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Author Topic: Kerala Backwaters, India  (Read 2643 times)
shadowblade
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« on: October 15, 2012, 01:39:12 PM »
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Just wondering, has anyone here done any landscape photography in the Kerala backwaters near Alleppey, India?

If so, what's your take on the best way to go about it - on a rented houseboat, or on land? You obviously get more stability on land, with no movement, but are also restricted as to where you can take the photo (since you can't walk on water).

Opinions? I am planning to go in December.
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Tim Gray
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« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2012, 09:37:19 AM »
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Unrelated to photography, Tony Bourdain did a No Reservations episode there that got me to to add Kerala to my list.  I'd be interested in hearing your experience when your are back.  In any event Kerala's claim to fame are the houseboats.  If/when I go it will be by boat.  Seems much more civilized than any other option and I'm not sure how much of the waterways are accessible by car.
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Rajan Parrikar
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« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2012, 11:53:37 AM »
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Just wondering, has anyone here done any landscape photography in the Kerala backwaters near Alleppey, India?

If so, what's your take on the best way to go about it - on a rented houseboat, or on land? You obviously get more stability on land, with no movement, but are also restricted as to where you can take the photo (since you can't walk on water).

Opinions? I am planning to go in December.

Yes, I have done it.  I rented a boat from the hotel I was staying at.  This afforded maximum flexibility.  You could observe life (and shoot) from the boat and could dock whenever you felt like it if you wanted to get on land and explore there.  Use the 70-200 IS from the boat and you'll do fine.

See this -

http://www.parrikar.com/blog/2009/06/25/gods-own-country/


Added: This was the place I stayed at -

http://www.punnamada.com

It was the monsoon season and I had the whole place virtually to myself.
« Last Edit: October 16, 2012, 12:00:33 PM by Rajan Parrikar » Logged

shadowblade
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« Reply #3 on: October 16, 2012, 05:50:09 PM »
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Yes, I have done it.  I rented a boat from the hotel I was staying at.  This afforded maximum flexibility.  You could observe life (and shoot) from the boat and could dock whenever you felt like it if you wanted to get on land and explore there.  Use the 70-200 IS from the boat and you'll do fine.

See this -

http://www.parrikar.com/blog/2009/06/25/gods-own-country/


Added: This was the place I stayed at -

http://www.punnamada.com

It was the monsoon season and I had the whole place virtually to myself.


What about for landscape photography around dusk and dawn, where you might need to use long exposures or set up a tripod? It's a bit hard to do long exposures from a rocking boat.

Would you suggest that I stay overnight on the boat, or on land? Would you say one day is enough, or two?
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Rajan Parrikar
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« Reply #4 on: October 16, 2012, 11:25:15 PM »
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What about for landscape photography around dusk and dawn, where you might need to use long exposures or set up a tripod? It's a bit hard to do long exposures from a rocking boat.

Would you suggest that I stay overnight on the boat, or on land? Would you say one day is enough, or two?

The dawn shot can be taken from the edge of the lake standing on the premises of the hotel I cited above (there are other points along the shore, too). I recommend you first take a boat ride to scout for your sunrise/sunset locales (take an iPad app like TPE). I personally don't like to be cooped up in a house boat. The hotel rents out a regular boat with very friendly staff who serve snacks and freshly prepared food, and assist in all possible ways.
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shadowblade
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« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2012, 12:09:56 PM »
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The dawn shot can be taken from the edge of the lake standing on the premises of the hotel I cited above (there are other points along the shore, too). I recommend you first take a boat ride to scout for your sunrise/sunset locales (take an iPad app like TPE). I personally don't like to be cooped up in a house boat. The hotel rents out a regular boat with very friendly staff who serve snacks and freshly prepared food, and assist in all possible ways.

So, once I find a place I'd like to set up a tripod for a sunset/sunrise/blue hour shot, the boat can just take me back there, and I can get off pretty much anywhere to set up a tripod?

I notice the resort is on the shores of the lake - what is the access to the backwaters like? Walking distance, or do I have to take the boat?
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Rajan Parrikar
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« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2012, 12:20:29 PM »
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So, once I find a place I'd like to set up a tripod for a sunset/sunrise/blue hour shot, the boat can just take me back there, and I can get off pretty much anywhere to set up a tripod?

I notice the resort is on the shores of the lake - what is the access to the backwaters like? Walking distance, or do I have to take the boat?

