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Posted on: Monday , Jun 30, 2008 At 09:07 AM

Time To Travel


It is the right time to be Ladakh, and I can't help but leave home. I will be travelling, spending time in Delhi, Lahaul, Changthang, Leh, Zanskar and Nubra, Kashmir and Western Himachal region for next 8 weeks. Of course, 'India Explored' will feature many stories, information and images from these places once I am back.

That doesn't mean there will be no posting on 'India Explored' for next two months. I have compiled a great lot of information and travel dough, which will continue to get published here frequently. Do keep visiting, and leave your feedback.

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Posted on: Thursday , Jun 26, 2008 At 22:23 PM

Himachal Government Annoys Tourists


In a story that seems to be a pointless drive by authorities of Himachal Government, they have left hundreds of tourists stranded on the road for many hours.

According to the story, the private run buses from Manali to Delhi that the tourists had booked did not have valid permits, and passengers were made to disembark and wait for many hours in the small hours of the morning until alternate buses were provided.

What really irritates me is that the tourists are made to suffer for a mistake that is not their own. Are they expected to check detailed permits and licenses of their buses, trains, or flights when they book their tickets? If the bus company has indeed erred, they could be fined, or the buses could be detained sometime at the end of journey, but not in the middle of the road making many tourists stranded for no fault of theirs. Especially in a state that earns a lot of its income from tourism, it is like shooting yourself on the feet.

The responses from annoyed tourists in the bus too was in similar lines, and one person swore never to revisit Himachal again. I hope the authorities are listening.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Jun 24, 2008 At 15:21 PM

Amitav Ghosh's New Novel - Sea Of Poppies


Well known Indian born writer Amitav Ghosh's recently released  novel - Sea of Poppies has been receiving good reviews. The book is set in early 19th century, and deals with migrant Indian labourers and forced(by British) cultivation of Opium in the Gangetic plain.

Read an extract of the novel here and here(registration required). 

The review at The Hindu says "Ghosh has produced his most incisive engagement with imperialism". The Guardian calls it a "terrific novel". Also see a chat session with Ghosh on Rediff.com.

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Posted on: Monday , Jun 23, 2008 At 14:51 PM

Darjeeling Updates: Blockade Relaxed Temporarily


'India Explored' brings you Darjeeling news as it happens. The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha(GJM) has given a 60 hour relaxation for its shutdown of Darjeeling town and the highway Gangtok, and the concerned parties appear to be getting ready for talks. The relaxation is on till Wednesday 6am. The hill station is not safe for tourists yet, and it is better to wait and watch if you had planned to go to Sikkim or Darjeeling.

New Indian Express reports: "The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), spearheading an agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state, relaxed its indefinite bandh in the Darjeeling hills for 60 hours beginning this evening even as it decided to send two teams to talk to the West Bengal government as well as the Center."

Below are the earlier updates and details on Darjeeling shutdown by GJM.

1. June 11th. Darjeeling Updates

2. May 21st. Darjeeling Safe?

3. May 3rd.  Darjeeling Travel Warning

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Posted on: Saturday , Jun 21, 2008 At 21:17 PM

Indians Travelling Abroad


It is an old and stale story that Indians with new found wealth have been travelling abroad in considerable numbers. It has been told and retold a thousand times in the last few years. While I myself was seeing large number of people around me leaving for destinations like US(mostly on work), Singapore, Malaysia, Europe, Australia and other popular tourist destinations, I did not know that Indians are travelling to more remote regions too. A few months back, a friend asked me if I know of any trends of Indians travelling to South America, and I had casually said no. But when I tried to recall, it so turned out that I knew more than half a dozen people who had been to South America in the last couple of years.

Scanning travel related news in the last few days, I was amazed at the kind of tourism offices that have been wooing Indians to travel to their countries. Would you have thought about Indian tourists in countries like Korea, Cuba, Tanzania, Nigeria..? Just see news clips from just last week alone, about all these countries trying to have Indians hop on to a plane to their tourist destinations.

