Cycle China - The Magic and Majesty of Shangri La
South-West China - Yunnan Province - Cycling Tour
Trip Notes &bull Back to this tour's main page
|2||Fly to Zhongdian. Orientation of the old town. Afternoon warm up ride around Napa Lake.||Zhongdian||BD||37|
|3||Day Hike to Hot Springs||Zhongdian||BLD|
|4||Cycle from Zhongdian to Benzilan.||Benzilan||BLD||90|
|5||Cycle Benzilan to Bai Ma Snow Mountain.||Camp||BLD||40|
|6||Cycle Bai Ma Snow Mountain to Mei Li Snow Mountain.||Deqin||BLD||70|
|7||Free Day Mei Li Snow Mountain||Deqin||B|
|8||Cycle Mei Li Snow Mountain to Si Zhong||Si Zhong||BLD||83|
|9||Cycle Si Zhong to Kangpu||Kampu||BLD||80|
|10||Cycle from Kampu to Weixi||Weixi||BLD||70|
|11||Cycle from Weixi to Tachceng||Tacheng||BLD||77|
|12||Cycle from Tacheng to Da Mo Mu Shi Monastery||DaMoMu Shi||BLD||26|
|13||Cycle from Da Mo Mu Shi to JinJiang||Camp||BLD||81|
|14||Transfer to Lijiang. Free Afternoon.||Lijiang||BLD|
Day 1 – Kunming – 1900m
This is arrival day and you'll be met by your Bike Asia leader in the evening to go over the trip ahead. Kunming is a great place to explore with its wide boulevards and modern shopping centres giving way to back lanes and old wooden buildings. There are plenty of things to keep you busy if you arrive early. Check out the Tang Dynasty Pagodas or join the Buddhist pilgrims to the 1000 year old Yuan Tong Temple, the largest of its kind in Kunming. This temple is a great place to try Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. We will meet in the evening for the group meeting to go over the formalities of the trip before heading out to dinner to sample some of the local cuisine.
Day 2 – Zhongdian (Shangri La) – 3200m - Cycling 37km
After an early morning short flight we find ourselves in the old Tibetan town of Zhongdian, Gyalthang in Tibetan (recently renamed Shangri La), a major hub on the Tea Horse trading route into Tibet. The town still retains its Tibetan feel and you will have time to explore the Old Quarter with its old world charm or head out to Ganden Sumtseling Monastery (SongZaLin Si), South West China’s most important monastery. In the afternoon we’ll set up our bikes and head out to Napa Wetlands with its abundant birdlife for an acclimatization ride. In the evening we’ll indulge in a traditional Tibetan feast.
*Note – As Zhongdian is at an elevation of 3200m all the activities on days two and three are optional. It is not uncommon for people to feel the effects of altitude sickness (see Altitude Sickness below) on arrival at this elevation so we have allowed time in Zhongdian to acclimatize and rest for those that need to.
Day 3 - Zhongdian - Hiking 17 km
Today we head out for a hike to Tian Sheng Hot Springs. It’s a hilly hike at times, a great warm up for the cycling ahead, taking in the beautiful architecture of Tibetan homes, lush alpine forest, pasture land and diverse wildflowers. The hike ends in the spectacular hot springs at Tian Sheng Hot Springs with its natural amphitheatre and beautiful scenery - a great way to relax those weary legs! It’s a short transfer back to Zhongdian for some free time to explore before we meet for dinner to discuss our route beyond Zhongdian.
Day 4 – Benzilan – 1900m - Cycling 90 km
Today we head out of Zhongdian passing Napa Lake on our way to the Tibetan town, Benzilan, wedged in the Jinsha (Yangzi) River Valley. The ride starts with a nice 5 km climb to our first pass before we head down fast to the beautiful village of Nixi for a traditional local lunch. This village is famous for its distinctive handmade pottery and we’ll be able to witness its making in a local household. We head uphill to our second minor pass before hitting a 25km descent to the Yangzi River. The views are incredibly dramatic and the roads, whilst excellent, are an engineering wonder in themselves. Dotted among the deep ravines and precipitous cliffs are Tibetan villages irrigated with terraces and channels from snow melt and springs above. We follow the stunning Yangzi river valley along undulating roads to the picturesque town of Benzilan where we stay in a local guesthouse.
