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Nepal is a destination that is burned on your memory, unable to be forgotten but always longed for. The Nepalese formula combines cultural interest through hundreds of century-old temples and religious traditions with the natural beauty that Nepal is so blessed to boast. With eight of the ten tallest mountains in the world within its borders, you know to expect something extraordinary - but no number of photos can prepare you for the real thing. Its jungles, often forgotten amidst the grandeur of Mount Everest and its fellow Himalayan brothers, are equally impressive, though in a vastly different way.
The political situation is Nepal has improved greatly over the last couple of years. The country, a republic since 2008 is however still on its way to find a stable political balance. Government coalitions are formed and dissolved frequently. This doesn't impact travellers in a great way.
Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people have been living in the Himalayan region for at least 9,000 years. It appears that people who were probably of Kirant ethnicity lived in Nepal more than 2,500 years ago. The Kirant are a tribe of jungle and mountain people who migrated from various parts of India and the Himalayas. One of the earliest confederations of South Asia was that of the Shakya clan, whose capital was Kapilvastu, Nepal. Siddharta Gautama (563-483 BC), who renounced his royalty to lead an ascetic life and came to be known as the Buddha ("the enlightened one") was orn to the Shakya king Sudhodhan. The remains of a Buddhist convent have been found in the Kathmandu Valley.It is unclear when exactly the Licchavi kingdom began. From the findings at the ancient capital of Handigaun, it appears that Licchavi rulers were in power on two occasions: from about 200 AD to the 5th century, and from about 750 to 1200 AD. In between, in the fourth century AD, the country fell under the influence of the Indian Gupta Empire - considered to be a golden period of Hinduism in India - whose cultural diffusion is evident, despite their lack of direct control of Nepal.
After the 15th century, the Kathmandu Valley lost its central control and was ruled as three city-states: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhadgaon. Many Nepalese architectural heritages, such as temples, palaces, including many UNESCO world heritage sites, were built during the rule of the Newar Kings. These include the Kathmandu Old Palace (Kathmandu Durbar Square), Patan Palace (Patan Durbar Square), Bhaktapur Palace (Bhaktapur Durbar Square) etc. By this time, people living in and around Kathmandu Valley (irrespective of their ethnic origins) were called "Newars", meaning the citizens of Nepal. After centuries of petty rivalry between the three kingdoms, in the mid-18th century, Prithvi Narayan Shah, a Gorkha King, set out to unify the kingdoms. Seeking arms and aid from India, and buying the neutrality of bordering Indian kingdoms, he embarked on his mission in 1765. After several bloody battles and sieges, he managed to unify the Kathmandu Valley three years later in 1768. However, an actual battle never took place to conquer the Kathmandu valley; it was taken over by Prithvi Narayan and his troops without any effort, during Indra Jatra, a festival of Newars, when all the valley's citizens were celebrating the festival. This event marked the birth of the modern nation of Nepal.
Rivalry between Nepal and the British East India Company over the annexation of minor states bordering Nepal eventually led to the Anglo-Nepalese War (1815–1816). The war ended in the Treaty of Sugauli, under which Nepal ceded recently-captured portions of Sikkim and lands in Terai as well as the right to recruit soldiers. In 1923, the United Kingdom and Nepal formally signed an agreement of friendship, in which Nepal's independence was recognized by the UK. After years of power wrangling between the king and the government, King Mahendra (ruled 1955-1972) scrapped the democratic experiment in 1959, and a "partyless" panchayat system was made to govern Nepal until 1989.
