BHUTAN: SHANGRI LA OF TRAIL RUNNING

Welcome to Bhutan – the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’. Perched among the peaks of the mighty Himalaya, the tiny kingdom of Bhutan has been described as the last Shangri-La, shrouded in centuries of mystery. Bhutan offers a fascinating insight into a Buddhist culture where time has stood still and the chance to experience Himalayan landscapes of astounding, untouched beauty. It's also a mind-blowing place to run. It happens that there is a trail perfect for a running adventure like no other, one based on the first half of the renowned Snowman Trek, one of the hardest in the world. While there are other running adventures to be had in Bhutan, this is the only trip that takes you deep and high into the Himalayas!

JOIN 2 x HARDROCK 100 ENDURANCE RUN WINNER, ANNA FROST

'Frosty' will co-guide the entire tour,  offer pre-trip advice and training plans (if requested), and take us all for mountain high yoga sessions!


THE BASICS

DAYS TOTAL (IN BHUTAN): 15

DAYS/NIGHTS ON TRAIL: 8/8

DAYS/NIGHTS ENJOYING SHANGRI LA: 7/6

 

THE TRAIL: Jomolhari-Lasa-Gaya Trek 

TYPE: End to end expedition

DISTANCE: 170km

AVERAGE DAILY DISTANCE: 15-30km

HIGHEST POINT: 5005 metres (Sinche La)

Average run elevation: >4000m

 

ACCOMMODATION ON TRAIL: Camps

ACCOMMODATION OFF TRAIL: 2017 is an EXPLORER tour = THREE-STAR similar to TIGERS NEST LODGE (CLICK HERE).

SUPPORT: 2-3 x run guides, 2 x local guides, camp/cook crew, mules

 

RUN GROUP NUMBERS: limited to 10 runners plus guides.

REMAINING PLACES: 2


THE EXPERIENCE

Tour de Trails' (TdT)  Bhutan Trail Run Tour, in partnership with Blue Poppy Tours, offers a run adventure as remote as you can imagine on this planet. This is the high Himalaya. It is in fact the first half of the renowned Snowman Trek, billed by Lonely Planet as the 'one of the most difficult treks in the world'. 

Unlike most rough and ready expeditions, we're softening the edges. The running will remain tough given the steep terrain, the altitude, and the lack of facilities - on trail it will be as any other trail run, a true experience of Bhutan's raw and pristine wilderness. But each afternoon you'll run into a pre-set camp, sup some tea, have dinner served up - we'll even sneak up a bottle of wine. At each end of the trail, our Explorer guests willenjoy relative comfort of Bhutan's accommodation the likes of renowned Tigers Nest Resort.

Bhutan is considered a once in a lifetime destination, and thus we'll make the most of your visit to this magical place. 

Making thistour even more special is that you will share the trail with your host, Anna Frost (pictured right running beneath Jomolhari near the highest pass), one of the world's most accomplished (and it has to be said, down to earth) ultra trail runners. You'll spend 8 days on rugged trails with Anna gleaning all you can from her elite trail running experiences (which garnered her back-to-back Hardrock 100 titles), and learning endless amounts about training, technique, nutrition and mental approaches to endurance running. Learning from one of the world's best trail runners: priceless.

The JomolhariLaya-Gasa Trek itself, which forms our route, is considered one of the most scenic in Bhutan, offering amazing views of some of the most pristine and unspoiled landscapes in the Himalaya. It is more often taken by the few lucky ones to have experienced itas a 14+ day walking journey that begins at Drukgyel in Paro and takes you through gorgeous alpine meadows, high mountain passes and dense sub-tropical jungles before finishing in Damji in Tashithang.

The first part of the route follows the same route as the 'Jomolhari Trek I' through Jigme Singye National Park and offers awe-inspiring views of Mt. Jomolhari, Jichu Drake (6794m) and Tsherimgang. The path then diverges and you will depart Lingshi for the camp site at Chebisa, a charming little village adorned with a beautiful waterfall of crystal clear water. Along the trail you’ll be able to spot indigenous animals such as blue sheep and Takins, the national animal of Bhutan. You’ll travel through remote mountain villages inhabited by Layaps (people of Laya), a distinct segment of the Bhutanese society with unique culture, traditions and appearance. The finale of the route also offers a day of relaxation at the famous Gasa hot springs that is sure to rejuvenate you. Of course, you have plenty of pampering treatments still to come as reward for your big run, at your luxury accommodation in Punakha.

