A Travellerspoint blog

Udaipur - Day 2

During our second day in Udaipur, Derek and I decided to go swimming again but at another palace for a few hours. It was lovely but I could almost swear that the servants were completely ignoring us. But for about $6 per person who cares! We saved ourselves a good $10-$20 by not buying any drinks from them anyway.
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We went with Heino and Jeannette to the Monsoon Palace in the evening to check out the sunset. The palace is dilapidated with a cheesy, quasi-museum inside but the outer palace has a great view over the city. Heino said it was similar to his home country – Namibia. We enjoyed cold(ish) drinks that we smuggled into the museum grounds, watched a monkey stalk Derek and Heino, dodged unwelcome “guides”, and witnessed the blazing sun go down behind the dusty hills of Udaipur.
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Heino had proposed to Jeannette while we were in Jaipur. When we had met them, he had already proposed but they didn’t tell us because they wanted to tell their families first. This was supposed to be their romantic engagement weekend. We didn’t want to impose on their weekend but they were nice enough to have us join them. We were all so hungry after the visit to the Monsoon Palace and wanted to eat somewhere recommended by Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet as the best way to avoid stomach sickness. We wouldn’t want Heino and Jeannette’s engagement ruined by that!

Derek found a place recommended in our guide book and quickly found the place which guaranteed great food and spectacular views. When we walked MANY flights of stairs to the rooftop of the restaurant, we noticed the view was mundane and only 2 people occupied the restaurant. The prices in this restaurant were the cheapest we have ever seen. Shortly after we sat down, all of the other people in the restaurant left.

These seemed all to be bad signs. But this was recommended in our guide book so how bad can it be? Another family came in the restaurant, looked around questioningly, sat down, read the menu, then immediately got up and almost ran out. Hmmmm….

Then we were given our menus which had Chinese characters in the front. I thought this was supposed to be an Indian restaurant? We each ordered drinks and Indian food from an extremely limited list of choices. All of us ordered something with chicken in it, but when Jeannette ordered her chicken dish, the waiter said he couldn’t do that dish. We couldn’t figure out why he could make our chicken dishes and not hers, but since it is difficult to argue or compromise in India, she chose something else.

All of these occurrences struck us as very strange and Derek looked back into the guidebook and groaned. It turned out that we were supposed to be looking for a restaurant called “Jagat Niwas”, a highly recommended restaurant on the rooftop of a palace. Instead, Derek had found us “Jag Niwas”. A lot of businesses in India will completely copy or slightly copy the name of another successful restaurant or hotel hoping that tourists will be fooled into coming to their ghetto version of the more popular business.

Until this day, Derek is still upset that he was duped by one of the oldest tricks played in India.

We discovered we were in the ghetto version and the food proved that to be right. Although 3 of us ordered chicken, I was certain that I was given the cartilage, Heino the bones, and Derek some kind of gummy “meat” which we HOPED was chicken.

Afterwards, we went to another place to have dessert and tea. The dessert was subpar and Derek and I figured that we potentially ruined their engagement weekend with an impending stomach illness caused by the awful restaurants we brought them to.

Jeanette and Heino – we publicly apologize to bringing you to the restaurant-ghettos of India! We are glad that nothing negatively abdominal occurred and wish you the best with your future! Our trip to Udaipur was definitely memorable because of you!

Posted by krisses 18:01 Archived in India Comments (1)

Udaipur - Day 1

One can see why the city of Udaipur was once deemed “the most romantic spot on the continent of India” by a British colonel in the 1800’s. All of the buildings bear the shades of cream, whites, rose, and gold. Its buildings are situated around Lake Pichola, which is quite serene and beautiful at night.

Relative to Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, it is less congested and the touts and shop owners are not as annoying. Still, they can be quite annoying but not as relentless.

We were fortunate to have a great view of the lake from the terrace of our hotel, Jaiwana Haveli. This place is owned by 2 very hospitable, polite, and honest brothers. We absolutely loved our stay here. They did not take any commission for advice, all of their prices and itineraries were displayed with prices included, and they always made good and honest recommendations. Also, the bathrooms and bedrooms were immaculately clean! Although this description should seem standard to most people, this was actually a rarity in most of the hotels we stayed at in India.

