In Photos: Winds of Change in Idyllic Bhutan
The once-isolated Buddhist country is changing, and bringing the modern world’s problems in its wake.
The once-isolated Buddhist country is changing, and bringing the modern world’s problems in its wake.(Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

In Photos: Winds of Change in Idyllic Bhutan

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

Youths sit outside a restaurant in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan, 16 December 2017.
Youths sit outside a restaurant in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan, 16 December 2017.
(Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

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.

A youth drinks whiskey at a bar in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan, 16 December  2017. 
A youth drinks whiskey at a bar in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan, 16 December 2017. 
(Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

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.

A man sings in a Karaoke bar beside a portrait of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan, 16 December  2017. 
A man sings in a Karaoke bar beside a portrait of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan, 16 December 2017. 
(Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

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

Smoke billows from construction sites across the country and a giant bronze-and-gold Buddha statue that commands the entry to the Thimphu valley now shares space with modern telecom towers.

The Punatsangchu river runs past an industrial site located near the town of Wangdue Phodrang, Bhutan, 13 December  2017.
The Punatsangchu river runs past an industrial site located near the town of Wangdue Phodrang, Bhutan, 13 December 2017.
(Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

On the streets and even in the countryside, jeans have become as commonplace as the traditional Bhutanese knee-length gho robes for men and the ankle-length kira dresses that women wear.

Men play snooker and gamble in a snooker hall in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan, 12 December 2017. 
Men play snooker and gamble in a snooker hall in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan, 12 December 2017. 
(Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)
Buddhist monks play football in the Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan, 14 December  2017. 
Buddhist monks play football in the Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan, 14 December 2017. 
(Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

Bhutan's $2.2 billion economy remains predominantly agricultural, but mobile phones and TV sets are everywhere, even in the Phobjikha valley, a tourist haven about seven hours' drive from Thimphu and in winter, home to Bhutan's famed black-necked cranes.

Youths gather in an internet gaming centre in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan, 11 December 2017.
Youths gather in an internet gaming centre in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan, 11 December 2017.
(Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)
Houses stand in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan, 11 December  2017. 
Houses stand in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan, 11 December 2017. 
(Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)
Men work at the Punatsangchu hydroelectric power project near the town of Wangdue Phodrang, Bhutan, 13 December  2017. 
Men work at the Punatsangchu hydroelectric power project near the town of Wangdue Phodrang, Bhutan, 13 December 2017. 
(Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)
A stream runs through the Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan, 14 December 2017.
A stream runs through the Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan, 14 December 2017.
(Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)
A woman carries her daughter near Punakha, Bhutan, 14 December 2017. 
A woman carries her daughter near Punakha, Bhutan, 14 December 2017. 
(Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

This piece has been edited for length and published in an arrangement with Reuters.

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