Synopsis: Anthony Bourdain travels to Bhutan, “a remote, relatively rarely visited kingdom in the Himalayas” that sits between India and Tibet. He finds a nation that has held onto its Buddhist cultural and religious practices in spite of a national effort to modernize. Alongside filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, Bourdain samples spicy and hearty fare, watches an archery competition, and learns about the country’s curious obsession with phallic imagery.

On the inaccessibility of Bhutan:

  • “You hang onto your seat as the plane negotiates some alarming maneuvers through narrow mountain passes before dropping into the country’s only international airport, said by some to be the most dangerous in the world.”
  • “Have you studied the effects of high altitude? You know your blood gets thicker and thicker until it’s like frickin’ marmalade.”

On Bhutan spice:

  • [Over chili-and-cheese momos] “It’s enlightenment—it’s your third eye opening, man.”
  • “You’ll like these greens, man. They are spicy as f***”
  • [Over ema datsi] “Mmmm, that set my hair on fire.”
Photos by Jeff Allen.
Photos by Jeff Allen.

On the emphasis on environmentalism and happiness in Bhutan:

  • “Tourism was only allowed in the 1970s, and even today only in small numbers. The amount of foreign visitors is strictly limited to protect Bhutan’s culture and environment.”
  • “It seems like Shangri-La, but for the place that invented ‘gross national happiness,’ are they content earning 2 dollars a day? I don’t want my child herding yak. It’s that simple. And I don’t know how many parents do, even here.”

“It is beautiful. I am glad it hasn’t been f***ed up by the world yet.”

On the phallic imagery of the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kunley:

  • “He reveled unapologetically in casual sex, the copious use of spirits, and seduction.”
  • “God, give me strength as we walk through the valley of low-hanging dick jokes.”
  • “So should I be drinking more and having more casual sex to get to enlightenment?”
  • [On hiding his new phallic souvenir] “Do we have a bag? I am not carrying this around all day.”

Aronofsky: “This country is going to be a very, very different place in five years. The question is, Do they stay committed to happiness and not consumption?”

Guests weigh in:

  • Darren Aronofsky (filmmaker): “I can’t even tell what we’re talking about. I’m so high from the altitude.”
  • Dasho Benji Dorji (Bhutan’s godfather of environmental conservation): “I do believe in gross national happiness. Good governance, human rights, justice for all, education, health. Bhutan is a good welfare state where the people are taken care of.”
  • Dr. Nawang Norbu (director of the School for Field Studies): “There are many studies showing that the Himalayan glaciers will disappear in about 50 to 60 years. Climate change is going to have a serious effect.”
  • Norbu: “People are giving up yak herding in search of better opportunities.”
  • [On using a photo of Guy Fieri as a fire starter] Aronofsky: “Who is that? I should know this.” Bourdain: “A Western deity, beloved by millions.”