About Bhutan

The world knows Bhutan as the country of happiness or happy people, some describe it as the last sangria-la; some even voted it as, a must visit destination before you die and ironically some say where it is.

Over the years it has claimed the trophy of an exclusive destination and why not. It has worked so hard to retain its culture and identity, delicately nurtured and protected by visionary lines of kings and loved subjects. It has been three decades, since it cautiously opened its doors, to outside world and very little has changed, one can see hints of modernization, satellite television and internet arrived in late 90s, cellular phones in 2002; as of today one can hardly see traffic congestion in country’s busiest city Thimphu, not to mention the non existence of traffic lights and blackberry is a far cry. The measure of country’s wealth and development is based on a concept, called gross nation happiness as against the well accepted measure of gross nation product around the world.

Bhutan; remains the last, culturally, traditionally and religiously intact Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom. From Monasteries on cliff to a myriad of spiritual lams (Monks), from ancient Dzongs (fortress) to biodiversity hotspots, from Traditional Hot Stone Bath Salon to proudly painted wooden phallus, from simple religious locals to beloved visionary Monarchs, from trekkers heaven to photographers Pandora box; a destination, so lost in time and yet immensely inspirational and a cultural masterpiece.

Travelling to Bhutan, may not be as easy as travelling to any other part of the world and at times is widely misinterpreted, given the intricate chain of process, which requires to be accomplished and so less is known about it. We believe today’s travelers are as individualist and discerning as Bhutan. At BhutaneseGuide.com, we endeavor to guide, visitors and people alike, by delivering insiders information, on how to get to a destination, as timeless and complex as Bhutan; besides its secondary objective of maintaining a comprehensive database of business listings.

Fact Sheet

Location: South Asia, landlocked, strategically between India on south and China on North.

Natural Forest area: 70 %

Population: 700,000

Religion: Vajrayana form of Mahayana Buddhism

Government Type: Constitutional Monarchy

Present King: Jigme Khesar Namyel Wangchuck

Capital: Thimphu

National Carrier: Druk Air, International Flight Code KB

Nearest Airport: Paro International Airport

Altitude: 240 meters – 7541 meters above sea level

Currency: Ngultrum (Pegged to Indian Rupee and of same value)

Telephone country code: +975

Flora and Fauna

Characterized by pristine natural environment, scenic landscapes Bhutan is a trekker’s and philanthropist’s heaven. Odd 70 percent of the country is still under forest cover, fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, advocated the policy of monitored development with primary focus on the preservation of the environment. Bhutan ecology is diverse, its strategic geographical location with elevation of 97 meters – 7553meters, rugged mountainous retain, fertile low lying valley and savanna, natural glacier rivers and lakes, high mountains, dense vegetation, varied climatic conditions, makes it a natural home to rare and endangered species of flora and fauna. It is ranked amongst world’s top ten biodiversity hotspot, highest species density and highest allocation of land under protected areas. Carbon emission and depletion of ozone layer is a major climatic issue today and Bhutan, in its mandate to contribute to global environment, is one of the identified zone for carbon dumping. Bhutan today boasts of more than 5,500 species of vascular plants, 770 species of avifauna and more than 165 species of mammal life.

Bhutan’s forest offers many species of orchids , rhododendron, primroses, junipers, magnolias, blue poppy, edelweiss, gentian, daphne and giant rhubarb , abundant blue pines, chir pines, hemlocks, spruces and cypress to name a few. Flocks of rare and endangered black necked cranes can be seen in the valley of Phobjikha, were it spends the winter having flown over the Himalayas from Tibetan highlands. Additionally, wildlife constitutes golden langur, himalayan blue sheep, yak, takin, red panda, musk deer, himalayan brown bear, snow leopard, palm civet, himalayan marten. Bird watching is highly popular and has bourgeoning bird population with fifty odd species. The highlands of Bhutan are natural habitat for rare fungi like cordeyceps and other fungi such as exotic matsutake mushroom.