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On our first day, Derek and I visited the Jagdish temple – a beautiful Indo-Aryan temple built in 1651. The money donated to the temple helps feed the poor. Udaipur has programs that promote an end to begging, and the Jagdish temple is a fantastic example of this. But as beautiful as the temple is, there were still a couple of things that “annoyed” me greatly:

1) Unwelcome “guides”: sometimes there are people who just start to talk to you and act as a “guide” even though you never asked for their help. Of course they expect some kind of tip after they give you basic knowledge about the place that you can easily find in a guide book. This “guide” annoyed me because we knew that there were no guides allowed on the premises and there is a sign that says “no tipping guides in the temple” since the money is to go to the temple and the poor. The best way to get rid of these unwelcome guides is to tell them that you don’t have the money to pay them and if they want to give you free information, they are more than welcome to. No unwelcome guide has taken us up on this offer.

2) Shoe Protectors: This is not a piece of cloth that is given to you so you can protect your shoes. Before entering the temple, you must take off your shoes. Usually, you are allowed to stow away your shoes in your bag or leave them outside the temple and no one takes them. But at this temple, there are people that surround you and force you to put your shoes into a cubicle where they will “protect” your shoes. When you leave, a random guy says “money for shoes”. Seriously – he expects you to pay him when there are signs that clearly say that there is no tipping and that the money goes to the temple. We didn’t tip this so-called “shoe protector” since the money we donated was rightfully placed in the recommended box within the temple, and neither did many other annoyed tourists we met.

Although quite rampant, one cannot let their visit to India be ruined by such behaviour. The best way to go about it is to be assertive and not reinforce the behaviour by giving in. But Jagdish temple is so beautiful and is a must-see! The carvings are exquisite, the music and chanting is melodious and cheerful, and the majority of the people are welcoming and friendly. (One of these pictures has racy kamasutra-inspired carvings randomly inlaid into the temple).

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The next place we visited was the City Palace and the City Palace museum. We were lucky to run into our buddies from Jaipur and the train from Jaipur to Udaipur and explored these places together. All palaces and palace museums are over-the-top reminders of how wealthy the Maharanas and princes were. These buildings always have exquisite carvings, paintings, and a rich history of success, defeat, rivalry, and royal drama. Here are some pictures of the palace and the palace museum:

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The weather in India is something I have been unable to cope with. The temperature is around 40 degrees celcius, there usually isn’t a cloud in the sky, and the heat is so dry. Apparently at these temperatures, Derek loses his wife to madness and he needs to seek ways to keep her sane. As suggested by our hotel owners, we went swimming at the palace. This was a brilliant idea. With our fellow travelers, we had some nice mocktails, mineral water, and took a dip in the luxurious outdoor pool area. I thought that the water would feel like molten, boiling and bubbling lava. I was very wrong! It was so cool and refreshing and I happily waded the afternoon away. For the cost of only $6 per person, Derek successfully kept his wife sane.

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After a day of exploring the City Palace and swimming in its pool with Heino and Jeannette, we went find dinner. We crossed over the lake bridge and discovered a humongous full moon. Under the moonlight, Udaipur was quite beautiful.

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Originally, I recommended a Veggie restaurant but as we walked towards the restaurant I quickly realized that this was not going to be doable. This particular restaurant was situated at the lake’s edge– but at the edge of the lake was a disgusting collection of garbage and sludge. I’m sure the food was probably amazing, however I couldn’t endure the stench coming from the lake so we went to a decidedly more appealing option.

The restaurant “Ambrai” is a gorgeous outdoor restaurant also situated by the lake, MINUS the stench and garbage. You could see large bats flutter across the moonlit sky, and the tables were romantically lit by candlelight. I was DYING to see a bat eclipse the moon so that the “batman signal” would be revealed, but to my disappointment it never happened. Despite the absence a “batman signal”, dinner was plentiful and delicious with fantastic company and drink:

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… it was a great ending to an equally great day.

Posted by krisses 09:27 Archived in India Comments (9)

Train Ride from Jaipur to Udaipur

Derek and I travelled from Jaipur to Udaipur by train. Instead of being in the 2nd class/sleeper part of the train where everyone’s bare, dirty feet are dangling in your face, we opted for the “AC chair.” This means that we pay for the comforts of air conditioning and a large, reclining seat. Like being in the 2nd class/sleeper car, everyone pushing their way into and out of the train against each other with absolutely no regard for personal space was (not wanted) but also included in AC chair.

The best part of this ride is the instructions on the stow-away tray in front of you. I love how this was ACTUALLY an issue enough for this “warning” to be printed on this tray! Please read the last warning on this tray:

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We were fortunate to be put right beside a super nice couple we met and chatted with in the Amber Fort in Jaipur! The funny thing about meeting other tourists is that everyone ends up venting about what’s driving them crazy about visiting India, exchanging stories of getting ripped off, and venting about general annoyances. In the end, everyone always gets a good laugh out of it and happily travels on!