In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) started a bid to replace the royal parliamentary system with a people's socialist republic by violent means. This led to the long Nepal Civil War and more than 12,000 deaths. On June 1, 2001, there was a massacre in the royal palace. King Birendra, Queen Aiswarya, Crown Prince Dipendra and seven other members of the royal family were killed. Following the carnage, Birendra's brother Gyanendra inherited the throne. On February 1, 2005, Gyanendra dismissed the entire government and assumed full executive powers to quash the violent Maoist movement. In response to the 2006 democracy movement King Gyanendra agreed to relinquish sovereign power to the people. On December 28, 2007, Nepal was declared a federal republic, and thereby abolishing the monarchy.The bill came into force on May 28, 2008, as the constituent assembly overwhelmingly voted to abolish royal rule
Nepal shares international borders with China (Tibet) and India. The country is almost 147,181 square kilometres big and spreads from east to west along 800 kilometres and south to north along 200 kilometres. It lies between latitudes 26° and 31°N, and longitudes 80° and 89°E. The northern half contains part of the Himalayan Mountain Range, including the 8,850-metre-high Mount Everest on the border with China. This mountain region is one of the main geographical belts, called the Parbat. In the central parts, the Pahad (Hill region) is the second belt, and to the south along the border with India is the Terai lowland area, where Royal Chitwan and Bardia National Parks are located. Most of the river systems run north-south across these three east-west running belts.
The dramatic differences in elevation found in Nepal result in a variety of biomes, from tropical savannas along the Indian border, to subtropical broad-leaf and coniferous forests in the Hill Region, to temperate broad-leaf and coniferous forests on the slopes of the Himalaya, to montane grasslands and shrub-lands and rock and ice at the highest elevations. At the lowest elevations is the Terai-Duar savanna and grasslands ecoregion. These form a mosaic with the Himalayan subtropical broad-leaf forests, which occur from 500 to 1,000 metres and include the Inner Terai Valleys. Himalayan subtropical pine forests occur between 1,000 and 2,000 metres. Above these elevations, the bio-geography of Nepal is generally divided from east to west by the Gandaki River. Ecoregions to the east tend to receive more precipitation and to be more species-rich. Those to the west are drier with fewer species. From 1,500 to 3,000 metres, are temperate broad-leaf forests: the eastern and western Himalayan broad-leaf forests. From 3,000 to 4,000 metres are the eastern and western Himalayan sub-alpine conifer forests. To 5,500 metres are the eastern and western Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows.
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There are two hiking season in Nepal one starts in mid September and ends in November and the other starts in March and ends in May. When you are going for treks on a higher altitude, like the Annapurna Circuit or Everest base camp trek (see below), you want to exclude, January and February as these are the coldest months, with the risk that snowfall blocking further progress at one point during the trek. October has the best conditions, but is also the most popular month. During the whole year, you need to keep in mind that the weather conditions in the mountains are unpredictable, so you need to come prepared for the worst. So bring waterproof clothing, a sleeping bag suitable for low temperatures, a medical kit, which also includes purification tablets to filter water.
The biggest enemy of high altitude treks is altitude sickness also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). There is no way of telling who will suffer from AMS, but almost everyone climbing above 3,000 metres will suffer some mild symptoms. In order to adapt to the high altitude it is advised not to gain more than 600 metres elevation a day while trekking above 3,000 metres. For more information, check the Health section on this page.
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Hiking the Annapurna Circuit is one of the most impressive ones anywhere in the world but come prepared with a very good physical conditions as this hike is not for the faint of heart, taking 17 to 21 days! It is definitely one of the best treks in Nepal, though road construction is threatening its reputation and its future as a classic trek. The scenery still is outstanding though the trek takes you through distinct sceneries of rivers, mountains, and flora and fauna. The trek goes counter-clockwise and reaches its summit in Thorung La (pass) at an elevation of 5,416 metres above sea level. Altitude sickness is one of the biggest risks but because of the slow ascend it shouldn't be that much of a problem for most travellers.
Maybe the most hiked paths in Nepal are those between the town of Lukla and Everest Base Camp. As is the case with the Annapurna Circuit this is a hike that should only be done when you are already in a good physical condition. Organised tours that are looking after their customers will plan the trek in a way that the daily ascends are not too big, with an occasional day of rest for acclimatisation, normally in Namche Bazar. The views are spectacular, with besides views of Mount Everest, great views towards the Lhotse and Nuptse. The highest point of the trek is on a hill above the base camp called Kala Pattar (5545 metres), offering views of Everest and the Khumbu Icefall. Side trips are possible to Thame or the 6 days detour through the Goyte Valley.
