A Ride To Bhutan, The Land of The Thunder Dragon

Thimphu City, Bhutan

Bhutan, this was my first ever 1000+kms ride and let me tell you guys that I was; oh! So excited but at the same time I was feeling a little bit nervous as I was going to ride into a different country with a whole new culture and not to forget the new rules and laws that we were going to experience. So, I’m going to take you guys along this incredible journey into the Land of the Thunder Dragon and experience this amazing country with me. Let’s start with the first and foremost thing to do before starting the trip and that is:

Planning the route and the Budget:-

 So, as we are from Shillong, Meghalaya, India the border (Jaigaon) is approximately 450 kilometres, easy right? Well considering that the route we planned on taking is a National Highway so the roads are pretty good, coupled with some occasional bad patches and bumpy roads, it is doable and we still had energy when we reached Phuentsholing (Indo-Bhutan border) which means that it was still pretty decent and not too difficult or exhausting. For navigation, we relied solely on Google Maps which was pretty much accurate and we did not have any problems of any sort apart from me misreading the maps and nearly made a wrong turn but we will get to that later. From Shillong, we took the NH6 highway and then we took the road which led towards Rangia-Nalbari-Barpeta Road-Bongaigaon-Gossaigaon-Nimti Domohani-Hasimara-Jaigaon and then into Bhutan. The road we choose was super straight with long stretches which meant that we could comfortably cruise around 100-110 kilometres per hour (kmph). Cruising at this speed has its toll, it meant lower mileage figures. However, there were many fuel stations on the highway, fuel was not an issue. The route took us through two other States before reaching Bhutan namely; Assam and West Bengal, and on this route we crossed some beautiful Tea Estates and those beautiful and enchanting sceneries. Overall, it was beautiful, efficient and a shorter route for us.

The route had been planned which brings us to the DATE. We planned on leaving on 17th February and to return back on 22th February 2020 but in reality we had some issues, we had to come back early on the 20th of February 2020.

Next on the agenda is the Budget. For deciding the budget, we should always remember that it is always a good idea to carry an extra amount of cash in hand and we should encourage this as on the road we never really know what lies ahead and hence we must always be prepared just in case of an emergency. I know we should be optimistic and we should not think of any negative thoughts, but one must be practical as we are on the road and we would not know what the journey ahead has in mind for us and just to be on the safe side it is better to take some precautions.

To start calculating the budget, we started off with the fuel expenses. For cruising around 80kmph my bike (Royal Enfield Himalayan) was returning a mileage of around 30kmpl. So, for 1,241 kms. I would require around 42 litres of petrol which would come around Rs. 3,150. To be on the safe side, I rounded the fuel money to Rs. 4,000 and I was glad I did this as we had been cruising around 100+kmph, which has reduced my mileage terribly and ended up paying around Rs. 3,700 for fuel.  After we had the fuel expenses sorted out, we now focused on the lodging and the budget for food. As there were three of us, we paid Rs. 1500 for a room per night which meant Rs. 500 per night individually which is pretty decent and on top of that, the rooms were very nice and presentable, they also had a very clean bathroom as well. So, Rs. 500 per night for three nights came up to Rs. 1500 individually, but as I mentioned earlier I rounded up the figure to around Rs. 2500 for three nights so that I could be on the safe side. And I had carried around Rs. 3000 for food, Rs. 4000 for shopping, sightseeing, etc, and 5000 for emergency purposes. So I took with me a total of Rs. 18500 and just to be clear I did not spend all the Rs. 18500, I still had a decent amount of money on my way back.

Documents and Permits:

Being an Indian citizen, these were the only documents required for a permit for ourselves:

  • A valid passport or
  • A Voter Identity card issued by the Electoral Commission of India (EPIC Card)

And if you are travelling by your own vehicle you are supposed to carry:

  • The Registration Certificate of your vehicle
  • A valid Pollution Certificate
  • Up to Date Insurance papers
  • A valid Driving License
  • And if the vehicle is not in your name, a letter to prove that the owner has permitted you to use the vehicle is required.