From intense vegetation, panoramic landscapes, Himalayan animals, colorful birds to rare and pricey fungi, there is something for everyone in the flora and fauna of Bhutan

Religion

Bhutan is credited for being the last hallmark of Vajrayana school of Mahayana Buddhism. Buddhism is the primary religion, with minority Hindu community in the southern part of Bhutan. History has it that Buddhism was introduced in 8th century by Guru Rinpoche, a dimension of Lord Buddha. Religious affairs of the country are monitored by central monastic body, headed by Je khempo, the spiritual head of the country. The main practicing schools are the government operated Drukpa Kagyupa and the Nyingmapa. Numerous independent nunneries are also operated for those, who aspire to lead a life of prayers and monkhood.

All over the country one can witness numerous monasteries, stupas, prayer flags and monks. Belief’s in reincarnation and life after death is a Buddhist way of life and is only read in books elsewhere or heard-of; however, so mystical Bhutan is , one may come across a living reincarnation of revered lama in the form of small boy, to which, devotees from all walks of life flock to get a glimpse and to be blessed.

People and Culture

Bhutanese are deeply religious, positively proud of culture and tradition and very hospitable, with utmost reverence for the king and chief abbot. The people of Bhutan can be divided into three main ethnic groups: The “Sharchops”, believed to be the original inhabitants. The “Ngalongs”, descendants of Tibetan immigrants and the “Lhotshampas”, representing Nepali- speaking groups.

At large, daily way of life is based on deeply spiritual Buddhist beliefs. 79 odd percent of population still lives in rural areas with agriculture and farming as way of life; Chilli, Cheese and beetle nut are important aspect of eating culture, Doma (bettle Nut) is chewed everywhere, by all sections of society and often doma is also the first thing offered to a guest. Keeping aside its importance, it has largely contributed, to giving at-least one of ten bhutanese, the distinctive red colored teeth.

Bhutanese follow refined system of etiquette, which is called "driglam namzha." This traditional code of conduct supports respect for authority, devotion to the institution of marriage and family, and dedication to civic duty. It governs many types of behavior, including how to send and receive gifts, how to speak to those in authority, how to serve and eat food at public occasions, and how to dress. One may come across peculiar sight were a person may be speaking, slightly stoop, with hands covering the mouth; a typical example of established cultural protocol of speaking to people holding official ranks amongst others. Men and women mix and converse freely and its treated equal is all aspects. Very open in thought, a couple could possibly be considered married, if they live together under mutual agreement, with whatsoever no ceremonies required, expect the legal part to make it legitimate in the eyes of law. Polygamy still exists is certain areas and are allowed to have more than one husband at the consent of women.

Deeply rooted tradition is possibly the most amazing aspect of Bhutan’s culture, which is reflected in sheer love for traditional dress, all Bhutanese continue to wear the traditional dress: the gho for men and the kira for women.

Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and a tradition. Bizarre; it may be, its songs, dances, jeers and near-primitive howl but is a full filled socialization platform.

Tsechus are one of the cultural hallmarks of Bhutan, celebrated as religious festivals, commemorating deeds of Guru Rinpoche. Tsechus are held on auspicious days in every district, on the tenth day of the Bhutanese month, and last up to four days in which a series of highly skilled masked dance and rituals are performed. People are dressed in their finest clothes and jewelleries and are a natural platform for socialising and make merry. Two of the most famous tsechus are held at Paro in the spring and at Thimphu in the autumn.

Climate

The weather in Bhutan is humid and subtropical in the southern plains, temperate in the inner Himalayan valleys of the southern and central regions, and cold in the north, with year-round snow on the main Himalayan summits. Temperatures vary according to elevation. Temperatures in Thimphu, located at 2,200 meters above sea level, range from approximately 15° C to 26° C during the monsoon season of June through September but drop to between about -4° C and 16° C in January. Most of the central portion of the country experiences a cool, temperate climate year round.

Bhutan's dry spring starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. Spring is the most beautiful time of the year in the kingdom when the whole kingdom comes to life with spectacular flaming red, pink and white of the rhododendron blossom. Cold wintery days subside towards the end of February (around Bhutanese New Year, Losar). Summer is a time, when nomadic Yak headers move to higher plans, looking for greener pastures. Summer weather commences in mid-April with occasional showers and continues through the pre-monsoon rains of late June. The summer monsoon lasts from late June through late September with heavy rains from the southwest. The monsoon weather, blocked from its northward progress by the Himalayas, brings heavy rains, high humidity, flash floods and landslides, and numerous misty, overcast days.

