Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wat Saket (Phu Khao Thong or Golden Mount), Bangkok

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Visited Wat Saket one more time during my recent Thailand visit- on the last day when we were on our own

I've already written about Wat Saket, popularly known as Golden Mount and also known as Phu Khao Thong is a small Buddhist temple on a small hill, very close to where Grand Palace and other popular temples are located in Bangkok. It is a 13th century temple with annual celebrations held in November every year.

The entry fee seemed to be same as it was 2 years ago, 20 baht.

This time I would prefer my videos do the talking. Do watch the video below to get a good walkthrough of Golden Mount temple in Bangkok, Thailand. Video covers the entrance, interiors, rooftop, scenary and almost everything there is to see at Wat Saket.

Arvalem falls, Sanquelim, Goa

This little falls in Goa is located within the premises of a temple- very eye catching and inviting.

Aravalem falls is located near the campus of Rudreshwar temple in Sanquelim area, about 30kms from Panjim city. If you're heading to Belgaum or to Chorlea ghat, a small deviation at Sanquelim will take you to this falls.

Downstream is very shallow and is fairly safe and ideal for getting into. It wasn't deep enough for  swim in August when we went.

There're steps to go close to top of the falls and one can also view it from the river in front of the temple

 View of the temple

A view of the river, downstream

Aravalem falls is sometimes also referred to as Harvalem falls. There is also a cave nearby, which we couldn't explore.

The Rudreshwar temple is very popular with hindus, people come here from all over to perform 12th/13th day rituals for the dead.

Thanks to temple and vigilant villagers, this falls is free from regular tourists who drink near the falls and spoil the nature by throwing garbage.

Map to Arvalem Falls is embedded below

Similar: Mahadev Temple, Tambdi Surla

Univercell Sync- Smartphone Experience centres

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When I got invite for visiting Univercell Sync Store in Chennai to experience how Univercell can help enhance one's smartphone buying experience, I was also eager to find out how UniverCell is gearing itself up to take on the challenge from online retailers.

The process of buying a phone has changed dramatically over the decade. A decade ago, camera phone, colour screen, polyphonic ring tone made a phone desirable. Factors like how many contacts/SMS the phone can store, torch, type of games it came with etc were the factors that helped purchase decisions. Even the once super desirable 25k+ phones- like N73 had to be purchased just by reading the specs and without getting to touch and feel a live unit.

Things are different today. You first need to decide if you want Windows, Android or iOS. Only after that the brand and other specs are considered. Because everything is an App and is downloadable, its the hardware configuration and after-sales service that influences purchases heavily, along with price. Online retailers are able to sell phones 10-20% cheaper than brick and mortar stores, leveraging cost savings in logistics and economy of scale. Customers are more informed than ever and positive online feedbacks convince many to make purchase decisions even without seeing or feeling a phone.

But that does't mean physical stores are extinct. They are fighting back with innovations and offering something online retailers can't provide- personalized hands on experience with the phones and its accessories, to be able to make more informed purchased decisions and a host of after sale services not yet available online.

With that background, let us explore what Univercell Sync has in store for us.

Univercell Sync is an experience store where a visitor can gets hands on live experience on all latest models, take pictures with the phone, get it printed, try suitable accessories for the phone, get advise on apps to use and avail a host of after sales service.
Latest Phones counter
As customers walk in, first desk on the left has all the latest models. This is because everyone is usually interested in checking out the latest ones first. Next to that is a photobooth- a small platform with a green background and a few dummy frames to pose with. Since almost everyone wants to use the camera feature in their phone, this section lets them experience the camera capabilities of the phone they have in mind. A set of tips advises customers what to look for in a camera.

After having tried clicking pictures, should you wish to print them, there's a small LG portable printer, which costs Rs 10000 approx. This device talks to all phones using NFC/WiFi and can give a smaller than postcard size. I am not sure to what extent this printer is really useful, but the idea is that should you wish to print, you can buy suitable printers.

Next is the music booth, where a host of music accessories, starting from an earphone worth few hundred to super speciality speakers/headphones worth Rs 12000 are displayed. Prospective buyers can try out how music plays in each of these accessories, try out docking stations etc. You should note that most of the stores that sell music accessories (and in the online world) often need you to buy the gadget before it can be opened and experienced. Soumya Menon, VP Brand Strategy explained that customers often come with a budget in mind (say I need a phone in 20k range) but hardly plan for accessories.  Not having the right accessories can spoil the fun. Hence Univercell Sync staff can understand a prospect's usage/needs etc and then recommend right kind of accessories for the phone. With this information, customer may eventually opt to spend little less on the phone- say 15k and spend rest of his/her budget on the right kind of accessories- earphones, power banks, memory cards, printers etc.

Most of the gadgets in music section were from Sony and Phillips- apparently both these companies had some trouble and were seen closing down some of their portfolios. I am told they are fully committed to phones and music.

