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The lakes of Kumaon Hills

The ducks are paddling lazily in the lake, forming ripples in the shimmering water which eventually break upon the moss green walls and disappear. The sun slips behind the tall mountain, dropping an imposing shadow on the lake. A restless wind rises from the lake and rushes through the trees, the branches swaying like arms shielding the trees from the piercing chill. Jolly school kids are diving into the green waters egged on by their friends as several anxious ones await their turn, shivering. The warm autumn afternoon reluctantly yields to the crisp evening as the idyllic hill town of Bhimtal, in the state of Uttarakhand, is bathed in light which reflects off the lake and illuminates the sky. I was a lost traveller seeking the elusive calmness which has fled our bustling metropolises and unexpectedly discovered it here, dancing in the lap of nature under the orange sky.

The lower Kumaon hills abound in placid lakes surrounded by dense jungles of pine, oak and cedar. Time is dictated by the moods of the wind, the swell of the lakes, the blueness of the sky and the sound of the birds chirping in the woods. The soul revels in the beauty of nature, free from the irksome worries and trepidations of a chaotic urban existence. Although these serene lakes are accessible by road, walking allows us to appreciate the natural synergy as we can sense the harmony between these creations. A drive in the hills, though exhilarating, focuses more on the destination whereas walking expels haste and immortalizes the experience by celebrating the effort.

Sat Tal (translates to seven lakes) is a 7 kilometer walk from Bhimtal by road. An alternative shorter route which cuts through a dense jungle is more appealing but fraught with danger as leopards are known to inhabit these forests. After crossing the hill slope on which Bhimtal rests the road winds down in a series of hair pin bends to the emerald Garur Tal, the first and the most enchanting of these lakes. Thereon, the road snakes through entwined trees with yellow leaves and finally gives way to the last two lakes. Eateries dot the lake side; stalls selling lemonade, snacks, tea and coffee, a balloon stand, boats anchored to the shore wait for eager customers. The narrow cobbled path lining the shore fights a losing battle against the relentless bushes which have swallowed the path for considerable stretches. After several hours of idling at the lakes I had trudged uphill to Bhimtal, kept company by a solitary monkey. I kept a lookout for its mischievous brethren but surprisingly none appeared.

Another rewarding endeavor is the walk to Naukuchiya Tal (the lake with nine corners) which lies 4 kilometers east of Bhim Tal. The local lore is that if one beholds all nine corners of the lake in a single glance good luck would be bestowed on that person. When I had finally arrived at the lake it was dressed in a white cloak, raindrops plopped and were swallowed by the grey waters, bright red flowers caught in the muddy shore swayed with joy and the clouds bridged the gap between the earth and the sky. I had relished a cup of steaming hot coffee in the wooden shop besides the lake with the music of the raindrops falling on the tin roof.
The orange sky is turning to a giddy pink and sleepy stars join the party in their shiny attire. Soon the day would end and so will my journey, for now at least. And days later, when the rain comes pouring down I would not run and hide, I will look up to the sky and think of a couple of drenched school boys, oblivious to the heavy downpour, holding hands and walking home like Kings.

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The Call of Bagpipes

We bring a collection of stories from the hills narrated by lofty mountains and meandering rivers, scented with the fragrance of blooming rhododendron flowers, spiced with adventures of gallivanting leopards and mythical sages surviving on magical herbs and blessed by benevolent and vengeful deities. Tales of courage, passion, resilience, determination and a history spanning thousands of years!

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