These popular Awadhi dishes have a fascinating history

Digging into Lucknow’s culinary past…

Tripping India? Then deep diving into dozens of delectable dishes is inevitable and predestined, even mandatory! And how could it not be…considering that the rich and diverse cuisine of the subcontinent has always held pride of place as one of the most evolved in world gastronomy. Seek curries and spice and all things nice across the length and breadth of the country. But when it comes to delicate flavours, refined techniques and palate perfection…bookmark Awadhi cuisine.

Quick taste of history first. Decline of the Mughal empire in the early 18th-century sees Nawab (governor) Asaf-Ud-Daula seizing power and moving the capital from Faizabad to Lucknow. Drum roll for Renaissance. Prose, poetry, art, crafts, culture and cuisine flourish. Semi-royal head chefs with army-sized kitchens start fashioning cooking as an art form. Techniques of char-grilling, dum pukht (slow cooking over low flame), and balancing aromatic with fiery spices, develop. Intense culinary rivalry creates an exquisitely refined food culture. Bottom line: tempting takeaways for all times to come…including chaat, puri, kachori, jalebi, rabdi, lassi, kebabs, kormas, biryanis and flat breads. So, stand by for a sensory explosion of the epicurean kind…because we’re Lucknow bound. With my personal crackdown of the six most iconic, edible symbols of a city synonymous with etiquette, grace and elegance. Tummy rumbles guaranteed…

The delectable Galawati

Know the dish: Disc-shaped, small meat patties made by adding a rich paste of papaya, yoghurt and gram flour to minced meat and blending with delicate spices like black pepper, cardamom and star anise. Shallow-fried on a large cast-iron girdle heated by smouldering charcoal. No biting or chewing needed. Its melting-soft… true to its name, ‘galawati’. And that smoky aftertaste…divine!

Dig into the lineage: The original kebabs of Turkey have come a long way from when soldiers chargrilled barbecued meat chunks on sword skewers over open fires. Kebabs were introduced to India through Awadh with the first Persian Nawab, Sadat Ali Khan. They refined into their present form under Nawab Asad-ud-Daula,  when the “Renaissance of cuisine” encouraged royal chefs to innovate each other out of the game.

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Sample the legendary: The Galawati was first made for an ageing, toothless Nawab by a one-armed (tunday) chef Haji Murad Ali. The famed Tunday kebab shop in the old quarters of Aminabad is his legacy from the late 17th-century. Hordes still gather at its various outlets everyday, relishing the closely-guarded secret family recipe. 160 different spices, they say…whoa!

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The luscious Sheermal

Know the dish: A saffron-flavoured, sweet flatbread (‘sheer’ means milk and ‘maal’ means rich food). Makes a perfect complement to the delicate stews and kebabs of the region. No ordinary accompaniment to scoop up gravy or wrap kebabs, this. The deal is enjoy its chewiness separately and relish the soft sweetness for itself…alone. The ghee in the dough makes it re-heatable for breakfast, much like the parantha. Buy and hoard, if once is not enough.

Dig into the lineage: Another Persian import, scream the Sheermal’s foreign ingredients like crushed nuts, cardamon and saffron. Thankfully, no longer reserved for the upper echelons of society, as it used to be during the Awadh aristocracy days.


Sample the legendary: Bread it out with a journey down Sheermal Gali for the widest variety…basic to super-sized (Baqarkhani) to thinnest (Hazri Sheermal) to richest (Zafrani). Recommended pitstop: Ali Hussain Sheermal (oldest and best).

The delicate Biryani

Know the dish: Rice dish cooked in seasoned broth with vegetables or meat, much like pilaf, risotto, paella or jambalaya. Awadhi Biryani is a ‘pukki’ biryani, where meat and rice are cooked separately then layered in a copper vessel for the finish. Meat stock and slow cooking with spices for about two hours makes it moist, tender and delicately flavoured.