1. Korea Tourism makes a comeback [to woo Indian tourists] with new strategies.

2. Cuba is looking at India as a potential market [for tourism] in the Asia region.

3. Pakistan Tourism keen on India.

4. Mexico Tourism board plans to come to India.

5. Egypt to sign tourism agreement with India

6. Nigeria Tourism opens office in India.

7. Land of Hospitality[Kazaksthan] invites Indian Tourists.

8. Tanzania to woo Indian Tourists.

The variety of countries is very very impressive, and doubly so, that all these news stories are no more than a week old.

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Posted on: Friday , Jun 20, 2008 At 11:03 AM

Increasing Airfares


The steep increase in fuel prices have left everyone troubled. Airlines, especially budget airlines have been loosing a lot of money since bulk of their expenses is on fuel. Spice Jet recently announced of big losses ahead. Airlines have been cutting down on less profitable routes flying to smaller destinations. It looks like things can only get worse as long as the fuel prices remain this high or go further. 

That is leaving airlines with no choice but to increase prices. At least temporarily, it looks like days of cheap flights are behind us. A quick search for airfares asserts the same story. 

To make a sample, a Bangalore - Delhi one way flight booked two weeks ahead would have approximately cost Rs.3,500 a year ago, which base price at Rs.1,500 and remaining made up of taxes. For the same criteria, the minimum fare today is near Rs.5,400 with taxes and surcharges making bulk of it.

Another round of fare hike is due from major airlines today, making flying dearer again. Business Standard has a summary of hikes

Almost every bad news has a silver lining(though we have to look hard for one in this case). We should still be happy that our airlines haven't got as ruthless as their counterparts in the US, charging for first checked in luggage and every other possible convenience. Besides, we all had got used to flying away at the slightest possibility in the last few years, which is one of the least environment friendly way to travel(unless you drive a Hummer, it may be the worst). At least we will have some clean air in the days to come.

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Posted on: Thursday , Jun 19, 2008 At 11:41 AM

Chandigarh Music Festival


Here is a news for music buffs from Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and around. Chandigarh Tourism, in association with Society for Tourism and Entertainment Promotion Chandigarh is organizing Chandigarh Music Festival on June 21st and 22nd. The festival will include performance by local and international artists. Here is the schedule. 

21st June 2008, 6:30am at Sukhna Lake: Morning Raga

21st June 2008, 7pm at Plaza, Sec-17: Punjabi Folk dance Performance

22nd June 2008, 5pm at Auditorium, Govt.Museum and Art Gallery, Sec-10: Performance by Nim Sofyan

22nd June 2008, 6pm at Auditorium, Govt.Museum and Art Gallery, Sec-10: First Performance by Chandigarh Choir

22nd June 2008, 7pm at Sukhna Lake: Performance by French rock band Dablackdots

For more information on the festival and the performing artists, see Chandigarh Tourism Website.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Jun 17, 2008 At 20:52 PM

Destinations: Madurai


The name of Madurai immediately brings into mind the huge Meenakshi Temple. The temple is indeed the star attraction of Madurai, with a few more ancient structures surrounding it.

Overview. Madurai is an all season destination, though it can get hot in summer. Winter is the best time to go, as the days will be pleasant and it hardly gets cold in the night.

Madurai Meenakshi Temple

The city of Madurai has a long history and is one of the oldest in southern parts of India. Megasthanese, the well-known Greek traveller is said to have visited the city in 3rd century BC. The city was ruled by Pandyas and Cholas for most part of its history, and Nayak kings from 17th century before the British took over from them. The Meenakshi Temple is said to be first erected by Pandya Kings. Legend has it that Madurai is the place where Shiva wedded Parvati.

Orientation. Madurai is well connected by rest of the country by trains, since it falls on the route connecting Chennai and Kanyakumari. It is located on the plains of Tamil Nadu, close to Western Ghats near Kodaikanal. It is medium sized city that can be comfortably covered from end to end by an auto-rickshaw. Most of the old structures of Madurai are located at the center of the city, around Meenakshi Temple. A few new attractions, like Gandhi museum will require some additional commute.

