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A series of hand-painted signs accompany the journey along the winding mountain road that runs between the airport and the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu.
Instead of signs indicating to slow down or check mirrors, these signs offer the traveler a series of mantras that glorify life.
"LIFE IS A JOURNEY COMPLETE IT!"
says one sign, while others urge drivers to "let nature be your guide."
This is the way the country welcomes the few tourists who can enter this remote kingdom, a place of ancient monasteries where prayer flags and astonishing natural beauty are waved. Less than 40 years ago, Bhutan opened its borders for the first time. Since then, he has gained an almost mythical status for quality of life, in large part because of his determined and methodical pursuit of the most elusive: national happiness.
Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. Instead, a new approach to development has been advocated, measuring prosperity through the formal principles of gross national happiness (FIB) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and the natural environment. .
This small country can only be visited by tourists since 1974, but the government imposes a series of economic restrictions to prevent a large flow of travelers. This, while generating significant income from the tourism industry, prevents the environmental deterioration of this Asian paradise inserted in the Himalayas mountain range.
For the past three decades, this belief that well-being should take precedence over material growth has remained a global rarity.
In a world beset by the collapse of financial systems, gross inequality, and large-scale environmental destruction, a growing wave of eminent economists, environmentalists, psychologists, religious leaders, and politicians are turning to this kingdom's system to achieve sustained growth.
“It's easy to exploit the land and seas, fish and get rich,” says Thakur Singh Powdyel, Bhutan's Minister of Education, who has become one of the IBF's most eloquent spokespersons. "However, we believe that you cannot have a prosperous nation in the long term if you cannot conserve the natural environment or take care of the well-being of its people, something that is being corroborated by what is happening to the outside world."
In the last 20 years life expectancy has doubled in Bhutan and almost 100% of the child population is enrolled in schools. There, alongside math and science, children are taught basic agricultural techniques and environmental protection. A new national waste management program ensures that every piece of material used in the school is recycled.
The inclusion of the FNB in education has also meant daily meditation sessions and traditional music, replacing the clanging of the school bell.
However, the kingdom of Bhutan faces enormous challenges and has several troublesome situations to resolve. It remains one of the poorest nations on the planet. A quarter of its 800,000 residents survive on less than $ 1.25 a day, and 70% live without electricity.
On the other hand, after the approval of various policies aimed at integrating the Tibetan women in the 1990s, there were several clashes with the minority of Nepalese. Thousands fled to refugee camps in Nepal, and their status is still uncertain. Those who stayed, still today suffer from discrimination.
It was for this reason that on repeated occasions the leaders of Bhutan made fiery requests for help so that their way of life is not destroyed, something that although they build from within the country should not be deliberately corrupted from outside.