The resort is on the shores of Lake Vembanad and you are already in the backwaters when you get there.  In maps.google.com type in these keywords: "Punnamada Resort, Alappuzha, Kerala, India."  (Alappuzha is actual Malayalee name of the anglicized Alleppey.)  To get to the most interesting parts you need to take a boat or a hand paddled canoe.  The boat will cover more ground (or rather, water) and help get you from point A to point B quicker.

Yes, once you have identified a spot, the boat will get you there.  Although I suspect you may find some compositions compelling from the vantage point of the boat itself with the water around you.
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shadowblade
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« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2012, 03:00:02 PM »
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The resort is on the shores of Lake Vembanad and you are already in the backwaters when you get there.  In maps.google.com type in these keywords: "Punnamada Resort, Alappuzha, Kerala, India."  (Alappuzha is actual Malayalee name of the anglicized Alleppey.)  To get to the most interesting parts you need to take a boat or a hand paddled canoe.  The boat will cover more ground (or rather, water) and help get you from point A to point B quicker.

Yes, once you have identified a spot, the boat will get you there.  Although I suspect you may find some compositions compelling from the vantage point of the boat itself with the water around you.


I suspected as much - taking a sharp landscape in twilight from a rocking boat will be a challenge, though! How deep is the water? Is it shallow enough to stand in, to plant a tall tripod on the riverbed? The boats look fairly shallow-draughted.

Also, when you were there, were the crew happy to take the boats out before sunrise, to be in position for better shots as the sun rises?

Thanks for all the tips, by the way - usually, when I'm shooting from a boat or ship, I'm shooting wildlife, or landscapes in good lighting (e.g. Antarctic icebergs). Shooting a twilight is something different entirely!
« Last Edit: October 17, 2012, 03:29:38 PM by shadowblade » Logged
Rajan Parrikar
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« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2012, 11:21:26 PM »
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I suspected as much - taking a sharp landscape in twilight from a rocking boat will be a challenge, though! How deep is the water? Is it shallow enough to stand in, to plant a tall tripod on the riverbed? The boats look fairly shallow-draughted.

Also, when you were there, were the crew happy to take the boats out before sunrise, to be in position for better shots as the sun rises?

Thanks for all the tips, by the way - usually, when I'm shooting from a boat or ship, I'm shooting wildlife, or landscapes in good lighting (e.g. Antarctic icebergs). Shooting a twilight is something different entirely!

Yes, the crew and the hotel management will be more than happy to help you in every way you want.

There may be some shallow areas of water but don't count on it.  I did one sunrise shoot from the hotel standing at the edge of the lake, and that same evening got a spectacular sunset but this time from the boat, handheld.  I wasn't expecting to see much of the sun because I was there during the monsoon.  Outside of June - Sept, you are almost guaranteed a sunrise & sunset barring a (rare) freak weather system moving in.
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shadowblade
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« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2012, 07:09:13 PM »
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Yes, the crew and the hotel management will be more than happy to help you in every way you want.

There may be some shallow areas of water but don't count on it.  I did one sunrise shoot from the hotel standing at the edge of the lake, and that same evening got a spectacular sunset but this time from the boat, handheld.  I wasn't expecting to see much of the sun because I was there during the monsoon.  Outside of June - Sept, you are almost guaranteed a sunrise & sunset barring a (rare) freak weather system moving in.

Booked!

Any recommendations on hiring a car and driver? I will be doing a 2000km circuit of South India, starting in Bangalore and finishing in Chennai, over 18 days in December.
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Sareesh Sudhakaran
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« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2012, 11:37:47 PM »
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Booked!

Any recommendations on hiring a car and driver? I will be doing a 2000km circuit of South India, starting in Bangalore and finishing in Chennai, over 18 days in December.

You can't get to anywhere decent without a boat in Allepey. But it is time consuming. There are thousands of boats and you'll need to scout for what you want or you'll waste a lot of time. There are all kinds of boats, and the smaller ones are cheaper but offer limited views (their bread and butter is romantic couples). The really big boats have air conditioned rooms, but are stable enough for photography and offer you a higher vantage point plus a 360 degree view. The routes are fixed and you might find yourself paying a lot more than you bargained for, but I guess that shouldn't surprise a person who has a lot of traveling under his/her belt.