Sightseeing and activities.

Meenakshi Temple. The Meenakshi temple is a huge complex and can take a complete day to see from end to end. The temple can be roughly divided into three sections - the enclave of Meenakshi shrine, of Sundareswarar shrine and the areas in the eastern part comprising markets and the thousand-pillar hall.

Meenakshi Temple

Meenakshi Shrine. The shrine can be approached directly from north gate or through a passage on the east gate. When you enter through east gate, you walk past the beautiful environs of the Golden Lotus Pond - Potramarai Kulam. The Meenakshi shrine has a golden gopura, which can be seen from a corner of the Pond. In the inner courtyard, there is a silver statue of Nataraja, and further ahead is the sanctum of the goddess.

Sundareswarar Shrine. This is a separate section to the south of Meenakshi Shrine, enclosed in layers of walls. When you enter from east, you walk to a mantapa hosting Nandi. The pillars of the Mantapa have statues of Shiva in various forms, such as Bhairava and Nataraja. A mural of Hanuman on a pillar to the left of the mantapa is popular with devotees. Entering through two more set of doors takes you to the sanctum where you can see the lingam resting under a four headed serpent.

Meenakshi Temple

Thousand Pillar Hall. This is a large hall filled with pillars, located close to the eastern entrance of the temple. This is now made into a museum that hosts many stone statues and other artifacts. Unfortunately, the museum is poorly maintained and the artifacts are unaesthetically arranged.

Markets. Near the eastern gate is a market selling various pooja materials, trinkets, photos and statues of all possible gods and goddesses. It is a nice place to hang around and see interesting materials for sale. There is also a small flower market that is a separate section, near the entry to Meenakshi shrine.

Meenakshi Temple

Pudu Mantapa and Raya Gopura. Just outside the eastern gate to Sundareswarar shrine is a large mantapa, called Pudu Mantapa. It is worth a visit to the place just to see the scale of the large Mantapa and the size of big pillars inside. Unfortunately, the Mantapa is not properly maintained and the gates are locked, which means you can only take a peek from outside. To the opposite side of Pudu Mantapa is another ancient structure with four tall pillars, called Raya Gopura.

Pudu Mantapa

Nayak Palace. This is a palace built by Nayak Kings, located a kilometer away from the temple. Only a part of the palace has now survived, which includes a large hall and a private auditorium call Natakasalai. The big open hall with its giant pillars and paintings on the roof make the palace worth a visit.

Nayak Palace

Gandhi Museum. The Gandhi Museum contains many artifacts and materials tracing the history of India since the landing of Europeans, in the perspective of freedom struggle. A very visible artifact in the museum is the blood stained dhoti of the Mahatma that he was wearing when assassinated.

Food and Accommodation. There is no dearth of hotels of all classes in Madurai. You can find many conveniently located budget hotels along the streets surrounding the temple. Madurai is a good place to taste traditional South Indian food if it is not your everyday diet.

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Posted on: Monday , Jun 16, 2008 At 20:25 PM

Where Are You Going This Monsoon?


So the monsoons have now reached Delhi, and will be in Himachal in matter of hours. That completes the journey of rain clouds all the way to mighty Himalayas from somewhere down in the Indian Ocean.

Arrival of monsoons means a change of travel itinerary from the summer days. The choices are now not too many. There are two sets of options for the 'India Explorer' who hates to stay home, no matter what season it is.

1. Go to those places not affected by monsoons

2. Take the monsoon head-on, relishing those rain drops

In the many years of my love affair with the rains, I have always taken the second option. But I am trying to be a little different and going to Ladakh this time, where the rain clouds do not reach. Do await for long essays filled with images of Ladakh on 'India Explored' later this year.

To explore further on the monsoon destinations, there are two sets of places in India that are not largely affected by the monsoons.