Autumn, from late September or early October to late November, follows the rainy season. It is characterized by bright, sunny days and some early snowfalls at higher elevations. From late November until March, winter sets in, with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall common above elevations of 3,000 meters. Views over the high Himalayas are usually only possible from September to March.

Weather takes on wintery mode from November onwards. It is characterized by bright, sunny days and some early snowfalls at higher elevations. From late November until March, winter sets in, with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall common above elevations of 3,000 meters. Clear skies in the winter months bring with them cold weather but it’s also the best time of the year to view the snow covered peaks of the high Himalayas.

Government

Bhutan joined world democracies on 9th April 2008, with first elected Prime Minister Jigme Y Thinley as the head of the government. Transition to democracy was historic and greatly admired by many around the globe, with the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, voluntarily abdicating the throne in 2006; with a vision for constitutional monarch, as head of the state and prime minster as the head of the government. Constitutional Monarchy is the prevalent form of government, with widely loved, people’s king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as the head of the state.

Top Individual Activities

  • Hike to Tigers Nest or Taksang Monastery.
  • Cheila free well biking Trip and picnic amidst Nature.
  • Experience Traditional Hot stone Bath.
  • An appointment with a spiritual master monk.
  • Ta – Dzong – House the only museum in Bhutan.
  • Visit Rimpung Dzong in Paro, Punakha Dzong, Wangdi Dzong, Trongsa Dzong and Jakar Dzong.
  • Prayer ceremony and lighting of butter lamps in the monastery.
  • Jhomolhari Trek
  • Gasa Hot Spring and see the one of its kind Himalayan blue sheep.
  • Snowman Trek.
  • A day of river camping and rafting in the valley of Punakha.
  • Witness the rare black-necked crane in the valley of Phobjika.
  • Get blessed by a phallus at Chimi Lakhang.
  • Paro Tshechu & Thimphu Tshechu.
  • Kurjey Lhakhang and Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang.
  • Membertsho (Burning Lake) in Bumthang
  • Gom Kora and Chorten Kora in Trashi Yangtse.
  • Weekend traditional market in Paro and Thimphu
  • The Black and white Mountain in Haa valley.
  • Khoma Valley in Lhuentse for traditional textile weaving



BHUTAN TRAVEL TIPS

Travel/Medical Insurance

You should not travel internationally without travel insurance.

The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan has initiated a travel and medical plan solely for our visitors. Travel insurance can be provided through your Bhutanese tour operator or international partner. You may also visit the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan website at www.ricb.com.bt for more information.

Money

Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (Nu.) It is at par with the Indian rupee which is accepted as legal tender in the country.

Note: INR (Indian Rupees) denominations of 500 and 1000 are not accepted in Bhutan.

ATMs are located within all main towns throughout Bhutan, where money can be withdrawn using a Visa or MasterCard. For concerned travelers a list of ATM locations throughout Bhutan is found here: http://www.bob.bt/contact-us/atm-locator/.

In addition, POS (Point of Sale) services are available nationwide, meaning visitors can pay by credit card at most hotels and handicrafts stores.

Banking

Financial institutions in Bhutan have been greatly enhanced and today we have a number of banks that cater to the needs of the people.

Some of the banks that you can avail of while in Bhutan are the Bank of Bhutan Limited, the Bhutan National Bank, the Druk PNB and the Tashi Bank. Traveller’s cheque can be easily withdrawn and exchanged for local currency. Many of these banks provide internet banking facilities.

TMs are located within all main towns throughout Bhutan, where money can be withdrawn using a Visa or MasterCard. For concerned travelers a list of ATM locations throughout Bhutan is found here: http://www.bob.bt/contact-us/atm-locator/.

In addition, POS (Point of Sale) services are available nationwide, meaning visitors can pay by credit card at most hotels and handicrafts stores.

Electricity

All major towns are well connected with electricity that runs on 220/240 volts with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets.

