15D 14N Explore & Trek Western Bhutan

  •  Explore & Trek Western Bhutan

    Explore & Trek Western Bhutan
    Explore & Trek Western Bhutan

Bhutan Tour Itinerary

For generations, people of Haa have journeyed across this trail to barter with Parops. They bartered 20 drey of Shakam (dried meat) for 20 drey of rice at Paro Tshongdu (market) because harsh climatic conditions in Haa prevented local paddy cultivation. Also, you will be walking on what is known as the Divine Madman Trail. Lama Drukpa Kuenley walked this trail when he came to Bhutan in 16th Century seeking his arrow of destiny. He shot the arrow from Tibet commanding it to find his bride. The arrow landed on the doorsteps of Toeb Tshewang in Chandana, Punakha. In more recent history, the central monastic body used this route while traveling to its winter residence in Punakha and back to Thimphu during the summer. You also will be embarking on this ancient trail that was not only used by people for barter and Wola (Labor tax) but also by the messengers and ancient warriors. The famous Pemi Tshewang Tashi, the chamberlain of Wangdue Dzongpon had traversed through this trail time and again for his expeditions.


Day 1

Paro – Haa

Elevation      Weather in Haa

On arrival at Paro International Airport today, you will be met by your guide. You will be driven by private vehicle to the town of Haa, with a brief stop en route to take in some breathtaking Himalayan vistas at Chelela which, at 3,810 metres (12,500 feet) above sea level is the highest paved road in Bhutan. As you arrive at Chelela, you may wish to join with your guide and driver in a hearty cry of ‘lha-geh lu!’ (‘May the Gods be victorious’).

You will be given time to settle into your hotel in Haa and to rest before joining your guide for an afternoon acclimatization walk around the town. Your orientation walk will include a visit to the Lhakhang Karpo or ‘White Chapel’ complex, just south of Haa’s dzong (fortress). The Lhakhang has an atmospheric central chapel which houses statues of the Tse-la-nam Sum trinity. During your visit to the Lhakhang Karpo, you will have the option of a traditional pre-expedition blessing in preparation for your upcoming journey along the Trans Bhutan Trail.

Your guide will select a local restaurant in Haa for dinner this evening, which will be your first chance to learn about and sample Bhutanese cuisine.

Accommodation: Soednam Zingkha Heritage Lodge or similar (3*)
Meals: D

Day 2

Haa – Paro

Elevation      Weather in Paro

After breakfast at your hotel, you will be transferred to Katsho, where you will begin your first day of trekking on the ancient Trans Bhutan Trail. For generations, the people of Haa followed the route you will walk today to trade with the Parops in the neighbouring valley. There, they would barter 20 drey (approximately 30 kilograms or 66 pounds) of Shakam (dried meat) for 20 drey of rice at Paro Tshongdu (market) because the harsher climatic conditions in Haa are unsuitable for rice cultivation.

The age-old trail follows the beautiful Haa river as it gently rises out of the Katsho Valley, passing through yak pastures before heading into forests of pine and rhododendron. As you traverse the Katsho Valley, look out for cliff-edge Bjungneydra Taktsang (monastery), also known as “The Mini Taktsang”, and the sky burial site of Kungkarpo. The trail continues to climb until it reaches the pass at Kaleyla, where it crosses the ridge trail between Chelela and Sagala. At Kaleyla, you will enjoy stunning views of the Himalayan range to the north, including on the clearest days vistas of Mount Jomolhari (7,314m/23,996ft), Mount Jichudrakegang (6,794m/22,290ft) and Mount Tsherimgang (6,789m/22,273ft). You will be provided with a picnic lunch during this stop.

From Kaleyla, the trail descends through rhododendron and bamboo forest into the Paro Valley. The last few kilometres to Paro will then be on tracks which meander through traditional Bhutanese farming villages.

