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Old 21st March 2015, 09:05   #1
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Default Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot

Writing with my feet - Walking through the Kumaon hills

The Prologue

For years I have experienced a recurring dream of walking or running in the mountains along a narrow trail through a pine forest. A carpet of needles cushions the ground beneath my feet. The forest has little undergrowth and the mountain falls away in steep grass-covered slopes. Inevitably, at some point in the dream, I always leave the path and step out in the air. It seems so natural and simple, as easy as taking a breath. Instead of turning a corner, I launch myself into empty space, like one of the lung-gom-pa monks. It feels as if I can fly, though my legs continue to propel me forward and my arms swing loosely at my waist. Nobody is chasing me but there is a feeling of escape, defying gravity, my feet gaining traction on the wind. This dream always ends while I am still striding through the air, weightless. And when I wake up, a sense of disappointment overwhelms me, finding myself flat on a bed, firmly fastened to the earth.


A few thoughts on "Walking"

There is something very magical about walking, like none other. Our bodies have been constructed to provide mobility, particularly forward motion. At a very basic level, walking fulfills the purpose for which we have been created. Placing one foot in front of the other gives meaning to our lives, directing us to what lies ahead. We owe much more than our survival as a species to the act of walking.

All other creatures looked down toward the earth, but man was given a face so that he might turn his eyes toward the stars and his gaze upon the sky. It reorganized our senses and made us more alert to danger, as well as opportunity. Our hands became instruments of survival and creativity. No longer crouched on four limbs, we gained a freedom of movement that was as liberating as flight must have been for the first birds when they took into the air.

Wandering in the mountains, our senses are attuned to other species that surround us, each of them a strand of life, woven into a web of eternity. We recall the names of plants and birds, or give then new names from our imagination, a personal taxonomy both whimsical and precise. Each species is a god, a living image of creative forces that invite devotion but never dictate faith. The sounds we hear need no translation; they speak to us at a deeper level than human language or words of scripture. Walking is a ritual that recognizes the divinity in nature, what animists have known forever, the undefinable footfalls of being.


About this journal, and why "Writing with my feet"?

This journal ain't about any car trip to XYZ place, GPS stats, fuel efficiency stats, etc etc. Rather, this is a compilation of the journal entries that I made while walking & hiking in, around and between the hills of Almora & Ranikhet. It was a decision by choice, as I believe that the best way to experience the true face of nature is on foot. My feet took me through such magnanimously wonderful vistas, which were none less than paintings hand-painted by the Creator Himself. Paintings that had a living soul in them. A soul, that was constantly writing love letters to the soul within me, as I smelled the dew laden lush green outgrowth beneath my shoes, the tall trees above me that were the playground to a number of Himalayan birds, and the sound of the narrow stream that was happily making its way to the dusty plains below.

I have always respected my limbs, and have thanked God everyday that they were functional. A complete log on this thought process, that I had written quite some time back, can be found here (Early mornings of a remote South Indian village).
Whatever I have been able to write here in this journal, is purely because of the experiences that my feet were able to vest upon me, and the new vistas that it helped unfold before my eyes with each advancing footstep. The hands were just a means to put those experiences in readable form, but the truth lies in the fact that my feet had already etched these experiences on my soul long before it was put down on any kind of paper. Hence, "Writing with my feet".

Last edited by RevvMusic : 23rd March 2015 at 00:10.
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Old 22nd March 2015, 00:15   #2
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Default Writing with my feet - Walking through the Kumaon hills

The meanderings begin

It's a lovely morning in the hills. I wake up lazily, look through the blinds, and fix my gaze at the lone ray of light that is trying to push itself into the room through a narrow slit in the window pane. I reluctantly get up and open the window, only to be surprised by the grandeur of the morning light that was painting everything golden in its path, and also gushing into the room through the now open window panes and flooding the dusty old room with a divine presence.

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There are sounds that come from a distance, beautiful because they are far away, voices on the wind - they 'walketh upon the wings of the wind'. I open the tap, only to find that the water lazily comes out like a malnourished snake. I manage with that, and head out into the open to inhale a lungful of fresh mountain air. The forest is dense, and meandering through it, is a gaunt patch of tar, that might have grown lean over the years from the constant pinching of the forest on both sides. My feet have, by now, reached a meditative trance, and they tread along to give this bleak patch some human company.

Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot-2.jpg


When I walk regularly, I feel healthier and less hungry for the kind of food and drink that poisons my body. My mind expels the stress and anxiety that builds up during the day. On a walk, I seldom think in any constructive or methodical manner, allowing my brain to react to the sensory experiences along the way rather than trying to solve a problem or compose a story. This helps ease the tension of work and frees my thoughts to dwell on happier things than debts or deadlines.

In the meanwhile, the forest eases up a bit, and I can see the virgin rays of the sun battling through the canopies and kiss the black tar. My internal compass senses that the pine, deodar, and oak territory isn't far.

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The vistas in the hills can change dramatically with every turn of the road. Nature displays it's different colors, and the color that I am greeted by now is the "WOODS". I'm into the Woods now, alone, a little scared, but awed by the silence & beauty around. I could hear Jackals bark, Foxes howl, crickets chirp, and the leaves of the trees starting a conversation at the slightest gust of wind. All I could do is stop, take in the atmosphere, and send a flying kiss to the Greatest Artist ever, God.

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Somewhere deep within there was an urge to leave the track and venture into the forest. My horses were put on hold by the momentary thought of losing my way and having to spend the entire night in the woods all alone. Just then, lightning struck! I am by nature, a very primitive man, with my soul still in the good old 80's. Thinking about the old ways of survival and mobility still drops my jaw open and pushes me into a thinking spree. "Breadcrumbs" is what the lightning in my head had to say. My internal compass has always been pretty well calibrated and I generally do not tend to lose my way. However, to make things more interesting (rather, to make myself feel like a lost fairy tale hero), I decided to mark my path with breadcrumbs, or in the case, with distinct marks on trees that would help me trace my way back. A short prayer, and I set off.

Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot-5.jpg


The jungle is growing deeper and darker. Even the strongest sunlight isn't strong enough to penetrate through the dense overgrowth. I keep walking, as if in a meditative trance. Hunger has started to creep in, and I sit down under a chestnut tree and chew some delicious chestnuts. I have to be careful as to which nuts I choose to eat, as most of them have already been half eaten by the monkeys and thrown on the ground. After this nutritious meal, the rejuvenated feet are ready to roll again, into the darkness of the foliage, hoping to encounter a village somewhere en route, which would serve as a resting point for the night.

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On the way, I had met a few herdsmen who told me that there is a small village further down the trail. Evening was around the corner, and I knew that I had to make haste if I planned to reach that village before sunset. At the same time, I wanted to play with the sheep that were following the herdsmen back home. So, I played with the sheep while walking with them. Best of both worlds, isn't it?
In the meanwhile, the footsteps continued, and the scenery changed at every turn. I observed that the forest was thinning, and in a distance, white smoke was filling up the air. Just then, in the valley, I spotted on a thatched hut, the chimney, that was responsible for the smoke. Probably someone was cooking delicious Kumaoni dishes on a stove fueled by burning cowdung cakes.

So, here I am, in a small village called "Deholi", in this beautiful evening hour, overlooking the blue valleys, that lay in silence, waiting to awe a lone traveler like me, who comes searching for his soul in the mountains.

Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot-7.jpg


People in the mountains are generally pretty cooperative and I face no difficulty in getting myself arranged for a cot for the cold night ahead. The rest of the evening was spent stargazing and listening to traditional Kumaoni folk songs sung by the villagers.

Last edited by RevvMusic : 23rd March 2015 at 00:17.
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Old 22nd March 2015, 17:29   #3
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Default Writing with my feet - Walking through the Kumaon hills

The fragrant morning at Deholi

It might have rained last night. I remember the corrugated tin roof to have leaked a couple of drops onto my face. The wind carries the beautiful fragrance of the wet earth, and I cannot wait to venture out into the fields. I am jumping with the excitement of a child. It seems that Mother Nature is calling me into her arms. In the distance, I see a few children in their school uniforms climbing up the steep mountain roads to reach the adjacent village, where they study in a panchayat school. The dogs follow them, only to make their journey more playful.

