Travel

The State of Sikkim and Buddhism

Posted by Susan Sharma on May 08, 2020

 
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The State of Sikkim and Buddhism

 

Ruins of Rabdentse, Ancient capital of Sikkim

 
Rabdentse was the second capital of the former Kingdom of Sikkim from 1670 to 1814. The capital city was destroyed by the invading Gurkha army and only the ruins of the palace and the chortens are seen here now. The ruins of this city are seen close to Pelling and in West Sikkim district. Pemayangtse Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim which is close to the ruins. From the vantage point of this former capital, superb views of the Khanchendzonga ranges can be witnessed. This monument has been declared as of national importance by the Archaeological Survey of India. It was first established in 1670 by Tensung Namgyal Namgyal by shifting from the first capital of Yuksom that was consecrated in 1642.
 
The Rabdentse ruins are part of Buddhist religious pilgrimage circuit starting with the first monastery at Yuksom known as the Dubdi Monastery, followed by Norbugang Chorten, Tashiding Monastery, the Pemayangtse Monastery, the Sanga Choeling Monastery, and the Khecheopalri Lake.
 
The Three Chortens where the Royal family of Sikkim used to offer prayers to their deities at Rabdentse palace are clearly visible among the ruins.  The ruins seen now in Rabdentse consist mainly of "chunky wall stubs" whose heritage value is accentuated by its location on a ridge, near upper Pelling.  The approach to this location is from an ornamental yellow gate near the Pelling–Geyshing road, from where it is a walking distance through forested hills.  
 
Along the trek path from the gate, an avenue of chestnut trees with sodden moss leads to a stone throne comprising three standing stones called as "Namphogang", which was the pulpit of the judges from where judgments were pronounced during the active days of the king's reign from Rabdentse. Further ahead, the 'Taphap Chorten' is seen in semi ruined condition. This was the entry point to the Palace and people seeking access to the palace had to dismount from their horses and remove their hat as a mark of respect to the King here. The palace ruins are at the centre of the fourth courtyard.
 
Ancient carved stones with the images of Buddhist deities at a religious shrine among the ruins of Rabdentse Palace
 
Team IndianWildlifeClub visited the ruins of Rabdentse in February, 2020.  
 
As you enter Rabdentse, the 'Bird Park' attracts visitors.  In fact more visitors are found at the bird park than at the ruins(which involves a climb!) The bird park has many exotic pheasants in cages.
 

Yuksom, Sikkim - First Capital of Sikkim

 
Yuksom was Sikkim’s first capital. Until 1975, when Sikkim became the 22nd Indian state, it was a kingdom ruled by a long line of chogyals or religious kings. It was in Yuksom that this monarchy was born.
 
Phuntsog Namgyal became the first “fountain head of secular and religious power”, giving rise to a monarchy that lasted over 300 years. His domain was much larger than the Sikkim known today, and included Darjeeling, parts of Nepal and Bhutan. He set up his capital at Yuksom and established Tibetan Buddhism as the state region.
 
Geographically, Sikkim is wedged between Tibet to the north, Nepal to the west, and Bhutan to the east. Prone to attacks from many directions, the capital moved several times as a result of invasions or to avoid them. Phuntsog Namgyal’s son Tensung Namgyal first shifted the capital from Yuksom to Rabdentse in 1670. In the late 18th century, it shifted to Tumlong, and finally to present-day capital, Gangtok, in 1894.
 
42 kms from Pelling town, the Norbugang coronation site still exists today. Strung with prayer flags, the complex houses a prayer hall, a large prayer wheel, a white stupa, and the coronation throne. Made of stacked stones, the rough-hewn throne sits under a large pine tree, with four seats, one for each of the three  patron saints or Lamas
 
Beliefs swirl around the complex: the chorten (stupa) contains soil and water from across Sikkim; The gifts bestowed on the first king are all buried in the stupa; water from the nearby Kathok pond was sprinkled upon Phuntsog Namgyal during the consecration, and so on. 
 