In the middle of this train ride, we were to stay in the same car but change seats. The other couple had to go in a different car but still in the same train towards the same end point as us. These are just small examples of how little things in India may not make sense to you, but it is what it is and a billion people seem to think it’s just fine, so who am I to judge?

Derek and I made our way to our new seats and a man and his daughter were sitting there already. Derek showed him our tickets and politely informed him that he was sitting in our seat and that we would like to sit there. The man said,”Yes please… you can take my seat over there.” Derek looked at him with confusion, and then kindly said “No thank you. We would like to sit in the seats we were assigned to.” And the man responded with agitation and the side-to-side head shaking action and said ,”You may sit over there! It’s my seat. It is ok!” Derek suddenly seemed to grow in size as his frustration increasingly grew.

It’s quite amusing to watch Derek get angry, unless you’re the one he’s getting angry at. I’ve only seen him get angry like this 3 times. Once in New York City while a guy wouldn’t stop pestering me, another time in Venezuela when a man wrongfully accused Derek for budding in line, and this time was the 3rd time. First, it’s so difficult to see Derek angry because he is naturally so good-natured, jovial, and smiley. But when becomes angry, he reminds me of the incredible hulk as he slowly grows in size, hovers over the cause of his discontent, while his face contorts into something very threatening. I’ve been waiting for him to suddenly bust out of his clothing, but that hasn’t happened yet.

After about 5 minutes of arguing, much side-to-side head shaking that seemed to go faster and faster as the argument went on, and while everyone was trying to push and shove their way past us in both directions, the man reluctantly and sulkily relinquished OUR ASSIGNED SEATS to US.

During this part of the train ride, the man checking the tickets brought a policeman with him to seats occupied by a man, his daughter, and his wife. Although we couldn’t understand the language, it seemed that the ticket guy and policeman were accusing the seated man of something and wanted him and his family to get out of their seats. It started off civil enough, but the argument grew louder and the side-to-side head shaking became faster and faster. It was like a bunch of bobble-heads yelling at each other in Hindi. There was also a lot of the “take it and go” hand action that the comedian Russell Peters performed during his older stand-up comedy routines – characterized by making a fist near your chest then pushing your hand and arm out away from your body while opening your hand. The argument was visually spectacular as other people around us got into the action.

Finally, a man beside us explained that the people seated in the seats did not have any proof of identification for the ticket. The seated man claimed that his last name was “Gupta’ and that he forgot to bring his identification with him, but the ticket guy and the policeman were telling him that he had to leave and that ‘Gupta’ is such a common name. The interesting this was that nothing warranted this – there was no one that came to the seats claiming it was theirs and the man clearly had an E-ticket on him.

So why make a big deal about it? It turns out that there are clear instructions that say that if you buy a ticket online that you MUST have ID on you. But if no one else wants that seat why make him leave? Someone from the 2nd class car will just walk onto the car and claim the seats for themselves without paying and WILL NOT LEAVE unless someone shows a ticket claiming that it’s theirs.

We felt bad for the man and his family. The argument was so heated and I was afraid that someone was going to have a heart attack. Other passengers started joining in the argument, others started laughing out loud, others had their jaws dropped in surprise, and others just carried on with conversation as if nothing was happening. The fight lasted for almost half an hour.

In the end, other passengers seemed to back up the man and his family so the ticket guy and policeman gave up and left.
India is jam-packed with action and the train-rides are definitely not excluded!

Posted by krisses 05:26 Archived in India Comments (4)

Sight seeing Jaipur with our friend Rafik


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

Another Indian city but still the same nauseating stench, pollution, crowdedness and hassles. At this point we were starting to realize that this was not going to change and if we were going to enjoy India we would have to find a way to deal with it. It took 2 months in Latin America before we felt we needed a splurge on a higher end hotel but India brought us to our knees in just 4 days. We decided to splurge on accommodations in Jaipur and make this our heritage home stay.

The heritage home in India basically means staying at what used to be a large family home owned by either the English elite or the upper classes of Indian society during the English rule. Since most of the families who own these homes have either left India or are no longer able to afford to maintain them they are often turned into small guest houses and hotels. We booked the royal suite in the MadHuban heritage home for approx. $80 per night and it was worth every penny. The room was gorgeously decorated with period pieces and a large canopy bed but yet was able to accommodate modern conveniences without spoiling the character. There was a large but quiet air conditioner and a modern bathroom which even included a Jacuzzi tub. Here is a picture:

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The first day in Jaipur we did some sight-seeing in the city itself which was made difficult by a complete lack of pedestrian infrastructure and a constant problem with rickshaw drivers trying to rip us off. Crossing streets in India is a little like playing a game of Frogger (for those of you who aren’t old enough to remember, look it up on Google) with your own life, the only difference being that you can’t just “try again”. Sidewalks are only available on some of the main shopping streets so you end up walking on the street a lot with insane Indian drivers coming within inches of knocking you into next week.