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The Royal Chitwan National Park was established in 1973 and contains 932 square kilometres with a diversity of ecosystems-including the Churia hills, Ox-bow lakes, and the flood plains of the Rapti, Reu and Narayani Rivers. It is located west of Kathmandu at the foot of the Himalayas and is one of the few remaining undisturbed vestiges of the 'Terai' region, which formerly extended over the foothills of India and Nepal. It has a high biodiversity which makes this park unique in Nepal and wildlife includes one of the last populations of single-horned Asiatic rhinoceros and several dozens of Bengal tiger, although the last one is a matter of pure luck to see this elusive big cat. It is placed on the Unesco World Heritage List.
Another Unesco World Heritage Site, the Kathmandu Valley contains seven groups of monuments and buildings which display the full range of historic and artistic achievements for which the Kathmandu Valley is world famous. It is of extreme importance regarding the cultural heritage in the country. The seven groups of monuments and buildings include the Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka (Kathmandu), Patan and Bhaktapur, the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Bauddhanath and the Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan.
Offering a beautiful lake, fresh trails, good eateries and a peaceful life style Pokhara will have it all for you. Nepal's second city is the opposite to Katmandu's hectic overcrowded streets. Enchanting music streams out of store fronts onto the peaceful one road that is Pokhara's lakeside. Here you can shop till you drop with a host of trekking stores all conveniently lined up. Once you are tired of that you can eat and drink in the many restaurants that overlook the still aters of late Phewa Tal. Take a trip up to the World Peace Pagoda or go Para gliding from the top of a nearby mountain. Visit caves and go rafting, or arrange everything to do with your trek in this paradise of Nepal.
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Nepal generally has a rather warm and humid climate, but conditions vary a lot and of course this has to do with altitude. The lower parts have temperatures of around 30 °C or more during the hotter March to October period and from June to September it also is the rainy period. This time of year is not advised for a visit of course. Kathmandu has somewhat lower temperatures on average and the western lower areas are the hottest in the country. Winters last from November to March and still are relatively warm and for most parts dry as well, but temperatures in Kathmandu for example can drop slightly below zero from January onwards. The higher you get the colder it gets and of course there is no place in the world where you can theoretically go higher, so be prepared and take warm clothes when you go hiking. The best time for a visit probably is the October to December season when it is dry, clear, warm but not too hot or cold. The monsoon has ended and this means there also is little dust in the air, so the chances to actually see the highest peaks are best.
Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) in Kathmandu is the only international airport in Nepal. Nepal Airlines, the national airline, serves flights to Hong Kong, Osaka, Shanghai, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Delhi and Dubai.
There are no possibilities of getting to Nepal by train.
You can cross into Nepal by car from India at 5 crossing points. Be sure to have the proper information regarding the car, sufficient insurance and of course an international driving licence. Don't forget that cars drive on the left side in Nepal.
There are four border crossings to India: The Sunauli-Bhairawa border crossing is the best one to choose if you are heading to or coming from Varanasi, the Raxaul-Birganj crossing to is to or from Kolkata, and Siliguri-Kakarbhitta is to Darjeeling. The Banbassa-Mahendrenagar border crossing in the extreme west of Nepal, is the closest to Delhi.
The border crossing between Nepal and Tibet via Kodari is open to independent travelers entering Nepal, but only to organised groups entering Tibet. Note that there are no direct connections, you have to switch buses at the border and pass on foot.
Nepal is a landlocked country and no river crossings are possible either.
Royal Nepal Airlines offers an extensive network of domestic flights. Other airlines, offering less frequent flights to several destinations include companies with beautiful names like Yeti Airlines, Buddha Air, Cosmic Air, Skyline Airways and Gorkha Airlines.