A holy lake known as Kuthok Lake, a serene lake, is also linked to the history of the place. During winter one can see migratory birds using the clean lake as a transitory site.
Yuksum (Yuksom) lies on the southern fringes of the Kanchenjunga National Park. The word 'Yuksum' means meeting point of the three lamas. Yuksum is also the starting point for the popular Dzongri Goecha La trek along with being a gateway to the Kanchenjunga Biosphere Reserve, making it a year-round stopover for tourists, scientists, photographers, conservationists and naturalists from the world over.
 
The Norbugang Chorten and the Norbugang throne are visited as part of Buddhist religious pilgrimage circuit involving the Dubdi Monastery, Pemayangtse Monastery, the Rabdentse ruins, the Sanga Choeling Monastery, the Khecheopalri Lake, and the Tashiding Monastery
 
 

Buddhism- A journey Ravangla in Sikkim to Sonada in West Bengal

 
Team IndianWildlifeClub on a journey from Ravangla to Sonada.   Ravangla or Rawangla or Ravongla is a small tourist town situated at an elevation of 8000 ft in South Sikkim. It lies between Pelling and Gangtok, about 65 km from Gangtok.  Sonada is in West Bengal.
 
Buddha Park of Ravangla, is also referred to as Tathagata Tsal.  Constructed between 2006 and 2013, the Park features a 130-foot (40 m) high statue of the Buddha.  THE park was built to mark the 2550th birth anniversary of Gautama Buddha.  
The statue was consecrated in 2013 by the 14th Dalai Lama, and became a stop on the ‘Himalayan Buddhist Circuit’. 
The beautiful statue of Sakyamuni Buddha (Buddha belonged to the Shakya clan of Kshtriyas)with half closed eyes and hands in the Dharmachakra mudra attracts lots of tourists to this spot. There are about 100 steps that one needs to climb to reach the base of the statue. 
Dharmachakra in Sanskrit means the ‘Wheel of Dharma’. It symbolises the occasion when Buddha delivered a sermon to his disciples for the first time after attaining enlightenment, in the Deer Park in Sarnath.  In this mudra the thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle or the Wheel of Dharma symbolising the union of wisdom and method. The three remaining fingers of the two hands remain extended. The three extended fingers of the right hand represent the three vehicles of the Buddha’s teachings-  the middle finger represents the ‘hearers’ of the teachings – the ring finger represents the ‘solitary realizers’ – the little finger represents the Mahayana or ‘Great Vehicle’ The three extended fingers of the left hand symbolize the Three Jewels of Buddhism, namely, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The hands are held in front of the heart, symbolizing that these teachings are straight from the Buddha’s heart.
 
The entire stretch of the outer wall comprises of beautiful Buddhist prayer wheels.
 
The eco-garden at the Park was also built in 2006,  to commemorate the birth anniversary of Buddha. This would also be a landmark in Sikkim’s unique effort to promote pilgrimage tourism.
The photographs of the main Mudras of Buddhism were taken at Sonada, in Darjeeling, West Bengal.  
Sonada Monastery lies between Ghoom and Kurseong.  
Elevated at an altitude of 6143ft Sonada houses a magnificent monastery Samdrup Darjay Choling Monastery where the body of His Eminence the Venerable Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche has been preserved as a Kardung making Sonada a scared place for the Buddhist pilgrim.
 
 

Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim - Vajrayana Buddhism

 
Team IndianWildlifeClub visited the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim in February,2020.   The Rumtek Monastery is one of the largest and most significant monasteries in Sikkim.  it is perched on top of a hill 23 km from Gangtok.    
It is also called as the Dharmachakra Centre.
The glorious Rumtek Monastery houses a beautiful shrine temple and a monastery for the monks which were established with the aim of spreading the Buddhist teachings around the world. 
Verdant green mountains surround the monastery and thus serves as a visual treat besides being a focal point for spiritual solace. If you climb on top to the Rumtek Monastery, you can have a breathtaking view of the whole Gangtok town situated right opposite the hill. Besides this, the architecture of the striking monastery is one of the finest in the world.
The monastery belongs to the Kargyu sect of Buddhists who originated in Tibet in the 12th century. The Karma Kagyu school belongs to the Vajrayana branch of Mahayana Buddhism.
 