Next section of the store focuses on work-phones- for people who intend to get most of their work done over phone. Having full MS Office suite in the phone, extra power, printers and scanners etc are the focus in this section.

At the centre of the store is a large display area where phones that do not exactly fit into a category (Camera/Music/Work) are displayed. Adequate spacing has been ensured between the devices to ensure comfort to the guests checking them out.

Apart from display, demo and purchase assistance, UniverCell Sync also offers few additional services to its customers, something online stores don't.

Sync Squad: Sync These days, lots need to be done after buying the phone- such as installing right apps, loading it with your favorite music, pairing it with your car etc, in order to make the most of your smartphone experience. Sync Squad is a team of experts who will visit the homes of phone buyers, a week or two after they've bought the phone. This team can help the customer further customize the phone, clear any doubts or help with any issues customer may have in using/personalizing his/her phone. (I know Ford offers similar services to those who buy Ecosports). This is a great service where buyer doesn't have to scramble for help or search online for a problem he/she is facing.

Total Care: Total care is an after sales service package. For phones less than Rs 15000, customers can pay Rs 500 (Rs 800 for 15k+ phones) and avail following services:
- Zero travel: Free doorstep pickup and drop in case phone needs servicing (this is offered by a 3rd party- PickMe, who will coordinate movement of the phone between customer and service centre.)
- Insurance coverage for the phone

I asked how easy is the process of claiming insurance for phones- I was told that it is very simple and in about 80% of the cases, claim is honored and customers get money back. (Insurance covers 60% of purchase cost during first year, 40% during next year and so on). For phones priced upto 15k, FIR is not required to claim insurance, simple declaration/paperwork is adequate.

I asked if UniverCell will take care of activities like phone de-activation, remote wipe out etc. I was told they won't do it, but will guide the customer how to get it done.

I asked how's Lenovo's service- as this was a concern though their phones seemed to be rugged. I was told that Lenovo service is not a problem.

I asked how should one go about chosing the right OS- The answer was something like this "If you want to lots of office work on your phone, go for Windows, as it comes with full suite of office applications and email and other functions. For generic music, photography and other usage, Android is very popular. Go for Apple if you're very particular about it"

There's a feedback kiosk, which lets visitors vote in +ve or -ve, about their experience at the store (but has no provision to capture subsequent details  why someone is happy/not happy).

There're a few drawbacks yet at UniverCell Sync store. The price is not displayed next to the phone. I am told this is because "Prices change very dynamically and we didn't have the heart to put a hand written price tag in this smart store". Staff has to be approached for price information, which is little inconvenient if you're randomly browsing phones. Probably Univercell can have a display screen which shows latest prices for each model (Like how airports display departure time and gates)

Not all phones had a sim or connected to internet- this sort of hampers the experience (there're security concerns in leaving dozens of phones connected to net unattended). But if requested, staff should be able to help by doing the needful (add a sim card and connect a particular phone to net)

Phone purchase is not everyday activity. When you buy one, you always want to buy the right one. UniverCell Sync is fully geared up to help you with your phone purchase exercise, bringing together the latest phones, right accessories and expert help all under one roof. In other words, you can either spend lots of time researching a phone online, or simply walk into Univercell sync store and experience the smart phones live to make a much more confident purchase decision.

I am told UniverCell has about 14 Sync experience stores in India so far- covering Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune.. More coming up soon.

Got to meet few other bloggers during the event- Subramaniam, Raj, Hansini.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mahadev Temple, TambdiSurla Goa

Tambdi Surla is a village in the interiors of Goa, which has a small but beautiful Mahadev temple. Tambdi surla is about 60kms from Panjim, but is closer while returning from Doodhsagar.

I've made a short less than 1 min video of Tambdi Surla Mahadev temple in Goa. Please watch it below. 

Temple campus is well maintained, a stream flows nearby and is worth a short visit. Wikipedia has more historic details, pls check here.

Google Maps is embedded below...

Similar: Big Foot Goa * Three Kings Church, Goa * Tree House, Goa * Doodhsagar Falls, Goa

Friday, August 29, 2014

Is Fortuner 4x2 worth 10 lakh premium over XUV500 W6?

This post was overdue since months, because of Thailand, Jaisalmer and Goa visits.
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In March this year, I drove an XUV500 W6 for 2 days/1200kms. In July this year, I got to drive a Fortuner 4x2 manual, for 1 day/540kms. In August, we were driven around for 2 days all around the desert at Jaisalmer in a fleet of 3 fortuners. Mahindra XUV500 W6 variant costs about 12 lakhs ex showroom Delhi, while Fortuner 4x2 MT is priced 22 lakhs Ex-showroom Delhi. On road price will be 20-25% higher, taking the net difference between the price of two cars in question to whopping 10-12 lakh rupees. While I was thinking about reviewing the Fortuner, it hit me that why should someone spend 10 lakhs more on a fortuner, while XUV W6 has most of the capabilities and features offered  by Fortuner. With that thought in mind, this post is an attempt to find out the differences between Mahindra XUV500 W6 and Toyota Fortuner 4x2. Objective is to find out if the fortuner is worth another 10 lakhs or is one better off buying an XUV500 which seem to be equally competent. Do go through and feel free to add your thoughts.