Destination to and from Kathmandu include places like Luklu, Pokhara, Simikot, Jomsom, Janakpur and Bharatpur.
Note that cancellations due to severe weather conditions or more human and mechanical problems are the case. If you have time, just board the next plane.
Apart from a cargo and passenger train in the far east from Janakpur, crossing the border with India, there are no options. And even this one is not carrying tourists across that same border.
Recent increases in fuel prices following a series of bandhs (strikes) and chronic shortages have made private transport much more expensive than before, with petrol hovering at 120 NRs per litre. A short ride from Kathmandu to Patan, around 4 kilometres, now costs 250 - 300 NRs, around US$4 to US$5.
As you can not rent a car and drive yourself, you are highly likely to rent a car with a driver. This is possible for a day, multiple day trips or even longer trips and saves you the hassle of the chaotic traffic in some parts. Bargain about the prices and watch the car you are going with. Sometimes you pay a bit more through a travel agent, but car and driver (doubling as a guide) are often of a better quality.
Roads are of a mixed quality, with some well paved main roads, but muddy dirt roads more into the interior and the mountains. Many of these mountain roads can be impassable during the June to September monsoon season.
Public buses in the city, often converted mini-vans and pickup trucks, are usually very crowded on most routes. Long distance public buses are usually much less crowded.
More comfortable tourist buses frequently ply major tourist routes such as the Kathmandu, Chitwan, Pokhara and to the Indian border at Sunauli. The Greeline Tourist Bus, a really great option for travelling between Kathmandu, Chitwan and Pokhara, costs US$30 and includes the price of a buffet lunch along the way. It's comfortable, cheap, and the journey is beautiful.
There are often also smaller 12-seaters and minibuses plying the same routes.
Renting motorcycles and bicycles is becoming more and more popular and although much of the country is moutainous, there are parts that are perfectly travelled by bike, especially in the Kathmandu Valley. In the mountains, your feet will be the best way to get around and there are circuits in the higher Himalaya ranging from a day to several weeks or more! And then there are some more special ways of getting around, especially in the Kathmandu Valley and in and near Pokhara, including the bicycle-rikshaw and the tempo (three-wheeled buses).
There are no regular passenger services by boat useful to travellers. Probably some chartered boats on a lake and rafting a river are your only options of being in or on a boat at all.
Visas are free for all tourists who come from a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) country, so nationals of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka may stay in Nepal indefinitely without a visa. Nationals of Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Cameroon, Somalia, Liberia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan are required to obtain visas before arrival.
Tourist Visas are available on arrival for citizens of many countries at Kathmandu airport and designated frontier posts (see below) and currently cost US$25 for 15 days, US$40 for 30 days and US$100 for 90 days. Tourist visas can be granted for a maximum of 150 days in a visa year.
You can also pay this on arrival in other convertible currencies such as Euros, Pounds sterling, RMB and Australian dollars, although US dollars are always preferred and some smaller entry points (like Birgunj) may only accept US$ and Kodari only accepts US$ and RMB.
See also: Money Matters
The Nepali rupee (Rs) is divided into 100 paisa (p). There are coins for denominations of one, two, five and 10 rupees, and bank notes in denominations of one, two, five, 10, 20, 25, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 rupees.
Nepali (Khaskura Bhasha) is the main language, but there are over 120 other languages spoken in Nepal, such as Awadhi, Bahing, Hindi, Limbu, Maithili, Mundari and Newari. English is understood by most of the educated population of Nepal and those who are regularly around tourists.
