Wild, green, red, gold, spicy, tranquil and sweet… On my second day into a month-long road trip through Bhutan, we stopped to visit the 108 memorial chortens of the Dochula Pass.
Our driver, Dorji, let us out and drove around the chortens, bowing his head with each complete circle. When I asked him why, he explained that you have to drive around either nine or 108 times for good blessing - thankfully, he chose nine. This is part of the charm of Bhutanese people; there seem to be many rules, but the people we met were a relaxed, happy bunch.
The country is nestled in the Himalayas, where a rugged landscape is covered in pine trees. We visit mountaintop Dzongs and temples entered through red wooden doors which are decorated with ornate golden plates and faded illustrations of Buddhist gods. Maroon-robed monks cook us ema datsi (spicy chili peppers with cheese) and buckwheat noodles washed down with butter tea. We visit snowy mountain villages where locals are adorned in yak fur and children practise archery with hand-carved bows. We are invited into farmhouses where turnip leaves are hung out to dry in the living room, above metal pots of red rice which bubbles on a wood-burning stove. Wild horses canter across the land outside.
On one of my first nights in the country, I ended up soaking in a hot spring in Gasa until late at night. I was drinking a large Druk beer wedged between a breastfeeding woman and a young monk performing a deep guttural meditation chant, with steam rising off the three of us. I look over to my companion and ask if this is what Bhutan is like. He simply nodded and smiled - the moment couldn't have captured the country more perfectly.