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Inside the bar, young women danced in a corner while smoking cigarettes — frowned upon by the royal family and heavily taxed, though not banned — and bartenders doled out generous pours of K5, the dangerously drinkable local whiskey named for Bhutan’s five kings.
After a couple of glasses — and with Jamtsho belting out hits by Bruno Mars and Coldplay — it was possible to forget this was once among the most isolated countries in the world, one that didn’t even get television until 1999. It is a small and remote place — a little more than twice the size of Los Angeles and Orange counties combined, perched at the eastern edge of the world’s highest mountain range.
As a cheer went up from the front row, Younten Jamtsho, 20, and his five-man band, Yellow Pencils, launched into a jaunty pop rendition of “Crazy Rap” by the American artist Afroman.
Members of the crowd grooved in their seats to the raunchy ditty that revolves around smoking weed, oral sex and a vulgar image involving fried chicken and the wife of KFC’s Colonel Sanders.“Yeah, that song is pretty racist,” Jamtsho would acknowledge later. They’re young — they just want to have a good time.”It was just after midnight in a bar along the compact main drag of Thimphu, capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
Sometimes, the band swaps out the electric guitar for the a long-necked Himalayan lute used in Bhutanese folk songs, to achieve a more bluesy sound.
Those are the band’s only nods to tradition in a country that holds tightly to its heritage.
But along the narrow sidewalks in the center of Thimphu, Western-style apparel stores outnumber those selling traditional Bhutanese wear. Traffic jams have begun to clog the main roads, and cars are proliferating so fast that a multi-story parking garage, the city’s first, is taking shape on its southern edge.The Buddhist constitutional monarchy, however, is steadily moving into the modern era, even as its 800,000 people struggle with how much of it to embrace.“Our generation has been exposed to the world,” Jamtsho said the next afternoon on the patio of a coffee shop, sipping tea with honey before another gig.