You can see more about the traditional walk itinerary here. Our run itinerary (below) will compact several of these days into one on numerous occasions. Read on below for our unique experience, one you are never likely to forget.


THE ROUTE


THE ITINERARY

*Itinerary accommodation and extras as listed are indicative only, based on last year's tour. We will be making small changes to the itinerary pending local conditions.

DAY 1 - ARRIVE - ACCLIMATISATION

Saturday 4th NOVEMBER  

  • Fly in to Paro, Bhutan (2200m) from client-arranged flight / gateway airport (see options below)
  • Check intoaccommodation
  • Lunch and welcome briefing
  • Welcome massage treatment
  • Dinner
  • Overnight in Paro

DAY 2 - LEISURE - ACCLIMATISATION

Sunday 5Th NOvembeR

  • acclimatisation visit Gorina monastery3000m
  • RUN return to Paro (short: 7km - 10km)
  • visit temple in Paro in afternoon
  • Dinner
  • Overnight in Paro

DAY 3 - LEISURE - ACCLIMATISATION

MONDAY 6th NOVEMBER        

  • acclimatisation visit Chele LaPass 3700m
  • RUN down to the nunnery
  • Dinner
  • Overnight in Paro

DAY 4 - LEISURE - ACCLIMATISATION

TUESDAY 7th NOVEMBER

DAY 5 - TRAIL RUN / 1

WEDNESDAY 8th NOVEMBER

 

UNITSAWA VILLAGE TO SHARNA ZAMPA TO THANGTHANGKHA

DISTANCE: 23KM 

START ELEVATION: 2850M

FINISH/CAMP ELEVATION:  3610M 

TOTAL ASCENT/DESCENT: 770M / 90M

After a short early morning drive from our accommodation, the run begins at Gunitsawa Village were you pass the army post. At the army check post permits will be checked and endorsed (our Blue Poppy Guides will manage). The trail continues with lots of small ups and downs. After going uphill through the river valley the valley finally narrows gradually to a mere path, which descends to a meadow where a camp will be set up. From here, if weather permits, you will have the first great view of Mt. Jomolhari (7326m).

DAY 6 - TRAIL RUN / 2

THURSDAY 9th NOVEMBER           

THANGTHANGKHA TO JANGOTHANG

DISTANCE: 19KM

START ELEVATION: 3610M 

FINISH/CAMP ELEVATION: 4080M

TOTAL ASCENT/DESCENT: 480M / ?

If you did not see Mt. Jomolhari the previous evening, you will still have a chance to get a great view early this morning. This morning the run continues up the Paro Chhu valley which widens into patches of alpine meadow and scanty growths of forest. You will cross an army checkpoint along the way and enjoy a spectacular view of high mountain ridges and snow-capped peaks. In this area yaks and their herder’s homes become a regular feature of the landscape. Passing the villages Soe, Takethang and Dangochang is another asset on this day. After reaching Jangothang, one of the most beautiful campsites of the Himalayas, you will again have a spectacular view of Mount Jomolhari.

DAY 7 - TRAIL DAY / 3

FRIDAY 10th november 

JANGOTHANG TO CHEBISA

DISTANCE: 28 KM

START ELEVATION: 4080M

FINISH/CAMP ALTITUDE: 3880M 

TOTAL ASCENT/DESCENT: 1120M / 1280M

This is one of the longest days of the expedition run.  A short distance from the camp the trail begins climbing rapidly for about half an hour and then becomes a gradual ascent to the Nyilila pass at 4870m. While on the climb enjoy the surroundings. You might see herds of blue sheep grazing on the slopes of the mountains. From the pass you will have spectacular views of Mt. Jomolhari, Jichu Drake and Tsherimgang, all of them rising above 7000m. 

It's a gradual descent passing by some of the yak herder’s tents, made from yak wool. The herders use these tents while travelling to various pastures for their yaks. As you come down into the Lingshi basin, a beautiful U-shaped valley, you get a wonderful view of Lingshi Dzong on clear days. Tserimgang and its glaciers rise up at the north end of the valley.