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Exhausted with all this we went to dinner and it was after dinner that we had our first stroke of good fortune that would make our visit to Jaipur so much more enjoyable.

When we came out of the restaurant we saw only a single rickshaw standing there and we knew it would be hard to find another one. We thought to ourselves “here we go again, we will be completely ripped off because we have no other option”. Resolutely I walked up to the driver and said “40 ruppees to MadHuban” fully expecting some ridiculous counter offer of 100 ruppees or more. To my surprise the driver said “I think 50 would be fair”. I could not agree more! I started with 40 hoping to go up to 50 which was the fair price. The driver introduced himself as Rafik and started asking us about where we’re from and how we’re enjoying India. Not surprisingly he was soon offering us his services for a full day the next morning when he would take us to see some of the forts in the near vicinity of the city. What was very surprising is that he offered a fair price! We took him up on his deal.

The next morning Rafik showed up early and was already waiting for us when got to the gate of the hotel. He had obviously cleaned his Rickshaw and its windows and everything looked spic and span. I was very impressed. He first drove us to a little temple that we had not asked to be driven to but he said we would really enjoy. We were a bit apprehensive, thinking maybe this is a spot where he gets commission to bring tourists, but because he had made such a good impression on both of us we felt we should give him a shot. We were very glad we did as the temple was absolutely gorgeous and amazingly enough almost completely devoid of tourists. There were monkey troupes everywhere which combined with the white marble buildings, lack of crowds, and the surreal hilly setting gave the whole place a bit of a “lost city” feel. Take a look at the pictures yourselves:

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The next stop was the famous Amber Fort for which I think pictures would do more justice than anything I could write:

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The next destination was the Jagarth fort which houses the biggest canon in the world. The barrel of this cannon weighs 50 tons, it fires 50kg balls as far as 22 miles and uses 100kg of gun powder every time its fired. It takes 4 elephants just to turn the thing!

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Then lastly Rafik took us to Naigarth fort where we got to see the living quarters of some of the more recent royals and how they lived during the English rule. It’s really quite disturbing how many excesses the Rajasthani royals allowed themselves while their own people were being essentially enslaved. We’ve been learning much Indian history as we’ve been travelling, so for those of you that don’t know, England didn’t so much conquer this part of India as they bought it. The majority of the royals in the various kingdoms were more than happy to give up their sovereignty in exchange for personal protection and money from the English. The English rule was actually a good time for the royal families in the region and based on some personal accounts from actual living royals we heard recorded on audio tours they remember that time very fondly. It goes without saying that it wasn’t that great of a time for all their subjects.

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After seeing the fort Rafik took us up to a Café nearby that had awesome sunset views of the city. The fort and the Café were located on a high hill overlooking Jaipur and it was the first time since we got to India that we could easily take a deep breath and enjoy some clean air.

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We had a very enjoyable time sitting there chatting with Rafik about his family and life in India. It’s really sad to hear how hard the average person has to work just to survive and give their kids a future and how little support they get from their government. The stories of having to go to bed hungry and because of that making it your life goal to make sure your kids never have to feel that break your heart. All this while extremely wealthy Indians splurge on stupidly overpriced trains and hotels and pay little to no taxes. The differences between the rich and the poor in India are by far the largest we have ever seen anywhere.

At the end of the day we were absolutely exhausted but very satisfied with our day sight-seeing the forts in Jaipur. Rafik was an excellent host and always gave us as much time as we wanted to walk around and see what we wanted. We never felt rushed and at the end of the day he even dropped us off at a great restaurant and then picked us up an hour later to drive us home. Thank you so much Rafik for an excellent day in Jaipur!

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If you are travelling to Jaipur you can contact Rafik here:
Trafik
or email him at rafikkhan1@rediffmail.co or rafikkhan1@hotmail.com

There is also a National Geographic (Czech version) article written featuring him here:
National Geographic Article

Click here to see many more pictures!!

Posted by dariusz 09:33 Archived in India Comments (3)

Visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra

Seeing one of the wonders of the world


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

We took a morning train from Delhi to Agra to see the famous Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. We took the “Sleeper “ class train car, which is the second lowest class, since that was all that was available on such short notice. It was quite the experience crammed with people seemingly playing musical chairs and bare feet dangling everywhere from the 3 levels of bunks. Thankfully the ride was only 3 hours.