I used a Toyota Innova from Bangalore to Kannur (north Kerala) on a 7 day trip and it cost me about Rs.70,000 or so. Budget for Rs. 12-20 per km, and a daily amount called 'Bata' (per diem) for the driver. They are used to spending nights in the car, and don't expect food or lodging. There are many operators in Bangalore, and the rate varies based on the type of car and whether or not you need air-conditioning.

These drivers are very knowledgable about tourist spots but think twice before you heed some of their recommendations. They get a cut out of every sale to you.

If you're driving through Kerala you'll find many beautiful opportunities for landscape. It'll make Allepey seem like a dump. Tourism has made it so, sorry to say. You should still visit, though.

By the way, your work is brilliant (at least the ones you share here). I'm excited to see what you'll come up with!

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Rajan Parrikar
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« Reply #11 on: October 21, 2012, 01:44:26 AM »
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Booked!

Any recommendations on hiring a car and driver? I will be doing a 2000km circuit of South India, starting in Bangalore and finishing in Chennai, over 18 days in December.

Write to Compass Tours (http://www.compasstours.com), describe your plan and requirements, and have them give you a quote.  I used their services for my 20-day expedition through Rajasthan in 2007, and they were excellent. (Note: I have had no other relationship with them, direct or indirect.)  I gave them a precise itinerary, specified the kind of hotels I wanted, and put down my specs for the car & driver.  They came back with all the bookings and a quote.  This is a high end agency and there will be a (in my opinion, not unreasonable) premium to pay, but it purchases peace of mind, comfort, and thwarts unpleasant surprises, all of which are important considerations in India (and while on a photography tour, you don't want to clutter your mental space with sundry annoyances).

Since you will be covering 2000 Kms, I recommend an air-conditioned Toyota Innova, similar to the minivan sold in the US as the Toyota Sienna.  Humidity in Kerala is 110% and the three seasons in Chennai are hot, hotter, and hell (the Dec season is 'hot').  Have the car temperature set at around 27 degrees centigrade.  I mean, the differential between the temp inside and outside should be such that you don't want lenses fogging up every time you step out.

Now for the most important part, regardless of whom you decide to go with: the specs for a driver.

0) A safe driver, who follows the basic road rules. (Who am I kidding?  There are no road rules in India.)  No rash/fast driving.  He must follow your instructions at all times.  
1) Ask for a non-drinker.  Preferably a non-smoker as well.  Absolutely no smoking inside the car. (I'm assuming you are like me in this respect; if not, disregard.)
2) Memo to driver: thou shalt not play any music in the car.  Unless you wish to be tortured for 2000 Kms with tinselly post-2000 Bollywood trash-tunes suitable for lower life forms.  You should make this explicit to both the agency as well as the driver.
3) Spell out that he will have to be available for pre-sunrise drives.

Additional tips:
The Indian driver will size you up in about 5 secs.  That means you have 4 secs to establish the power relationship.  Be firm without being unkind (but in a way that only the former is visible :-). Once you do that your mental happiness for the rest of the trip is assured.  As mentioned in another post, don't ask him for any recommendation (whether it is a restaurant or shopping or...).  The only time you will take his advice is when you want a suitable spot to empty your bladder.  Do your homework in advance, before you set out.  Ask at your hotel etc.  Drivers often lead you to establishments where they get a commission.  You can tell him that you will give a handsome tip at the end of the trip provided he follows your instructions and delivers service (assuming that you indeed want to give him a handsome tip).

During my Rajasthan trip, Compass Tours provided accommodation/meals to the driver.  I let him stay at his assigned accommodations but almost always invited him to have meals with me.  I also drove up the entire Kerala coast beginning from Kanyakumari (India's southernmost tip, now in the state of Tamil Nadu).  I didn't use Compass here (and almost regretted it).  I simply looked up the web and cold-called a car agency.  The first driver they assigned turned out to be a surly disaster.  After a day I called them back and asked for a replacement.  This second guy was a gem.  But these car agencies don't give them any accommodation and expect them to spend the night in the car itself.  Since I don't like this, I put him up on my own nickel.  You will be traversing 3 states (which means at least 3 language zones), so it would be good to have a driver familiar with at least 2 of the area's languages.