Shortly you will reach a chorten below Lingshi Dzong (4220m), which sits right atop a high ridge.  This Dzong is under reconstruction from a 2011 earthquake, which damaged its central building.

After Lingshi Dzong you will be passing the villages of Lingshi and Goyul. In Goyul, the stone houses are clustered together to form a small compact village that is unusual in Bhutan where settlements are usually scattered. On reaching the campsite at Chebisa you will have plenty of time to visit the village houses if you feel up to it. There is also a beautiful waterfall located behind the village that is worth visiting to salve tired muscles in the frigid but healing waters.

DAY 8 - TRAIL DAY / 4

SATURDAY 11th november           

CHEBISA TO SHOMUTHANG

DISTANCE 17KM,

START ELEVATION: 3880M

FINISH/CAMP ALTITUDE  4220M

TOTAL ASCENT/DESCENT: 890M / 540M 

The morning starts with a long ascent behind Chebisa Village through a wide pastureland towards Gobu La (pass). On the way, you will see a few people herding yaks. There is also a great chance to spot large herds of blue sheep above the trail. After crossing Gobu La (4410m), you descend into the valley, then climb again a little bit, before descending again to Shakshepasa (3980m), a large U-shaped valley. Climbing from here you will finally reach the campsite at Shomuthang, above a river, which is a tributary of the Nochu river.

DAY 9 - TRAIL DAY / 5

SUNDAY 12th NOvember      

SHOMUTHANG TO ROBLUTHANG

DISTANCE 18KM

START ELEVATION: 4220M

FINISH/CAMP ALTITUDE: 4160M  

TOTAL ASCENT/DESCENT: 700M / 760M

You begin by climbing up the valley to view Kang Bum (6526m) and some edelweiss. After the climb you will reach Jhari La (4750m), from where you catch the first glimpse of Sinche La, the pass you will have to cross the day after. The big snow peak in the north is Gangchhenta 6840 m, better known as the Great Tiger Mountain. If weather is clear, Tserim Kang and the top of Jomolhari will be visible. The camp by the river is called Tsheri Jathang located in a beautiful wide and remote valley. Herds of takin, the Bhutanese National Animal, migrate to this valley in summer and remain for about four months. The valley has been declared a takin sanctuary. Climb up a little bit and you will reach the campsite at Robluthang in a rocky meadow.

DAY 10 - TRAIL DAY/ 6

MONDAY 13th november 

ROBLUTHANG TO LIMITHANG

DISTANCE: 19KM

START ELEVATION: 4160M

FINISH/CAMP ALTITUDE: 4140M

TOTAL ASCENT/DESCENT: 850M / 870M

The run starts out with an ascent eventually rising through a boulder field.  It is then a further steep ascent before reaching Sinche La (5,005m) – the final and highest pass on the route (the famous Snowman Route- reputedly one of the hardest treks in the world, and which follows the same route as we’ve been running until here) continues on past Laya.  As you descend the far side of the pass you will see an impressive terminal moraine and a glacial lake at the foot of the valley. You can see classic examples of lateral moraines where the glacier has pushed rocks up both sides of the valley. Below the moraine, you cross the Kango Chhu and soon reach the Limithang campsite. The peak of Gangchhenta towers over the campsite even though it’s quite a distance away.

DAY 11 - TRAIL DAY / 7

TUESDAY 14th november

LIMITHANG TO BELOW TAKTSHI ARMY CAMP

DISTANCE APPROX. 20KM

START ELEVATION: 4140M

FINISH/CAMP ALTITUDE: UNKNOWN

TOTAL ASCENT/DESCENT: UNKNOWN – APPROX. 300M / 900M.

102564819 Ghasa Dzong .jpg

Today, you run downhill all the way along a narrow, winding river valley. After a long time, the trail takes you through densely forested region. The trail leads you to the west side of Laya village. From the west of the village you will have spectacular views of Mt. Gangchhenta and catch Mt. Masagang. In the village centre is a community school and a basic health unit with a telephone connection. Running on through Laya (the usual stop for trekkers) we will make for another 9-10km and an Army Camp (Taktshi). The trail winds up and down along the river valley of Mo Chhu avoiding natural obstacles and affording breath-taking views of the raging river, feeder streams and waterfalls.

