But in the dozen years since it decided to modernize, and opened up to television, internet and other outside influences, cities have grown and, some Bhutanese fear, mores have changed.
"People are becoming more self-centered, less considerate of society and less sensitive," says Lungten Gyatso, a Buddhist monk and director of Bhutan's Institute of Language and Cultural Studies.
I observe that they must have been very happy pigs. Buddhist monk Lungten Gyatso believes modernization has shifted Bhutan's moral center off-balance.
He refers to Bhutan's Gross National Happiness index — the government's effort to measure well-being — and says, the very definition of happiness seems to be changing.
Happiness is the peace of mind deep down even beyond the couch, cars, and buildings, even beyond the sense of relaxation you have…is happiness.
In Bhutan, Buddhism's counsel to choose a middle path seems to provide both a guiding principle, and a challenge — develop, but don't lose your identity. Many cultures have faced this challenge — few have done it as consciously.Youth center director Dorji Ohm says some unemployed young people have taken up disturbing new habits — like smoking marijuana and taking ecstasy."I remember when I was a child, we never had drugs," she says."And this is because of the global culture, modernization and development whatever you call it — internet, television, and all kinds of media." As part of the effort to modernize Bhutan, villages that were once days' walk to the nearest road are getting connected, with roads, electricity, television and mobile phones.That has opened up new worlds to Bhutanese villagers, and has attracted ever more young Bhutanese to cities and towns — but the economy can't yet provide jobs for them all.