Day 5 – Bai Ma Snow Mountain – 3500m - Cycling 40 km
This is a big day! What goes down must come up! After our big descent the day before, we head up, up, up to our camp in alpine meadows on the shoulder of Bai Ma Snow Mountain. Part of the Parallel Rivers Unesco Protected Area we will see some of the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. As it’s such a huge ascent we’ve broken the climb into two days allowing time to enjoy this incredible area. On the way we’ll have time to visit Dongzhulin monastery built in 1667, and have an introduction into the mysteries of Tibetan Buddhism, before settling in for the night at our camp. We’ll be camping under the stars and as the weather in this area is notoriously fickle it is recommended that you bring along a sleeping bag with at least a 0 degree C rating.
Day 6 – Deqin – 3380m - Cycling 70km
An early morning wake up on the mountain and its back on the bikes and a climb up to our highest point at 4200m with spectacular views of Bai Ma Snow Mountain. After a short break we head 50 km downhill into Deqin county. The views are amazing but we cover ground quickly before arriving at our home-stay nestled on a ridge overlooking Meili Snow Mountain, or Kawakarpo in Tibetan, the region’s most holy mountain and an important Tibetan pilgrimage site.
Day 7 – Deqin – 3380m – Free Day
Today is a free day to relax and explore the beautiful countryside and to get up to see the famous sunrise over this spectacular mountain.
Day 8 – SiZhong – 2400m – Cycling 83km
Today is practically all downhill. Well, there are a few small climbs, but overall it’s an epic downhill run to the banks of the Mekong (Lancang River)! The scenery is indescribable with views of Meili Snow Mountains, fault line formations and the deeply incised Mekong valley changing rapidly with the altitude to greener farmland. Across a suspension bridge over the Mekong we stay the night in the century old Sizhong Catholic Church with its mix of eastern and western architecture and religious iconography. The legacy of the French missionaries remains in the many vineyards and red wine for which the area is famous. We’ll have the opportunity to witness an evening mass and a traditional meal with a glass or two of the local wine – a truly unique experience in China!
Day 9 - Kangpu – 2275m - Cycling 80km
On the bikes again and we tend downward toward the small village of Kangpu. Today sees us pass through several gorges and we witness the widening of the Mekong Valley. More villages cling to the mountainsides and rice becomes more prevalent. It’s not all easy downhill cycling though as we take a couple of side trips up into the little travelled to Lisu wooden village of Tongle and the Tibetan temple Kangpu Shouguo. These side-trips represent the fascinating mix of cultures and people that peacefully co-inhabit this region. Our stay in Kangpu is in a small guesthouse tonight and we’ll have a chance to mingle with the locals.
Day 10 - Weixi - Cycling 70km
Our next day’s cycling takes us away from the Mekong and into the county centre of Weixi. This is a hub for all the farmers in the area and is a vibrant bustling town – a stark contrast to the tiny villages we have encountered so far. The day is a general tending up through a beautiful rural wide valley. We’ll spend a night in a 3 star hotel and eat out on the street to soak up the atmosphere.
Day 11 - Tacheng - Cycling 77km
We start the day with a big climb to lunch through picturesque villages of Naxi and Lisu minority groups. After lunch we have yet another long descent to the town of Tacheng. We’ll arrive early in the afternoon with time enough to visit the Golden Haired Monkey (or Snub Nosed Monkey) reserve, one of China’s three most endangered species. This new preserve is attempting to keep these enchanting creatures off the brink of extinction so this represents a great opportunity to not only see these creatures but also to support the efforts of the workers in their endeavours. Our night is spent in a small hotel.
Day 12 – Da Mo Shu Shi Dzong - Cycling 26km
It’s a short ride in the morning as we continue down toward the Yangzi River once more. The scenery is again spectacular but set to become more so as we take a very steep climb up to Da Mo Shi Shi Dzong monastery. This is a little visited monastery, but a very important meditation retreat for Tibetan Buddhists, and the road is certainly a challenge. This monastery is perched on the side of a mountain and we must climb 1000m into the clouds to reach it (or put the feet up in the support vehicle!) We’ll stay in the lower monastery for the night but in the afternoon we’ll head up the hiking trail to the temple proper and visit some nearby Naxi temples and villages in the area. The setting is spectacular and tonight we’ll share a meal with the local monks.