Since you hadn't asked I hadn't volunteered: northern Kerala (Calicut and above) is far more desirable than the bottom half.  At least it was.  Indians are screwing up the environment at a record pace so things might be different now from what they were 5 years ago.  No matter, you will have rich photo opportunities in Alleppey and surrounds.

Finally, a piece of gratuitous advice I give to Westerner friends traveling to India:
- Thou shalt not point your lens at an indigent on the street and think you have made a masterful statement of the human condition.
- Thou shalt not come back and tell us of the 'joy' and 'dignity' you saw on the faces of the Indian poor. That is the job of Julia Roberts and the celebrity tribe.

Have a wonderful time, and may the Force be with you.











« Last Edit: October 21, 2012, 02:33:51 AM by Rajan Parrikar » Logged

shadowblade
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« Reply #12 on: October 21, 2012, 06:26:38 AM »
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Write to Compass Tours (http://www.compasstours.com), describe your plan and requirements, and have them give you a quote.  I used their services for my 20-day expedition through Rajasthan in 2007, and they were excellent. (Note: I have had no other relationship with them, direct or indirect.)  I gave them a precise itinerary, specified the kind of hotels I wanted, and put down my specs for the car & driver.  They came back with all the bookings and a quote.  This is a high end agency and there will be a (in my opinion, not unreasonable) premium to pay, but it purchases peace of mind, comfort, and thwarts unpleasant surprises, all of which are important considerations in India (and while on a photography tour, you don't want to clutter your mental space with sundry annoyances).

I've already booked my accommodation, and will be attending a wedding in Bangalore prior to the trip - will they do a booking for car and driver only? I've seen a lot of quotes for Rs 10 per kilometre or so, but with a minimum of 250km per day hired (i.e. 4500km for an 18-day trip). Since I will only be going around 2000km, this is almost a waste...

Quote
Since you will be covering 2000 Kms, I recommend an air-conditioned Toyota Innova, similar to the minivan sold in the US as the Toyota Sienna.  Humidity in Kerala is 110% and the three seasons in Chennai are hot, hotter, and hell (the Dec season is 'hot').  Have the car temperature set at around 27 degrees centigrade.  I mean, the differential between the temp inside and outside should be such that you don't want lenses fogging up every time you step out.

I will also be travelling to the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia at the end of December, so this is the 'cool' part of my trip!

Quote
Now for the most important part, regardless of whom you decide to go with: the specs for a driver.

0) A safe driver, who follows the basic road rules. (Who am I kidding?  There are no road rules in India.)  No rash/fast driving.  He must follow your instructions at all times.  
1) Ask for a non-drinker.  Preferably a non-smoker as well.  Absolutely no smoking inside the car. (I'm assuming you are like me in this respect; if not, disregard.)
2) Memo to driver: thou shalt not play any music in the car.  Unless you wish to be tortured for 2000 Kms with tinselly post-2000 Bollywood trash-tunes suitable for lower life forms.  You should make this explicit to both the agency as well as the driver.
3) Spell out that he will have to be available for pre-sunrise drives.

Was your driver in Rajasthan available for pre-sunrise and post-sunset drives, or did you use local taxis/rickshaws for these trips?

Last time I was in India (early 2011, in the north) I just bought a motorcycle, rode it around and sold it at the end, but that's not really feasible this time, due to the possibility of torrential rain from the northeast monsoon in Tamil Nadu.

Quote
You will be traversing 3 states (which means at least 3 language zones), so it would be good to have a driver familiar with at least 2 of the area's languages.

I will be travelling with a friend who speaks Tamil, so she has that covered. So that just leaves Kannada and Malayalam...

Quote
Since you hadn't asked I hadn't volunteered: northern Kerala (Calicut and above) is far more desirable than the bottom half.  At least it was.  Indians are screwing up the environment at a record pace so things might be different now from what they were 5 years ago.  No matter, you will have rich photo opportunities in Alleppey and surrounds.

My itinerary is as follows:

Bangalore
Mysore - Mysore Palace, Srirangapatnam
Wayanad - Banasurasagar, Pookode lake
Kozhikode - backwaters (staying at the Chaliyar Kadavu resort)
Kochi - Fort Kochi, fishing nets, Cherai Beach
Alapphuza - Backwaters
Kovalam - Beach
Kanyakumari - Vivekananda Rock
Thoothukudi - Salt pans
Rameswaram - Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple, Dhanushkodi Point, Pamban bridge
Madurai - Meenakshi Amman temple
Thanjavur - Brahadhiswara Temple
Pondicherry - beach, Osudu Lake
Chennai

Some of these seem like tourist dumps, especially Kovalam and Madurai (like Agra, Shimla and Nainital in north India), but are must-sees just for the photographic opportunities.

