life, nepal, Stories, trekking

A New Year at Sunrise in the Himalayas

Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away

Author unknown

Rubin knew how much I wanted to go trekking, and despite his concerns of not being able to find affordable transport, he woke up one morning and said let’s go!

After spending a depressingly cold Christmas I was eager to leave, so we spent the day buying food for the trek and organising my permit, which cost 4,000 rupees ($60 NZD).

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We only had one backpack between us so I packed one change of clothes, which I was very proud of (I had a reputation for taking too many clothes!), a first aid kit, my toiletries bag, a few rolls of toilet paper and some muesli bars, dried mango and nuts.

We went to sleep early and I awoke wide-eyed and excited for the adventure ahead!

We caught a micro bus (local transport) nearby to our home, and 6 hours later we arrived in beautiful Pokhara.

I was so excited, but slightly nervous too considering I had never been trekking before. Rubin had explained to me that our overnight walk to Chisapani was an easy hike not a trek, I didn’t know there was a difference, so I was expecting these three days to be a lot more challenging, however, the Himalayas had been pulling me ever since I had first visited Nepal back in April so any challenges that I might encounter would be worth it.

My tummy was still upset, unfortunately diarrhea was just a part of life in Nepal and I had learnt to accept it, so I took a couple of anti-diarrheal tablets to avoid having any problems later on.

The Ghorepani to Poon Hill trek is regarded as being one of the most beautiful treks in Nepal. The 4-5 day trek (which we did in 3) only required a moderate level of fitness and being under the safe limit of 3,500 metres high, there was no real risk of altitude sickness.

Poon Hill was also known to have the most spectacular sunrise views over the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains and I couldn’t wait to bring in the new year in such a special way.

I was lucky to have Rubin by my side, it meant I didn’t need to trek in a group as he had worked as a mountain guide, which gave him some trekking experience, and he had already trekked this route once before.

Rubin organised a taxi to pick us up at 6.30am from our guesthouse on the lakeside, luckily the driver was a friend of his sister’s so we only had to pay 3,000 rupees ($45 NZD) between us as opposed to 6,000-7,000 rupees that other taxi drivers were charging because of the petrol shortage.

It was a pleasant one hour drive to Nayapul (the starting point of our trek), which provided my first glimpse of the mountains, just as the sun was rising.

DAY 1

Destination: Ulleri

Altitude: 2010m

Trekking time: 6 hours

Distance: 13 kms

We had tea in the freezing cold before setting off along a dirt path through Nayapul village, towards the first checkpoint. To make it easier on me Rubin carried the backpack and I felt in a way I was cheating as I didn’t have to carry anything! Then I suddenly realised we had left out trekking poles at home, so Rubin found me a stick, which I ended up using for the entire duration of the trek.

We followed a rugged dirt path along the river and crossed a bridge, which led us to the second checkpoint where I had to show my permit. We then continued along an easy concreted path that led us through the picturesque village of Birethanti, complete with its own police station.

The path eventually led us onto a dirt road that ran alongside the river, and we passed numerous tea houses adorned with colourful flowers and swing bridges connecting houses to villages.

The sun was shining but the air was crisp which made for the perfect walking temperature and I could hear the voices of local children laughing and playing in the river nearby. The scenery was beautiful and I felt a sense of calm. So far this walk was proving to be much easier than I had thought.

I noticed jeeps filled with trekkers were passing us by and I realised they were getting a lift further up into the mountain, however, I was happy to be walking and enjoying the scenery.

Two hours later we reached Tikedhunga, another quaint little village filled with charming guest houses. A few minutes later we walked across two swing bridges, which brung us to the base of a hill, and from there it was a gruelling 3-4 hour climb up a steep rocky path until we reached Ulleri.

Ulleri was a sleepy mountainside village, with a good selection of guesthouses and the locals seemed to be completely self-sufficient. Their gardens were plentiful and I could hear the happy sounds of children playing volleyball outside in the sun before it disappeared behind the mountain.

The guesthouse we stayed in was perched high up on the hillside and it had stunning views of the snow-capped mountains which were tucked in between green hills.

We opted for a room upstairs that had better views, but no en suite bathroom like the rooms down stairs, however, at a cost of only 400 rupees ($6 NZD) I couldn’t complain!

The room was basic, it had two single foam mattresses on top of handmade wooden bases with comfy pillows, a warm duvet and a table in between.