1. Greater Himalayas and the region north of it. That includes Lahaul and Spiti region in Himachal, Zenskar ranges, Kargil and Leh, Nubra Valley and Changthang region near Tibetan Plateau.

2. In south Tamil Nadu remains an exception from the rest, not affected by rains. Visit the gigantic temples of Chidambaram, Madurai and Kanchi. Other places worth going to are Rameshwaram and Pondicherry.

If you are the kind of person who loves the 'tip tip' of the raindrops, Sahyadris is where you should be. Rains bring out an inexpressible magic in these parts. Trek to the forts of Shivaji in Maharashtra, visit the beaches of Goa that are now empty yet pleasant, see the jungles in Karnataka, or take a traditional Ayurvedic Massage in Kerala. Your options are unlimited. If lower temperatures and rain don't deter you, also try the lower Himalayas, like Shimla, Dharmashala or picturesque towns in Kumaon region like Nainital and Ranikhet.

So, do say now, where is it you want to go in the next 3 months?

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Posted on: Saturday , Jun 14, 2008 At 17:35 PM

Kailash Mansarovar Yatra - 2008


This year's Kailash Mansarovar Yatra has now begun, and the first batch of pilgrims have left for the holy lake.

The Yatra was delayed by two weeks this year against the initial planned date of May 29th, as Chinese authorities expressed their inability to accept pilgrims, owing to the event of Olympic Torch Relay to be held in Tibet from June 19th to 21st. The government organized yatra will leave in 18 batches between now and 27th August, however registration for the pilgrimage have closed as early as March(see releases from ministry of external affairs). But for those who intend to do the Yatra this year, many private operators based in India and Nepal conduct group tours to the holy lake, which can be booked even now.

Besides being known as one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimages, Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is an arduous 3 weeks journey that takes you through breathtaking landscapes of Tibet and Indian Himalayas.

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Posted on: Saturday , Jun 14, 2008 At 17:09 PM

Amarnath Yatra - 2008


The famed pilgrimage to the cave at Amarnath in Jammu and Kashmir, where a ice shivling appears in a cave, will begin on June 18th this year. Registrations are open for some time now, and more than 2 lakh people have already registered. The Yatra will be on for 2 months, after which the route will be closed.

Last few years have seen some controversies, with the ice lingam having melted at the time of commencement of the yatra. A poor attempt to create a lingam was also a matter of contention. This year however, the lingam is still present. The temple authorities have installed protective doors to the cave, which is expected to keep the interiors cool and help the lingam remain longer without melting.

Amarnath Yatra route takes you through mountainous territory in J&K, and it is a difficult but rewarding trek with scenic views. If you want to perform the trek, it is necessary to register via J&K Tourism Offices or at Jammu & Kashmir Bank Branches. See registration process and other details related to the pilgrimage at amarnathyatra.org. If you are keen on the pilgrimage but unwilling to make the trek, there are helicopter facilities available.

The Yatra is not entirely free from controversies this year too. Environmentalists have raised concerns of the impact of large human presence during the season, while the authorities say that the pilgrimage doesn't harm the ecology.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Jun 11, 2008 At 18:08 PM

Darjeeling Updates


The latest news from Darjeeling is not good, again. And it has been more troublesome to tourists than the previous incidences. Many tourists have been stuck in the hill-station, unable to leave, as Gorkha Janamukti Morcha has blocked the roads connecting Darjeeling with the plains. The protesters have blocked the road connecting Siliguri and Gangtok too, cutting off Sikkim from the mainland.

Express India Reports: Hundreds of tourists were trying to head out of Darjeeling in West Bengal as the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), which is demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland, enforced an indefinite bandh, shutting down the hills and leaving an estimated 10,000 plus stranded in the plains. Sikkim was also cut off with GJM supporters blocking the arterial National Highway 31A.

'India Explored' has been tracking unrest in Darjeeling for a few months. See past updates.