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Walking through the river bed

Today, I have to climb higher, and I'm prepared for it. With a short prayer, I set foot for my journey ahead.

I was greeted with dried river beds bisecting the multicolored valleys. It kept me wondering how would this entire scene look had it been the monsoon season.

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And then I walked through the dried river bed to reach the other end of the mountain. The thought of water suddenly gushing in to fill the bed was hair raising, but I knew it was not to be, as these part river/part streams only fill up during the monsoons.

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Walking through the river bed, was a colorful treat too, as various flowers had called it home.

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Old 22nd March 2015, 19:41   #4
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Default Writing with my feet - Walking through the Kumaon hills

Whenever I find myself depressed, pinned down by that terrible sense of immobility that makes everything seem hopeless, I force myself to go for a walk. Most times, this helps lift the oppressive burden of doubt and despair. At first, when I start walking to escape that relentless sadness, I feel like a creature with my feet turned backwards, not wanting to move, possessed by demonic forces. But gradually my footsteps straighten and I find myself proceeding in the same direction as my senses and my thoughts. Chatwin quotes the poet Rimbaud, who suffered melancholia and turned to walking as a cure. "I was forced to travel, to ward off apparitions assembled in my brain," he exclaimed, walking several hours a day.

Meanwhile, I'm tired and need rest. I search for a tree with a cool shade and open my backpack to savor some fresh sweet fruits that I had gathered along the way.

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In the race for survival, human beings have a distinct edge over other species and the natural world is becoming more and more constricted and polluted by the day. It will be a sad moment when every trail in the mountains leads to a dung heap, and one cannot walk for a couple of kilometres, up or down, without crossing a motor road where the exhaust fumes of vehicles foul the air. This time, I cannot help it, and I have to walk along the motor road for a few kilometers until I reach the next mountain. However, the spectacular views along the way make up for most of my whining.

Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot-18.jpg


I've climbed to quite a height now. I notice that the more I climb, the mountains seem to get bigger and bigger, like a never ending grandeur of monstrosity. The interesting bit is that the higher you ascend, the more insignificant you start to feel amidst the vastness of Mother Nature. You realize how you are at the mercy of the gigantic and powerful forces of nature that continuously act all around us. The human race has become so arrogant in recent times that they feel that they can control everything. But the fact is that nothing is in control of we humans. We are so insignificant that nature can wipe us out completely within a fraction of a second.

Anyways, the vastness that was in front of me at this moment, left me spellbound.

Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot-19.jpg


I look up to the heavens, and see the tall Pine trees flying in the sky. At least, they seem to be flying in the sky. An occasional lorry comes, raises dust into my mouth, and leaves charmingly. The sound of the diesel engine slowly fades away in the distance, as if the valley has gulped down all of the that diesel clatter into it's belly. I am again alone on this road. But, not for long. I climb this pine laden hill and go to the other side of the mountain, where heaven awaits.

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I'm tired with the climb, and sit down on the hillock to gather my breath. I observe the endless forest that lay in front of me. They appear as a green robe that the mountains are wearing. It seems that the mountains are shy. Shy of intruders like me. Probably they are content with the non-intelligent species that roam about on their green robe. However, for me, every walk in the forest becomes a prayer. Each corner reveals a different vista, framed by trees that align themselves to the contours of the ridge, growing vertically despite the rugged terrain. At times the trail is level with their limbs, so that we can easily step out on to a branch, the trees providing detours from the path.

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The Valley of Death

BOOM! End of the road! Probably, I have come the wrong way. But wait, what lies ahead? I peep down, and get disoriented almost instantly. Controlling myself, I move back and gather my senses. But nevertheless, a great place to sit and take in the view for a few minutes. Sitting here, I was repeatedly imagining what would be left of a body if it happens to free fall from this point. I had to work hard to stop my brain to think about it. However, the unwavering fact is that this will remain "The Valley of Death".... Forever.

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I ask a couple of herdsmen, change my course accordingly, and set foot with a childish enthusiasm. After all, I'd be reaching Ranikhet very soon, just after I cross these meadows. The herdsmen told me that this is Leopard territory and I should be careful. However, these creatures are shy and avoid human contact. It was strange that I was beginning to feel like a child. With nursery rhymes on my lips, and a springing action in my feet, I hop and skip through the rolling meadows, thanking God for my existence, for this moment, and for everything He has bestowed upon me.