Dig into the lineage: Persian? Naturally! Biryani is derived from the word ‘birian’, which means ‘fried before cooking’. Its Indian origins can be traced to the 14th century, when Turco-Mongol conqueror, Taimur Lang landed in India. An elementary version of ‘biryani’ was already part of his army’s diet then. Another popular legend (from 300 years after), connects biryani to Shah Jahan’s queen Mumtaz Mahal, on whose orders a wholesome meal blending meat and rice was created for the the impoverished Mughal army.

Sample the legendary: Pay homage to the best biryani at Wahid at Aminabad. Noteworthy feature? Rice and spices showcasing meat in all its purity. Suggested delicacy: Chicken biryani with potli masala, a pouch of 55 masalas used to soften the smell of meat.

The heavenly Kulfi

Know the dish: Indian version of ice cream made with thickened milk, sugar, saffron and pistachios. Served on a stick or in slices in a plate.

Dig into the lineage: The name comes from a Persian word qulfi; meaning a covered cup. Can be traced back to 16th-century roots, when Mughals added pistachios, green cardamoms, saffron to an existing Indian condensed milk dessert (kheer). They packed it into individual metal cone cups and froze it in large ice containers using a slurry mixture of ice and salt for transporting from Himalayas through the desert to warmer parts of the empire.

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Sample the legendary: Prakash Ki Kulfi in Aminanad, just steps away from Tunday Kabab shop. Prakash Chandra Arora’s 1965 venture, now managed by his family, uses its own lusciousness formula…including milk boiled for three to four hours. Gorge on the iced delight doused in rose syrup, dug out straight from the ice bucket. With or without falooda (silky vermicelli noodles) topping.

The droolworthy Chaat

Know the dish: No Englsh translation available for this term that literally means ‘lick it up’! Covers an array of savoury spicy street foods to set your taste buds on fire. Unmissable chaat in Lucknow? Tokri chaat…fried grated potatoes in the shape of a basket, loaded with potato cakes, flour crackers, lentil fritters, pomegranate kernels, chickpeas, and sweetened yogurt topped with tamarind and green chilli chutneys, mango powder, rock salt, cumin, dried ginger, coriander, black pepper, red chilli, and salt. Matara…pan-fried patty of boiled, mashed, spiced white peas, served hot with lime, slivers of ginger, roasted cumin, rock salt and green coriander chutney. And Paani ke batashe…delicate, small, perfectly shaped dough balls stuffed with mashed potatoes, spicy tamarind water and sweet chutney. Don’t stop!

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Matara Chaat_Royal Cafe_Lucknow

Dig into the lineage: Chaat originated in the royal kitchen of the great emperor Shah Jahan, when he fell ill. The Shahi Hakim (emperor’s special doctor) advised him to strengthen immunity by consuming spicy and light food. It is believed that chaat was then introduced in the city to counter the effects of unpalatable river water. Great for the tongue, even better for the tummy!

Sample the legendary: Royal Cafe in Hazratganj has everything drool-worthy under one roof. Sights, aromas, flavours to whet any appetite. Don’t even consider giving this one a miss.

The all-time favorite Samosa

Know the dish: Fried pocket of soft potatoes, peas and green chillies. Eaten with much love all across the country with tea as an evening snack. Piping hot.

Dig into the lineage: The physical and phonetic resemblance to the Egyptian samsa is no coincidence…that’s the ancestry speaking. A name derived from the pyramids of Central Asia, these palm-sized triangles are hot sellers all over the East…and that’s where they crossed into India with the Mughals. 14th-century traveller, Ibn Battuta, refers to a royal delicacy in the court of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, called sambusak made with minced meat, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, and spices. It was in the state of Uttar Pradesh that the samosa finally morphed into its potato-pea vegetarian avatar. And made home in the hearts of India for eternity.