DAY 12 - TRAIL DAY/ 8 (FINAL)

WEDNESDAY 15th november

BELOW TAKTSHI ARMY CAMP TO GASA / FINISH

DISTANCE APPROX. 24km

START ELEVATION: UNKNOWN

FINISH/CAMP ALTITUDE: 2770m

TOTAL ASCENT/DESCENT: UNKNOWN - approx 630m / 2000m 

On the final day’s run, lots of ups and downs will lead you to Kohi Lapcha at 3300 m. The run then drops down to the large stream of Koina Chhu, where you will find the trekking campsite of Koina. Ahead remains the final climb of the run expedition. You will cross Bari La (3740m), after which the trail descends all the way until you reach Gasa village (2770m), where you will find the first restaurants since you started from Drukgyel Dzong. Check out Gasa Dzong, a distinctive and architecturally unique Dzong. In the evening visit Gasa hot springs, the most popular in Bhutan, known for their rejuvenating mineral properties. Then enjoy a celebratory dinner, maybe a beer, and tell as many amusing anecdotes as you can from the on trail days.

DAY 13 - LEISURE

THURSDAY 16th november

Drive to Punakha, lunch

  • Massage treatment and dinner
  • Overnight in Punakha 

DAY 14 - LEISURE

FRIDAY 17th november   

  • Visit Punakha monastery
  • Drive via Thimphu to Paro
  • Stop for lunch in Thimphu and sightseeing if desired
  • Gala Dinner
  • Overnight in Paro

DAY 15 - DEPARTURE

SATURDAY 18th november

  • Fly out to gateway airport and home according to flights booked.

 

THE COST

  • EXPLORER: US$7550*, per person twin share TBC
  • Single supplement US$1500
  • Deposits of 50% due April 1. 
  • Conditions of booking below. Please read.

 


THE INCLUSIONS

OFF TRAIL ACCOMMODATION (6 NIGHTS, 3*)

MASSAGE TREATMENTS

  • 2 massages (one pre-run, one post run)

EXPEDITION TRAIL RUN (8 DAYS)

incl. all logistics – 8 days on trail. All facilities and staff required on trail run including horse teams, 1 chief guide and 2 assistant guides, cooks, camp helpers and horses to carry luggage and tents; spare horses as needed in case of emergency; extra teams of staff to travel ahead to prepare shelter and carry lunch and refreshments. INCLUDES numerous yoga classes in the wild, taken by Anna Frost.

TENTS

provided include sleeping, dining and cook tents and toilet tent.  Note sleeping bags are not provided.

RUN GUIDES

Anna Frost (elite ultra and trail runner), Chris Ord, TdT Owner and publisher/editor of Trail Run Mag (AU/NZ)

TRAINING PLAN & GUIDE ACCESS

For those who wish, Anna Frost will prepare a training plan specifically for this trip. Includes an initial Skype session with Anna to discuss where you are at with your running in order that she can plan appropriate to your level. For each guest, we will encourage you to contact Anna or Chris via Skype at anytime with questions or concerns.

LOCAL GUIDES AND EXPERTS

Throughout the tour from arrival to departure; extra guides while on trail. In country logistics and hosting is being arranged by renowned operator, Blue Poppy Tours, who is a full production partner in this first ever expedition run of the Jomolhari Laya Gasa trail. Without Blue Poppy Tours, this expedition would not be possible and we give huge kudos and thanks to Choki and the team in Bhutan!

SIGHTSEEING

All sightseeing and entrance fees including Tigers Nest (Paro Taktsang), Punakha Dzong and more.

TRANSPORT

Meet on arrival, airport transfers on arrival and departure and all overland transport within Bhutan

VISAS

All required royalties, visas and permits inclusive

FOOD

Full board throughout the trip (4 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 3 dinners and 1 gala dinner in Zhiwaling; 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 2 dinners in Boutique Resort at Punakha; other lunches in local restaurants while in town and all meals on the trail); mineral water in the bus and boiled water on the trail

PHOTOGRAPHY

Guide Chris Ord will take DSLR photography en route, and provide full access to all high res imagery post trip.

 

RATE DOES NOT INCLUDE

  • International flights from home country to gateway airport city (see list below. You must arrange yourself).
  • International flights from gateway city to Paro return - we will handle the booking / payment of these legs of the flight in/out, using the expertise of in country partner, Blue Poppy Tours. More details below.
  • Items of a personal nature such as drinks, alcohol, personal preference trail hydration and nutrition products, laundry and tips
  • MANDATORY INSURANCE** You will need to show proof of insurance that covers helicopter extraction where possible. 