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Last edited by RevvMusic : 23rd March 2015 at 00:31.
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Old 22nd March 2015, 23:04   #5
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Default Writing with my feet - Walking through the Kumaon hills

Entering Civilization

The dense forests are long left behind, and I can see a hint of civilization. It is a good feeling, no doubt, as the orange glow of the evening sun shines on my face, and my eyes glitter with happiness.

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But wait, which road shall I take?

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Do falling petals make a sound? Just the tiniest and softest of sounds, like the drifting of falling snow. Of course big flowers, like dahlias, drop their petals with a very definite flop. But what about this tree? Mother Earth might have really wept when it was uprooted, probably due to a storm or due to human error (read ignorance). However, it doesn't matter to most people whether a tree is alive or dead. We are cynical creatures, and this planet doesn't really need us. It's we who need this planet for our survival.

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It's time to call it a day. I'm physically tired beyond limits, but my rejuvenated soul seems to have no bounds to it's happiness and contentment even after the strenuous walk. Life suddenly seems to have a meaning, a purpose, an incomplete painting that I have to complete in the best possible way. Everything seems beautiful. I take my dinner, read out a small prayer and instantly get transported to slumberland in this beautiful rustic hut, only to wake up the next morning after straight 10 hours.

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The 10 hours of sweet slumber has completely recharged the batteries of my muscles. It's still pretty early in the morning and I notice a spotted forktail sitting outside the window staring at me. Birdsong is with you wherever you go in the Himalayas, from the foothills to the tree-line; and it is often easier to recognize a bird from it's voice than from its colorful but brief appearance.
I plan to spend the day peacefully, and in a slightly different manner. Soon, I find myself sitting on a lonely bench perched beside an unused letterbox, with a book in hand. The birdsong continues in the background as I gobble up pages after pages in a setting that I will never forget ever in my entire life.

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Reaching for Closure

It's time to leave. I have romantically fallen in love with every single thing of these mountains. The scent of the air lingers through my lungs and produces vivid sceneries in my brain. My eyes are on the verge of breaking down. I wish, there was someone in these hills, who would have held my hand and said, "Please don't go".
But no one holds my hand, neither does one utter a word. I stand here staring at the road that would take me back to the plains. My bus would soon be here, and I'd be gone, with a heavy heart, only to return to another part of the Himalayas, to give birth to another story. When you have received love from people, and the freedom that only the mountains can give, then you have come very near the to borders of heaven.

Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot-30.jpg


With love,
Shubhodeep Roy

Last edited by RevvMusic : 23rd March 2015 at 00:39.
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Old 23rd March 2015, 04:12   #6
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Default re: Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot

Note from Mod : Thread moved from Assembly Line to Travelogues section. Thanks for Sharing

Brilliant pictures. Really well shot. What camera gear you used for these pictures
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Old 23rd March 2015, 05:57   #7
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Default re: Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot

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Originally Posted by RevvMusic View Post
Entering Civilization

The dense forests are long left behind, and I can see a hint of civilization. It is a good feeling, no doubt, as the orange glow of the evening sun shines on my face, and my eyes glitter......... and softest When you have received love from people, and the freedom that only the mountains can give, then you have come very near the to borders of heaven.

Attachment 1352418
With love,
Shubhodeep Roy



Hello Shubhodeep,

I have just gone through your travelogue/photologue and I can say without hesitation that your piece is the best tribute to our beloved Kumaon that I have come across ! As they say, one picture is worth a thousand words - and here you have given us a veritable feast !

Once again with our deepest thanks.
Shashanka
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Old 23rd March 2015, 10:40   #8
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Default re: Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot

Hello Shubho,

One word- brilliant! Once I started reading the log, it just captivated my mind and made sure that I read it word to word. Missing it would have been my loss. The pictures in your logs have always been brilliant and this one is no different.

