Centuries ago, a sage by the name of Gwalipa chose a small hill as a site to meditate; little did he know that the hill would later house a massive fort that would survive the test of time, whilst bearing witness to a city growing around it. Not surprisingly, this city is eponymously known today as Gwalior. Surprisingly though, Gwalior, inspite of its proximity to Agra and having many things to do, paradoxically remains off the regular traveller’s list. Where there is an age-old fort, other than the rich heritage and lots of places to visit, there also come age-old stories, myths and songs associated with the various dynasties that occupied the fort. This rich heritage of stories and myths is best embodied by Gwalior’s poets and bards across generations, the most notable of them being the famous Tansen, who is buried at Gwalior. And we too, hope to add to this ocean of art through our petite list of the top things to do at Gwalior.

 

Top things to do in Gwalior

 

1.     Discover the history of Gwalior through the Sound and Light Show at the Man Mandir Palace:

Man Mandir Palace Fort Gwalior
The Balcony from where the Maharaja used to observe the proceedings of the court

Towering above the areas of Lashkar, Morar and Gwalior that it once ruled, the Man Mandir Palace, the most visible icon of Gwalior, exemplifies the grandeur of Indian royalty. The pièce de résistance amongst the structures atop the Gwalior Fort, the Man Mandir Palace, was built by the Tomar king, Man Singh Tomar, starting from 1490. At its finest time, the palace was covered in gold, gilt and studded with precious blue and green stones and mirrors. A smorgasbord for the visual senses, its beauty can now only be talked of and imagined. Its history is intertwined with that of the fort and this history is best heard during the legendary Sound and Light Show held here every evening. Listen to the voice take you through the ages from the beginning, when the hill was merely a mound of rock to its modern-day avatar with the Scindia school and Doordarshan broadcast station.

Man Mandir Palace Interior Fort Gwalior
The pillars here have been modelled after various items of jewellery

The pleasures of royalty here included rooms cooled by fragrant breeze, an age-old private intercom system through the walls, a discotheque room with mirrors and lights for dancers, bedrooms for pursuit of pleasures of the flesh, bathrooms with hot and cold running water amongst others. The blue colours on the outer walls astonishingly exist, to this day, goes to show the quality of work put into this amazing structure built centuries ago.

Man Mandir Palace Sound Light Show Gwalior
A scene from the Sound and Light show

 

2.     Indulge in the culinary pleasures of Central Indian Cuisine on a food-walk:

While some travel bloggers would blithely urge you to stick to a few of the chosen favourites such as Bahadura Sweets, we recommend you also go to the ones that are flocked by locals instead of tourists. And NO, Gajak is not the only fantastic food available at Gwalior, it is not a staple here either; hope that tore down some Gwalior stereotypes. If you thought that a seasoning of chopped onions and coriander was limited to a few delicacies, you are in for a surprise, a good one at that too; most dishes of the cuisine here use this seasoning and to good effect. Those looking for a sit-down type of restaurant, must visit one of the ‘Kwality’ restaurants spread across the city for some good quality food. Our favourite here is the Panneer Malmal, a dish utilising the tomato to impart flavour to gravy of cottage cheese and Indian spices.

Hemu ka Cheela Gwalior Food
The smaller Cheela, being the first of the day, is offered to God

Our top picks here would be the Boondi Laddoo at Bahadura Sweets and Cheela at Hemu Ka Cheela. The 80-year Bahadura Sweets is the go-to place for those with a sweet tooth and for those without one, go here at the risk of developing one. No wonder this shop has its share of celebrity customers including an ex-Prime Minister of India. Hemu Ka Cheela may not have such a fanbase, but students looking for a nutritious snack definitely flock here. Go here sometime in the evening to enjoy the delicious lentil-based pancake, Cheela, a protein-filled snack.