Sample the legendary: Samosa dreams come to life at Lucknow’s most famous tea corner, Sharma Tea Corner. Innovation rears its head here with unusual round- shaped samosas. Pair with bun maska (buns lathered with home-made white butter). And gulp down with strong, cardamom flavoured chai in a rustic-styled kullad (baked clay cup).

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Sharma Tea Stall_Lal Bagh_Lucknow_1

When you’re done for the day, consider the ‘foreign import’ influence common to each of these iconic Awadhi eats. Sculpted with local ingredients, moulded to local taste and served in local style. And stamped Indian. Quintessentially. And unquestionably.


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Digging into Lucknow’s culinary past #awadhi cuisine #lucknow #india #gastronomy #street food #culinary #foodie


How to celebrate art in these great European capitals

Art odyssey in Madrid and Berlin…

All great capitals have their art scenes well chalked out. You dial Paris for Louvre and Florence for the Uffizi Gallery. You go to London for Tate Modern and New York for the MET. But did you know that the capitals of Spain and Germany hold rank among cities with top museum landscapes? Boasting not one or two, but hundreds of museums for your art-craving soul. If you’re hard-pressed for time, this whirlwind download will set you back just by a day in each city. So add these iconic art-meccas to your dream list now!

Madrid has art in its veins

Spain has more than its share of legendary artists…Velázquez, Goya, Dalí, Miró and Picasso…all of the greats. If Barcelona is synonymous with Gaudi’s architecture, Madrid is the ‘go-to’ Spanish city for art. The country’s capital will have you yearning for more art than you can digest.

Trace the Golden Triangle of Art: Take a journey through Spain’s artistic past. Have your fill of the three world-class arts institutions conveniently located within a stone’s throw of each other in the Golden Triangle of Art in the city.

Root for the notables: You’re no superhuman…don’t even think that you can cover all the galleries studded with more than 3,000 canvases at the 200-year old Prado. Map it out and get selective with these timeless canvasses by superstar painters: Hieronymus Bosch’s surreal ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, Albrecht Dürer’s Self Portrait and Diego Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’. Spare extra time for Spain’s most prolific artist Goya who stands apart with his two equally entrancing genres…the court sponsored pieces and those about everyday Spaniards. His ‘Majas’ may leave you speechless. As will El Greco’s modernistic ‘Christ in the Garden of Olives’.

Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’
Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’
El Greco’s ‘Christ in the Garden of Olives

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza offers an extraordinary private collection of eclectic masterpieces by Italian, Dutch, German and Russian masters. Some of the most striking? Ghirlandaio’s ‘Giovanna Tornabuoni portrait’, Canaletto’s ‘San Marco Square’ and Grimshaw’s ‘Shipping on the Clyde’.

Canaletto’s ‘San Marco Square’

Reina Sofia is literally devoted to Salvador Dali’s surrealist stage. His highly visual and symbolic artwork will have you recall a quote from his book, ‘My secret life’: “There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad”. Also mull over Guernica, Picasso’s most renowned work, and one of the top five paintings in the world. Its unusual depiction of the horror of bombing of Guernica in 1937, narrates the intensity of Picasso’s anti-war feelings.

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Salvador Dali self portrait
Berlin has art in its air

The Wall falls and Berlin opens its doors to all things global. Breaks free at last from a dark, depressing and scary world, when one had to conform or be killed. Morphs into one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the world…flaunting a multi-faceted identity and free-spirited climate. Imagine…the city was once the seat of a man hellbent on wiping out world heritage. Hitler had branded most art as degenerate and anti-Nazi…including works of great artists like Pablo Picasso, Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh and ordered thousands others to be banned and plundered. That didn’t exactly pan out how he wanted! Because today, Berlin is an art capital like no other city is…a magnet for crazy, creative minds.

Hit up the Museum Mile: Practically, the entire day can be devoted to the Museum Island of Berlin, which stretches from Spree River to the Kupfergraben. This UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site is home to five of Berlin’s most important museums built between 1824 and 1930 and houses collections spanning 6000 years of artistic endeavour. Its one of the richest art museum landscapes in the world…so you’re forgiven if you get greedy.