1.May 21 - Darjeeling safe?
2.May 3  - Darjeeling Warning

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Posted on: Sunday , Jun 08, 2008 At 13:55 PM

Progress Of The Monsoons


Monsoon clouds have been moving north  in a good pace. It has been raining in Kerala for more than a week now. Bangalore has been seeing clouds passing through its skies, though the monsoon rains haven't come down with full force there. Mumbai is lashed with monsoon rains and life in the city has been disrupted to some extent. According to latest updates from Indian Meteorological Department(IMD), monsoon clouds have reached Central Maharashtra in peninsular India, and have covered the entire North-Eastern region. The clouds have reached Mumbai three days earlier than normal.

A Rainy Day near Bangalore

Track the progress of monsoon, updated every day at IMD Website.

More monsoon news:
1. Monsoon trouble in Goa
2. Monsoon hits Maharashtra ahead of time
3. Ahmedabad: Monsoons may be here by Tuesday
4. Kolkata, June 7: Monsoon in 48 hours

While everyone is preparing to ensure smooth day-to-day activities during the monsoons, Kerala, as always has been tourist savvy. They are hoping to see more tourists in the monsoons.

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Posted on: Sunday , Jun 08, 2008 At 13:24 PM

Destinations: Rishikesh And Haridwar


On the bank of Ganga, Rishikesh and Haridwar are places visited by thousands of pilgrims every year. Haridwar is known as the place where Ganga emerges from the mountains and flows wide and mellow in the plains of North India. While Haridwar is a bigger city, Rishikesh has remained a charming small town near the mountains and amidst greenery.

Overview. Haridwar can get really hot in summers, while Rishikesh, only slightly better. Winter and monsoons are a good time to here, but pilgrims flock to these places through the year. The Ganga flows narrow and small in Rishikesh, but the riverbed is wide in Haridwar. A dam upstream of Haridwar stores most of the water from the river and releases it through a network of channels. The famous aarti at Har-ki-Pauri is conducted on the bank of one of these channels.

Orientation. Both Haridwar and Rishikesh are less then an hour away from Dehradun, and are separated from each other by a half hour drive. It takes nearly eight hours to reach to either of the towns from Delhi. Both towns are the banks of the Ganges. While Rishikesh is at the edge of a hilly and forest terrain, Haridwar is on the plains, at the end of Shivalik ranges. The towns are separated by thick forest that is part of Rajaji National Park.

Frequent buses connect Delhi with Rishikesh and Haridwar. You can commute between the two towns by buses, or more frequent shared rickshaws called Vikram.

Things to do and places to see

Aarti in Haridwar. The aarti at the ghats of Har-ki-Pauri is the most famous activity in Haridwar, attended by thousands of pilgrims every evening. The location is sacred, and is said to be the place where Lord Vishnu meditated.

Ganga Aarti Haridwar


Mansa Devi Temple.
Located on a hill just outside the town, this is another place popular with pilgrims. There is a cable car to take you up the temple.

Lakshman Jhula. Laxman Jhula is a small village just outside Rishikesh, named after a hanging bridge of the same name. You can get excellent views of the Ganga emerging from the mountains when you are standing on the bridge.

Laxman Jhula

Ganga upstream Rishikesh

Ashrams. There are several Ashrams in Rishikesh where you can learn Yoga and meditation. Shivananda Ashram, Swargashram, Gita Bhavan and Parmarth Niketan are the most well known. Rishikesh is also known as the Yoga Capital of the World, as people come here from every corner of the world to learn Yoga.

Trayambakeshwar Temple. Just next to Laxman Jhula Bridge is this 13-story temple, a well-known landmark in Rishikesh.

White Water Rafting. Rafting on the Ganga is one of the most popular activities in Rishikesh. Many agencies conduct half-day to multi-day rafting sessions that can be booked in Rishikesh on arrival. The multi-day sessions often involve staying in the tents along the Ganga, and would be memorable experience.

Tents on the bank of Ganga

Nilkanth Mahadev Temple. This is a temple in the hills adjoining Rishikesh. This can be a full day's walk from Rishikesh, and is a popular destination for pilgrims.