Day 13 - Jinjiang - Cycling 81km
Our last day’s cycling takes us along the mighty Yangzi River. Cycling through numerous villages we’ll camp for the night in a strand of old growth forest by a natural spring in Jinjiang – a fitting end to our cycling odyssey. We'll feast and celebrate the completion of our ride with a beer or two!
Day 14 - Lijiang (Free Afternoon)
After transferring to the Old Naxi town of Lijiang, we’ll have free time to look around this bustling tourist town with its cobblestone streets and clear running canals. Our hotel is just outside Lijiang in the old Naxi village of ShuHe, the hipper alternative to the throngs in Lijiang, a great place to sip on a coffee, do some shopping or simply explore the old village and surrounds with the gorgeous Jade Dragon Snow Mountain as a backdrop. Our last night dinner tonight is alfresco and we’ll sample some Naxi specialties.
This is departure day and you are free to leave at any time.
Bike Asia Travel Style
We think cycling through a region for the first time with a group of like-minded people is a great way to travel in Asia. Our aim is to provide you with the opportunity to meet new people, learn about new cultures, and experience different landscapes and most all to have some fun. Cycling is a major part of our trips – they are cycle tours after all. We have designed them so that they are accessible to people with a reasonable level of fitness. Different trips will require varying degrees of physical ability. Each trip dossier has specific details on terrain, cycling conditions, distances covered each day and an altitude profile. All of our trips are fully supported, so should you want or need to take a rest, there will be a seat for you and a place to put your bike. Our trips are also designed to allow you the opportunities and time to appreciate the environment, scenery and culture around you, and to participate in any activities that may be on offer.
An integral part of travelling is to have a positive impact on the country that you are visiting. On this trip there are a number of things you can do to have a positive impact on the communities that we visit.
Dress: Parts of China are still quite conservative. In rural areas and temples overly revealing clothing is considered offensive. You should make an effort to dress more conservatively in these situations. Walking around a village in bike shorts is not appropriate so if you wish to cycle in just bike shorts you should have something with you, on the bike, to put on over the top (long loose shorts or a skirt/sarong). When visiting temples shorts are acceptable providing they cover the knee. Singlet tops are not acceptable in temples.
Phrase Book: A highly memorable part of your travels will be the local people you meet. In the tourist areas some people will speak English but away from these areas you should learn a few words of Chinese. We will teach you some of the basics but if you want to really interact we recommend bringing a phrase book.
Donations: Often when coming on trips overseas people like to bring items such as sweets, pens and books for children or old clothing for families. While this is a fantastic idea, if distributed in the wrong way it can actually create more problems. Giving away anything to local people can create an expectation that visiting foreigner equals free give-aways. In some communities in Asia this has created whole villages where the only interaction is the locals asking for things. If you would like to donate anything to the communities that we visit we suggest that you give the items to us and we will then pass them on to development organizations, schools or whole communities. In this way items are distributed to those really in need by those working in the communities.
Poverty: In China there is poverty which you may see. If you choose to give something to a beggar you must bear in mind the value of money in the country you are visiting. There are organizations which are working to alleviate this poverty and may be able to do more good with donations that you make. Your Tour Leader will be able to provide more information about this.
Support Organizations: In China there are a number of organizations that we hope you can support in one way or another. Your Bike Asia Leader will provide more information on these as you travel through China.
For more information about Bike Asia's commitment to ethical and sustainable travel practices, please read our Responsible Travel Policy.
There is a mix of accommodation styles on this trip. 7 nights are in standard hotels/guesthouses - twin share, private bathrooms, hot water, television, air-conditioning etc. 3 nights are in more basic style accommodation – shared washing and toilet facilities, and some have dormitory sleeping arrangements. 2 nights are camping and it is necessary to bring a sleeping bag that is four season or rated to at least 0 degree C. 2 nights are spent in a monastery and a church. We are staying in these places because, travelling by bike, we get to travel through some of the smaller, rural areas, and this means of course that we are limited in our choice of accommodation – sometimes we are staying in the ONLY guesthouse. Whilst not of a service standard that you may be accustomed to at home, we can safely say that these small, family-run places make up for that in location, views, atmosphere and friendly service. All the sleeping arrangements are for twin share so if you are a single traveler you will be paired up with someone of the same sex. This ensures that whether you are travelling solo or with friends, everyone is paying the same rate. We choose hotels (where possible) that are comfortable, centrally located places which are adequate in every way.
