Discover The Transformation Of Samtse On Bhutan’s 111th National Day Celebrations


“The most remote gewog is now connected with roads,” said Man Bir Gurung of Norgaygang.

(Source: Kuensel)


By Ugyen Penjor | Kuensel

On 17 December 1907 when the Bhutanese clergy, state officials and representatives of the people unanimously elected Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck as the first hereditary King of Bhutan, it signalled the beginning of a new era in Bhutanese history.

The academic documentation of the significance of the National Day is what most Bhutanese are articulate about. In trying to find a meaningful analysis of the 111th National Day, some significance was found in Samtse.

When Samtse hosted the National Day celebrations for the first time in 1981, most of the people involved in today’s grand celebrations were not even born yet. Samtse was known as Samchi back then.


A dress rehearsal for Bhutan's 111th National Day celebrations was held in Samtse.

Source: Kuensel


Through the visionary wisdom of His Majesty The Fourth King, Bhutan had just started the decentralisation process. The Fifth Plan began the next year.

The visionary plans outlined by His Majesty The Fourth King

In his address to about 20,000 people who gathered in Samchi, His Majesty outlined the Plan’s policies and strategies to the members of the Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogchung.

He told them that in order for the programmes outlined in the Fifth Plan to be successful, it was necessary for all the people to work hard and to participate meaningfully in the implementation of development programmes.

The focus of the Plan was to make the dzongkhag self-reliant. Specific plans with the aim of making Samtse economically self-sustaining in the shortest possible time, while taking into account the ‘local characteristics, potentials and needs’ were shared.

Samtse’s budget was Nu 204 million, more than three times the Nu 64.6 million allocated in the Fourth Plan.





Given its strategic location, Samtse was never isolated. It was the headquarters of five sub-divisional offices and also had a district commissioner as early as the 1950s when other dzongkhags were deep in isolation.

With its fertile land, its proximity to markets in India and opportunities in horticulture, Samtse was all poised for development.

Moreover, the dzongkhag is rich in mineral deposits and is ideal for growing cash crops like orange, ginger and cardamom.

Samtse was also one of the fastest developing dzongkhags. It was the first southern dzongkhag to host a National Day celebration attended by His Majesty The Fourth King.

The significance of Bhutan’s 84th National Day celebrated in Samtse in 1991

Exactly a decade later in 1991, Samtse was the host again. If December 17 was celebrated as the National Day because it marked the ending of the period of internal strife and instability with the election of the First King, then the 84th National Day celebrated in Samtse in 1991 was significant in many ways.


Source: Facebook/Samtseinfo


The celebrations came a year after the dzongkhag faced activities in southern Bhutan that tried to undermine the security of the country. The 84th National Day was symbolic of the unity of the country.

In the face of uncertainty arising from the threat to the nation’s security, the highlight of the National Day Royal address was on the importance of the Seventh Plan.

It was about the importance of development and improving the living standards of the people, of promoting rapid socio-economic growth and ensuring a balanced development.

All that the King asked from his people was their trust, continued support and dedication to achieve the national objective.

The transformation of Samtse over the years

Samtse developed. Roads were constructed, industries established, schools and institutions were built and expanded. The dzongkhag saw dramatic development in all sectors.

A decade later, in 2002, Samtse was third time fortunate when it hosted the 95th National Day. The country started its 9th Five-year Plan. The government had allocated Nu 920.6M to make the dzongkhag economically self-sufficient.

It also aimed to strengthen the dzongkhag office and local governance, to expand basic educational and primary health, to preserve national heritage and to encourage environmentally friendly and balanced development among all the gewogs.

By 2010, when the National Statistical Bureau first started documenting the annual Dzongkhag statistics, Samtse already had 80 educational institutions.

In the medical sector, there are nine grade II basic health units (BHU), three hospitals and 21 outreach clinics.

As for the industrial sector, 38 of the 73 manufacturing licences were operational and 377 service licences was in operation.


Source: kvagroproducts


The dzongkhag also had 8.5 kilometres of irrigation channel covering 753 acres of paddy land which produces 6,266m tonnes of rice. The dzongkhag produced 2.6m kg of oranges and 763,00 kgs of cardamom (in 2007). In addition, there were 2,900 improved breeds of cattle.

Samtse has indeed been transformed. “There is a difference of sky and earth when I first came here,” said Karma, who resettled in Sangacholing a decade ago.

Modernisation of Samtse and how it has enhanced the life of its residents

As of today, records with the NSB show that 99 percent of the houses in Samtse are connected with electricity. There are 108 educational institutions, 425 kilometres of farm road, 132 km of gewog connectivity road, 72 health centres and 15 motorable bridges. The dzongkhag also boasts of about 29 functioning industries.

The prosperity and progress, according to what the Monarchs had envisioned are seen in the eyes of those who had gathered for the Monday (17 December) celebration.

The 60-year old farmer said that Samtse has been transformed beyond recognition. “All we saw, those days in Samtse town, were horses and cattle.”

“The most remote gewog is now connected with roads,” said Man Bir Gurung of Norgaygang.

Samtse is also a living example of ‘unity in diversity’. Karma’s two former gups were from among the resettled community.

Born in Haa and having lived in Thimphu for most of his life, Karma was also encouraged to stand for the post of gup.

“We are Bhutanese, not Haaps or Lhotsampas or Parops,” said Karma’s wife, Tshering.

“We never felt Sangacholing as our second home. We are all one.”

Even though the Doyaps, Lepchas, Ngalongs or the Tamangs who had gathered in Samtse town cannot articulate the significance of the Gyalyong Duechhen, they appreciated the Kings and the fruits of the nation’s progress, stability and unity.

Dilip Ghalay from Khengpagaon used to take one whole day to get to Phuentsholing for trade and to purchase basic necessities. Today, it takes only an hour.  

“I spent my childhood and teenage years carrying loads on my backs with my parents, but my children don’t have to,” Dilip Ghalay said.

The people of Samtse are lucky again. They celebrated the 111th National Day with His Majesty The King, His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyaplo, His Holiness the Je Khenpo, Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, His Royal Highness The Gyalsey, members of the Royal family, the newly elected Prime Minister and dignitaries today.

It is an opportunity for people like Dilip Ghalay and Man Bir to thank the Kings for the unprecedented development, peace and security they have brought to the country.  

“We came here to offer our gratitude to our beloved Kings for what they have sacrificed for this great nation and pray for their long life,” said Man Bir.


This article first appeared in kuensel and has been edited for the Daily Bhutan.



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