On arrival in the Ngopa gewog of Paro you will have the chance to visit Kichu Lhakhang (temple). Said to date from the 7th century and built by Songtsen Gampo, it is one of Bhutan’s oldest religious sites. Kichu Lhakhang is home to an original statue of Jowo Jamba which is one of the most sacred sculptures in the region; and the two orange trees inside the monastery courtyard are said to bear fruit year round.

Your guide will arrange for dinner either at your hotel or in a local restaurant.

Accommodation: The Village Lodge or similar (3*)
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 17 kilometres (10.57 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 8 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,169 metres (3,835 feet)
Starting Elevation: 2,801 metres (9,190 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,380 metres (7,809 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,790 metres (12,435 feet)

Day 3

Paro – Dopshari

Elevation      Weather in Paro

After breakfast this morning, rejoin the Trans Bhutan Trail heading east. The Trail rises gently from Lamgong Village as it traverses the sprawling rice paddies of the Paro Valley, before carving around the northern ridge and descending into the traditional village of Dopshari.

At Dopshari, enjoy a cookery demonstration and a traditional Bhutanese lunch at a local farmhouse. After lunch, you will also have the opportunity to try your hand at Bhutan’s national sport, archery, and have a quick game of traditional ‘khuru’ (darts).

After lunch, head out onto the trail for one last time for the climb up to Upper Dop-shari, where you will enjoy stunning views out over the Paro Valley.

You will be collected from Upper Dopshari and transferred back towards Paro. En route, visit Ta Dzong or the ‘watchtower’, originally built in 1649 to protect Paro Dzong from the Tibetan military. In 1968, Ta Dzong became Bhutan’s National Museum, and is now home to a number of exhibitions including sculpture, painting and artifacts depicting Bhutan’s magical past. Afterwards, continue to the stunning Paro Rinpung Dzong (fortress), meaning ‘Fortress on a Heap of Jewels. The original construction of this dzong is believed to have been completed in 1458 and it was restored to its present glory by His Majesty the Third of Bhutan, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, to mark his royal wedding in 1951.

After your visits, head to your hotel, where we recommend you relax and unwind after your trek in a traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath before enjoying dinner with your guide at a nearby restaurant.

Accommodation: Tushita Eco Lodge or similar (3*)
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 16 kilometres (9.94 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 6 hours
Elevation Gain: 943 metres (3,049 feet)
Starting Elevation: 2,380 metres (7,809 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,826 metres (9,272 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 2,826 metres (9,272 feet)

Day 4

Dopshari – Tsalunang

Elevation      Weather in Paro

After breakfast today, rejoin the Trans Bhutan Trail heading east towards Tsalunang. Today’s trek begins with a climb from Upper Dopshari through community reforestation projects, small farming villages, into deep forest and along pristine rivers. You may well find the perfect spot to hoist some lungdhar (prayer flags) on your way.

After a picnic lunch at Jelila, you may wish to make the small detour to visit Jela Dzong (fortress). Built on the site where Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel is said to have encountered the protective deity Pal Yeshey Goenpo on his pilgrimage to Paro, its main relics are the statues of Du Sum Sangye (Buddha of the Past, Present and the Future). It is believed that the Buddha once faced northwards but then miraculously turned itself to face southwest towards Paro.

From Jelila, the Trail drops gently down into the Tsalunang Valley, passing through forests of blue pine and rhododendron on its way. Bird watching enthusiasts will want to keep an eye out for some of Bhutan’s beautiful species on this section.

Enjoy a hot shower and a relaxing hot stone bath on arrival at your campsite. A dinner prepared from organic, locally-sourced produce will be provided at camp.

Accommodation: Signature TBT Camping
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 14.2 kilometres (8.82 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 6 hours
Elevation Gain: 886 metres (2,907 feet)
Starting Elevation: 2,826 metres (9,272 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,774 metres (9,101 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,546 metres (11,634 feet)

Day 5

Tsalunang – Thimphu

Elevation      Weather in Thimphu

After breakfast at camp, continue your hike east towards Bhutan’s Capital city, Thimphu. With elevations ranging between 2,248 metres (7,375 feet) and 2,648 metres (8,688 feet) above sea level, Thimphu is the fifth highest capital city in the world by altitude. It is also the only capital city  in the world without any traffic lights. The city offers a unique blend of the modern world with Bhutanese tradition.