All transport listed is included in the trip price: the domestic flight from Kunming to Zhongdian and from Lijiang to Kunming, all support vehicles (one or two depending on the group size). You will need to pay for any transport taken during free time.
Transfers: Individual arrival airport-hotel transfers can be organised through us for a fee. Please indicate that you would like a transfer when you make your booking.
- 14 nights’ accommodation (7 nights in hotels, private bathrooms facilities etc, 3 nights in more basic guesthouses, 2 nights camping, one night Church accommodation, one night Monastery)
- All transport en route (whilst cycling) including the domestic flight tickets Kunming to Zhongdian
- Mountain Bike and all maintenance supplied
- Meals: Breakfasts (14), Lunch (11), Dinner (14)
- All water and snack food whilst cycling
- Bike Asia tour leader
- Local cycling guide, driver
- Support vehicle
- Entry tickets to Dongzhulin Monastery, Parallel Rivers National Park, Golden Monkey reserve, Lijiang Old Town.
Bikes are included in the trip cost. This is our commitment to our clients to help reduce the cost of their trip as transporting bicycles is becoming expensive. Our mountain bikes are entry-level standard. We keep them well-maintained and we travel with all necessary tools and a variety of spare parts. We use Hasa bikes with the following specifications: Hard tail (front suspension) with Shimano 24 speed gears, Shimano disc brakes, off road tyres, one bottle cage, ergonomic seat, in sizes 15", 17", 19" or 21". Please specify your bike size when booking. You may wish to bring your own pedals, cleats, saddle or handlebar extensions, as we can easily fit them to our bikes.
You are of course welcome to bring your own bike. Keep in mind though, that while we offer maintenance and spares for the bikes we provide, we can’t guarantee that we can cater to your particular bicycle’s needs so it would be best to bring your own parts and tools. If you are unsure we recommend that you speak to your local bike shop about what parts to bring.
To see the bikes we use go to our Bike Info page.
Because we travel with a support vehicle it is not necessary to carry many things when on the bike. You may like to carry a daypack, bum-bag or handlebar bag with personal belongings, camera, sunscreen etc., or you may prefer to leave a daypack in the support vehicle and carry only a camera & rain jacket (perhaps in a seat-post bag) when cycling. Keep in mind though that there may be delays in accessing the support vehicle so it is best to be prepared to carry the basics with you.
Food is a very important part of any travel experience. Most of the meals are included in the trip cost, with a few exceptions like free days. To see which meals are included, read the inclusions list or the itinerary. Vegetarians and vegans are well catered for and should you have any other dietary restrictions, you just need to inform us. Chinese breakfasts usually include one or more of the following; noodles soup, steamed buns, fried bread, fresh soy milk and green tea. Lunch we try to keep relatively simple, so it is usually vegetable fried rice or meat/vegetable noodles. Dinner is always banquet style with plates of meat, fish, vegetables, tofu and rice. The food is healthy, very fresh and very tasty, so don’t worry, we'll make sure you have more than enough fuel to get up those mountains!
You will need to bring money on the trip to pay any for the following; some meals, drinks, activities and transport in free time, departure tax, airline excess baggage, and of course shopping. We suggest you utilise a variety of methods for accessing money. There are:
- ATMs in Kunming, Zhongdian and Lijiang where you can access money using your Maestro, Cirrus, Visa and Mastercard.
- Banks to exchange major foreign currencies and Traveller’s Cheques.
- Almost no credit card facilities.
The amount you bring is going to depend on how much you plan to spend. To give you an indication of prices:
Beer would cost CNY 4 (local), 15 -30(bar)
Dinner at local restaurant CNY 10 - 30
Dinner at foreign restaurant CNY 25 - 50
The Chinese currency is the Chinese Yuan (CNY), also known as Renminbi (RMB). Exchange rates at the time of writing are;
1 AUD = 5.5 CNY
1 USD = 7.8 CNY
1 EUR = 10.3 CNY
1 GBP = 15.3 CNY
1 CAD = 6.8 CNY
1 NZD = 5.4 CNY
As there will be very few opportunities to spend money whilst cycling, most of your shopping will be likely to be done in Kunming, Lijiang and Dali.