 


BOOKING YOUR FLIGHTS

Flights to one of the gateway cities (see below), must be booked and paid for by the guest/s on their own arrangement. You must book your flights (and be responsible for any extra accommodation etc at gateway city), to ensure you are able to make the connecting flight to Paro. See following point.

Flights from your nominated gateway city to Paro, Bhutan, will be booked directly via us, using the services of Blue Poppy Tours. We (Tour de Trails) will in partnership with Blue Poppy, collect your requests re: gateway city prior to paying your tour deposit, and then advise which flight you need to catch, time and cost. This will happen prior to you paying your tour deposit. The cost of your confirmed gateway-Paro-gateway flight will be invoiced at the same time as your tour deposit is due.

As noted, guests need to find and book a flight from their home city to one of Delhi (India), Kathmandu (Nepal), Bangkok (Thailand), Calcutta (India) or Singapore (Singapore). 

From there, we will determine which  Druk Air/Tashi Air flights will best suit you. We will then add the price of those tickets to your Tour Deposit. Rates for the gateway-Paro-gateway flights fluctuate and are subject to confirmation on issue of tickets.  Current prices in economy class are:

  • Delhi/Paro/Delhi: US$650
  • Kathmandu/Paro/Kathmandu: US$390
  • Bangkok/Paro/Bangkok: US$730
  • Calcutta/Paro/Calcutta:  US$410
  • Singapore/Paro/Singapore: US$1050

Business Class is also available on request.

VISAS FOR BHUTAN (IMPORTANT)

All visitors will need to have valid Visas. Via our partner in this expedition, Blue Poppy Tours, will organise visas for Bhutan, which is inclusive in the tour price. We will send you a form to complete and will also require scanned copies of the passports for each member of the group.  As we can apply for the visas only after funds for the trip have arrived in Bhutan, we request that the financials for the trip be organised as a priority so we can secure the required permits and visas ahead of time. As you may be aware, travel in Bhutan is controlled by numbers and thus we are required to be very organised and prompt in our payments and applications. 

 


THE LOGISTICS

DEPOSIT / PAYMENT POLICY / CANCELLATION TERMS

1)   We (Tour de Trails) must supply to in-country authorities a final group number on the tour at least 6-8 months ahead of departure to secure all services (OUR NOMINATED DEPOSIT DUE DATE: April 1).  We need to pay a 50% overall deposit to in country operators at this time. Thus we require each guests's deposit of 50% of the tour fee ($5775) PLUS the full amount for your gateway-PARO-gateway return flight (note that this does not include your return flight from home nation to gateway airport, see above. You must arrange that privately) by March 15th.  This deposit is refunded (90% - 10% will be withheld for administration costs) only if you cancel your booking prior to 12+ weeks before arrival i.e. prior 10 August 2015. This is a firm policy. NO REFUND OF DEPOSIT WILL BE MADE AFTER THIS DATE AS COSTS WILL HAVE BEEN INCURRED. Refund of airfare component will be advised by Blue Poppy Tours.

2)   Regarding flights, Blue Poppy are unable to hold block bookings of seats on the >Bhutan flights and so require full names of pax travelling as on their passports to hold seats and issue flight tickets (this is for the gateway-Paro-gateway leg, booking on one of the Bhutan National Airlines).  Bookings are always subject to availability.  

3)   We must pay remaining amount for all services, accommodation etc 12 weeks before departure (10 August).  Payment is to be made in US$ by bank transfer to Tour de Trails. Bank details TBC via an invoice. The sum of US$50 will be included on the invoice to cover bank charges.  Receipt of on-payment to Bhutan suppliers / authorities is required before visas can be authorised, approximately one week after payment to TdT. 

4)   Cancellation policy for tours is as follows: 

a. Earlier than 60 days before the start of the tour: 20% of DEPOSIT FEE only will be withheld

b. Between60 and 45 days before the start: 50% of the full rates will be withheld

c. Between 44 and 16 days before the start: 75% of the full rates will be withheld

e. 15 days or less before the start: 100% of the rates

f. After arrival in Bhutan: 100% of the rates** (see below for what would happen in this instance)

5)   Note that the charges for Accommodation apply separately from the above – no refund is due if a room is cancelled less than 45 days before arrival.