It is recommended that you bring flat-to-round pin converters for your electronics if necessary, however, most hotels offer multi plug sockets. Bhutan is a carbon neutral destination. Our energy is clean and green generated by hydro power.

Travel Kits

Bhutan experiences great variations in its climate. In general summers are warm with average daily temperature ranging from 20 to 25 degrees Celsius, while winter temperatures are usually below 15 degrees Celsius. The northern regions of the country are colder than the more tropical south and it is recommended you pack accordingly. Trekkers will need to bring appropriate warm clothes and comfortable hiking boots (well broken in) preferably with ankle support and weather-proof to complement the weather and rugged terrain.

Others suggested items to pack:

1
Photography

Bhutan offers immense opportunities for photography especially during outdoor sightseeing trips. However you should check with your guide before taking pictures or filming inside Dzongs, temples, monasteries and religious institutions as in some area photograph/filming is not permitted. You are free to capture images of the landscape, the panoramic views of the mountain ranges, rural life, flora and fauna, distinctive Bhutanese architecture and the exterior of Dzongs and Chortens in particular.

Shopping

Some popular handicraft items available for purchase are hand-woven textiles of raw silk or silk, carved masks of various animals, woven baskets of cane and bamboo, wooden bowls known as Dapas, handmade paper products or finely crafted gods of silver. Other items you may be interested in are the exquisite Buddhist thangkha paintings or Bhutan’s wide array of colourful and creative postage stamps. You can come across these items in the many handicraft shops in and around Thimphu and in other major towns. Please remember that buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden in Bhutan.

Gratuities

Tipping is a purely personal matter. We leave it up to you as to whether you want to give a gratuity to your guides and drivers. However, if doing so, we recommend that you place the gratuity in an envelope.

Customs
The following articles are exempt from duty:

(a) Personal effects and articles for day to day use by the visitor
(b) 1 litre of alcohol (spirits or wine)
(c) 200 cigarettes, on payment of import duty of 200%
(d) Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use
(e) Photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use

You have to complete the passenger declaration form at your port of entry.

Visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate.

If importing any items to Bhutan which are for sale or gift, they may be liable for customs duty. On departure, visitors are required to fill out a departure form, which will be asked for by Customs authorities.

mport/export of the following goods is strictly prohibited:

(a) Arms, ammunitions and explosives
(b) All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs
(c) Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species
(d) Antiques

Imports of plants, soils etc. are subject to quarantine regulations. These items must be cleared on arrival.

Communications

The country has a good network of telecommunication facilities. Most hotels and cafe’s offer Wi-Fi internet access. Bhutan has a comprehensive mobile (cell) phone network with global roaming also assessable.

Language

Bhutanese speak a variety of languages with Dzongkha being the national language and one of the most widely spoken. English is also spoken by the majority of Bhutanese making communication very easy. It is encouraged to speak with the local Bhutanese, especially in the urban areas and towns,as it will enhance your knowledge on Bhutan.

Guides and Interpreters

Bhutan has a good team of interpreters and licenced guides that are well versed in local history and possess good communication skills. All guides are tested and certified by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Guides are available who are fluent in Japanese, Thai, Spanish and other European languages.

Clothes and Other Paraphernalia

With great altitudinal variations, weather is quite mixed in Bhutan. So be prepared to face the unforeseen weather conditions.

We expect visitors to dress modestly and respectfully especially if you are planning a visit to the monasteries, Dzongs and other religious institutions. Long pants and long sleeved tops should be worn when visiting such places. As a mark of respect, be kind enough to remove your hats, caps etc. as you enter religious and administrative premises, institutions and in any other place that you come across with the national flag being raised.

Health: Inoculations

Before embarking on a trip to Bhutan, please seek advice from your doctor with regard to vaccinations and appropriate medication you should have prior to your travels. As a minimum you should have tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A inoculations.

Precautions

Bhutan is one of the safest countries in the world however you should still exercise caution when visiting. Please ensure that your belongings especially your passports, cameras, wallets and purses are properly secured. Please refrain from leaving such items within sight in locked vehicles while sightseeing.

Avoid drinking tap water which has not been boiled or ice cubes in drinks at all times as most water sources in Bhutan are untreated. One can easily acquire affordable treated and bottled water.