We also recommend that you bring US $100 in emergency funds, to be used when circumstances beyond the control of Bike Asia necessitate a change in itinerary.
Obtaining your own travel insurance is required in order to participate on a Bike Asia tour. It will need to include a minimum coverage of medical expenses with emergency evacuation, personal liability and accident insurance. Your group leader will need to see a copy of your insurance at the group meeting on the first day.
Joining Point Instructions
You will need to arrive at the starting point hotel in time for the group meeting, which will be held at 6pm on the evening of day 1. A taxi from Kunming International Airport will take approx 15 minutes and cost around 30 CNY. All taxis should use the meter. As you exit the airport, follow the signs to the taxi rank. You should avoid any taxi touts who approach you. Print out this trip dossier so that you have the address in Chinese and a map to show the driver. Very few drivers will understand the name and address in English! The hotel is located in the centre of the city, next to the river, with twin-share rooms, private bathrooms, hot water and television and 24 hour reception. The hotel address is:
The Camellia Hotel, 96 East Dong Feng Road, Kunming, Yunnan, China. Postcode: 650041. Tel +86 (0871) 316 3000
There is a map included in the print version (PDF).
You will need to have a reasonably good level of fitness to participate in this trip. There are ten full days and one half day cycling in total, with most days cycling over 60km and some sections on unsealed roads. This trip involves a lot of long mountain climbing. The cycling is done at an altitude between 1600 – 4200 metres above sea level. It is a great idea to do at least some cycling in the month leading up to your tour. This is up to you but we highly recommend some training as it will alleviate saddle soreness and leg fatigue, and you may enjoy the tour more if you find the cycling easier.
The terrain is a mix of sealed surfaces, unsealed surfaces and off-road (75% sealed, 5% unsealed and 5% off road). The unsealed means cobblestones! Traffic is mostly quiet but with some busy sections. In China you need to be constantly alert for vehicles, potholes, animals, people... everything really! Much of the terrain is mountainous with climbs on most days.
In order to make the most of your holiday, the healthier you are the more you will enjoy it! For a list of vaccinations we recommend that you seek advice at a travel clinic at least six weeks prior to departure. Our group leader will have Senior’s Level first aid training and will travel with a first-aid kit, however it is also recommended that individual travellers have a basic first aid kit with any personal medical requirements. Our group leader is not authorised, for legal reasons, to administer any kind of drugs, including pain relief tablets, antibiotics etc so be sure to pack a supply of your favourite pain-killers. Pharmacy products vary in different countries and you may not be able to buy products that are widely available at home. Include the following: plasters, dressings, bandage, calamine lotion (a must for soothing sunburn), oral re-hydration treatment (in case of bouts of diarrhoea), insect repellent, insect sting relief, antiseptic cream and antiseptic wipes.
For more information on travel health, you can click on the links below:
Altitude: We recommend that for this trip you print out this document on Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and read it carefully before arrival. Should any passenger suffer from any serious symptoms of AMS and they are not improving with time (i.e. not acclimatising), then we may have to ask that passenger to leave the trip and return to a lower altitude. This decision would not been taken lightly but would obviously be in the interests of the passenger and his/her health & safety.
Travellers of all nationalities will need to obtain a Chinese visa, either through a travel agent or direct with a Chinese embassy or consulate. For the latest information, see your travel agent.
Luggage / Packing List (Guide Only)
We strongly advise against using a hard shell suitcase for this trip. China is not suitcase or wheelie-bag friendly. A soft backpack would be the most suitable, and the easiest to transfer in/out of the trucks in the morning and evening, up and down staircases and in and out of airports. Keep in mind when you are packing that often our local crew are lifting our bags in and out of the luggage truck, that several of the hotels we use do not have lifts, and that the luggage allowance on the domestic flight is 20kg. Therefore please try to pack as lightly as possible. Please check our climate charts to assess your clothing requirements, or contact us if you are unsure.