Any suggestions in these places?

Quote
Finally, a piece of gratuitous advice I give to Westerner friends traveling to India:
- Thou shalt not point your lens at an indigent on the street and think you have made a masterful statement of the human condition.
- Thou shalt not come back and tell us of the 'joy' and 'dignity' you saw on the faces of the Indian poor. That is the job of Julia Roberts and the celebrity tribe.

Have a wonderful time, and may the Force be with you.

I'm not exactly a westerner (mixed heritage and Indian partner) and don't do street photography, so I doubt I'll run into that problem!












[/quote]
« Last Edit: October 21, 2012, 10:44:31 AM by shadowblade » Logged
Rajan Parrikar
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« Reply #13 on: October 21, 2012, 12:54:24 PM »
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I've already booked my accommodation, and will be attending a wedding in Bangalore prior to the trip - will they do a booking for car and driver only? I've seen a lot of quotes for Rs 10 per kilometre or so, but with a minimum of 250km per day hired (i.e. 4500km for an 18-day trip). Since I will only be going around 2000km, this is almost a waste...

I was recommending Compass for the car only.  You could ask them, most likely they'll do it.  At the very least, they'll give you leads on a car agency/driver.

Quote
Was your driver in Rajasthan available for pre-sunrise and post-sunset drives, or did you use local taxis/rickshaws for these trips?

He was hired for the entire trip, and yes, he was available for pre-sunrise, post-sunset and everything in between.  Being from Goa, I cannot do without an afternoon siesta, so we had opportunities for rest, too.  No, I did not use taxis or rickshaws.  With all the camera equipment I take along, that would be tempting fate.

Quote
Last time I was in India (early 2011, in the north) I just bought a motorcycle, rode it around and sold it at the end, but that's not really feasible this time, due to the possibility of torrential rain from the northeast monsoon in Tamil Nadu.

A motorcycle would work for the Kerala and Karnataka leg.  My problem with it would be your safety.


Quote
My itinerary is as follows:

Bangalore
Mysore - Mysore Palace, Srirangapatnam
Wayanad - Banasurasagar, Pookode lake
Kozhikode - backwaters (staying at the Chaliyar Kadavu resort)
Kochi - Fort Kochi, fishing nets, Cherai Beach
Alapphuza - Backwaters
Kovalam - Beach
Kanyakumari - Vivekananda Rock
Thoothukudi - Salt pans
Rameswaram - Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple, Dhanushkodi Point, Pamban bridge
Madurai - Meenakshi Amman temple
Thanjavur - Brahadhiswara Temple
Pondicherry - beach, Osudu Lake
Chennai

Some of these seem like tourist dumps, especially Kovalam and Madurai (like Agra, Shimla and Nainital in north India), but are must-sees just for the photographic opportunities.

Most of urban and semi-urban India is a dump now, touristed or not.  Even the great temples of TN, once the crucibles of great art & culture, today fail to inspire with their degraded ambience.  I wish I hadn't gone to Kanyakumari (sometimes it is better to live with comfortable fantasies than to face the ugly reality).

I see that you are going to Calicut (Kozhikode).  Take a walk around town (there's a pleasant beach), there are some of the earliest mosques built in the unique Kerala style.  Drive along the coast north of here, it is very charming.  Vasco da Gama first dropped anchor in India near Calicut in 1498, and there's a spot marking it (if you are interested in history).

In Cochin, take a walk in 'Jewtown' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochin_Jews), and if you want to have a memorable meal, head over to Brunton Boatyard (http://www.cghearth.com/brunton-boatyard).  The hotel also arranges a boat ride before sunset that affords photo opportunities of the Chinese fishing nets.  By the way, Vasco da Gama was initially buried in Cochin, and later taken to Portugal.


Quote
I'm not exactly a westerner (mixed heritage and Indian partner) and don't do street photography, so I doubt I'll run into that problem!

By Westerner I meant someone who was born & grew up in the West (regardless of ethnicity).
« Last Edit: October 21, 2012, 01:10:44 PM by Rajan Parrikar » Logged

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