the Gelephu Mindfulness City (GMC) and tourism wherever he went during the five day tour.

Expressing delight to be in Delhi while speaking at the India Today Conclave, Dasho Tshering Tobgay said that in pursuit of balancing a sustainable environment with economic needs, it’s evident that Bhutan’s economy faces significant challenges. He opined that it is fragile, lacking depth, and has been severely impacted by the pandemic.

“In seeking your support, I encourage you to visit Bhutan—not merely as tourists but as guests and friends. Now is the perfect time for a visit; spring is here, with its blossoms unfurling. If spring doesn’t suit you, consider the summer, when India’s heat becomes overwhelming, Bhutan offers a cool, moist, and lush refuge. While autumn brings vibrant colors and brightness, winter offers crystal-clear skies and abundant sunshine for you to bask in,” the PM reasserted.

“I urge you to make plans to visit; don’t just let Bhutan remain an unchecked item on your bucket list. With your help, support, and friendship, I am confident that Gross National Happiness (GNH) will not only thrive but will also inspire millions to lead better lives. This brings us to the next evolution of our vision—GNH 2.0”.

While societies around the world are designing urban cities, the PM asked the audience what if they were given the power to design a city.

Hinting towards the GMC, the PM questioned: What if you were given a canvas of 2,000 square kilometers to work with? This area is 30% larger than the Union Territory of Delhi, fifty times the size of New Delhi, and thrice as large as Mumbai and Singapore. Imagine this canvas is neither a barren desert nor a flat, featureless expanse. Envision a land cradled by rivers—the Manas, teeming with fish including the endangered Golden Mahseer, and the Sunkosh, capable of generating over 4,000 megawatts of clean energy. Consider the presence of two national parks bursting with wildlife, birds, fungi, and flowers, connected by a biological corridor allowing elephants, tigers, leopards, birds, and deer to roam freely. Picture undulating lands dotted with water features, paddy fields, and quaint hamlets, bordered by the foothills of the mighty Himalayas to the north and the vast, open plains of great India to the south. How would you envision a city in such a setting? How would you embody the principles of GNH 2.0 in your design?

He further went on: Would your city succumb to market forces, or would it prioritize the well-being of its residents? Would you opt for skyscrapers or prefer low-rise buildings that blend with the landscape, constructed sustainably from timber, stone, and mud? How would you integrate the city seamlessly into the surrounding forests?

“The commitment to preserve the two national parks for future generations is paramount. Would your city strive to be entirely carbon neutral, or perhaps the first carbon-negative city in the world?” the PM added.

“This vision, inspired by His Majesty the King, is the Gelephu Mindfulness City. It represents a city designed to live in harmony with nature and humanity, fostering innovation and knowledge in sync with sustainability and spirituality. GMC is not merely a model; it is a journey towards the next level of urbanism, a stride towards GNH 2.0 for the 21st century. It stands as a gift to Bhutan, to India, to the world, and indeed, to all of humanity,” the PM then concluded his talk.

During the conclave, architect Bjarke Ingels also presented the details of GMC, leaving the audience awestruck with the conceptual designs of the city.

Meanwhile, devising strategies to augment tourism which has been left handicapped in the aftermath of the pandemic, the PM engaged in discussions with Indian tour companies highlighting about the ways and means to revive the sector, and how to rope-in more numbers. The PM said that his government is trying to rake in 300,000 tourists annually, including 150,000 regional tourists, as was pledged during the election campaigns.

During a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)-organized event in Mumbai, Dasho Tshering Tobgay highlighted the significance of tourism to Bhutan’s economy and thanked Indian partners for their role in promoting it. He pointed out that Indian tourists are valued not just for the economic benefits they bring but also for the deep cultural and bilateral ties they represent, emphasizing Bhutan as a safe and enriching destination.

Lyonchhoen called on tour operators to offer insights on improving tourist services and to propose innovative ideas that align with Bhutan’s distinct culture and environment. Encouraging them to visit and promote Bhutan globally, he underscored a special offer to reduce the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) for tourists from nearby regions, enhancing Bhutan’s accessibility.

Dasho Tshering Tobgay also mentioned the streamlined visa processes to ease entry, balancing the boost to the economy with the need to avoid over tourism through a “High value, Low volume” tourism strategy. This approach aims to attract a sustainable number of visitors while preserving the country’s cultural and environmental integrity.

Addressing the target of attracting 150,000 regional tourists, he noted the figure was set based on Bhutan’s capacity to ensure responsible tourism growth. Indian operators expressed eagerness among tourists for Bhutan visits but raised concerns about limited flight options causing travel disruptions.

Suggestions were made to increase flights from cities like Mumbai to improve access. While acknowledging his limited sway over airlines, the PM committed to discussing expanded flight services with them.

Tour operators also stressed the need for better hotel facilities and staff to support the growing tourist influx and suggested diversifying attractions beyond the traditional sites to enhance the visitor experience.

In response, the PM assured that the hospitality sector would evolve to meet demands and highlighted government efforts to promote eastern Bhutan, promising tourists a broader range of experiences, from nature trails to adventure sports, in the future.

By Tashi Namgyal, Thimphu