We were hoping that Agra being a smaller city would be cleaner but we were pretty quickly disappointed on that front. It was just as noisy, smelly and polluted as Delhi. The hotel we booked, Taj Plaza Hotel, was incredibly cheap and had a great location with a rooftop terrace where you could view the Taj Mahal and get food and drinks served. After the now usual tussle with the bag boys over which bag they should take we checked out our room. It was all quite decent except for the washroom. Here is a picture of what the shower head looked like:

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The water obviously smelled mouldy so I took my shower with my lips tightly sealed and curled inwards so that no water would have a chance to get into my mouth. Ahhh India. It’s amazing how little work was needed to make this an absolutely great place to stay. A little bit of mould cleaner, a mop, maybe some Windex, 1 hour of good scrubbing and they could easily charge double. Then again what do you expect with an all men crew running the place? Here is a picture of the view from the terrace:

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As we ventured out into Agra we realized that the touts and rickshaw drivers here are an entirely new level of annoying. It is after all the most touristy spot in India and those guys are absolutely relentless way past the point of harassment. Saying “No thank you” doesn’t work, explaining why you don’t want their service CERTAINLY doesn’t work, and even completely ignoring them doesn’t work. The best thing is to avoid any eye contact with rickshaw drivers all together and then pretend you don’t hear them, but even then there were a few that followed us for a good 2-3 minutes yelling “Sir, yes, please…. Yes, please, sir… rickshaw ride?” as if I was deaf or something.

However, the Taj Mahal itself is stunning. It’s really hard to describe in words or even appreciate its grandeur in pictures. It’s just one of those places you have to visit yourself.

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There were tons of monkeys around on the Taj Mahal grounds including this cute mom/baby combo
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Check out the monkey troupe running across the Taj Mahal lawn in the above photo!

The area around the Taj Mahal called the “Taj Ganj” was once home to all the workers building the Taj Mahal and it’s a wonderful place to walk around. The rickshaw drivers are less frequent here and much less insistent and you get to mingle with the local people. Walking from the Hotel area to Taj Ganj feels like time travelling to a distant past. You’re suddenly whisked away to a world of extremely narrow windy streets, filled with vendors selling fruit on the sides of the street, people going about their business, cows, goats and motorcycles. You’ve just unknowingly entered an Indiana Jones movie set except everything you see is completely unscripted.

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The regular folks in this area are so wonderful and friendly despite the fact that they live in such poverty that it’s both heart warming and heart breaking at the same time. The Taj is a world renowned tourist attraction and entry is actually quite expensive even by western standards but its clear none of that money goes to the local community. We chatted with some of the local children and then somehow got into the middle of a festival. We are still not sure what they were celebrating but they told us it’s “Happy!” and it sure was! They had a procession going with a bunch of drums and a whole slew of people throwing colored powder at each other and everyone around them. We were quickly initiated into the fun. Here is a picture of Kristine:

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The next day we decided to make it out into the Agra Fort. It was the seat of power for the Mughal emperors for generations and the sheer size and grandeur of it shows it. The setting of the peackock throne with the backdrop being the river and the Taj Mahal must have been an extremely impressive sight to any visitors or dignitaries the emperor would receive. The throne bearing the largest diamond in the world used to sit on the black marble platform shown in pictures below before being stolen in one of the many raids after the Mughal Empire fell:

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The other very interesting part of the Fort is the accommodations provided to Shah Jahan (the emperor who built the Taj Mahal) by his son Aurangzeb when he imprisoned his father. Aurangzeb disagreed with Shah Jahan on how to run the country so he imprisoned him in the fort and took over as Emperor. However, he did provide his father with some swanky rooms and a window with a perfect view of Shah Jahan’s most beloved building, the Taj. Shah Jahan would spend the rest of his days in this house arrest prison.

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It’s interesting to note the source of the father/son disagreement. Shah Jahan and his ancestors, all Mughal Muslims, achieved control of much of northern India by being liberal and tolerant towards all the religions and cultures in the region. They even took non-Muslim wives and built temples for other religions with the empires money. However Aurangzeb wanted to take the country in a religiously extreme direction by forcing people to accept Islam. The results of this were disastrous, with many former allies inside India turning their backs on the emperor, and within a generation the empire was on its way to falling apart. Perhaps a good lesson in history for any current empires that seem to be forgetting they were built on multi-culturalism and tolerance and not religious orthodoxy.

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Click here to see many more pictures!!

Posted by dariusz 10:22 Archived in India Comments (6)

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