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Chef Eric Ripert Discovers Bhutan

by Eric Ripert

Chef Eric Ripert Discovers Bhutan

Eric Ripert at left, a Buddhist monk at right. All photos by Eric Ripert.

Le Bernardin chef and practicing Buddhist Eric Ripert recently returned from a destination he's long wanted to visit: Bhutan.

So, what brought you to Bhutan? I have always wanted to visit. I am a Buddhist and thought that it would be a great place to do a retreat.

Was it your first time? Yes.

What was the best tip you got before you left? Thoroughly read up on the visa process! There are quite a few steps in the application and important points to learn.

Prayer flags

Prayer flags.

What's the best tip you'd give a friend who wanted to go? Stay in Amankora if you can.

How did you get there? I flew Qatar Airways to Doho and then to New Delhi. From there I flew Druk Air to Bhutan. The lounge area in Doha airport is amazing, and I was very impressed with the newly renovated airport in Delhi.

Where did you stay? Amankora, which is a series of lodges across the country. The largest lodge has 24 rooms and the smallest has eight.

What did you do? I traveled around the country, spending about three days in each lodge — I visited Paro, Thimphu, Punakha Valley, Gantey, and the Bumthang Valley.

In Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, I visited the largest market as well as many monuments including one of the oldest temples, the Center of Astrology.

I spent an entire day in a monastery in Bumthang Valley during a festival of prayers and attended a special teaching in a 7th-century temple. The following day, I went to an orphanage and cooked for the children there. It was a wonderful experience.

Fortress

A dzongh, or fortress.

In Punakha Valley, I went to see many old fortresses called dzongs. The valley is so beautiful. One of the highlights of the few days I spent there was a special picnic prepared by the Aman that I had by the river in the middle of the rice fields.

I traveled to Gantey just as a festival was starting. I participated a little, but mostly relaxed and used the Aman spa. After the long trips, I really needed it! I had another special dinner experience here in a potato shed about a ten-minute walk from the hotel — so different and so great.

My last few days were spent in Paro, Bhutan's most historic city. I did some shopping, but by far the highlight was my trip to Tiger's Nest and also the dinner on my final evening. The dinner was held in an old dzong and we wore traditional Bhutanese dress.

Tiger's Nest

Tiger's Nest

Two views of Tiger's Nest Monastery.

This was especially great: Tiger's Nest Monastery in the Paro Valley.

But this wasn't: The jet lag!

Prayer Wheels

Let’s talk about stuff.
1. Glad you packed: I'm glad I didn't overpack! I packed the right amount of things for traveling around. 

2. Wish you’d packed: Better boots for hiking. 

3. Didn’t need: A coat. The weather was quite mild.

4. Brought back: Bhutanese scotch, incense, buddhas, etc.

Speed round of favorites.
1. Meal: Eating with monks in monasteries and with the locals in their farms. Aman does a great job in preparing picnics and meals in the lodge as well. 

2. Neighborhood to explore: The many different valleys — they are all so strikingly beautiful and very distinctive due to altitude and exposure that it's hard to choose one. Paro is high in altitude, faces north, and has a very different vegetation than Punakha, which faces south in low altitude and has an almost tropical vegetation. Paro, Thimphu, Gantey, Bumthang Valley, and Punakha Valley should all be explored.

3. Thing you did:S pent an entire day in a monastery with the monks.

4. Cafe/casual hangout: Doesn't exist!

A procession

A procession of Buddhist monks.

What’s the local speciality? The local food specialty is delicious melted cheese with chilis called ema datse. The weaving work and crafts in Bhutan are beautiful — they are very skilled.

Were you there for the right amount of time? I spent 20 days there. I wish I had spent a year.

One thing/place you didn't get to visit, but wanted to: There were a few temples here and there that I didn't get to see.

Any surprises? Bhutan is one of the last, lost paradises on earth. I knew it would be overwhelming, but I was surprised by how much it overwhelmed me.

the view

The view at 13,000 feet.

You can’t stop thinking about: The beauty of the country, the kindness of the people, and the lack of stress in the environment.

What was your favorite moment? My last night — eating dinner prepared by Aman in a fortress with some of the people from the resort. We wore traditional Bhutanese dress. It was a magical experience.

Would you go back? In a second!

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Eric Ripert Fathom Questionnaire

Eric is the chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin restaurant in New York City. He travels to be inspired by other cultures and countries.

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