The gompa, an epitome of Tibetan architecture, was designed by the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje himself based on his memories of the Tsurphu Monastery of Tibet, the original headquarter of the Black Hat order. Tsurphu was completely destroyed by Chinese authorities in 1966.
Built in the 1960s, the monastery is the main seat of the Karma Kagyu, a sect within the Nyingma school of Buddhism that originated around the 12th century in Tibet.
 
Vajrayana Buddhism has many rituals.  
 
Between February to March, which is the end of lunar year’s 12th month, there is an organization of 10day rituals for Mahakala protector. This is followed by the sacred tradition dance of the Mahakala. Monks dress up in the colorful attires and wear to dance with the traditional instruments. You will be surprised to find that how they go into some kind of trance with the beats. Since this is one of the ritual dances, they only have well-trained dancers.
 
Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism and the two main branches of Buddhism. I requested Mohit, research assistant in Buddhism studies at IGNCA, New Delhi to explain in brief the progression of Buddhism as it spread out from India.  I have included a talk by him to put the visuals in perspective.  
 
In view of the  COVID-19 linked locked down,  Mohit recorded the talk and sent the audio to be added.
 
The empowerment of the prayer music in the dance comes from compassion, concentration and mindfulness.  Buddhism asks all of us to turn the wheel of Dharma for all sentient beings(human and non human alike) 
 
 
 

Here is a video to give a perspective of Buddhism as a religion in India
2500 Years Ago Buddhism Originated in India

 
Worshiping nature or wild animals is part of many tribal and localized religions.  However 2500 years ago a visionary religion called Buddhism originated  in India which based itself not in worship but in compassion for all living creatures including man.
 
Buddhism is a spiritual practice born out of nature and all living beings. It originated in India nearly 2500 years ago. A belief system based on compassion, Gautama Buddha preached under a tree where the jungle animals also heard him.
 
 Antelopes, elephants, lions, monkeys and a stag are seen among the audience
 
Documenting Buddhism nearly 1000 years later in the Ajanta caves, Buddhist art peaked telling Jataka tales. These were tales of compassion told through Bodhisatwas(earlier incarnations of Buddha as various animals). The Jataka tales treated humans and animals as one universe (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam) capable of communicating with each other.  The sculptures at Ajanta caves depict Buddha in meditating poses.
 
The Viharas discovered alongside provided spaces for Buddhist monks to lead a sparatn life of meditation. From the vantage point of the caves they could also exhort the common people to follow the Buddhist principles of "Buddham, Sangham Gachami" (I go to Buddham or higher consciousness for refuge;  I go to Sangham -community-for refuge).  By the time the caves were unearthed from a jungle by a British man in 1819,  the practice of Buddhism had all but vanished from India.  But Buddhism was firmly established as a major religion in many other countries.
 
Why did Buddhism decline in the nation where it was born?  A researcher in IGNCA (Indira Gandhi national Centre for Art)  had some explanations as given in the video.   
 

Travel

Sikkim Travels - Meeting a self -made Entrepreneur

Posted by Susan Sharma on May 07, 2020

 
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Sikkim Travels -  Meeting a self -made Entrepreneur
During our tour of Sikkim in February 2020, we came across many interesting 
individuals and Shri D.K Rai was one of them.  13 kms from Ravngla where the Buddhha Park is located, Mr.Rai's tree house situated on the national highway  beckons travelers to enjoy a good cup of coffee/tea with snacks.  
 
A Self styled Entrepreneur D.K Rai, interacted with team IndianWildlifeclub sharing how he created the tree house out of his imagination and experience using natural  materials. 
 