6)   We need to pay for any gateway-Paro-gateway flights in advance in order to secure the bookings.  We reserve the right to invoice for full advance payment along with tour deposit (DUE April 15) to cover the flight tickets to assist with cash flow.  

7)   Cancellation policy for flights (in accordance with Druk Air regulations) is as follows – in each case a cancellation charge of US$25 applies:

a.    75% refund for tickets cancelled more than 30 days before the date of travel

b.    50% refund for tickets cancelled between 30 days and 10 days before the date of travel

c.     25% refund for tickets cancelled between 10 days and 3 days before the date of travel

d.    No refund for tickets cancelled less than 3 days before the date of travel

8)  In the circumstance of a client arriving in Bhutan and then having to cancel their on trail run component (be that prior to setting off or during), the client agrees to be liable for any extra costs incurred regarding accommodation and food and sightseeing while staying back at a nominated town/city, while the remainder of the group completes the run. Extraction from the run due to injury or altitude problems will be covered by your tour fee if it is on foot / by mule. HELICOPTER extraction (emergency only - helicopters come from India or Nepal) and the costs incurred (significant) is the responsibility and liability of the guest, hence WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND FINDING TRAVEL INSURANCE THAT COVERS THIS. We can assist finding an appropriate cover should you require. All in town inclusions in the tour are of course covered as per regular itinerary. Blue Poppy Tours will of course assist with emergency booking of accommodation and suggestions of how you may enjoy your time in Bhutan regardless of pulling from the run. They will be your in country 'hosts' while the team is on trail, noting any guiding services you engage them in are at your cost. 


BLUE POPPY TOURS
OUR PARTNER, YOUR HOSTS 

To make this very special expedition trip happen, we Tour de Trails had to find in-country partners who were willing to try something never before done in Bhutan. With our remit of entwining the highest possible quality experience, luxury and cultural engagements  with the logistical difficulties of moving a group of runners along a very remote, wild trail, it was a big ask and many operators would have put it in the too hard basket and stuck to trekking clientele. Not so  Blue Poppy Tours and Treks, in whom we have found not just a supplier, but a true partner in our quest to run this trail. We're just lucky that the can-do operator is also pretty much the best in Bhutan (and you can check that out via other referrers if you like!)

Blue Poppy has many years of experience revealing to clients the mysteries of Bhutan’s traditions and majestic landscapes. Whether you’re interested in visiting ancient Buddhist monasteries, experiencing a traditional Bhutanese festival, or trekking in stunning mountain scenery - or as we are, running through it! - their speciality is to tailor trips to needs and make it an unforgettable experience.

“We specialise in tailor made itineraries for independent travellers, we pride ourselves on our extensive local contacts and on going the extra mile to make each trip special,” says Choki from Blue Poppy.

"We pride ourselves on our extensive local contacts and on going the extra mile to make each trip special. We can arrange stays in traditional Bhutanese farmhouses, bird-watching, mountain biking, archery lessons, tours focusing on local textiles, photography, filming, Buddhist meditation and much more. Let us help you to see Bhutan through Bhutanese eyes."

Blue Poppy also proudly works with a local charitable foundation called the Loden Foundation. Its objectives are to promote education and learning in Bhutan, to foster an educational, literary and intellectual culture and to cultivate an enlightened ethos in Bhutanese society at large. In addition to its early learning centres, the first of their kind in Bhutan, Loden offers a successful entrepreneurship programme aimed at helping young Bhutanese become self-starters in business. If you would be interested to find out more about Loden’s work and to visit them during your time in Bhutan let us know and we would be pleased to facilitate this. Let us know when you contact us that you are interested in Loden’s work and if you would like to contribute in any way.

Tour de Trails is very proud to be partnering with Blue Poppy Tours, knowing in them and their team that we have partnered with the best to ensure our expedition is run to the highest possible standards, in safety and with unique cultural access and, as is the way in Bhutan, always with a smile. 

We'd like to thank Blue Poppy and urge our clients to recommend them to any friends or family who are considering visiting Bhutan for any reason (not just running!). 

www.bluepoppybhutan.com


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