From Tsalunang, the Trail climbs through forests of fir, blue pine, dwarf rhododendron and through yak pastures before it reaches the pass at Pumola. Herders from Punakha would once bring their cattle here over the summer to escape the heat of the lower-lying Punakha valley.

After enjoying a picnic lunch and excellent mountain views at Pumola, re-join the Trail as it meanders down through picturesque meadows, offering stunning views of the Thimphu Valley from the long ridge thereafter. From here, you will be able to make out your route for the next few days in the distance beyond Thimphu.

Towards the end of the day, you will arrive at Buddha Point, home to Thimphu’s most recognized landmark, the Buddha Dordenma. Guarding the entry to the Thimphu Valley, this 51 metre (167 feet) gilded bronze statue is filled with 125,000 miniature statues and sits atop a three-storey base housing a chapel and thousands of donated statuettes. The statue was commissioned to mark His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s 60th birthday and was originally made in China before being transported to Thimphu in pieces.

Check in to your hotel before heading out for dinner with your guide at one of the many excellent restaurants in the capital.

Accommodation: Tara Phendheling Hotel or similar (3*)
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 19.2 kilometres (11.93 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 8 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,285 metres (4,216 feet)
Starting Elevation: 2,774 metres (9,101 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,659 metres (8,724 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,934 metres (12,907 feet)

Day 6

Thimphu – Dochula

Elevation      Weather in Thimphu

After breakfast at your hotel, head back to Buddha Dordenma to re-join the Trans Bhutan Trail. Before the National Highway was built, the section of the Trail which you will follow today would have been a busy thoroughfare connecting Thimphu with Punakha and, beyond it, the east. From here, you will descend via the Debsi Valley. After crossing the river on the motor road bridge, you will follow the old east-west highway through the town of Babesa, until you reach Simtokha Dzong (fortress). Built in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the fortress is said to sit on the site where a demon once vanished into a rocky outcrop. Simtokha Dzong is said to be the first dzong (fortress) in Bhutan built to house both administrative and monastic residents, and it is also the oldest dzong to have survived as a complete structure. The Dzong boasts many fine murals, carvings and tapestries, a three-storey utse (tower), and a number of chapels.

From Simtokha, the Trail continues to rise steadily as it traverses orchards, strawberry fields, and market gardens. At Hongtsho, the Trail then branches off into dense forest and across meadows. You will enjoy a stop for a picnic lunch at a scenic spot en route. Eventually, the Trail will reach the Dochula Pass at 3,100 metres (10,200 feet) above sea level. Mountain passes are some of the most sacred places in Bhutan and so it is customary to burn incense as an offering in places such as this. You may also wish to join locals in hanging colourful prayer flags as a sign of respect to the Gods.

While at Dochula you may visit the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple), built in honour of His Majesty the Fourth King Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Bhutanese Monarchy. The paintings in this temple are unique insofar as they combine modern flourishes with century-old techniques. The Temple hosts a yearly tshechu (festival) which pays tribute to the wise leadership of His Majesty the King and the ongoing efforts of the Royal Bhutanese Army in protecting Bhutan’s sovereignty. You should also visit the Druk Wangyal Chorten (stupa), also known as the ‘108 Chortens’, and its nearby meditation caves.

Dinner will be at your hotel this evening.

Accommodation: Dochula Resort or similar (3*)
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 26.2 kilometres (16.28 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 9 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,146 metres (4,810 feet)
Starting Elevation: 2,659 metres (8,724 feet)
Ending Elevation: 3,114 metres (10,217 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,174 metres (10,414 feet)

Day 7

Dochula – Toeb Chandana

Elevation      Weather in Paro

Dochula Pass offers one of the most spectacular sunrises anywhere in Bhutan and so we recommend rising early this morning. At clearer times of the year, you enjoy panoramic views of the Himalayan range in the distance as the sun rises.