We decided not to shower, which cost an extra 100 rupees, I was used to not showering anyway. I ordered an early dinner of vegetable fried noodles, and we spent the rest of the evening sitting around the fire with the other trekkers, while watching the sun go down over the mountains. We were so tired from the day’s trek that we ended up in bed at 6pm and we fell asleep by 7pm.

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My first glimpse of the mountains at sunrise during our drive to Nayapul

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Nayapul. The starting point to our trek.
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Having a hot cup of tea before setting off!

 

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Nayapul village

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Nayapul
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The path through Nayapul
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Walking alongside the river

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Meeting local children at the beginning of our trek!

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The first of three checkpoints!
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Crossing the river to Birethanti
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The second checkpoint in Birethanti

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Charming Birethanti village

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Birethanti police station

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A house just outside of Birethanti
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Following the river along a gravel road

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Entering the Annapurna Conservation area

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Swing bridges connected houses to the main villages

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The path leading into the hills

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One of the many quaint little guest houses along the way

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A donation box for a local school

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Entering the village of Hile, and the place where the jeeps dropped the other trekkers off.

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Walking through Tikedhunga

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The swing bridge which took us to the base of the mountain, which we walked 4 hours up to Ulleri
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Scaling the steep rocky path which seemed to go on forever

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Our first glimpse of the snowcapped mountains from the path

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Finally reaching Ulleri

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Walking to the guesthouse
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Mountain views from the balcony of our guesthouse
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Our basic room, which cost 400 rupees
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The view from our room (the snowy mountains were hiding behind the clouds)
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Ulleri village from the balcony of our guesthouse

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Our guesthouse

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The dining room

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Beautiful sunset over the mountains

DAY 2

Destination: Ghorepani

Altitude: 2750m

Trekking time: 4.5 hours

Distance: 8 kms

I awoke early to the sounds of rooster’s cock-a-doodle-doo’s and the aroma of hot black tea at my bedside. Rubin must have left it there without waking me, as he was already downstairs talking to everyone. He was more sociable than me. I preferred to be with myself and I enjoyed the silence of being up high in the mountains.

I had a light breakfast of the night before’s leftover fried noodles inside a warm roti, then we filled our water bottle, which was the most economical way of drinking water at a cost of only 70 rupees, and slowly set off up the steep rocky path, for another days hike.

Rubin told me the second day would be the easiest, but I felt more tired than I had the day before as my period had come earlier than I had expected, so we walked really slowly and took many rest stops.

The colour of the snow-capped mountain peaks were always changing depending on what time of day it was, and that morning they were a bright glistening white against a stunning clear blue sky.

We followed the path up towards the top of the hill, passing quaint little guesthouses with gorgeous mountain views, horses with bells ringing around their necks and strong-looking sherpas carrying heavy loads.

The higher up we went the colder it became, and as we entered the forest I could hear the sounds of a rushing waterfall nearby. The long and windy moss laden forested path eventually led us to the base of the waterfall, where we crossed a bridge over the crystal clear waters. The path had now become full of ice and we had to be careful not to slip and fall over, as we continued to walk towards an old wooden tea house that had smoke billowing out from the roof. A few trekkers had stopped there for a rest, but we kept going until we reached a sunny clearing amongst the trees.

After a quick snack we continued along the path, which led us around the top of the hill, while carefully stepping over freshly laid horse manure, and greeting the numerous locals and trekkers with a “namaste.” Then, just as I was starting to feel really tired, I passed an old Chinese man.

He looked to be in his 80’s and he was walking ever so painfully slow. He had a fierce look of determination on his face, and his guide was helping him along. I was amazed that he had undertaken the trek at his age and I hoped that I wouldn’t lose my sense of adventure and I’d be fit like him when I became old.

Four hours later, and with a renewed sense of vigour after seeing the old man, we finally reached Ghorepani.

I walked up the last flight of steps towards the final police checkpoint, before continuing on uphill, passing more horses that were carrying chickens in little pouches, towards a lodge at the very top.

This guesthouse was more basic than the first, but the room cost us only 100 rupees ($1.50 NZD!) It also had the same set up, with two single beds but the pillows were uncomfortable and the duvet thin and lumpy.

The snowy mountain peaks hid behind the clouds and it was hard to keep warm in the subzero temperatures so I put on my woolen hat, mittens and all the jumpers I had brung.

We ordered a late lunch and I had Nepali spring rolls that tasted strongly of garlic, chips and a side salad, before the sun went down.