 

 

Travel

Sikkim travel-Lachung

Posted by Susan Sharma on May 06, 2020

 
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Lachung

The coldest and most beautiful place we visited in Sikkim had to be Lachung. 
Lachung is a mountain town in northeast Sikkim, at an elevation of about 9,600 feet (2,900 m).  Lachung lies at the confluence of the Lachen and Lachung Rivers, both tributaries of the River Teesta. The word Lachung means "small pass". The town is approximately 125 kilometres from the capital Gangtok.
Tourists come from all over the world to visit the town between October and May, mostly on their way to the Yumthang Valley and the Lachung Monastery. Most of Lachung's inhabitants are of Lepcha and Tibetan descent. 
 
Later I recorded a video on Usha Lachungpa, who served in the Sikkim Forest Department for many years.  Her take on the forests and wildlife of Sikkim, throgh the medium of a casual conversation with my husband gives us a rounded perspective of Sikkim as a State.
 

 

Travel

Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim - Vajrayana Buddhism

Posted by Susan Sharma on May 05, 2020

 
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Buddhist Monastery

 

 

 

We did visit many monasteries in Sikkim.  I am including a write-up on the one which impressed me most, a monastery easily accesible from Gangtok.

The Rumtek Monastery is one of the largest and most significant monasteries in Sikkim.  it is perched on top of a hill 23 km from Gangtok. It is also called as the Dharmachakra Centre.

The Monastery houses a beautiful shrine temple and a monastery for the monks which were established with the aim of spreading the Buddhist teachings around the world. Verdant green mountains surround the monastery and thus serves as a visual treat besides being a focal point for spiritual solace. If you climb on top to the Rumtek Monastery, you can have a breathtaking view of the whole Gangtok town situated right opposite the hill. Besides this, the architecture of the striking monastery is one of the finest in the world.

The monastery belongs to the Kargyu sect of Buddhists who originated in Tibet in the 12th century. The Karma Kagyu school belongs to the Vajrayana branch of Mahayana Buddhism.

 

The gompa, an epitome of Tibetan architecture, was designed by the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje himself based on his memories of the Tsurphu Monastery of Tibet, the original headquarter of the Black Hat order. Tsurphu was completely destroyed by Chinese authorities in 1966.

Built in the 1960s, the monastery is the main seat of the Karma Kagyu, a sect within the Nyingma school of Buddhism that originated around the 12th century in Tibet.

 

Vajrayana Buddhism has many rituals.  

 

Between February to March, which is the end of lunar year’s 12th month, there is an organization of 10day rituals for Mahakala protector. This is followed by the sacred tradition dance of the Mahakala. Monks dress up in the colorful attires and wear to dance with the traditional instruments. You will be surprised to find that how they go into some kind of trance with the beats. Since this is one of the ritual dances, they only have well-trained dancers.  The empowerment of the prayer music in the dance comes from compassion, concentration and mindfulness.  Buddhism asks all of us to turn the wheel of Dharma for all sentient beings(human and non human alike) 

 

Enjoy this video shot in the monastery

 

 

Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism and the two main branches of Buddhism. I requested Mohit, research assistant in Buddhism studies at IGNCA, New Delhi to explain in brief the progression of Buddhism as it spread out from India.  I have included a talk by him to put the visuals in perspective. 

 

In view of the  COVID-19 linked locked down,  Mohit recorded the talk and sent the audio to be added.

Travel

Boat house in Kerala

Posted by saavi joe on May 04, 2020

 
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Boat house in Kerala

Houseboats in Kerala or Kettuvallams were traditionally cargo boats that carried rice, spices and other commodities, which now are transformed into luxury boats complete with bedrooms, kitchen, living area, bathrooms and other amenities. Today, these allow travelers to enjoy the breath-taking beauty of Alappuzha while gliding along its backwaters. The Alleppey Houseboat Team having the largest inventory of houseboats, motorboats, shikara in Alleppey, Kumarakom, Kollam & Neeleshwar in Kerala.  They have more than 250 Houseboats 100+ Shikara and motorboats available for tourists coming to Kerala. They can guarantee you the availability of houseboats, shikara & other backwater leisure services in all seasons.