After breakfast, head down into the adjacent valley and join a section of the Trail known as the ‘Divine Madman Trail’. You are now following in the footsteps of the Divine Madman himself, Drukpa Kuenley, when he came to Bhutan from Tibet in the 16th century to fulfil his destiny of suppressing evil energies. Over the coming days, you will come across a number of important cultural sites and extraordinary stories related to the life of Drukpa Kuenley.

You will make a stop for a picnic lunch at Thinleygang Lhakhang (temple) before continuing down towards Toeb Chandana. On arrival, visit the Toeb Chandana Lhakhang (temple), also known as the Chandana Lhakhang, meaning ‘where the arrow landed’. Legend has it that when Drukpa Kuenley fired an arrow from Tibet to determine his course, it landed here in Toeb Chandana. The temple itself was built in the 15th century to ward off the evil energy of a demoness and then served as the religious seat of Ngawang Chogyal. The two hills at each end of the temple resemble knees and are said to be the knees of Ngawang Chogyal herself.

Next door to the Temple is the house of Toeb Tshewang, which Drukpa Kuenley’s arrow is said to have struck when it landed. Legend has it that, dressed as a hunting beggar, Kuenley courted Tshewang’s wife and that, in a fit of jealous rage, Tshewang drew a sword which Drukpa Kuenley miraculously knotted. Thus Realizing Kuenley’s divine power, Tshewang offered him his wife as a gift to aid him in fulfilling his prophecies. The building still houses the eleven-stepped wooden ladder that Kuenley’s arrow is said to have struck; and the descendants of Tshewang have preserved the house as a monument for fifteen generations.

Accommodation: Signature Trans Bhutan Trail Camping
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 13.5 kilometres (8.39 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 9 hours
Elevation Gain: 50 metres (164 feet)
Starting Elevation: 3,114 metres (10,217 feet)
Ending Elevation: 1,560 metres (5,118 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,114 metres (10,217 feet)

Day 8

Toeb Chandana – Punakha

Elevation      Weather in Punakha

After breakfast this morning, bid farewell to Toeb Chandana as you commence the ascent towards Sew Drangsa. In recent years, the central monastic body occasionally uses this route to reach its winter residence in Punakha and to return to Thimphu in the summer. At Sew Drangsa, you will find a clearing marked with prayer flags, which is where the monks stop for lunch en route, as you will do today. From here, the trail descends towards Punakha Dzong (fortress), offering spectacular views of the Punakha Valley on the way.

In the afternoon, there will be time for some sightseeing around the charming town of Punakha. Start off at the Bazam (bridge) across the river from Punakha Dzong (fortress), where you will need to be wearing formal Bhutanese dress, including a gho for men and a kora for women, in order to cross on foot. Once on the other side, enjoy a tour of the Dzong (fortress), which was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in around 1637 at the confluence of the Phochhu (male river) and the Mochhu (female river). Arguably, it is the most beautiful Dzong in the country. The Dzong guards Bhutan’s most treasured relic, the Rangjung Kharsapani, an image of Chenresig kept away from the public in the utse (tower). It has survived Tibetan invasions, numerous fires, floods and a glacial lake burst. The Dzong served as the capital and seat of the Bhutanese Government until the early 1950s; and the coronation of His Majesty the First Druk, Gyalpo Ugyen Wangchuck, took place here. The building currently serves as the winter residence for the monastic body.

Optionally, you may wish to enjoy a gentle rafting expedition down the Mochhu River. Head to the put-in spot, around 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) north of Punakha Dzong and enjoy a leisurely float down the wide river valley past Her Majesty the Queen’s winter residences and His Majesty the King’s weekend retreat.

After checking into your hotel, enjoy dinner with your guide at a local restaurant.