Panchhiraj Petha Bhandar Gwalior Food
We helped ourselves to all available flavours of Petha at Panchhiraj Petha

Other noteworthy picks include the Petha at Panchhiraj Petha Bhandar, savouries and a variety of Sev at M M Namkeen Wale, Poha at Agarwal Poha Bhandar (Near Kajal Talkies). Personally, we felt that the Poha at Indore is unrivalled, and the Gwalior one fades before it in comparison, but this is good, nevertheless. If you visit here during winters, be prepared for a dose of sweetness as you savour the sesame-seed delicacy, Gajak. For a food trail through Gwalior, check out this interesting link by a seasoned foodie that really helped us plan our binge here.

Poha Agarwal Poha Bhandar Gwalior Food
The famous Agarwal Poha Bhandar from Zaika India Ka

3.     Stare at the gigantic chandeliers at the Jay Vilas Palace:

 

Chandeliers Jay Vilas Palace Gwalior
The Chandeliers are quintessential selfie objects

When the roof of the Jai Vilas Palace was built, the Scindian king had a dozen elephants climb upon and walk around the roof for days, to check its strength. When the structure was certified strong enough, he had 2 giant, specially-made Viennese chandeliers, each weighing 3.5 tonnes installed on the ceiling. Built in 1875 as a welcome attraction to the Prince of Wales, the massive Jay Vilas Palace is a cornucopia of European styles of architecture with Indian elements.

Red Chandeliers Jay Vilas Palace Gwalior
The red ones blend in with the theme of the room

The Scindian rulers were huge fans of luxurious items and art and it was but obvious that their palace be the epitome of their luxurious collectibles, much like the Chowmahalla Palace of Hyderabad was. Talking of collectibles, be sure to check out an entire collection of furniture designed specially for a queen of small stature, with mini dressing-tables, mirrors and even a small bed. One of the carpets in this section took 12 years to weave and is a spectacle to look at.

Train Jay Vilas Scindia Palace Gwalior
The silver train at the dining table

Of special mention is the silver train that is designed to carry salt, wine and condiments around a majestic dining table. Yes, it is still in running condition, but to see a live demonstration, you must show your royal credentials. An entire gallery has been dedicated to Palanquins and Chariots, giving an insight into the modes of transport a couple of hundred years back.

Jay Vilas Palace Exterior Gwalior
A wing of the Jai Vilas Palace

4.     Brush up on your history at the Gujari Mahal:

 

Gujari Mahal Museum Exterior Gwalior
The exterior of the Gujari Mahal is very similar to that of the Man Mandir Palace

With more than one museum to choose from, it may be difficult to decide which one to visit; the obvious solution is to visit them all. The state-sponsored Gujari Mahal should be the first on your list. This museum was originally built by Man Singh Tomar as a palace for his Gurjar queen, Mruganyani as part of the promise that he gave her. She had agreed to be his wife only if she could have a palace of her own, with access to water from her hometown. Hence the name of the palace is Gujari Mahal.

Gujari Mahal Museum Entrance Gwalior
Statues of two guardian lions at the entrance of Gujari Mahal

The museum is spread out over a huge area with temples, a playground and many chambers inside. The museum boasts of sculptures and a vast platform of excavated and preserved statues in varying stages of degradation.

 

5.     Help out at the community kitchen atop the Gwalior Fort:

Gurudwara Shri Data Bandi Chhor Fort Gwalior
Entrance of the Shri Data Bandi Chhod Gurudwara

When the Mughal emperor Jehangir rose to power, he sought to vanquish the most powerful leaders in his kingdom, lest one of them challenge his rule. One such powerful Sikh was Guru Hargobind. Under false pretences, Jehangir had him called to Delhi and imprisoned in the Assi Khambe Ki Baori in the Gwalior Fort. People expected that he would be tortured the same way his father was, but when the Sikh Guru cured Jehangir of an illness, Jehangir released him. The Guru very cleverly managed to secure the release of 52 kings as well. The day this happened is celebrated as Bandi Chhor Diwas by Sikhs and this Gurudwara, built in commemoration of this event is worth visiting on this day. The Langar or community kitchen here is a great spectacle of social engineering and comes alive everyday to serve the poor and rich alike by feeding them. Volunteer here if you wish to serve the community.

