Gourmet Potatoes - Tim Fischer

Bhutan 2004: Gourmet Potato Dishes Abound
An update from Tim Fischer, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and Chairman of Australia Bhutan Friendship Association.

If there was one particular difference about Bhutan this time around, it was the arrival of the new wave of potatoes from the New World, most notably Latin American potato varieties being grown in Bhutan. In turn this has led the enterprising Bhutanese Chefs to produce some sumptuous potato dishes, (dammit as it made losing weight whilst trekking almost impossible!).
The middle fortnight of October 2004 saw some 18 Australians from all over and all ages embark on a breath-taking sweep through the mighty Kingdom of Bhutan. Wodonga locals, Jim and Jenny Toole, were on board with high tech walking sticks, and I had the privilege of leading the group with Simon Walliss (Travelrite) as Tour Manager.
After landing at Paro Airport in a BAE 146, we learnt we had just missed out on Druk Air’s introduction of two new Airbus aircraft for the flights from Bangkok and New Delhi. No matter, as we soon were on our way to the National Capital of Thimphu, with Bhutanese friends and guides updating us on the way.
Bhutan is always full of surprises and, whilst it was late Autumn, the weather was warm with some stellar views of the distant and not so distant snow caps of the Himalayan main range.
During the precious days that we were out and about from Thimphu, we headed generally east and north, over some stunning mountain passes and then dropped some five thousand feet into deep north-south valleys with their quite warm, even tropical climate zones.
There were two particular activities which stood out. The first was a two day trek to the Gaza Hot Springs, for a hot bath in natural pools whilst looking out on the snow caps about twelve kilometres short of the Tibetan/Bhutan border. This trek will be made easier by a road extension but this will still involve a 15 kilometre walk in.
The current local Governor of the Gasa Dzong and Gasa district is said to be the last walk- in Governor anywhere in the world! He was tertiary educated in Canberra and is always happy to see Australians!
The second great activity was to visit the ‘Black Neck Crane’ Valley where several hundred cranes come from Tibet each winter to breed and enjoy slightly warmer climes. Unfortunately we were too early for the cranes this year, but the setting was not unlike parts of Scotland with open heath country abounding.
In all of this journey, time went too quickly, especially the meal times when magnificent potato and rice dishes, and many other great vegetable dishes as well as spicy dishes of beef, chicken and pork, dominated.
There has been a quantum leap forward with the gourmet cooking in Guest Houses and Hotels across Bhutan, which greatly impressed me this time around.
At the same time, the logistics provided through Jo Jos and good friends such as Tshering Tashi, and Gyembo Dorji, and many others were very impressive. In fact, Gyembo Dorji was a student at Charles Sturt University in Albury some two years ago and is now a Senior Park Ranger in Bhutan.
All in all, it was a great privilege to visit with some terrific Australians. The bonus in visiting Bhutan is not just the stunning vistas but the wonderful people encountered and the relationships formed. Exiting via the Darjeeling Toy Train is another story, a wonderful experience to be recounted another time.

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