Budget accommodation in Nepal ranges from around 750 NPR to around 1,500 NPR for a double. The prices you are told at first are not fixed so you should haggle. Especially if you want to stay for a longer period, you can get a large discount. Cheaper rooms usually do not have sheets, blankets, towels, or anything else besides a bed and a door. Most budget hotels and guesthouses have a wide range of rooms, so be sure to see what you are getting, even if you have stayed there before. Usual price for three-star equivalent hotel (AC, bathroom, Internet access and satellite TV in the room) is around US$60 (6,000 NPR) for a double, a bit more in Kathmandu. Accommodations might easily be the cheapest part of your budget in Nepal. However, if you prefer luxurious accommodation, the best hotels equal approximately to four star hotels in western countries (unlimited access to swimming pool or whirlpool, no power outages, room service, very good restaurant and buffet breakfests). Expect the price being much higher (circa US$ 85 for a double or US$250 for an apartment, even more in Kathmandu). In these hotels, all prices are usually fixed. In Kathmandu, some luxurious hotels require going through security check when entering.
The Nepali national meal is daal-bhaat-tarkaari. It is spiced lentils poured over boiled rice, and served with tarkari: vegetables cooked with spices. This is served in most Nepalese homes and teahouses, two meals a day at about 10:00am and 7:00pm or 8:00pm If rice is scarce the grain part may be cornmeal mush called aata, barley, or sukkha roti (whole wheat 'tortillas'). The meal may be accompanied by dahi (yogurt) and a small helping of ultra-spicy fresh chutney or achaar (pickle). Traditionally this meal is eaten with the right hand. Curried meat, goat or chicken, is an occasional luxury, and freshwater fish is often available near lakes and rivers. Gundruk & Dhindo is typical Nepalese food made with flour. Mostly in the villages they eat Dhindo.
Always drink bottled or purified water in Nepal. You may imagine that the water filtering down from the mountains will be fresh and clean. It may be to start with, but not once it reaches the tap in Kathmandu or Pokhara. Water purifcation tablets can be easily purchased in Nepal or you can take them with you from home. It might be a good idea to take a water bottle with you that you can purify the water in if you are doing a long trek or just buy bottled water from the shops and cafes. Drinking alcohol and trekking at high altitutes do not mix well together as drinking can encourage dehydration and ruin the next days trek for you. Alcohol is available but can be relatively expensive if it has to be transported to a remote post on a trek route. There are some great pubs and bars in Kathmandu that serve cocktails and alcoholic drinks at reasonable prices.
Raksi is a clear liquid, similar to tequila in alcohol content. It is usually brewed "in house", resulting in a variation in its taste and strength. This is by far the least expensive drink in the country. It is often served on special occasions in small, baked beveled clay cups (Salinchha in Newar language) that hold less than a shot. It works great as a mixer in juice or soda. It may appear on menus as "Nepali wine".
Jaand (Nepali) or chyaang (Tibetan) is a cloudy, moderately alcoholic drink sometimes called "Nepali beer". Mostly it is made from rice, specially in Newari culture. While weaker than raksi, it will still have quite an effect. This is often offered to guests in Nepali homes, and is diluted with water. For your safety, be sure to ask your guests if the water has been sanitized before drinking this beverage.
Beer production in Nepal is a growing industry. Some local beers are now also exported, and the quality of beer has reached to international standards International brands are popular in the urban areas. Everest and Gorkha beers are two of the popular local beers.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Nepal. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Nepal) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Nepal. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Malaria is prevalent in the country, mainly in the southern border regions with India. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS. Contact your local doctor or tropical medical centre before you leave. It is always important to advise travellers to seek contact with a medical professional for the latest information at least 6 weeks prior to departure.
In Nepal you run a greater risk of becoming ill than at home. Always drink bottled or purified water. There are more varieties of bacteria for example, in a subtropical climate (the lowlands), and your body isn't as used to them as you don't live in that area of the world. Although the risk of getting ill must not be exaggerated, and certainly should not spoil your enjoyment of the holiday, it is advisable to be prepared for your trip and to be aware of the health risks of that country.
If you are currently taking prescription medicines, be sure to pack the instruction leaflet with you, and carry some spare medicine. This will make life a lot easier if you happen to lose the medicine, especially when trying to explain the medication to a Nepali pharmacist. Although the marketing name may vary from country to country, the chemist will certainly understand the written chemical contents.