 

6.         Hike to the temples on the Gwalior Fort:

Sas Bahu Mandir Fort Gwalior Temple
The beautiful Sahastrabahu Mandir

While the Man Mandir Palace would clutch the award for the most majestic structure, the Sas Bahu Mandir would walk away with the most beautiful structure without a doubt. Sas Bahu, denoting the relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, is actually a corrupted version of the Sahastrabahu, used to address Lord Vishnu in his 1000-armed form. Alternately, the name could have cropped up when a second temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva was built here. Talking of 1000 arms, it seems like the probable number of arms required to craft this masterpiece in architecture.

Sas Bahu Mandir Fort Gwalior
The beautifully sculpted interiors of the Sahastrbahu Mandir

Each and every inch of the temple has been sculpted and it seems there is no pillar left that depicts a scene from the great epics or a narration from the Dashavathar. The roof is no exception either, with many layers of sculptures, each layer juxtaposed on the other. This structure had been desecrated with absolute philistinism by the Mughals who threw away the Murtis and plastered lime on the walls before converting it into a Madarassa. It took the British who discovered this place nearly 12 years to restore this temple to its present condition.

Teli Ka Mandir Oil Temple Fort Gwalior
The 100-foot tall Teli Ka Mandir

The other desecrated temple is the Teli Ka Mandir, this time not by the Mughals, but by the British army which turned this 30-metre tall temple into a soda factory. The temple is rather different than other temples of the region; it has been built in a Dravidian style, with a tall Gopuram and also the Nagara style, with decorative figurines on the outer walls. The name probably stems from the brahmans of Telangana who were brought here as priests, which probably explains the architectural style as well.

 

7.     Observe the architectural finesse displayed in building the Tansen Tomb:

 

Ghaus Tomb Tansen Gwalior
The tomb of Mohammed Ghaus

Hidden in one of the bylanes off the road when approaching Gwalior fort, you may probably miss this architectural gem and travel past it. But whatever difficulties you may face in reaching this place are definitely worth it. The complex containing the tombs of Mohammed Ghaus and Tansen is huge and contains many other smaller tombs.

Tansen Tomb Ghaus Window Gwalior
A dazzling pattern of symmetry exists on the windows of the Ghaus Tomb

The largest of the tombs is that of Mohammed Ghaus, the Sufi saint who assisted Babur in his conquest of the Gwalior Fort. The tomb is a good example of Mughal architecture with a dome in the centre, hexagonal minarets at the corners and windows replete with latticework. The patterns on each of the windows seem to be competing with each other in creating a dazzling effect when looked at from the inside verandahs. The slits present a screen-like effect and also cool the wind, which is a feature of Hindu architecture; a subtle reminder of the harmony enjoyed between both religions.

Tansen Tomb Ceiling Ghaus Gwalior
The ceiling of the Ghaus Tomb fares competes with the latticework of the windows

The musical genius Tansen lies buried nearby, in a separate tomb with the famous tamarind tree too nearby. It is said that Tansen chewed on the leaves of a tamarind tree and he proclaimed it to be the secret of his spectacular voice. Although it is forbidden to pluck leaves off this tree, you could always wait for the leaves to fall down. The Tansen tomb is comparatively smaller and at first glance, you may even mistake it for just another structure were it not for the board. Although Tansen passed away in Delhi, he was brought to his final resting place near his mentor, Ghaus.

Tansen Tomb Tamarind Tree Gwalior
The Tansen Tomb with the Tamarind Tree in the background

8.     Discover a hidden step-well atop the Gwalior fort:

Assi Khamba Baori Stepwell Fort Gwalior
The winding pathway to the bottom

Assi Khamba ki Baori is not your traditional open, rectangular or square step-well, but is nevertheless as meticulously constructed as the the traditional ones and draws huge crowds of tourists and historians. There are a lot many locals here too, who prefer to use the temple next to it as a place for their afternoon respite from the sun. They still are better than the ones who dive headfirst  into the well to impress tourists.