- Long trousers
- Warm jacket
- Woollen socks
- Sandals/light shoes
- Swimming costume
- Light rain coat
- Tampons (hard to get in China)
- Small towel
- First aid kit
- Mosquito Repellent
- Camera and film
- Contact solution
- Passport with 6 months validity and spare pages
- China Visa
- Passport photo
- Travel insurance details
- Flight tickets
- Money - travellers cheques / cash / credit card
- Guide/phrase book
- Money pouch
- Sleep sheet
- Medication (eg. cold tablets, headache tablets, sleeping tablets)
- Day pack: big enough for over-night essentials
- Alarm clock
- Plastic bags
- Pocket knife
- Optional daypack, bumbag or handlebar bag.
- Cycling gloves
- Water bottle/bladder
- 2 x Padded bike shorts with something to put on over the top when off the bike
- Your own seat, pedals, cleats (optional)
- Light wind-proof jacket for cycling
- Cycle shoes (with cleat attachment if you use them)
- Optional gel seat cover and or handlebar extensions
Pre/post trip accommodation
If you would like us to organise some extra nights accommodation either before or after the trip at our start or finish point hotel, just let us know when you book the trip.
One of the reasons that our trips run so well and are so much fun is the effort and energy put in by our local crew. On this trip, we will have a driver and local cycling guide, and with larger groups a bike mechanic. Their mix of professionalism, enthusiasm and sense of fun are infectious. We recognise that the wages in an economically developing country are vastly different from ours and if you are satisfied with the service then please show your appreciation with a tip. Your group leader will collect this at the end of the trip and organise a small thankyou presentation. As a guide only, we recommend you allocate USD 30. Tipping is NOT compulsory and it is meant to be a reward for good service.
Our cycling tour leader has the authority to change or cancel all or part of this trip if it is deemed necessary due to safety concerns. This decision would not be taken lightly, and where possible it would be made in consultation with our local crew, local operator and Bike Asia management. Your leader will be present on all included activities, staying at all the same hotels, guesthouses and of course cycling with you. During free time, should you choose to participate in any optional activities that are not part of our itinerary, please note that we cannot give any representations or guarantees about the safety of the activity, the standard of the operators running them or the equipment that they use.
In the group meeting on day 1, your tour leader will run a session on cycling safety. Whilst some travellers will have had years of touring experience, for others this might be their first cycling trip. We need to cater for a range of abilities and experience and it is in everyone’s interest to learn about the particulars of cycling in this region from someone who has already done it. It goes without saying that by running and participating in a cycling trip, both parties accept an inherent level of risk. However, we take the safety of our passengers very seriously and we ask that you cycle in a safe and responsible manner and that you look out for the well-being of your fellow travellers. Cycling helmets must be worn by all cyclists at all times whilst cycling.
Most national governments provide a regularly updated advice service on safety issues involved with international travel. We recommend that you check your government’s advice for their latest information before departure. The links for some major travel advisories and updates are listed below
We recommend the use of a neck wallet or money belt while travelling in the cities, for the safe keeping of your passport, money, credit cards and traveller's cheques. Utilise the hotel's safety boxes or safe where these are available.
In Kunming, Lijiang and Dali you will be able to access email, phone, fax and post offices. Outside these cities there will be little chance to email and the main communication will be phone. You should leave your family or friends the Bike Asia contact details. Our office staff will be able to get in touch with us in an emergency.
Bike Asia Tour Leader
Our leaders are passionate about Asia and cycling ... phew! They love what they do and take their job seriously. They will make every effort to ensure you have a safe, enjoyable trip with as much fun as possible. They bring many qualities and skills to this role; knowledge of group cycling, safety, management, and liasing between you and the local crew. In working for us, they have made a commitment to learning as much about the culture, language and customs of China as possible, and they are happy to share any of this knowledge with you. However, please keep in mind that they are not local and will not know everything.
We don't have many, but the ones we do have are important. We always abide by the laws of the country that we are travelling through. This means you are not to use any illegal drugs or use prostitutes. Any passenger who does so will be asked to leave the tour immediately.
After you have completed the trip, we want to know what you thought about it. This is important to us, as it is through your feedback that we monitor our trips and make improvements for the future. Log on to our website and click on the feedback link. It will take you a minimum of 3 minutes, or should you feel like writing in more detail, then a little longer. If you fill in the feedback form, we’ll give you an automatic 5% discount on any of our trips in any other region.
We are always looking for good photos of the regions which we travel through. If you have some that you would like to send us, we would love to have a look
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