After I returned home for the summer after filming the latest season of Top Chef in Colorado, I was able to do a little bit of traveling: to the Hamptons most weekends to spend time with my family at the beach, to India in August, for my cousin’s wedding in Chennai, and also to someplace new- the mountainous kingdom of Bhutan. I’d of course heard of Bhutan, as it sits right between India and China. But I’ve never had the opportunity to visit, until this year. I was invited to attend the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival, held in the country’s capital city, Thimpu.
Mountain Echoes invited me to speak on a panel about female empowerment, and also to speak about the two books I published last year- my food memoir Love, Loss & What We Ate, and The Encyclopedia of Spices & Herbs. I was interviewed by my dear friend, the incredible journalist Barkha Dutt.
I made several new friends in Bhutan…
…including Her Majesty, the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk.
After the panels finished, we wandered through the aisles of the Weekend Market- one of my favorite things to do in a new city.
After the market, we drove up to Buddha Pointe, so see the temple that overlooks the entire city of Thimpu.
The next day, we had the great privilege to have a meal prepared by an incredible woman named Kesang Choeden. Kesang was Bhutan’s first female police officer, but left the force at age 45 to pursue her passion for food. She went on to found the Folk Heritage Museum, which is dedicated to preserving the culinary traditions of Bhutan.
Earlier that morning, Kesang had gone out into the forest to forage ingredients for our meal.
After a quick stop at the National Textile Museum, we went to see a special program performed by the students at the local ELC school. They shared with us highlights from their Ambassadors for Change program, where they look for ways to make a positive impact on their local community. They reduced toilet paper consumption by implementing the use of handkerchiefs, and turned plastic bottles into items like purses and placemats.
On our final day in Bhutan, we hiked up to Paro Taktshang, to see the Tiger’s Nest. It was a difficult hike, three hours up the mountain, but the view from above makes you forget how challenging it may have been.
Thank you so much to our wonderful guide, Dechen for showing us around Thimpu, and to Kezang Drupka for taking us on the hike in Paro.
All photographs by Anthony Jackson.