Root for the notables: Start with the fabulous Neues Museum of Egyptian antiquities…admiring the statues, busts, wall friezes, hieroglyphics, tombs, mummies, jewellery and wall carvings. The famous Nefertiti bust, with its one empty eye socket will make you relive portions of Michelle Moran’s book on the famous queen’s life.

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The Pergamon Museum, dedicated to art, religion and history of ancient civilisations of mysterious lands like Greece, Egypt, Babylon, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Arabia is the most impressive of all. The amazing life-size model of ancient Pergamon city (one of the three cities where Christianity was adopted in 1st AD) with the Dionosys temple, a huge altar where they sacrificed animals, frieze on base all over showing war of gods over demons rekindles your interest to travel to forgotten lands. Huge reconstructed gates of Pergamon, the recreated of the Pergamon Altar, and the two-storey Roman Gate of Miletus stand out, literally. Another stunner is the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, with its blue mosaic, engraved animal figures, yellow, white and aqua borders…perfect colour combinations, immaculate design, amazing symmetry. Tucked away upstairs is the Islamic Art collection, a treasure trove of classical antiquities and Islamic architecture from the Mongol, Ottoman, Byzantine, Arabic periods, including conquests all the way right up to Spain. Hours fly by…

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Time permitting, continue on with selected sections of the Old National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie) displaying excellent German art and French Impressionist pieces. Make a trip to Old Museum (Altes Museum) housing ancient Greek and Roman artefacts and the Bode Museum, with of the world’s largest numismatic collections. At the entrance of the Altes Museum, stop by the 21.7 meters circumference of giant Suppenschüssel (Berlin Soup Bowl) and peep over the rim of the world’s largest bowl made of a single piece of granite.

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Altes Museum_Berlin_1

So what will it be for you? Madrid’s Art Triangle or Berlin’s Museum Mile? I say, grab both.


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Art odyssey in Madrid's Golden Triangle of Art and Berlin's Museum Mile #berlin #madrid #artlovers #museums #prado #museum mile

Just how enchanting is the historic quarter of Brussels?

Belgium’s capital old town is enchanting…

Its second language is French. A river called Senne flows through. The older part of the city is graced with classic Haussmann-style architecture. An unmistakable French influence is in the air. You’re having a good feeling about Brussels. And you haven’t even set foot into the historic quarter yet!

Acclimatisation in the city

Start slow with Place Brouckere. The Ansbach monument, a granite obelisk with the gilt bronze figure of St Michael over a fountain base, is possibly the sole reminder of the square’s glorious past. Glitzy hub for evening entertainment to the flashy neon-lit wonderland of the 20th century to tragic decline in 1960s and 70s…that’s when middle classes abandoned the city centre for more modern suburbs. A few striking Flemish façades here and there, including the multiplex UGC De Brouckère, which retains some glorious golden Art Deco bas-reliefs. Refurbishment plans are on…maybe glory days will return for De Brouckère.


Head for the only real institution that still remains. The opulent Hotel Metropole…its old-world decor and atmosphere draws hundreds of locals and tourists everyday. Make it your home for the next few days. Open for business since 1895, the 19th-century luxury property is a unique blend of ornate Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture…think sumptuous decor, marble walls, coffered ceiling, stained-glass back windows, glittering chandeliers. A magnificent conventionally-styled long reception desk, heavy brass keys, an art-deco original lift with sliding iron grill doors, and a colourful, Venetian Baroque room with restored furniture. The indulgent café and bar with sink-in expensive leather chairs would have to wait its turn. Brussels is calling.