Also, Bhutan has a duty to protect its citizens from drugs and tobacco products. To do this we need your help and cooperation. Please co-operate if stopped and asked about your baggage. Please do not carry tobacco goods in excess of the set limit.


Tour and Travel Booking Tips

Booking a Tour

All tours to Bhutan must be pre-arranged and pre-paid via travel agents. You can use local travel agents or agents near you, who will assist, to have it arranged via local travel partners. Plan your Bhutan vacation with a lead time of at least a month, if not two months for special highlights like Paro Tshechu and Thimphu Tshechu to ensure flight, hotel availability and above all better ground arrangements. Last minute bookings can be made with a lead time of fifteen days if not less, contact your agent to ensure.

Getting in to Bhutan
Surface

There are only two government approved surface points of entry, the southern gateway cities of Puentsholing and Samdrup Jongkhar. You may use these points to either enter or exit only; it’s mandatory to travel atleast one way by national carrier. In an exceptional case special permission can be obtained. On a cautionary note, captioned Indian states may have pollution, cleanliness and hygiene issues and is also characterized by frequent political problems, which could result in closure of roads, causing unwanted inconvenience. It is advisable to get proper information, before planning to travel this route.

Particulars Puentsholing Samdrup Jongkhar
Border Indian State West Bengal Assam
Tourist Areas Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong Arunachal Pradesh, Shillong and Nagaland
Nearest airport Bagdogra (4 hours drive) Guwahati ( 3 hours drive)

Air

National carrier, Druk Air is the only carrier operating in Bhutan airspace. Paro international airport in linked to following airports via Druk Air.

a. Bangkok b. Delhi c. Kolkota d. Kathmandu e. Singapore f. Dhaka g. Gaya

Majority of visitors are enroute to Paro via Bangkok and Delhi, because of easy access to other international cities. It is advisable to have your tickets booked via your chosen travel agent to ensure faster service, who will be lobbying the Druk Air offices to ensure the same. Recent introduction of e-ticket has made things quite easier; once the ticket is purchased your agent will have it emailed.

The newly purchased airbus planes ensure maximum safety and comfortable flight. A treat would be to get a glimpse of Mount Everest, Makalu, Lhotse, and Kanchenjunga whilst cruising over the Himalayas; normally the captain will have it announced. Carrier allows baggage of 20 kg for economy class, 30 kg for business class and 5kg as cabin baggage.

Cancellation policies are stringent and non refundable during high season, however your ticket will have flying validity for a period of one year and you may reschedule with additional USD 30. In case if you have met the cancellation policy captioned below refunds usually takes a long time.

• 85% refund for tickets canceled more than 45 days prior to arrival date in Bhutan
• 35% refund for tickets canceled between 30 and 45 days prior to arrival date
• No refund for tickets canceled within 30 days of arrival date in Bhutan
• An administration fee of $25 per ticket will be applicable for all canceled tickets
• Passengers who fail to show up for a flight will not be eligible for a refund

Bhutan Visa

All nationalities expect Indians require visa to enter Bhutan. Bhutanese embassies abroad are not authorized to grant tourist visa. Bhutan visa will be arranged by your travel agent; who, upon receipt of visa application form and copy of passport will have it processed with the department of tourism and ministry of foreign affairs, good lead time of ten working days, if not more is required to have it approved.

What you need to do

1. Ensure that your passport is valid for six months or more.
2. Request visa application form. Upon booking a package with your agent will be sent visa application form.
3. Fill in the visa application form and send to your agent with copy of passport.
4. Upon receipt of approved visa, bring a copy with you. You will be required to present while boarding Druk Air.
5. Bring two copies of passport size photographs. Required at immigration in airport for actual stamping of Visa.

Useful Tip

1. Maintain all correspondence, if local travel agents, via email, to ensure your request is clear and understood.
2. Send Passport details via email to avoid spelling errors.
3. Request approved visa via email to ensure it is clear. Always check the dates of travel and name.
4. Be patient with your travel agent. Intense lobbying is required to process your visa and air ticket.
5. Check if the purchased ticket includes visa fee and airport tax.