Accommodation: Zhingkham Resort or similar (3*)
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 13.5 kilometres (8.39 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 5 hours
Elevation Gain: 195 metres (640 feet)
Starting Elevation: 1,560 metres (5,118 feet)
Ending Elevation: 1,225 metres (4,019 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 1,778 metres (5,834 feet)

Day 9

Punakha – Lingmukha

Elevation      Weather in Punakha

After breakfast at your hotel, re-join the Trail, this time heading east towards Lingmukha. Initially, the trail winds through paddy fields and then climbs relatively steeply until reaching a chorten (stupa) which marks the highest point on today’s hike. Enjoy a picnic lunch and scenic views of the valleys to the north here.

After lunch, the Trail descends down into the pretty Lingmukha valley, with the last hour or so of today’s hike being along the feeder road. The valley is commonly referred to as Lingmup Sher gi Zhom, which translates as “the golden bowl”, on account of the many rice fields which lie beneath ridges to either side. Here, you will visit the Lingmukha Lhakhang (temple), built by the great discoverer of treasure Terton Dorjee Lingpa. Oral tradition has it that Dorjee Lingpa arrived in Lingmukha in the 14th century, built the Lhakhang and then settled there along with his disciples. The Great Master is said to have discovered many ters (treasures) in the village.

After your visit to the temple, head to your campsite where you will be able to enjoy a hot shower and a relaxing hot stone bath. A dinner prepared from organic, locally-sourced produce will be provided at camp.

Accommodation: Signature TBT Camping
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 12.25 kilometres (7.61 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 7 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,123 metres (3,685 feet)
Starting Elevation: 1,225 metres (4,019 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,144 metres (7,034 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 2,190 metres (7,185 feet)

Day 10

Lingmukha – Samtengang

Elevation      Weather in Paro

After breakfast at camp, re-join the Trail heading east towards Samtengang. Historically, this section of the Trail would have often been used by natives of Lingmukha and the people of Phangyul in the adjacent valley. Although the two villages are separated by a steep ridge, they strongly believe themselves to be close blood relatives who share the same cultural roots.

The Trail rises from deep in the Lingmukha Valley, climbing steeply through dense forest until it reaches a rest stop built at a pass. From the pass, you will descend sharply, enjoying panoramic views of the Shar Valleys. Stop on the way to visit the Chungse Azhe Gyalzom Lhakhang (temple), which is built on the place where a Chan-do (a small, disc-like stone), thrown by the Divine Madman, Lam Drukpa Kuenley from Sha Kuenzangling on the other side of the valley, is said to have landed. Nearby, in the small village of Chungseykha, you will enjoy a hot lunch served in a local restaurant.

After lunch, the Trail will pass by small farming villages perched on steep slopes as it climbs towards Samtengang, where you will find your campsite set up for the night.

At the campsite, enjoy a hot shower and a relaxing hot stone bath. A dinner prepared from organic, locally-sourced produce will be provided.

Accommodation: Signature TBT Camping
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 17.2 kilometres (10.69 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 8 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,286 metres (4,219 feet)
Starting Elevation: 2,144 metres (7,034 feet)
Ending Elevation: 1,952 metres (6,405 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 2,535 metres (8,317 feet)

Day 11

Samtengang – Razawo

Elevation      Weather in Paro

After breakfast at camp, you may wish to pay a brief visit to the nearby Lhakhang Thangkha Temple. This Temple is thought to be one of the eight lings (meditation and teaching locations) of Kunkhyen Longchen Rabjam.

Afterwards, head out on what is a historically very significant section of the Trail once used by the famous messenger Garp Lunghi Khorlo and the famous Chamberlin Pemi Tshewang Tashi. It is also an isolated section which passes through no human settlements, allowing you to be at one with nature for the duration of the day. As you head out of Samtengang, the first section of the Trail is an ascent, after which the trail flattens out before dropping down towards Razawo at the end of the day. At Razawo, visit the chorten (stupa), thought to have been built in the time of Buddha Kashyapa and to be one of the oldest in Bhutan.

