When 51-year-old Esmeralda Heij came across this oft-asked question, "How far can you go for love?", like most of us, she promptly quipped: "As far as it takes."

In 2007, when Heij had just come out of a rather rough spell in her personal life, she found herself at a crossroads and began mulling over the purpose of her life. The very next year she declared herself a pilgrim, an amazon and embarked on a journey of love and self-discovery. Her mission was always clear — every step taken in the name of love would wield power that sets her and those who witness it free.

"Love is our natural state of being. You can't walk the path of love if you don't believe you are worthy of being loved. Choosing love really means choosing what feeds your soul," she says.

Heij met two Austrian men who spoke to her about ‘The Jerusalem Way' — known to be the world's longest pilgrimage (around 7,000 kilometres) and route promoting international peace and cultural harmony — and something instantly clicked. She followed her instincts and started her journey in 2014 and walked from Finisterre to Jerusalem. A distance of 5,000 kilometres was ahead of her and she was ready with her tent, hammock and hiking boots.

She wished to share her seven-year-long experience with others and 13 Dutch women answered her call to join her in the last stretch of the pilgrimage, from Jericho to Jerusalem.

Walking the last 75 kilometres to Jerusalem, the women experienced the magic of connecting with absolute strangers, celebrating womanhood, cherishing sisterhood and tapping into their innate ability to love.

“I was overwhelmed by the power of us women,” Heij says.

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Above: Esmeralda Heij (right) with Sandra Kose.

Heij met the documentary filmmaker Sandra Kose in 2015 and became very close friends in the years that followed. Even before Kose had started studying cinematography in South Africa, they knew she was going to join the last stretch of Heij's pilgrimage to Jerusalem and that she would document all of it.

On 8 February 2020, Heij and Kose met in Jordan and together they crossed the border to Palestine. A few days later, the other 12 women joined them and they started the five-day-long journey from Jericho to Jerusalem, a tough hike through occupied territory. A journey full of metaphors, with highlights and low points, joy and grief, but a journey in the name of love nevertheless.

Kose documented this last stage and created a piece of visual art that captures everything — the feeling of joy seeing these strangers unite and walk along the horizons of Palestine; the sheer delight of these women when they dance with the local Bedouins and also empathise with their happiness as they talk about what love means to them.

A Million Steps for Love has captured the most inspiring moments of their journey through the West bank of Palestine that reveal their learnings on love. The music in the film by Alexia Chellun has been appropriately scored to complement the visuals.

An audio-visual virtual exhibition on this film has been put up at Mumbai's Cosmic Heart Gallery.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions and the consequent lockdowns, one has found enough time to connect with themselves and realise how in these moments of adversity, all that matters is some love and companionship. Jalpa H Vithalani, creative head and director at Cosmic Heart Gallery says, "This exhibition is more than putting forth art, it is a showcase of the transformative powers of love and joy. It is a glorious presentation of what is possible in the name of love."

Below are some snippets from A Million Steps for Love in the words of Esmeralda Heij, the person who started it all.

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"I am a pilgrim...this is the path I have to go and I am going to - walk, walk, walk."

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"Different yet united. Embracing love, warmth and togetherness."

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Beginning of the long journey.

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“I expected it to be a flat terrain with a few hills...but that could not have been further from the truth!”

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"Travelled the road of love and found the answers to unlock happiness."

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"Together we are powerful, together we are one."

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A halt. A moment.

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Greeting native animals.

Stepping in through a window to enter the rich Bedouin culture.

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Moments of togetherness.

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"Only men allowed."

A majestic view of a men’s only monastery.

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Seeing the city after spending long days in the wilderness makes one realise how they stand juxtaposed against each other.

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Peace

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"In reality and in life, there is neither a door nor a window.
Nothing to do. Nowhere to go.
The vastness, the joy is right within."

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Watch A Million Steps for Love here:

All photographs courtesy of Cosmic Heart Gallery, Mumbai.