If you wear glasses or contact lenses, be sure to take a copy of your prescription, as well as extra glasses or spare lenses.
Last minute trips to Nepal shouldn't be a problem to an already healthy person, but be sure to double check with your for up-to-date advice before you leave. Always carry your vaccinations booklet with you.
Here are a couple of websites providing excellent, up-to-the-minute information about travel health:
Altitude sickness, or acute mountain sickness (AMS) is one of the major concerns for trekkers in Nepal, particularly at high altitudes. This condition occurs when you ascend quickly to altitudes above 2,500 metres. Whether you are likely to get altitude sickness varies per person, some suffer from symptoms while others have no problems at all, and you could be feeling fine on one day of your Nepal trek but suffer from headaches and nausea (typical symptoms of altitude sickness) the next. You can usually avoid altitude sickness by giving your body plenty of time to acclimatise and drinking plenty of fluids during your Nepal trek. Altitude sickness may be mild or severe. Mild altitude sickness (benign AMS) symptoms usually occur within the first 24 hours at altitude and can include shortness of breath, headache, nausea, lethargy and loss of appetite. Treatment for benign AMS is to stay at the same altitude or even descend from your Nepal trek if the symptoms don't improve within a couple of days. Paracetamol can help for headaches and if necessary additional medication or oxygen can be given.
Severe altitude sickness (malignant AMS):
In cases of malignant AMS the headache worsens and shortness of breath increases even when you're resting particularly at night. Other symptoms include severe lethargy and lack of balance and coordination (walking looks like you're drunk) and irrational behaviour. This is a very serious condition that if left untreated can lead to pulmonary or cerebral oedema and even death. The best treatment for severe altitude sickness is to descend from your Nepal trek immediately! Additional medication and oxygen can also be given.
If you're travelling to Tibet you are already at a very high altitude the moment you step off the plane and there's no easy way to descend to a lower altitude. Taking plenty of time to acclimatise is therefore essential if you're planning on travelling to Tibet.
Preventing altitude sickness during your Nepal trek:
See also: Travel Safety
Sometimes, there are strikes ("bandas") and demonstrations to contend with. Some businesses close, but many allowances are usually made for tourists, who are widely respected. Ask about strikes at your hotel or read the English Nepali newspapers.
Due to the change in government the tourists are now much more safer than before. The trekking routes and other tourist destinations are safe for travel. If your country has an embassy or consulate in Nepal, let them know your whereabouts & plans, and at least listen seriously to any cautionary advice they offer.
Nepal's cities are safer than most, and even pickpockets are rare. Nevertheless, don't flash cash or make ostentatious displays of wealth.
Be cautious with the public transportation. Roads are narrow, steep, winding & frequently crowded. Domestic flights with a private company are safer than the roads. Flying risks are greatest before & during the monsoon season when the mountains are usually clouded over.
The use of email is growing, although its availability is most widespread in Kathmandu and Pokhara, where is is also cheap. Outside the main tourist areas, internet is not widely available and where it is, it does cost a lot more.
See also: International Telephone Calls
There are two main mobile operators in Nepal. Government run NTC (Nepal Telecom Company), and private Ncell (previously called Spice Mobile and Mero Mobile). Both operators allow tourists to buy SIM cards for about 200NRs in Kathmandu and most major towns.
Nepal Post is the Postal Service Department of the Nepali Ministry of Information and Communications and the national post office of Nepal. Services are terribly slow, especially to international destinations. Post offices are generally open Sunday to Thursday from 10:00am to 5:00pm, and on Friday until 3:00pm, although some offices keep longer hours. For packages, it is recommend to use international courier services like DHL, TNT or UPS.
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I spent 3 months in Kathmandu, Nepal. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer and it is inexpensive to just hang out. The people are welcoming. The Buddhist temples are numerous. The city is polluted but still one of my favorite places.
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