It was New Years Eve, and we spent it chatting to a Korean couple who were the only other guests in the lodge, while warming up around the fire and eating hot soup made with vegetables from the garden.

We retired early to bed, but I laid awake finding it hard to sleep with the sounds of local New Year’s Eve revellers outside. My mind slowly drifted off, thinking about all that had happened in 2015. My travels around India, becoming a yoga teacher, leaving my family behind, moving to Nepal and getting married. It was a year full of change and I was excited to see what 2016 would bring me.

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Setting off up the hill for another day’s hike

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Passing local hillside restaurants
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And guest houses with beautiful mountain views

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A Nepali style swing outside the back of a guest house!

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Fruit and other memorabilia for sale along the way!

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Corn hanging upside down to dry

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The path entering the forest
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Not much of a path in some places!
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Mossy trees
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Taking a rest along one of the many seated resting areas!

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The higher up we went, the colder it got.

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Following the path down to the waterfall

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An icy oasis!

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Trying out carrying the pack!
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I didn’t last carrying it for long!
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We made it to Ghorepani!
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I couldn’t resist celebrating with a handstand!
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Walking up the never ending steps to Ghorepani village

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The final checkpoint!

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Finally reaching the top of Ghorepani!

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Inside the guest house we stayed in

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Our room, which only cost 100 rupees!
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Yummy Nepali food 🙂
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Their icy gardens out the back

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The guest house we stayed in
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Hanging out on New Years Eve!

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DAY 3

Destination: Poon Hill to Nayapul

Altitude: 3210m

Trekking time: 9 hours

Distance: 24 kms

We woke up at 5am on January the 1st 2016, and still feeling half asleep, I layered myself up in a merino, two jumpers, two jackets and a woolen scarf, hat & mittens, before walking 1 hour up a long steep flight of steps in the dark to Poon Hill.

There was a bitterly cold wind blowing, the temperature was around minus 5 degrees, and no matter how many layers of clothes I had on, I couldn’t seem to keep warm. Any skin that was showing went instantly numb so I wrapped my scarf around my face, leaving only my eyes bare!

We waited awhile beneath a dark sky with the silhouette of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains hiding in the background, before the first rays of golden orange light, lit up the horizon.

I watched in awe as the whole sky changed in a matter of seconds, from brilliant orange, to purples, pinks and stunning blues, all the while, madly taking photos trying to capture the remarkable sky, before my phone suddenly froze and died.

My heart sank as I had walked all this way and I really wanted to capture the sunlight hitting the mountains.

It was as if God (of the omnipresent type) were playing a joke on me, my phone had never died like that before! I wanted to cry and the sadness distracted me from being present and enjoying the sunrise.

Then I was suddenly hit with the realisation that I had been gifted my first lesson of 2016; No matter what the circumstances are, I must enjoy the moment, and see the beauty and perfection that exists everywhere.

With this new understanding, I was able to truly enjoy the sunrise without having the pressure of capturing the perfect shot or seeing it through a lens.

Thank you universe.

Some things are not meant to be captured, they are only to be held in our hearts and our memories.

After the breathtaking sunrise over the Himalayan mountains we walked back down the stairs to our guesthouse for breakfast and I ordered Tibetan bread while thinking about the mammoth hike back to Nayapul that lay ahead of us.

With full bellies, we packed up our things and at around 9am we made our descent down the mountain, hoping to be back in Pokhara before dark. I thought walking downhill would at least be a lot easier than walking uphill, but I didn’t realise at the time, walking downhill required the use of a different set of muscles, and my presumption would be proven wrong.

At around midday my feet were hurting and I had to stop to put plasters on the red and raw parts that had been rubbing against my boots. I was tired from hardly sleeping the night before, I had already been walking 5 hours, and all I wanted to do was lie down and rest. I knew how much further we had to go, and it made me feel worse thinking about it.

Rubin suddenly became frustrated with me and he walked off, leaving me there alone to wallow in my own self pity. A few minutes later, I mustered up all my strength, pulled on my boots, and continued walking down the steep rocky path until I eventually caught up with him in Ulleri.

By that time both our moods had changed and he encouraged me to keep walking. I was exhausted, my knees hurt, and I hadn’t even reached the steep part, but I continued on.

I limped my way down the steep rocky path, moaning and groaning with each painful step and cursing every time my legs gave way underneath me, for one and a half hours, until we finally reached the swing bridge at the base of the mountain.

By then my calf muscles and quads were burning. But I still had to walk another hour though the villages of Tikedhunga and Hile, until we reached the tourist jeeps.