And coming to the real experience, it must have been amazing. Consider it as a blessing from the Mother Nature for us and I really wish that these forests are preserved for times to come. Else, stories of jungles, mountains, nuts and leopards would be limited to such travelogues only. Thank you for sharing your experience and penning down your thoughts. Probably I could imagine your experience to be of my own and live the moments, however less doesn't matter

Regards,
Saket
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Old 23rd March 2015, 11:07   #9
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Default re: Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot

Wow brilliant pictures.

The Kumaons have been really close to my heart. I have spent a quality part of my childhood wandering in and around Munsiyari, Mukteshwar, Almora and Ranikhet. In those days, places like Munsiyari and Loharjung were never heard of. Even today, these places are a treasure specially during the spring and autumn season !

Lovely writeup Shubho Da, some really amazing captures too. This travelogue has brightened up my otherwise dull Monday morning.
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Old 23rd March 2015, 11:25   #10
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Default re: Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot

You are as good with your pen as you are with camera!
Going through the thread one can actually live what you experienced and thus feel rejuvenated!
Thanks a lot.
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Old 23rd March 2015, 12:19   #11
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Default re: Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot

Lovely narration, great photos. Rated 5 stars.

The smell of pines and juniper, the murmuring of the streams, the smoke of a campfire, the cold moss, the eternal snow...your travelogue took me back. Thanks for sharing.

Kumaon is my favourite place in India. I am getting this urge to embark on another roadtrip to Pangot, Mukteshwar, Binsar, Chaukri and Munsiyari.
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Old 23rd March 2015, 12:26   #12
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Dear Shubhodeep - today is really lovely. First, Saket makes my life and now you add an exponential to it. You guys are simply fabulous and I'm lovin' it!

Best regards,

Behram Dhabhar
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Old 23rd March 2015, 14:50   #13
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Default re: Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot

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Originally Posted by mobike008 View Post
What camera gear you used for these pictures
Hey Mod, thank you so much. I had used my primitive Nikon D90, and a classic 50mm prime for these shots.

Quote:
Originally Posted by shashanka View Post
I can say without hesitation that your piece is the best tribute to our beloved Kumaon that I have come across.
That is an honor that you just vested upon me, sir. Thanks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by saket77 View Post
Hello Shubho,

One word- brilliant! Once I started reading the log, it just captivated my mind and made sure that I read it word to word.
Probably I could imagine your experience to be of my own and live the moments, however less doesn't matter
Thanks Saket bhai for going through each word. The pleasure is all mine. Next trip, and you are coming with me. No imagining anymore

Quote:
Originally Posted by //M View Post
I have spent a quality part of my childhood wandering in and around Munsiyari, Mukteshwar, Almora and Ranikhet.
Lovely writeup Shubho Da, some really amazing captures too. This travelogue has brightened up my otherwise dull Monday morning.
Wow Arunabh, I didn't know about your childhood episodes of Kumaon. Will listen to all of those stories from you someday when you come to Ranchi. Thanks for reading and I'm glad it spiced up your Monday.

Quote:
Originally Posted by alpha1 View Post
You are as good with your pen as you are with camera!
Going through the thread one can actually live what you experienced and thus feel rejuvenated!
Thanks a lot.
Thanks a lot to you too for going through the the log completely. I just try my best to do the bare minimum justice to my pen and camera. It all comes from the heart.

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Originally Posted by nilanjanray View Post
Lovely narration, great photos. Rated 5 stars.
Thank you for the 5 stars

Quote:
Originally Posted by DHABHAR.BEHRAM View Post
Dear Shubhodeep - today is really lovely. First, Saket makes my life and now you add an exponential to it. You guys are simply fabulous and I'm lovin' it!
I'm glad that we were able to touch your life in a good way

Last edited by RevvMusic : 23rd March 2015 at 14:52.
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Old 23rd March 2015, 19:08   #14
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Default re: Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot

Amazing write up, literally felt as though I was in those places that you have so magnificiently captured. You have a great gift of writing, keep it going. I chanced upon your previous write up too, enjoyed both. Keep writing and inspiring.
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Old 23rd March 2015, 19:37   #15
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Default re: Writing with my feet - How I traversed the hills of Kumaon on foot

My god.. this place is beautiful.

And to have captured that beauty in photos is even more beautiful. Excellent clicks.

5 star effort my friend.
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