Assi Khamba Baori Sanctum Fort Gwalior
The Temple at Assi Khamba Baori

Assi Khamba ki Baori is named so because of the 80 pillars (Assi Khamba) that support the entire structure, from the top to the bottom. This and a few other sources of water such as the Suraj Kund, Noor Tal, Gangola Tal, Dhobi Tal and Rani Tal provided enough water to sustain 15,000 troops for months at a stretch, in case of an attack. Note that the region is a very arid region and such structures proved vital to the army. There is a covered pathway that winds down to the bottom of the well. It is closed now for obvious reasons.

Assi Khamba Baori Pillars Fort Gwalior
Ten of the eighty pillars accounted for

9.     Hum a tune under the shade of trees at Sarod Ghar:

Sarod Ghar Shade Interior Gwalior
This is the very tree under which the maestro sat

The Sarod maestro, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, is one of most celebrated legends of classical music worldwide. A recipient of numerous awards including the Padma Vibhushan and UNESCO award – International Music Forum (more info here), he hails from a long lineage of musicians, the Bangash lineage, which is responsible for the Senia Bangash School of Music. Sarod Ghar, the house that Amjad Ali Khan grew up in has been donated to a trust now which aims to preserve the house and also promote the heritage of Gwalior and East Indian styles of music including the Senia Bangash School of Music. The house contains musical instruments from various artists including the Sarods of his forefathers. This is a great place to go on a hot day to escape the heat and traffic that usually tends to form outside.

 

10.     Soak in some Vitamin D at the Vivasan Sun Temple:

Sun Temple Vivasan Surya Mandir Gwalior
The Vivasan Surya Mandir in all its glory

Built by the Birla family, as a replica of the Sun Temple at Konark, Vivasan Surya Mandir is a wonderful depiction of the usage of natural lighting to brighten up a place. It is built in the shape of a Chariot, the Vahan of the sun-god, Surya. The red sandstone gives it a fiery appearance, which again, is characteristic of the sun. The chariot is drawn by seven horses representing the seven days of the week and 24 wheels representing the number of fortnights in a year. It is said that as one delves into the deeper meaning of every statue, one realises the true nature of the cycle of life. If you are not visiting the original Konark Sun Temple any time soon, this is your best bet at seeing a grand Sun Temple. If you are visiting during summers, be advised that this is an open area and it would be best to get some protection from the sun.

 

11.     Marvel at the rock-cut Jain statues of Gopachal Parvat:

Jain Temples Gopachal Parvat Gwalior
Statue of Adinatha, the first Tirthankara

Along the way to the Urvahi Gate of the Gwalior fort, you will come across many rock-cut statues of the Jain Tirthankaras. Some of these statues that adorn the walls are older than the fort itself; they have been chiselled some time around the seventh century. The most imposing of the statues is that of the first Jain Tirthankara, Adinatha, represented by a bull, which has also been inscribed below the statue.

Jain Temples Statues Gopachal Parvat Gwalior

12.     Train-spot the elusive Narrow Gauge train of Gwalior Light Railway :

Narrow Gauge Train Track Light Railway Gwalior
Along the path of the Gwalior Light Railway

If you thought that 2-foot-wide tracks were a thing of the Victorian era, then you will be in a surprise when you visit Gwalior. The Gwalior-Sheopur Kalan Passenger starts chugging every morning from Gwalior along what is the World’s Longest Narrow Gauge Railway track. The locals here refer to it as the Floating Carpet because it appears to float on the tracks that zigzag through the roads of Gwalior till they head out into fields of yellow mustard and sunflower. Climbing on the roof of this 35 kilometre-an-hour train is an absolutely delightful experience, sometimes a necessary one as the train it tends to fill up pretty soon. Sadly though, this historical gem will soon be converted to make way for the safer and faster broad gauge tracks.