My walking stick became my saving grace and I found comfort in the thought that soon I would be sitting in a jeep, and having a long hot shower back in Pokhara.

At 3.30pm the dirt road was finally in sight and a wave of excitement washed over me. I had made it!

It was here that I received my second lesson for 2016; to accept the outcome of any given situation without having any expectations.

I asked the young Nepali driver how much it would cost to drive me to Nayapul and he looked at me up and down and said 4,500 rupees ($65 NZD). I knew then that he was trying to rip me off and instead I offered him 500 rupees, which Rubin had told me earlier was a fair price. He didn’t accept and I walked on feeling really pissed off.

How dare he try to over charge me for a 30 minute jeep ride down the hill!

With each step my knees ached, which sent a burning pain all the way down my legs, and I didn’t know how I was going to be able to continue walking for another two hours, and in the dark!

Feeling bad watching me limp, Rubin saw a motorbike parked in front of a house, so he knocked on the door and offered the person who opened it 500 rupees to drive us to Nayapul, however, the owner of the bike declined.

I was grateful for his thoughtful gesture and suddenly saw the funny side of things, then just as I began to laugh at the state of myself I heard the sound of a vehicle coming towards us.

A jeep stopped right in front of us, blowing up a wave of dust, and I realised it was the same young, cheeky driver who I had approached earlier. He told Rubin he could take us to Pokhara for 700 rupees, but there was a catch. We had to sit on the roof.

Without a seconds thought for our safety I flung my trusty walking stick away to the side and jumped up onto the roof with Rubin and one other local who helped us up.

The jeep took off fast, blowing up more dust in its wake, and I tried to hang on for dare life, but there wasn’t much to hang on to! I didn’t know what was worse, walking or having iron roof rack bars up my arse and digging into my sore legs each time we went over a bump, and there were many of those!

Half an hour later, the jeep stopped in Nayapul to let off passengers and thankfully we were able to sit in the back, but sitting in the back wasn’t much better.

There were no windows, only canvas which flapped in the wind, and two bench seats on either side. I was the only girl, the rest of the passengers were young Nepali men who were smoking cigarettes which gave me a painful headache.

An hour passed while the young driver hurtled around the treacherous mountain road at full speed like he was driving along a highway. Suddenly I heard a loud bang and one of the tyres had blown right on a corner. He quickly pulled over and by then it was dark. Everyone jumped out, except for me. I stayed in the back resting my legs.

The Nepalese must have a lot of experience changing tyres as before I knew it, we were back on the road again.

We finally reached Pokhara at 6.30pm but the cheeky driver didn’t drop us off at the lakeside like he had promised, instead we had to walk another 45 minutes to our guesthouse.

I was so exhausted and completely shattered from the days events, nonetheless I was on the home stretch and I put my final reserves of energy back into walking again.

We decided to stop in at our favourite Indian restaurant for dinner on the way and we ordered potato curry, garlic naan, and cold sprites. The food was delicious and just what I needed.

We walked our final steps back to the guesthouse where I enjoyed the longest hot shower ever and we both slept like babies without moving our tired limbs the whole night, and waking up in the same position that we fell asleep in!

We decided to spend an extra day resting in Pokhara before venturing back to crazy Kathmandu.

I was proud of myself for walking 45 kilometres in 3 days, and I thought to myself; the day before I had been awake since 5am, I had managed to walk nine and a half hours, I had experienced joy, pain, anger, excitement and sadness, I had watched the sunrise over the Himalayas, and the sunset from the back of a jeep. If January the 1st was that full, imagine how the rest of the year was going to be!

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The dawn of a new year from Poon Hill

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The Himalayas

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All the sunrise photos are natural and unedited

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The last photo I took before my phone died!
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These series of photos were taken back in Ghorepani, just behind our guest house

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Taking a rest after breakfast and soaking up the views before our mammoth hike back to Nayapul!

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Tibetan bread for breakfast!
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The mountain views from the dining room of our guesthouse
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The views from the toilet of our guesthouse!

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A panoramic shot
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horses on the walk back down

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Passing little villages on our walk back to Nayapul
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The last view that I’d see of the Himalayan mountains, during our trek downhill

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A Nepali man carrying a cage of chickens which was strapped to his head!
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Finally reaching the swing bridge at the bottom of the hill!

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Lush waterfall

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Passing over the second swing bridge towards Tikedhunga

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Horses in Hile, before reaching the gravel road

 

 

 

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