Bhutan opening to western culture

For decades Bhutan had no television, no traffic lights and a culture that had barely changed in centuries.

Today, bars dot the capital, Thimphu, set in mist-covered mountains, teenagers crowd internet cafes to play violent video games, and men smoke and gamble in snooker halls.

There are still no traffic lights after residents protested against the installation of one, but otherwise the once-isolated Buddhist country tucked between India and China is changing, and bringing the modern world‘s problems in its wake.

Inside a gaudily lit dance club, guests watch a 38-year-old woman swaying to the songs they choose, usually traditional folk music but sometimes a number or two.

Lhaden, a divorced mother-of-two, dances until midnight, and like thousands of her compatriots, is struggling to make ends meet.

“I‘m not happy or sad about things, I have no other choice,” said Lhaden, who only has one name.

Bhutan measures its national wealth by a Gross National Happiness index aiming to build a contented, fulfilled society. But Lhaden, who earns $125 a month, is counting the pennies.

“I live in such a small flat so I can afford food and clothes.”

Signs of change are everywhere, pulling the country of snow-capped, jagged mountains, forests, rivers and clean air into the modern world.

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