Saturday, November 20, 2010

Article from Bhutan Observer (17 Oct 2010)

I found this article online, and thought it was interesting following the blog I just posted about food in Bhutan.  I have been spending a lot of time with a friend's little 2-year old son, and he eats very erratically.  His diet from what I can see is made up of candy and Coca-Cola, fried food, and chillies.  The food culture is changing slowly in Bhutan though it is still mainly within the upper and middle classes.  Just one of many aspects of a country in transition into the modern world.


So that we eat enough and healthy

BHUTAN OBSERVER. 17 October 2010.

The agriculture ministry is working on a food and nutrition security policy. It is a crucial policy that will have a far-reaching impact on the health of the population as well as the country. The policy is timely because we are now increasingly talking about poverty and poverty alleviation measures which comprise a host of economic activities.
Food and nutrition policy is particularly crucial for us because for a country vulnerable to untoward geo-economic situations, food and nutrition security also means national security.
Today, the concept of food and nutrition security has taken on many important dimensions. Availability of enough grains alone does not make a community food and nutrition secure. The people should be in a position to access the available food and utilise it in a nutritious and hygienic manner. After all these conditions are achieved, we must make sure that they are stable for all time to come. Then, we can claim that we are food and nutrition secure.
We are far from being food and nutrition secure. The production of food is beset with many formidable challenges. Productive agriculture land is limited and the yield from it is often compromised by difficult terrain, lack of irrigation water, destruction of crops by wild animals, and farm labour shortage, among others. These challenges are now compounded by laying the farmland fallow and development fast gobbling up productive land.
Access to food is often limited by difficult terrain, lack of roads, and market facilities. Utilisation of available food is also a big challenge for Bhutan. Our popular food culture is largely unhealthy. For instance, the average Bhutanese family’s diet largely comprises only rice with overcooked vegetables, often oily and spicy.
The government has already initiated projects like irrigation water schemes, farm mechanisation, and farmers’ cooperatives to meet these challenges. But it will take time, resources, and awareness.
Given widespread seasonal poverty and food shortages, particularly across rural backwaters, it is important that a robust food reserve strategy be put in place at the national, regional, and community level. In this context, we could learn from our forefather’s granary system during the troubled medieval time.
Because the concept of food and nutrition security is multi-dimensional, achieving it will need multi-sector efforts. Almost all the agencies, including the health and education ministries, must make specific effort towards achieving certain aspects of food and nutrition security. The policy makes many such issues clear.
Food and nutrition security policy is an idea whose time has come. Let’s take it forward.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Whine and Dine Bhutan

I haven't met a single traveller who's visited Bhutan who didn't rave about the beautiful Himalayan scenery and friendly, warm people.  They didn't however rave about the food.  In fact, it was quite the reverse.  Everyone told me to be prepared and bring little vacuum-sealed packets of sustenance if I didn't want to starve.  After all the packing was said and done (and let me tell you, winter packing is very challenging and space-consuming!), there was simply none left for food - granola bar, instant noodles, curry in a packet, or what-have-you.

So I have bravely set forth on my adventure without any food of any sort from home, determined to give things a shot.  First stop, Paro in Bhutan.  As I was walking around in this charming little town, I couldn't help but notice the well-lit, fully-stocked, horribly crammed, somewhat unsavoury-looking butcheries.  Bearing in mind that Bhutan doesn't really slaughter any meat within in the country (it being a staunch Buddhist kingdom), all the meat is typically imported from India.  Suffice to say, I will be mainly sticking to vegetables and eggs.  Contrary to popular belief, yak meat is hard to come by in Bhutan and is considered an expensive delicacy.  That is probably one meat I am okay with!

Meat Glorious Meat

Nonetheless, I did find some nice dishes - fried rice, bathu (a spicy clear soup with handmade noodles), and hot potato-filled samosas.  I also managed to put together a nice little meal with fresh produce from Bhutan - yoghurt, tomatoes from the South, cheese from central Bhutan, organically-grown fruit, and a little shot of Bhutan-made peach shnapps after dinner.  Life is good.

"Chaps" or bon appetit!

Hard cheese from Bumthang, honey and yoghurt, organic fruit, and a "French loaf"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Adventuring in High Places

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Constantine P. Cafavy


There are so many women explorers who are inspiring - from Freya Stark to Alexandra David-Neel - who pushed the boundaries of society and dared to venture into realms unmapped.  While I could never hope to be as daring as they are (for they lost as much in their personal lives as they gained in adventure), I can try to step outside my comfort zone once in a while to try something new and different.  

I have arrived in Bhutan for what is hopefully the start of a journey of self-discovery.  

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


"How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you're carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life... you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knick-knacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV... the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home... I want you to stuff it all into that backpack."  Ryan Bingham, Up In The Air

And stuff it all into a backpack (and a duffel, and a suitcase) I did.  Boy was it crammed and heavy.  Yet it barely caused a dent among my considerable possessions!  I never felt quite so shallow and materialistic as I do now.  Though George Clooney's character Ryan Bingham was primarily talking about relationships weighing you down, the material goods are enough to slow you down and kill the proverbial shark ("Make no mistake, moving is living.").

Time will tell how well my 35kg of stuff will serve me.  Off to Bangkok we go - the start of my Himalayan adventures.