Just after entering the Bhutan Gate at Phuentsholing, the immigration office is only 2 minutes away and here we can get our permits done and even exchange our currency with their Bhutanese Ngultrum. Our Indian currency is functional in Bhutan, one need not exchange unless it is a Rs. 2000 note, keep in mind that the Rupees 2000 note is not accepted in Bhutan. One more thing, at the immigrationg office at Phuentsholing the permits we got are for traveling only towards Thimphu and Paro, we can get the special permits to travel to other places from Thimphu though.

How to pack for Bhutan:

Since Bhutan is at a higher altitude, it is definitely colder there. Though at Phuentsholing it is still very warm as it is nearer to the sea level, once we start ascending towards Thimphu we could feel the cold. This is how I packed for Bhutan:

Clothes:-

  • One Riding Jacket
  • One warm jacket
  • 2 Flannel shirts and 1 t-shirt
  • 2 Pairs of jeans and 1 jogger pant
  • A pair of boots and sneakers
  • Rain Gear

Spares and Tools:-

  • Extra Clutch Cable
  • Some Fuses
  • Copper Wire (in case we don’t have spare fuses)
  • Black Tape
  • Screwdrivers, Spanners, Puncture kit, etc.
  • 2 Tyre Tubes
  • Foot Pump

Extras:-

  • First Aid Kit
  • Home-made Packed Lunch
  • Water
  • Energy Drink

A little frugal tip for bikers; it is a lot easier to pack your own food from home. It saved us both time and money. It becomes hassle free as we don’t have to waste any time on stopping at the highway dhabas or restaurants. Make sure to pack a meal that is easy to eat on the get go. A good example of such food includes roti, sandwiches, bananas and hard boiled eggs. Pack some energy bars as well, and do not forget to hydrate! Use disposable packing material as it becomes lighter. Try using eco- friendly disposable and remember to use dustbins or put it in your saddlebags or backpacks (or whatever) in case no dustbins are around. Do not Litter!

After all this was sorted out, I had my bike checked and serviced and now the only thing left was the Ride itself. Since this was the first official ride of the year, we were all waiting impatiently for the 17th. I was so excited that I couldn’t even sleep properly on the night before the ride. For the Trip, we took a Yamaha FZ, a KTM RC200 and a Royal Enfield Himalayan. Our rides were very different from one another but it depends on the rider, right? The machines performed beautifully without any major problems on the road and this were such an amazing ride that I did not want it to end.

Day 1, 17th February 2020:

This was the day we three had been waiting for eagerly (or impatiently, might I add), I was so excited that the previous night I could not even sleep properly. I was continuously checking the time and waited restlessly for the clock to strike 3:30 which was my cue to leave the house and rendezvous to the meeting point with the others. We had planned to leave Shillong at 4 am sharp. I got up around 2:45, brushed my teeth, had breakfast, got ready, and checked my gear. After everything was perfect, I tied my luggage on the bike then started it up and left it at idle for around 5 minutes while I was lubricating the chain, after which I checked the lights for any fuses and finally the inspection was done. I then, put on my riding jacket and my knee guards, said a little prayer, hugged and said my goodbyes to my family and as soon as it was 3:30 I headed towards the meeting point.

As there was no electricity during 3am-4am, I was riding in total darkness and trust me, it was pretty scary passing through the tree covered roads and not even a single car in sight, it was a good thing I had installed a couple of auxiliary LED fog lamps on the Himalayan, they were a big help on the unlit and dark roads.

 At around 3:45 I reached the meeting point, my partner’s bike was already out and he had been warming up his engine. I do not have a lot of experience tying the bungee cords so I asked him to check and tighten my luggage again, it turns out I’m a total newbie at bungee cords. After 15 minutes or so, the RC had arrived and he had a small problem on tying his bungee cords as well, since there were no places to tighten and fasten his luggage. So in the end, he had to carry his rucksack on his back and I literally salute to him as with the committed riding position of this track tool, the heavy and huge rucksack on his back with around 449 kilometres to ride, he still had lots of energy at the end of the destination and he didn’t even look tired when we had reached our destination.

 At around 4:15, we left and headed towards Assam, as it was still dark out and the roads were super curvy, we could not maintain a higher speed and had to keep a pace of around 55-80 kmph for 55 kilometres. Knowing this was going to be the ride of a lifetime for me, I was enjoying the fresh and cool spring air hitting my face, the nice and tight bends that the roads were rewarding us as we knew that we would not get to feel those thrilling curvy roads for the next 450+ kms.  The Himalayan was handling those curvy roads like a champ.

