Prior to the Season 11 finale of Parts Unknown, CNN anchor Don Lemon paid his respects to the late Anthony Bourdain. Lemon spoke on the effect Bourdain’s death has had on family, friends, and colleagues — as well as complete strangers — and noted the television host had the unique ability to shrink the world for his viewers. “Anthony Bourdain was our window to the far-flung places of our planet, but he had a way of making what was so foreign seem so familiar by the time he was done weaving his words around the story,” Lemon said. One of Bourdain’s greatest traits, according to Lemon, was how he could make people realize that “what we have in common is still so much more powerful than our differences.”
In the final installment of Season 11, Bourdain takes viewers to Bhutan, what he describes as “a remote, relatively rarely visited kingdom of myth and legend.” Nestled on the eastern edge of the Himalayas, the country is slightly larger than the state of Maryland, and it boasts an impressive nickname: “Land of the Thunder Dragon.” Bourdain spends time with Darren Aronofsky director of Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, among other films, and their activities include a meal with nomadic yak herders and dining on traditional Bhutanese cuisine in the capital city of Thimphu.
“One of the reasons [Bhutan’s] not on the tourist trail is it’s hard to get to,” Bourdain says. The episode is a reminder of how he spent his television career seeking out destinations and people that other food and travel shows would never even consider. Here, now, is a roundup of the best meals and moments from Parts Unknown: Bhutan.
Bourdain’s favorite meal: The first meal in Bhutan turns out to be the host and his companion’s “go-to for the rest of the trip.” At a small restaurant in Thimphu, Bourdain and Aronofsky dig into momos, spicy dumplings stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables. The chili-cheese momo leaves them sweating. “If I’m not on camera, chances are I’m somewhere eating these bad boys,” Bourdain says.
Most phallic moment: Bourdain and Aronofsky visit Punakha, home of legendary divine monk Drukpa Kunley, who was known as “the divine madman.” Kinley, who lived from 1455 to 1529, was not the stereotypical monk, and it sounds like he was a hard partier who enjoyed heavy drinking and casual sex. He was also penis-obsessed. These days, his village is adorned with quite a bit of phallic art, both in painting and sculpture form. Bourdain, an admitted fan of toilet humor, has a hard time keeping it together.
Most beautiful scene: There’s quite a bit of beauty in this episode, but a trek along the East-West Highway, which is carved out of the mountains, provides particularly stunning views. The road is currently being paved, but dump trucks and backhoes kicking up dirt cant take away from the breathtaking sight of the Himalayas and a flowing river.
Most harrowing moment: While traveling the East-West Highway, the car carrying Bourdain and his crew runs into a traffic jam, caused by a recent landslide. Fortunately, workers who are paving the road can use their equipment to clear dirt and giant boulders out of the way. Nevertheless, the scene makes Bourdain and Aronofsky consider their lucky timing. “That’s not encouraging,” Bourdain says. “What if our car had been there?”
Best cocktail bar: After departing Punakha, Bourdain and Aronofsky decide to enjoy a roadside beverage. Having a drink off the highway doesn’t sound all that appealing, but when picturesque mountains serve as the scenery, it’s a nice prospect. Aronofsky, who fancies himself as an amateur mixologist, concocts a beverage made of local liquor, local bitters, and orange, and he finishes it off with a garnish of a Bhutanese pepper. “I could drink a lot of these,” Bourdain says as the low-hanging sun shines on them.
Most relatable moment: It seems that no matter the country or the culture, people like to gather for sporting events and drink booze. In Bhutan, the sport is archery, and sauced competitors fire their arrows great lengths to hit tiny targets. Bourdain is stunned by their accuracy. “You would need a .50 caliber to hit that target,” he says. “I can barely see [the arrow] flying through the air,” Aronofsky responds.
One final thought on Bhutan: As the East-West Highway is paved, the small country is transitioning from an isolated, agrarian past to a future that welcomes more development and outsiders. Bourdain hopes Bhutan isn’t corrupted by the influence that comes from outside its borders. “I know it’s beautiful,” he says. “I’m glad it hasn’t been fucked up yet by the world.”
Visit Explore Parts Unknown for essays and travel guides about Bhutan — including a touching tribute from Darren Aronofsky — plus notes on the making of this episode. CNN has not yet announced what will happen to the episodes of the show that Bourdain was filming when he died earlier this month. Stay tuned for more updates on the future of Parts Unknown as they become available.
• Explore Parts Unknown [Official]
• All Parts Unknown Coverage [E]