You may ask why I am comparing Fortuner with XUV, which is a category below. Reason is that I’ve driven these 2 cars and I’ve not driven other possible contenders like latest Endeavor, Captiva, Rexton etc to compare them against fortuner (somebody please offer them on self drive!)

Fortuner has more powerful engine, better brand recognition, higher ground clearance and better off-road abilities (even in 4x2 variant), all alloy wheels and better entertainment system. But for all practical purposes, these differences don’t appear good enough to justify a price difference of 10-12 lakh rupees compared to Mahindra's W6. For many instances, I feel XUV500 W6 is a better deal than Fortuner 4x2. Though Fortuner has some clear advantages and benefits, the advantage of being able to save about 10 lakh rupees outright, without any major compromise can easily tilt the situation in favor of XUV500 for the upper middle class, ‘Not so super rich’ buyers.  Besides paying more upfront, Fortuner owner pays more in fuel for every km, pays more for insurance and maintenance.

Mahindra XUV500 W6
Toyota Fortuner 4x2
Engine & Related
2.2 litre mEagle 140 bhp

6 gears
Front Wheel Drive
3 litre 163 bhp, better torque than W6

5 gears only

Rear Wheel Drive
Fortuner is heavy and most of the extra power goes in pulling this excess weight. Difference in pickup and top speed isn’t really worth 10 lakhs
Fuel Economy
15 (claimed) , we got about 10.5 kmpl 
 11.9 (claimed), we got 10.8
We drove XUV in March, when AC was used heavily. Fortuner was used in June when it was raining- I think this has contributed to Fortuner giving us better FE.
Ground Clearance
Fortuner’s massive ground clearance goes give it additional abilities during off road. This, coupled with some extra torque, Fortuner 4x2s could easily take us around the deserts during our Jaisalmer trip, where Fortuner 4x2 proved to be equally capable as its 4x4 version.

I am not very sure if an XUV500 W6 can beat a Fortuner when it comes to dune bashing.
Additional angled headlight for turns, conversation mirror,
No Alloy wheels, No rear disc brakes, lots of lights, charging points etc for all rows
Alloy wheels standard
No rear disc brake,
Gets better music system & touch screen
Some features like alloy wheels, reverse camera, music system etc can be had aftermarket or by buying W8 variant instead of W6
Seating Comfort
No complaints, fabric but driver gets lumbar support
Leather seats but no lumbar support. Last row is more comfortable
Alighting and getting down needs some effort due to high ground clearance

Luggage Space
XUV is wider, but shorter in length. Fortuner has more luggage space, while with a XUV, you will need roof top carrier if all 7 people have 1-2 bags each.
Service Cost
I do not have exact numbers, but prima facie, XUV500 will be cheaper to service/repair/maintain.

XUV W6 annual insurance premium will be about 60-65k, while for fortuner it may be close to 90-95k, you will need to pay 2k per month more in insurance alone for Fortuner
Looks, Road Presence,
Brand Image
XUVs looks are great, it has good road Presence, but not comparable to Fortuner
Fortuner undoubtedly commands more respect and admiration on the road, clear reason why many politicians prefer Fortuner even though they don’t use any of its premium features.

International clients recognize and appreciate fortuner better than XUV
If spending 10 lakhs more means nothing to you (or when you’re wasting taxpayers money), then by all means go for Fortuner!

When in Jaisalmer early this month, we spent 2 days being driven all around the desert in 3 fortuners. Fortuners crossed sandy roads, roverbeds, non-existent roads with lots of ease and comfort. So fortuner’s ruggedness, ability to handle bad roads etc are not in question. Only question is, is it worth compromising a bit on these aspects if it could save you 10 lakhs upfront and few thousands every month.
Having said all these, one thing I am not able to comment is the durability. If used regularly for say 7-10 years, which of the two will be in better condition? Can Japanese build quality prove to be more stronger than Mahindras? I don’t know. Fortuner comes with 3 year/1lakh kms default warranty, while the Cheetah comes with only 2 year/65000 kms warranty. Use your judgment.  When launched, XUV had some build quality issues, which now is reportedly resolved. Toyota’s engines and car build quality is much respected in the industry, so Fortuner has higher quality benchmarks overall for M&M to meet.

Read detailed review of XUV500 W6 here and some photos of Fortuner here