When we crossed Nongpoh (a district in Meghalaya) we encountered thick fog which made visibility very poor, thanks to the help of my fog lamps we were able to maintain a speed of at least 40-50kmph. The fog cleared up pretty quickly and before we knew it we were in Assam and had reached Lokhara at around 5: 20, we had to stop there for a bit because I had been too happy with the bottle of energy drink and unfortunately my bladder was full and I had to empty it. So after this very relieving 3 minute stop we were back on the road again.

 After a few kilometres ahead I hadn’t been reading my map properly and I nearly took a detour towards Goalpara which would have added around 50+ kms to our tour. So, the RC and I stopped, recalibrated my map, and we rode again only to stop around 220 kms ahead of Shillong, where I had to refuel as I had hit the reserve on my fuel tank, by the time I had hit reserve, the sun was already out and it was 6:30 on the clock. So without wasting too much time, we refuelled our bikes, ate some food we had packed from home at the petrol pump and lubricated our chains again, I hit the restroom for the second time and remembered not to get too happy on the juice.

Our Stop at the roadside of the Gossaigaon Highway

From here onwards there is nothing much to describe, the highways were super straight with lots of those annoying speed bumps (which really got on my nerves). At around 8:40am give or take a couple of minutes, we reached Gossaigaon. We were chilling on the side of the highway for a while, in order to cool our machines down as we freshened up, we had clicked some photos and then back to riding again. For the next 100 kms nothing interesting happened until we reached the beautiful Tea Estates which sadly, we did not get the time to admire nature’s beauty as we were on a scheduled time. After some time, we crossed into West Bengal and I have to say that the roads were beautiful; we started seeing some greenery again even though it was very hot, it was very pleasant riding through the big open roads. We had to be very careful as the cars and buses overtook very irresponsibly and I think I felt my heart in my throat a couple of times. Sooner than we know it, we were already at Jaigaon and crossing into Bhutan at around 11:15am.

At the big and beautiful Bhutan gate, the law enforcement team were monitoring our body temperature and they were also checking signs for the deadly COVID-19. After confirming that we weren’t infected, they let us in and we went directly to the immigration office where we got our permits done. It didn’t take very long, also at the same time we got the Tourist SIM cards as our Indian cards could not detect any signal there.

After getting our stuff sorted out, we went to our hotel The White House hotel in Jaigaon which was only 400 meters or so from Phuentsholing. As soon as I reached the room, I unpacked my luggage, took a shower, got ready and soon after the three of us went in and explored Phuentsholing, we were checking out some shops and other places of the like, we also had some tasty momo’s (dumplings) at this one shop which was a bit farther and on the opposite of the immigration office, the momo’s were delicious!

Here is a picture of the Tasty Dumplings.

 The homemade chutney they gave complimented splendidly with the tasty dumplings, you guys should definitely drop by and taste the dumplings there if you ever do visit the City. We also visited the Zangto Pelri Lhakhang, which is a beautiful temple with a nice and peaceful park right in the centre of town. After taking a stroll at the park and had enough sightseeing for the day, we went back to the hotel for a good night’s rest as we had a ride waiting for us the next day, a ride to Thimphu, the Capital of Bhutan which was aprox. 147 kms from Phuentsholing, it would take 4 hours or less riding through those elegant and curvy mountain roads with breathtaking views and scenery.

Zangto Pelri Lhakhang, Phuentsholing
Zangto Pelri Lhakhang, Front view
Bhutan Gate, Phuentsholing.

Day 2, 18th February 2020:

So on the morning of the 18th of February, I woke up quite early as we had some packing to do and also ordered some breakfast. In order to enter Bhutan a guide with his/her own vehicle is mandatory, and before we left Shillong we had already booked a guide, so this had made it easier and more convenient for us as everything had been sorted out before hand and all that’s left was to load up our luggage and put it in the back of the guide’s car and head out towards Thimphu. I just kept a tank bag on my bike that day, as I had stored my wallet, papers and my water bottle inside the tank bag. I knew that it was going to get colder as we ascend towards Thimphu, I zipped up the thermal liner on my DSG riding jacket. The jacket was perfect in these conditions as I could not feel the cold one bit and it was breathable as well which meant that I did not feel any hint of discomfort on the whole ride, it is very light too which is a huge plus point as the weight of a heavy jacket would cause fatigue on a long ride.