Ganga Aarti. Aarti happens in the premise of Parmarth Niketan Ashram every evening. It begins at 6pm in front of the Ashram, on the bank of Ganga, and lasts for an hour. This is a quieter affair compared to aarti in Haridwar.

Ganga Aarti Haridwar

Rajaji National Park. You can visit Chilla village between Rishikesh and Haridwar, which has the office of Rajaji National Park. You can go on jungle safaris from Chilla. The National Park hosts tigers and elephants, among many many more mammals and birs.

Accommodation.

There is plenty of accommodation available in both the towns. Most of the times in the year, except on special days and festivals, it should not be difficult to walk in and find a place to stay.

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Posted on: Thursday , Jun 05, 2008 At 11:24 AM

Srinagar Airport Will Go International Next Month


Sringar Airport is currently being upgraded, and will be open for international flights from July.

This was informed in a press conference by Sitaram Yechuri, who is heading a 14-member parliamentary delegation currently on a week-long visit to the State. The news report says:

“Airports Authority of India officials have told me that the Srinagar airport, which is being upgraded to international status, will be ready by the end of July,” he said adding “after that the way for international flights coming to Kashmir will be open.”

The delegation headed by Yechuri is in Kashmir to work on development of tourism in the state. See more about it on Greater Kashmir.

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Posted on: Thursday , Jun 05, 2008 At 10:51 AM

Walks In India Series On India Travel Blog


India Travel Blog, another blog where I write more personal travel related content, is featuring a series of articles for traveller on Walks in India.

Unlike in many countries, walks and walking tours are not common or popular in India. This series intends to promote the idea of walks that can enable travellers to see and experience the places better by getting closer. The series explores short and easy walking trails across India, with which a traveller can witness history, culture, life, landscapes and heritage of the country.

The series will have fifteen walking trails, published through the month of June, containing detailed description of the walk along with maps, difficulty level, best season to do the walk, time of the day and distance of the trail.

The places include, but are not limited to metros and cities, and are chosen from every corner of the country. The walk intends to cover a lot of variety, such as walking the sand dunes in a village in Rajasthan, experiencing devotion on the bank of Ganga, seeing history come alive in the remains of ancient structures and short walks in snow amidst views of the snowy peaks.

Walks are a great way to see places, get up close to people and interact, observe carefully and see things better. They help the traveller take time and feel involved with the scenery instead of buzzing past and seeing things as a window-view. This series will assist you to find some great walks from all along the country and feel its pulse.

Walks published so far.

1. Introduction
2. Old Delhi
3. Rishikesh
4. Varanasi

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Posted on: Thursday , Jun 05, 2008 At 10:44 AM

Fuel Prices, Travel, Environment, Etc


It may be a co-incidence that the government decided to increase fuel prices to fall in line with World Environment Day. But it gives a message - fuel is most likely getting scarcer, and we need to do all that we can to cut down consumption.


Rising prices will eventually make people look at alternative means for commuting and travelling. The pricier the fuel tends to get, it is only natural that people with less disposable income will again fall back on public transport and other economic modes of travel(walking, cycling,..). But a better way to go with it is to pro-actively embrace low fuel consumption strategy.

The benefits of adopting to less consumption is many, but it needs to happen in a larger scale. The foremost important consequence to reduced fuel consumption is cleaner environment in the cities and improved health. Reduced consumption will also help keep the prices from shooting further north, which in turn prevents the prices of other everyday necessities from increasing.

More often than not, a little discipline and extra effort not to burn too much fuel, and using friendlier alternatives can make considerable differences. It could be simple things like leaving your car at home when going to neighbourhood grocery store, or car pooling or using public transport to get to work. These changes can also help in getting rid of sedentary lifestyle and make improvements in health and fitness. It is not really necessary to give tips about how to save oil, as most of us already know very well about it. But what is needed is some will to go ahead. Let's join together to reduce fuel consumption and move to healthier means of commuting, which will help build a better world in the long run.

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