 

13.     Pass through the magnificent and scary ravines of Chambal:

Chambal Ravines Gwalior
Rugged and rocky they stand, along the banks of the Chambal

Clusters of Babool trees line the highway leading to Rajasthan, washed with dirt and wind, characteristic of a rocky surrounding. The once dacoit-infested ravines of the Chambal valley have been the backdrop of many of Bollywood’s movies. Once upon a time, passing through these ravines, filled with their Robin Hoodesque inhabitants was considered risky. Due to such a drought-ridden terrain favourable for guerilla warfare and the lack of better prospects such as farming, this region has endured a culture of banditry since ages. Thankfully, the dacoits of this region have now given up their ways and chosen more noble pursuits of life, although you may see still some locals sporting a locally-made gun. This region is now a perfect location for those wanting to get some alone-time. For those curious about the geological activity in this region that led to the formation of these ravines, read this.

 

14.     Plan a one-day trip to the offbeat places of Morena:

Gwalior, being close to Agra, is probably the best way to start your Pan-Madhya Pradesh trip, covering many places of Central India. Before you head off to Orchha (click here for Orchha travel guide) or Khajuraho (click here for Khajuraho travel guide) , the lesser recognised temples of Morena should definitely impress you.

Bateshwar Temples Morena Gwalior
A row of restored Bateshwar Temples

The first of them is Bateshwar, or rather the ruins of Bateshwar, built by the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty in the 5th-6th centuries, at least 300 years before. Not easily approachable, Bateshwar temple complex is a group of nearly 200 temples, most of them miniature versions. Fascinatingly, the temples have each been arranged in neat rows, one behind the other, on raised platforms. Until a couple of decades back, the temples lay in ruins and the locals were not interested in maintaining them. It took convincing by an official of the ASI to get the locals and even the bandits to put together back the stones to form the temples that they once were. This complex has been restored mostly and is still in the process of restoration and is definitely worth a visit.

Garhi Padhavali Morena Gwalior
Entrance to the Padhavali temple

The next Morena wonder is the Garhi Padhavali temple, located close to the Bateshwar complex. While Bateshwar is in ruins due to mostly natural causes, probably an earthquake, Padhavali and its ruins are a case of wanton philistine destruction by the Mughals. What was once a ninth century temple lies now in ruins, after being torn down and its Murtis disfigured by the Mughals. It was only during the 19th century that the temple was turned into a Garhi or ‘fortification’ by the Jat rulers of Gohad using the remains of the torn-down temple. The temple insides have a plethora of erotic sculptures as well as sculptures from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Indian epics.

Mitawali Chausat Yogini Morena Gwalior
Mitawali probably inspired the design of the Parliament building

The last Morena wonder on this little field-trip is Mitawali with its Chausat Yogini Temple. Mitawali is somewhat away from the other places and located on a hill. The temple is circular in shape with a circular inner sanctum housing the main deity. It is rumoured that this design inspired the designer of the parliament to shape the building in the same manner. Other places of interest here are Naresar, Ater Fort and Kherat among others.

A visit to Gwalior takes you through time as you travel back to the golden age of Indian civilisation starting from the Pratihara dynasty when the Zero was inscribed; through the period of turmoil as various dynasties fought to control the fort; to the period when the freedom fighters used Gwalior as a base for their fight against the British; to modern-day Gwalior. Throughout its history, during war or peace, Gwalior has managed to retain a position in arts and music which is remarkable. If planning a visit, try to plan your visit during the Tansen Music Festival, usually held during December, or during the Gwalior Fair held in January to experience Gwalior in all its vigour.

Gwalior Things to do Pinterest

Top things to do in Gwalior

16 thoughts on “Top things to do in Gwalior

  • June 7, 2018 at 11:59
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    This is such handy guide fr visiting gwalior
    Thank you for the sharing, you mentioned so many places which I haven’t heard before

    Reply
    • June 9, 2018 at 06:49
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      Thank you Mayuri. Please do share if you like it. 🙂

      Reply
  • September 15, 2018 at 20:27
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    Fantastic introduction to a place I’d never even heard of. So many beautiful buildings. Thank-you for that. I love learning about new and interesting places.