After loading up the luggage, I put on my helmet, knee guards and my riding jacket and went outside where our guide was explaining the traffic rules and signals and he also mentioned that no matter what we should always go below the speed limit which was 60kmph (if I’m not mistaken). I had faced some problems with the cone set of my Royal Enfield Himalayan, though it had gotten very loose when we reached Jaigaon the day before, I had searched for a mechanic and luckily there was one right next to our hotel and I got the cone set tightened. After doing the final inspection on our bikes, we were on the move.

The guide led us all the way through to the first checkpoint and just after this, he let us go out in front so we could ride freely and experience the amazing Bhutan roads for ourselves, though he was right behind us and would catch up in an instant when there were checkpoints or treacherous roads ahead. The roads were wonderful; they were curvy and had beautiful mountain scenery. We had passed through some small towns, I also noticed that the people put on their traditional attire when they went to work or something of the like and I thought that it was nice to see people embracing their own culture. We also spotted a beautiful sort of a monument on the road and we had to stop and take a photo, though sadly I do not remember what it is called.

The mysterious monument at Gedu

On our way to Thimphu, we witnessed a massive traffic jam and I wondered how in the world was it possible for a traffic jam to occur at such a place, the guide was in front of us and he got out of the car and told us to follow him, so we went with him. When we moved just a little bit further, we saw that there was a landslide and that the officials were clearing out debris from the road so that we will be able to pass through, and in a few minutes they cleared most of the debris which made it possible for us to ride again.

The Landslide at Taktakoti Bridge

By now we were all hungry, so the guide took us to a nice restaurant by the highway which is called D2K restaurant. The place has a good parking spot, it was clean and the service was good and efficient too. I tried the sikkam paa which is a local dish of the Bhutanese people. The sikkam is basically pork which is dried in the cold. The pork is sliced into thin pieces and it was cooked with some chillies and tasty veggies, it was served along with rice, veg. currry, dal and curd. The curd was refreshing after a heavy meal and blended well with the food. The pork was awesome and I loved it very much, I wish I was great enough of a chef to recreate that same dish at home. The restaurant also had a pretty nice view of the outside, the person running the place was also very nice, polite and friendly. We couldn’t spend too much time here as we had some more kilometres to cover.

The mouth watering Sikkam Paa dish a D2K Restaurant
Our stop at D2K
The view from the Restaurant

 We also came across the Tanalung Bridge which had just been opened recently on August 2018. The bridge is decorated stunningly with prayer flags hanging from the sides of the bridge which made it very appealing with the colourful nature of the flags where each hue signifies an element and the mantras printed on the flags are believed to be carried by the wind and to spread goodwill and positive energy wherever they go, so you can imagine how wonderful and warm it felt to be witnessing such a moment. After the stop on the bridge, we rode continuously until we reached Thimphu.

At the Tanalung Chu Bridge
The prayer flags really do add life to the bridge

 Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan; it is a small and a rather peaceful town.  Once we reached Thimphu, we went directly to the Buddha Point before it became dark. Buddha Point is where a gigantic statue of Buddha sits overlooking the city from the top of the mountain, it was flattering and everything there was either gold plated or painted golden but everything was literally covered in gold. When the rays of the sunset hit the statue, it was so mesmerising and it made me think that the best time to visit the Buddha Point is during the sunset hours. We could also see the whole city of Thimphu from there, it was a peaceful place to sit and relax especially after a long ride.

Buddha Point, Thimphu
The view of Thimphu City from the Point

When the sun had set, we went back to the city and did a little sightseeing at the centre of town. There were shops, hotels, restaurants, bars etc., we explored the shops a little then came back to the centre where there was a clock, this was also a good place to sit and meet up with people and socialize and all that. While taking pictures, we realised that we did not have a group photo yet so we asked a passer-by to help us with the pictures to which she happily agreed and I also asked if she wanted to take a picture with me as it was only fair to do so as she did take wonderful pictures of us.