Tariff

Tourism in Bhutan operates on a different format; the government of Bhutan has fixed a minimum daily tariff of US$ 250 per person per day.

What is included in US$ 250 per person per day?

1. Accommodation – Government approved A grade hotels and lodges are provided. These hotel’s offers basic amenities, are clean and of acceptable standards. Hotel Olathang, Hotel Riverview, Hotel Dewachen, Hotel Meri Phuesum are sutiable examples. Reviews of it may read in trip advisor website.

2. All meals – Modest Local restaurants are used. Meals provide will have combination of al a carte and Buffet menus. Choices of restaurants are based on your itinerary. Sonam Trophel and Bhutan Kitchen are good examples. Reviews of it may be read in trip advisor website.

3. Licensed tour guide- English Speaking guide at all times.

4. Site Seeing – All tours stated in your itinerary.

5. All Entrance fees.

6. Car and Driver – Mini SUV or Vans are provided.

7. Government Taxes – All the tax, you are required to pay, are included expect one time tourism development fee and visa fee.

For your understanding listed below are the fees payable to government treasury. Hefty government tax policy is in place, to support, free education and medical service provided to all Bhutanese citizens.

Additional Fee applicable

Government Tax 1 Person Remarks
FIT Surcharge US$ 40 Per person Every day
Visa Fee 40 One Time Per Person

What is not included in daily tariff?

1. Airfare

2. Tourism fee

3. Visa fee – May be included in your Druk air ticket. Confirm with your agent.

4. Alcoholic beverages

5. Tips

6. Travel Insurance

7. VIP airport service

8. Other personal expense.

I want to stay in 5 star rated hotels?

There are few five star hotels operating in Bhutan, namely the Aman Resort, Como Hotels, Zhiwaling Hotel and Taj Hotel. Travel agents are unable to accommodate 5 star accommodations above stated daily tariff. You will be required to pay additional surcharge depending on hotel and rate of the room you have requested.

How do I make tour payment?

Once you have confirmed your tour package. You will be required to wire, agreed cost, to agents account maintained with Bhutan national bank. It is important to send remittance slip upon completion of transfer for confirmation of funds received. All international money transfer requires, bank’s swift code, it will be provided by your agent. Department of Tourism regulates tourism related monetary transaction, due to its particular role in government taxes and the funds are released to agents only after a tour is complete. Monetary mis-management by agent will culminate in termination of license and legal action. Therefore there is no risk involved.

What other cost to expect?

Since, major expenses are all paid for. You may possible spend on arts and crafts, textiles, tips, alcoholic beverages, laundry, visa fee, tourism development fee and international phone calls.

Money

Unit of currency in Bhutan is Ngultrum. It is pegged with Indian Rupee and of same Value. Bhutanese currency cannot be used in India however Indian currency is acceptable all over Bhutan expect denomination of 500 Rupee and above. Approximately 1 US$ = Nu. 44. Refer to currency exchange websites for accurate exchange rates. All foreign currencies exchanges are limited to banks only. All major currencies and Travelers checks are accepted.

Credit Card & ATM

Many business establishment accept credit cards, however are limited to 5 star hotels and handicrafts shops. Most suitable cards are American Express, Master card and Visa Card. Unlike other countries ATMs in Bhutan are not linked internationally, hence the possibility of drawing funds from ATMs in Bhutan is not possible.

Useful Tips

1. Keep wire transfer remittance slip safely.

2. Banks are opened from 9am to 5 pm only. Better rates are virtually impossible after that.

3. US$ is widely acceptable. Keep enough bills in smaller denomination.

4. If you are using credit card, insure there are no additional surcharge. Some bank charges a whopping 7.5 % transaction charges.


How to reach ?

  • There is frequent services Of Bus between Siliguri and Phuentsholing/Jaigaon. It is roughly a four hour journey.Then there are private buses and shared taxis from Phuentsholing to Thimphu.
  • Bagdogra near Siliguri, 120 km from Gangtok is the nearest airport to the state. Paro International Airport (PBH/VQPR) is the only entry point to Bhutan by air. It is located in the south west of the country and served only by the country's flag carrier Druk Air .

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