    Reply
  • September 16, 2018 at 03:53
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    Madhya Pradesh will feature on our future visit ti India! Anything off the tourist trail really sparks our interests. We may even chew on a few Tamarind leaves!

    We have only recently read about step wells, and it is good to see such an example here. And of course the rock statues look amazing, as well.

    We have picked our so many sites to see in India and we are going to allow ourselves 1 year to visit everything we want to see. Is there anywhere else you would recommend to us?

    Your Drifters,
    Jerry and Fiona

    Reply
    • September 17, 2018 at 23:52
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      Hello, Jerry & Fiona ! I must tell you that this is one of the best comments that we have had on our blog so far. It is with great pleasure and awe that we welcome you both to India.
      The reason it has taken us over two days to reply to your comment is not because we couldn’t find our time out but because we are truly excited at the prospect of you spending a year in India and so we wish to chart out an exclusive plan so that you can cover all the special and off-beat places in India.

      Firstly, we are glad that you have chosen to cover Madhya Pradesh as this is one very less touristy state. Places to visit here: Gwalior, Orchha, Khajuraho, Bhedaghat and Dhuandhar Falls (Jabalpur), Indore, Mandu, Bhopal, Sanchi
      Best time: August – February

      Second state that you’ll instantly fall in love with would be Rajasthan.
      Places to visit: Jaipur, Abhaneri, Ajmer, Pushkar, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Shekhawati
      Best time: August – February
      You could get in touch with us through our FB page in case you need any help here.

      Reply
  • September 16, 2018 at 21:22
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    Gwalior is such an amazing destination! I had never heard of it before and would absolutely love to visit.

    Reply
  • September 17, 2018 at 15:48
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    Wow, what a stunning fort! I have visited Agra a number of times and regret that I did not know about Gwalior! I imagine it is far less crowded than the more famous sites of Agra too!! Great recommendation of the food walk, I would definitely want to try as many local dishes and sweets as possible. Utterly love all your photos of the many individual sites to enjoy.

    Reply
  • September 18, 2018 at 23:48
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    Gwalior sure seems like an amazing place to visit. Loved the architecture of the forts , palaces and temples. That food also looks so yummy. I’m definitely adding it to my bucket list. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
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  • September 19, 2018 at 15:04
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    i am very fascinated by the Bateshwar temples but have not found enough information on how to reach there. Can you provide some input? Being in a remote area, how safe is it to venture there?

    Reply
    • September 19, 2018 at 20:36
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      About the safety, we must say that we reached Gwalior at around 2 in the morning, after passing through the Chambal ravines and Morena around midnight and we did not feel that it was unsafe.
      We toured around this place during the day and felt that it was quite normal, we chose a local taxi and he was knowledgable about the route. There is a Shani temple on the way here and devotees keep visiting the temple around auspicious days, so there is a lot of movement of people. Do let us know if you need GPS locations.

      Reply
  • September 20, 2018 at 02:28
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    Wow, these structures look amazing – so elaborated and beautiful. I personally would not need a light show – I find the facades beautiful enough. What is Petha? It looks very sweet – and the colors are just so….colorful 😉

    Reply
    • September 20, 2018 at 07:22
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      Indeed, the light show was more for history than beauty, wish we could have seen the show before we went to the fort.
      A Petha is a a sweetmeat made from either Pumpkin or Ash Gourd and is like jelly-like, only a little harder. Agra’s pethas are quite famous and this store in Gwalior is a franchise outlet of a famous Agra Petha Store.

      Reply
  • September 20, 2018 at 23:57
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    What gorgeous architecture! Especially Jai Vilas Palace – absolutely beautiful. I’ve never heard of Gwalior but I’ll definitely be heading there on my next trip to India. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply
  • September 21, 2018 at 02:22
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    Gosh, what a peculiar and astonishing architecture! As a European, I haven’t seen anything quite like it in person. And they even had scented air conditioning in the 15th/16th century? When I travel, I also always look for the places to eat where locals go. My husband loves laddoo, so we’d definitely check that place out!

    Reply
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