At the centre of town, Thimphu
The nice lady who helped us click our group photo
One with the team

 I still couldn’t digest the fact the cars there don’t really pull up their windows while parking, the helmets were kept on the bikes itself and nobody would steal or even touch them, the people there are very honest, polite and disciplined, they are very peaceful and this is why I love Bhutan and this was why I had such a fun and peaceful time there. Soon it was dark and we had to return back to our hotel which was at the Bhutan Silver Pine Resort, though we made a mistake at first we went in the Bhutan Silver Pine Boutique and we tried to check in there, luckily the receptionist was quick to help us. We made a mistake because they were both right next to each other and this time we went to right one, Thank God.

The owner of the Bhutan Silver Pine Resort was the coolest person ever, even though I had made a mistake with the rooms, booking a double bed instead of a triple bed room, he was quick to make adjustments and with no extra charges. The room was nice with a big bathroom and it also had a radiator to keep our rooms warm, BONUS! The parking was also safe and good DOUBLE BONUS! We soon ordered dinner, I took a shower, had my dinner and I went straight to bed. The beds were very comfortable and I had an amazing sleep that night. They also provided Wi-Fi and I was a very happy and comfortable person that day. As soon as I tucked myself in, I fell asleep. I would definitely recommend this resort to others as well.

 The next day we were going to Paro and trek the famous Tiger’s Nest or the Paro Taktsang as known by the locals.  

Day 3, 19th February 2020:

On this day, we started early as we were going to climb the famous Paro Taktsang, for me the Bhutan ride would not be complete if we had not trekked this mountain up to the spectacular monastery that hangs so elegantly on the side of the mountain. As soon as we woke up, we ate breakfast, got ready and packed our stuff. As soon as this was sorted out, we checked our bikes and lubricated our chain. The FZ had a low amount of engine oil left but it was still enough for us to reach India. After this was all done, our guide arrived at the resort and immediately started loading our bags and luggage in the vehicle, at the same time we checked out of the hotel and we were back to riding in no time.

 The road to Paro Ieft me speechless, it’s beauty was incomparable to any other roads that I have ridden so far. The roads were smooth and curvy and really good too, the view from the roads was amazing. I couldn’t help but sing the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver”, yeah it had a very nostalgic ring to it. Before we knew it we had already reached Paro.

At Paro the town is small and it had a classic appeal to it, there were loads of bars too. It is also home to the Paro Airport which is Bhutan’s sole international airport. Sadly, we didn’t get to explore that little town as time was not our friend. We kept on riding and we started to see the glorious mountain and I was excited! I could finally check something out of my bucket list and I was eager to get there and just start trekking already. But just a kilometre or so before reaching our destination, I got a flat tyre. I knew that this was going to jeopardize the trip to Tiger’s Nest and I was not at all thrilled, fortunately our guide was a very helpful and useful person, he just told me that I should leave my keys with him and he will get everything fixed for me and I was sighing out a sigh of relief as I would still be able to make the trek.

 We just rode our bikes a little bit farther and find a place to park, we eventually found a parking space in front of a shop and the keeper allowed us to park without a fuss. We bought some snacks and water from the shop and we were now ready to climb!

Our guide took us to the entrance from where they were selling souvenirs and walking sticks, I bought one stick as I knew I was going to need it on the descend on our way back. Without wasting too much time there, we reached the foot of the mountain where there were many horses grazing and we even saw two horses fighting, from this place we could rent horses that would take us halfway up to the monastery, though they were quite expensive to rent. There were many dogs too which were very sweet and polite, I had also fed them some biscuits as I couldn’t eat alone as they were staring at me with their cute puppy dog eyes.

The cute Doggo at the mounatin

As we started our journey I soon found myself alone, I was going to wait for the others but I knew that if I stopped, I would lose my pace and get tired all too quickly, so I just took off my sweater, sipped a bit of water and continued on walking. I had met many nice fellow trekkers along the way and we greeted each with the occasional “hello” or a just a simple wave. After walking for quite some time, I arrived at the cafeteria. The cafeteria is a landmark which marks that we have reached halfway and as I knew that I still had some climbing to do, I did not stop there; instead I just went on climbing. As I was nearing the viewpoint, the climb wasn’t steep anymore it was just a plain path with lots of trees and nice views.

At the cafeteria, halfway to the nest

In a while I had reached the viewpoint and the monastery looked very beautiful, it’s nothing like I had seen before. I was actually proud of myself that I had finally seen the monastery in person and not through magazines or blogs or any other source anymore and I was actually there witnessing this amazing piece of art. I just clicked some pictures, ate some snacks and chilled out there for a while and headed back down.