Head to your campsite after visiting the chorten, where you will be able to enjoy a hot shower and a hot stone bath to relax. A dinner prepared from organic, locally-sourced produce will be provided.

Accommodation: Signature TBT Camping
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 19.75 kilometres (12.27 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 8 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,333 metres (4,374 feet)
Starting Elevation: 1,952 metres (6,405 feet)
Ending Elevation: 1,986 metres (6,516 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 2,795 metres (9,170 feet)

Day 12

Razawo – Pelela

Elevation      Weather in Paro

After breakfast at camp, head out for your final day on the Trans Bhutan Trail. The Trail follows the river for a short while after leaving Razawo. From here, the remainder of the day involves a sustained climb towards the Pelela Pass. The Trail will initially follow a farm road before crossing over into open meadow and forests of oak and walnut. Enjoy a picnic lunch on the way.

Time permitting, you will be able to visit the Rida Goenpa (temple). The temple’s main relic is Sangay Tsepadme, the Buddha of Longevity, cast in bronze, which faces Pelela. Legend says that this statue was built by a young monk, the son of a local infertile couple who were blessed with the child by a tesmpa (Buddhist practitioner) in return for their kindness.

From the temple, it is a short climb up to Pelela Pass through charming rhododendron forest. At 3,402 metres (11,162 feet) above sea level, the Pelela Pass is one of Bhutan’s highest and is traditionally considered the boundary between west and central Bhutan. Local craftspeople often sell fine yak-hair products at the roadside here.

Near to Pelela, you will be able to enjoy a hot shower and a hot stone bath at your campsite. A dinner prepared from organic, locally-sourced produce will be provided.

Accommodation: Signature TBT Camping
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 14.1 kilometres (8.76 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 9 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,630 metres (5,348 feet)
Starting Elevation: 1,986 metres (6,516 feet)
Ending Elevation: 3,402 metres (11,162 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,402 metres (11,162 feet)

Day 13

Pelela – Paro

Elevation      Weather in Paro

This morning, after breakfast at camp, you will be transferred by vehicle back to Paro. On arrival, check into your hotel and enjoy the remainder of the day relaxing or soaking up the atmosphere in Paro.

In the afternoon, you may be able to join your guide to watch an archery match or practice at Paro’s archery ground.

Enjoy dinner with your guide at a local restaurant.

Accommodation: Tushita Eco Lodge or similar (3*)
Meals: B,L,D

Day 14

Paro

Elevation      Weather in Paro

After breakfast this morning, head northwest out of Paro by private vehicle for a visit to the iconic Taktshang Goemba, more commonly known as the ‘Tiger’s Nest Monastery’. Precariously perched on a sheer cliff face 900 metres (2,950 feet) above the Paro Valley floor, the Tiger’s Nest is undoubtedly Bhutan’s most famous religious building. It is built on the site where Guru Rinpoche is said to have arrived on the back of a tigress when he came to subdue the local demon, Singye Samdrup. After subduing the demon, Guru Rinpoche is said to have meditated in a cave here for three whole months.

The Monastery is only accessible by foot via a one and a half to two hour hike up the valley side. The trek offers spectacular views from the ridge and passes a small chorten, a basic monastery, and a waterfall on its way.

Once you have reached the Tiger’s Nest, you will have a chance to visit the cave where Guru Rinpoche meditated, as well as the extensive network of Lhakhangs (chapels) which house images, murals, chortens, and a holy spring. You may also wish to make a diversion to the attractive Machig-phu Lhakhang (temple) on the way back down to the access road.

After the visit, you will head back to your hotel in Paro, where you will be able to relax for the remainder of the day or do some last-minute shopping for souvenirs.

In the evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with your guide at a nearby restaurant.

Accommodation: Tushita Eco Lodge or similar (3*)
Meals: B,L,D

Day 15

Paro

Elevation      Weather in Paro

After breakfast this morning, you will be transferred to the airport for your international departure flight.

Meals: B

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