A few steps from the hotel entrance on your right, turn into the arcade with a beautiful glazed roof and Baroque statues, leading to the Rue Neuve, the main shopping drag of Brussels. The shopping arcade is a 19th-century fad that endures: only three of the original ten survive today – the other two being Royal St Hubert Arcade and Bortier Arcade. Eye the handful of luxury shops, including an oyster bar, gourmet chocolatier Neuhaus, perfumeries, cutlery shops and a tobacco store decorated with charming caryatids and lavish curves. At Rue Neuve, the pedestrian-only high-fashion street, which witnesses daily footfalls of over 40,000, a few hours of retail indulgence is simply unavoidable.

First glimpse of the Grand Palace

The mood is set by the time you reach the Rue de Beurre (‘butter street’). Gourmande and chocolatiers are lined up where exclusive butter shops used to hold fort once. Almost suddenly, without preparation, you stumble onto the corner edge of a large, stunning square at the end of the narrow alley. The Grand Place, is surrounded on all sides with tall Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque facades of elaborately crafted guild houses. Time has turned back four centuries in a microsecond! Hold that corner position for a few seconds to gawp at Europe’s most perfectly preserved, most picturesque, most ornate, most theatrical medieval square. Then move into the centre for a 360 degree view of the ensemble. Finally, inch closer to each side for the close-ups. Each view a masterpiece.

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Monumental statement of the Town Hall

The entire southwest side is dominated by the Hotel de Ville, the Town Hall which still functions as a civic building. What a monumental, glorious Gothic statement of Brussels’s medieval prestige! Crane your neck across the 96-meter towering spire. It survives intact from the early 1400s, despite large-scale bombing by French emperor Louis XIV’s army. Details then. A massive wooden gateway studded with statues of prophets and priests. Hundreds of statues of nobles, saints and allegorical figures. Rows and rows of narrow windows, so perfectly aligned. And a 5-metre statue of Archangel Saint Michael, patron of Brussels at the very top. Had the architect really jumped to his death realising that the building was not centred?


History peeks through guild houses

Those are 17th-century guild houses lining the rest of the square. Ornate Italian Baroque shines through the neo-classical facades. A rich variety of shapes, forms and designs. No monumentality, just a simplicity and unity of design…like intricate lace work…ornamental gables, medieval banners, gold-filigreed rooftop sculptures, statues of patron saints. Rays of the sun peek from scanty clouds behind the Town Hall. Some buildings bathe in mellow shadows, while on others, gold glints sharply. An endearing timelessness…and a surprising harmony, despite the uneven heights and slight crookedness of the facades.

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Here’s a little secret. All original wooden structures on this cobblestone square have been superbly restored in stone, after having been razed to the ground by the French bombardment of 1695! The square’s history goes back to the medieval times when Brussels thrived as one of Europe’s main centres of industry and traders controlled politics and commerce. If the busts of 19 dukes on the pilasters of the House of the Dukes of Brabant could speak, they would tell stories of the famed stock exchange which was housed here.

A symbolic gold swan adorns the doorway of the former Butchers’ Guild, now converted into a refined restaurant La Maison du Cygne, where Karl Max and Frederic Engels met and voiced their progressive thoughts. There are nautical images over the Boatmens’ Guild House, medallions of Roman emperors on the Archers’ Guild House, and a bust of St. Barbara, the patroness of tailors, above the doorway of the Tailors guild house (now a deluxe lace store). Just for fun…try locating the Brewers’, Carpenters’ and Millers’ Guilds too.

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History peeks from every inch…how deep do you want to dive? Victor Hugo had taken refuge at the Painters’ Guild House, during his exile from France. For museum lovers, there’s the Musee de la Ville, once the residence of the ruling Spanish monarchs. Besides 16th-century paintings and tapestries, it holds over 650 tiny costumes of the famous Belgian icon, Manneken Pis. Interest piqued?