Tiger’s Nest as seen from the viewpoint

On the way down, I met this awesome Nepali person whom I had the privilege of striking a conversation. It turns out he was also a rider and on top of that he also owned a Himalayan and that he runs a touring/travelling agency back in Nepal. He told the stories of his ride towards the many beautiful places of Nepal. He had also given me his contact details and told that if I ever planned a tour to Nepal that I should hit him up. I had met so many people at the mountain and they were all very friendly and interesting. The moment I had descended and reached the parking lot where the guide was supposed to pick us up, I gave him a call letting him know that we had descended and soon after I started buying some souvenirs, there were too many souvenirs to pick and I got confused, I ended up buying a LOT of souvenirs though I never regretted the choice.

After all the shopping, we met up with the guide and he gave me the good news that my bike had been repaired and that too at a reasonable rate to which I am very thankful for. He took us to one beautiful hotel to have our lunch and soon after we were heading back towards Phuentsholing(Indo-Bhutan border).

The Hotel at Paro

We refuelled at Paro and headed directly towards Phuentsholing without any more stops as it was already late and the highway was quite treacherous with extremely low visibility, even my fog lamps were of a very little help. When we reached a certain point on the road, there stood a sign which warned us of low visibility ahead, as the fog was way too thick and most of the time I was just sticking very close to the guide’s car as I was not being able to see anything through the thick fog. It was also very dark and creepy unlike what we have experienced during the broad day light. The roads were also very narrow and overtaking the trucks was very risky and we have to do so cautiously at place where there were too many blind corners and we also have to do so quickly in order to lessen the risk of riding on the opposite side of the road.

Riding through those roads at night was an experience altogether, it was thrilling and fun, at times it was scary too but it wouldn’t have been a real tour if it was all fun and games right? We arrived at Phuentsholing around 8 or so and the moment we reached the hotel, I took a shower, ate dinner and went directly to bed. I was spent and very exhausted. That was the most memorable day throughout the ride as it had been a very different and an awesome experience in a just a day. It was also our last day in Bhutan as the next day we were on our way back. I was already missing Bhutan; the days spent here were so fun and peaceful, until next time.

Our Journey back Home:

The next day we were on our way back and nothing too interesting happened, we took a stop at all the tea estates and beautiful places as we had time to waste now since we were not chasing a deadline anymore. Though I nearly got side swiped by a lorry as soon as we entered India *shaking my head* India vibes.

When we stopped at the beautiful tea estates
As we were moving out from Bhutan towards India

The ride back was peaceful and we were munching miles at a rather slower pace than on our way to Bhutan, I also got better mileage as well. I have to confess that as I was leaving Bhutan and looking at the Big gate through my rear view mirrors my heart felt heavy because I knew that I was going to miss it and I was right I did miss it BIG TIME. I comforted myself by saying that all good things must come to an end in order to give an opportunity for other experiences that will be happening in my life. I felt more at peace on the ride back home than when I was in Bhutan, at least now I had crossed some wishes from my bucket and now I had more time to complete the other wishes.

In no time we were back to the curvy roads of Meghalaya and with this, our wonderful escapade had come to an end. See you guys until the next ride. Goodbye for now.

To Conclude:

My trip to Bhutan will always be cherished as it was my first real tour ever and it was this trip which also inspired me to write my first blog and I hope you guys like it. I also hope that I had inspired you guys to go ride to Bhutan too as it is an ideal location for riders all over the world, it is safe as well and don’t get me started all over again on those beautiful curvy roads. I give a huge thanks to my riding partners as this ride wouldn’t have been possible without them and also a special thanks to the guide who was a huge help and whom I consider a friend today, he is a good company and if I do plan any future visits to Bhutan, he would be the first guide I’d have in mind.

My ride to Bhutan had been an epic one and I had so much fun and the best part was that I was able to ride to Bhutan and nothing makes me happier than riding. As a rider I feel that I couldn’t have spent this money on anything better, as  a ride will always make me happy and I’m sure if you guys are also riders you would understand what I’m saying. I hope many more rides will come and I hope I will also be able to share my experience with you guys and also take you along for the ride.

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