Travel

Khanjenjunga Mountain Range

Posted by Susan Sharma on May 04, 2020

 
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Mount Kanchenjunga

 

 

Any write-up on Sikkim would be incomplete if we do not cover Mount Kanchenjunga, the all pervasive mountain range which oversees Sikkim.

 

Kangchenjunga, also spelt Khangchendzonga, is the third highest mountain in the world. It rises with an elevation of 8,586 m in a section of the Himalayas called Kangchenjunga Himal.   Until 1852, Kangchenjunga was assumed to be the highest mountain in the world.

Kangchenjunga was first climbed on 25 May 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band, who were part of a British expedition. They stopped short of the summit in accordance with the promise given to the Chogyal(erstwhile rulers of Sikkim) that the top of the mountain would remain intact. Every climber or climbing group that has reached the summit has followed this tradition of stopping short by 10 feet. 

 

Kanchenjunga translated means “The Five Treasures of Snows”, as it contains five peaks, four of them over 8,450 metres.

 

Sikkimese worship Mt Kanchenjunga as their guardian deity. It is believed that the ‘mountain god’ played an active role in introducing Buddhism into this former kingdom.

 

 

Travel

Bird Sanctuary in Sikkim

Posted by Susan Sharma on May 03, 2020

 
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Bird Sanctuary

 

For serious birdwatchers, Sikkim has a bird sanctuary not very far from Gangtok, the capital city.  

 

Kitam Bird Sanctuary is a protected sanctuary located near Namchi, Sikkim. From Gangtok, it is 71 km away.

The bird sanctuary lies between 1200 feet and 3200 feet above sea level, and  occupies an area of more than 6 square kilometers within thick vegetation of shrubs and sal, pine forests. This sanctuary has two rivers namely, River Rangit and Manpur River. Sumbuk and Kitam are the two villages located in the sanctuary. Tumbol Schor, the highest point of Kitam Bird Sanctuary, offers great panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

Kitam Bird Sanctuary is heaven for bird lovers and attracts domestic and international tourists around the year for birding. Kitam is the only low altitude bird sanctuary and remain open throughout the year. Home to over 200 species of birds, Kitam is also known for several beautiful butterflies.

There are many bird watching trails and a few watch towers and viewpoints in this sanctuary that are ideal for bird watching. 

The best time to visit this place is during the months of October to May, as in winters several colourful migratory birds come to visit here.

To enjoy birding in the early morning hours, one must opt to stay at a homestay in Kitam.  Look for Barbet Home Stay Kitam on google.   We had done a day trip from Gangtok. Here is a documentation of our trip

 

 

Travel

Top 5 Hotels for Low Budget Destination Weddings in Udaipur

Posted by Amit on May 01, 2020

 
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Wedding is one of the most memorable event in our life. We all dream of a grand wedding, but if you dream of a royal destination, then there is no place better than Udaipur.

 

It is one of the most developed cities of Rajasthan with a beautiful heritage and cultural identity that sets it apart from other wedding destinations.

The city is known for its scenic beauties especially lakes, mountains and greenery and it is also is famous for its royal palaces that are still extremely well-maintained. 

 

The cost of  destination wedding in Udaipur can exceed Rs 35 lakhs as destination weddings often go a bit too heavy on the pockets even with very limited guest lists. Here are top 5 low-budget hotels that are economical for the pocket yet keep up with the class:

 

  1. SHOURYAGARH
    The Shouryagarh Resort in Udaipur is one of the top-rated resorts in the city. It has an event space i.e a huge garden spread across acres where the wedding and the rituals can take place. The indoors serve to cater 200 guests while the outdoors are wide enough to be comfortable with 200+ guests.

  2. SPECTRUM RESORT
    Spectrum Resort in Udaipur is referred to as a destination within a destination. It is a beautifully built resort that keeps the cultural heritage of Mewar high held. It is an exquisite reosrt for a destination wedding with guest count of 200-300 along with their rooms for stay.
  3. RISHIKA RESORT
    Rishika resort is situated on the NH8 near Chirva village and Ekling Ji Road. It is  Surrounded by Greenry and Aravali Hills. Rishika resort is not only a  reputed resort in hospitality industry, it is also known for hosting grand destination weddings. This resort is best for relaxing holidays and for wedding ceremonis. You can hire  Magic Lights Wedding Planners from Udaipur if you wish to plan a destination wedding here.