Cafes are lodged within opulent wood-beamed interiors of old guild houses; and guests sit at upper-floor windows affording some of the best views in Europe. These bistros have day-long service….coffee, croissants, waffles and cakes in mornings, fresh mussels and beer for lunch, and amazing seafood at night. Fancy chocolate shops like Neuhaus and Godiva compel chocoholics with gourmet offerings. Even the mandatory Starbucks does not stick out like a sore thumb…the atmosphere is too overpowering for anything to even stake a claim to equal prominence.

And the show-stopping moment

Think you had an ideal day? Then come back at night for a grand finale. The heritage buildings in the square are bathed in psychedelic coloured lights. Reds, purples, blues, greens and oranges dance off the dark cobbled floor. Crowds mill, many just standing around and taking pictures of the spectacle. Dinner under the stars here? Undeniably mandatory!

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Sitting at the outside terrace of El Greco, as you relish your delicious platter of gyro meat, chicken souvlaki, and soutzoukaki, imagine the Grand Place in August. Ablaze with hundreds of colours, fragrances and intricate design of the 75 meters long, 24 meters wide flower carpet of 600,0000 begonias from Ghent. That most-photographed Brussels vista has been a show-stopping tradition, ever since 1971. 


Its not August, but its even more magical, because you’re here, savouring Greek delicacies in one of the most famous squares in all Europe. Under the clear midnight blue sky, this will go down memory lane as the show-stopping moment in Brussels. I promise.



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Belgium’s capital old town is enchanting #brussels #grand place #medieval square #historic town #guild houses #historic quarter

This is what your day trip to Sintra Cascais should look like

Discovering the best of Sintra Cascais…

145 square kilometres of a UNESCO World Heritage Site brimming with natural wonders and historic treasures. Hidden sandy bays, rugged coastline, towering cliffs, thick forests and shimmering lakes. Fairy palaces, exotic architecture and paradise gardens. All within 30 km of Portugal’s capital city. Lisbon itinerary minus Sintra-Cascais Natural Park? No-can-do!

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This is what you can do in the historic centre of Munich

Munich, Germany’s secret capital city…

Skipping Bavaria while in Germany should actually be illegal! It is literally a crime…depriving yourself of the splendours you could encounter while travelling south by train to Munich. No exaggeration…that image of Germany will be burnt onto your memory wall forever. Nature flaunts its full glory through endlessly luscious grass-carpeted meadows and forests so thick, they close in upon the train tracks at some points. Tunnel after tunnel zip past, and you zigzag over the landscape crossing one hill after the other. Hypnotised, head turned towards the constant cinemascope, your eyes scan the landscape without a break, thirsty for more. Could the introduction to Germany’s secret capital city be any more enticing?

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Why you need to see this stone village in French Provence?

Provencal village of Les Baux-de-Provence…

Its the heart of the rustic Luberon valley of French Provence, 15 km from Arles and 25 km from Avignon. Purple lavender, green herbs and black truffle color the landscape. One of the million scenic roads leads to a rocky outcrop under a shocking blue sky. Where the postcard-pretty village of Les Baux-de-Provence is perched on a hilltop, elegantly dressed in shades of classic cream. Forget the etymology (its named the bauxite found there). This is one of ‘the most beautiful’ of 160 Provencal villages listed by the Plus Beaux Villages de France Association. See and believe!

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The most incredible sights in the historic heart of Istanbul

A walking tour in Sultanahmet, Istanbul…

Hypnotic first glimpse of a one-of-a-kind city uniting the ‘chalk-and-cheese’ divergent continents of Europe and Asia. Spectacular skyline of cascading grey-blue domes and pencil-thin minarets of nearly 3,000 mosques. And the electric blue of the rough Bosphorus waters speckled with gliding seagulls. Born as Byzantium under Greek ruler Byzas (7th-century BC), renamed Constantinople by Roman Emperor Constantine for 1,100 years and reincarnated as seat of Ottoman Sultans’ mighty Muslim empire for 400 years…the culture cauldron in Turkey’s star city has enriched multifold with each glorious era in history. Melting pot, indeed!

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