Bhutan’s fifth King, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, embarked on a historic visit to Assam, marking the first time he set foot in the region. The visit, widely celebrated as a testament to the enduring ties between the two nations, was warmly welcomed by Assam’s Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Sarma expressed his honor and gratitude for the royal visit, emphasizing the deep-rooted connections between Assam and Bhutan. He affirmed that the meeting between the two leaders included discussions on various collaborations, with a focus on infrastructure partnerships and healthcare cooperation.
“Our bonding is exemplified by academic linkages, infrastructure partnerships, cooperation in healthcare, and we share a spiritual heritage and people-to-people ties,” Sarma stated, highlighting the multifaceted nature of their relationship.
During his visit, King Wangchuk paid a visit to the revered Kamakhya Temple and engaged with the Bhutanese diaspora in Guwahati, participating in cultural events. The monarch’s stay in Assam was marked by a jeep safari adventure at the famed Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its one-horned rhinoceros population.
Crucially, discussions between King Wangchuk and Chief Minister Sarma revolved around connectivity and infrastructure initiatives. Among the noteworthy projects, they discussed plans for the first India-Bhutan rail link, a 57-kilometer railway connecting Kokrajhar and Gelephu, where Bhutan envisions the construction of an international airport.
On Sunday, the Assam Forest Minister, Chandra Mohan Patowary, bid a fond farewell to the Bhutanese king at Kaziranga, expressing his pride and gratitude on a social media platform. Patowary posted on X, “It is a matter of pride for us as the Druk Gyalpo visited Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve and expressed his desire to visit @kaziranga_again along with the Royal Family of Bhutan. I sincerely thank His Majesty the King of Bhutan for the historic visit and generous gesture.”
Gelephu Project takes center stage amid Bhutan-China developments
King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk arrived in Delhi on Sunday, ahead of scheduled talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, following the recent Bhutan-China agreement on boundary delimitation. While the boundary discussions hold significance for New Delhi, given India’s concerns over Doklam, the King’s visit is seen as a response to Bhutan’s ambitious Gelephu project on the border with Assam.
According to the MEA, the visit underscores the unique ties of friendship and cooperation between India and Bhutan, characterised by understanding and mutual trust. King Jigme Khesar’s second visit to India this year follows closely on the heels of progress in Bhutan-China talks and has sparked interest in how Bhutan’s engagements with China may evolve.
According to a report, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering of Bhutan shared insights into the Gelephu project, emphasising that it was the first item on the King’s agenda during his discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The project aims to transform Gelephu into a “Gateway City,” and after the leaders’ meeting, it was understood that India would provide Bhutan with the necessary support.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed that Druk Gyalpo’s visit to India would extend until November 10, with additional visits to other Indian states on the agenda. The King is also expected to meet with business and industry leaders in Mumbai to explore collaborations and investments in the Gelephu project, known as the Sarpang district Special Economic Zone.
King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s visit to India spans eight days and includes a significant meeting with Prime Minister Modi in Delhi. This visit carries added significance, serving as a gesture of reassurance to India amid concerns regarding Bhutan’s efforts to cultivate closer relations with China.