  4. INDER RESIDENCY
    The Inder Residency is amongst the highly recommended venues for royal weddings in Udaipur at a low cost. The location itself is in the midst of beautiful mountains, lakes, and natural beauty. It has one of the largest banquets in Udaipur that serves up to 500 guests. The Inder residency also has a poolside plot that can be used for other wedding rituals (50-100 guests).

  5. THE CASTLE MEWAR

The name of the place is just as royal as the place itself is, The Castle Mewar. It is a royal palace-like structure with amazing modern facilities included in a low budget. It has multiple spaces available like Indoor banquet hall (150 guests), Outdoor Lawn I (600 seatings), Outdoor Lawn II (300 seatings), Open garden (150-200 guests) and also a poolside (100-120 guests).

Travel

Darjeeling, West Bengal

Posted by Susan Sharma on May 01, 2020

 
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Darjeeling, West Bengal

 
Kanchenjunga at Tiger Hill, Darjeeling - a celebration to share
https://youtu.be/Gj0tv9tcui8

Near Darjeeling is a short and otherwise unremarkable hill. It is possible to walk up to the summit or hire a jeep to get there. Some even spend the night on or near this elevated place,  so as to catch the early morning sunrays on Khanjenjunga.

Tiger Hill offers a spectacular view of Kanchenjunga, that third highest summit on earth and peoples from far and near assemble to witness the sun strike, not just that lofty summit, but also the dawn awakening of the Himalayas. Due to the elevation of Kanchenjunga and the curvature of the earth, the sun touches here before lighting the lower Himalaya summits to the east. Residents of the area had long held this belief of first light to be true for thousands of years before the first man stood on the summit of Kanchenjunga(actually six metres below the summit in deference to local sentiments) and realized it was true.

Therefore, you have a magic place and a magic moment and an experience best shared. The dawn at Tiger Hill takes on a carnival atmosphere. There are men banging drums and those playing pipes. First, the cold wind stirs chill air and the many prayer flags begin to flutter then the crowd grows almost silent before the moment. Till then the darkness of 4 am is broken by cries of "Coffee" for those braving the chill.  The rising sun tips the summit with gold then blushes rose, the day has begun. Manmade music rises again as those around begin to dance, chant and worship. There are smiles on all the faces and the cold morning long forgotten.

Travel

River Teesta, Sikkim

Posted by Susan Sharma on April 30, 2020

 
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River Teesta

 

 

Anyone travelling in Sikkim by road cannot but be impressed by the mighty Teesta River.

 

Teesta(Tista) River is a 315 km long river that rises in the eastern Himalayas.  It flows through the states of Sikkim and West Bengal in India and through Bangladesh before entering the Bay of Bengal.

Flowing through the length of Sikkim, the Teesta River is considered to be the lifeline of the state. 

The Teesta River originates from the Pahunri (or Teesta Kangse) glacier above 7,068 metres (23,189 ft), and flows southward through gorges and rapids in the Sikkim Himalaya.

It is fed by rivulets and tributaries Rangit, Rangpo.  

A number of hydroelectric projects and dams have been built on this river.  The Teesta river dam projects have been approved with the requirement that they adopt suitable seismic coefficient in the design for the dam, tunnel, surge shaft and power house. The projects are cascaded over the length of the river, do not store large amounts water, have small reservoirs, and therefore the projects are expected to have very low risk from the reservoir induced seismic activity  in the area.

 

Melli (also spelled Malli) is a town on the West Bengal-Sikkim border near the River Teesta.

Lepchas are among the indigenous peoples of Sikkim, India and number between 30,000 and 50,000.   The Dzongu valley, an officially demarcated reserve for Lepcha community bordering Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, known for its vast plant wealth is one of the least attended areas on ethnomedicinal aspects, for being sacred and restricted, especially to outsiders.

 

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