Friday, February 17, 2017

The Taoist Temple, Cebu, Philippines

While I was looking for places to explore in Cebu, The Taoist temple came up as top attractions. Its photos were attractive and I decided to visit. After changing 2 jeepneys and one taxi, I finally reached the temple. This place is about 12-15 kms from Mactan airport.

The Taoist temple is built by the Chinese community, located on Beverly hills area of Cebu city. Entry is free but photography is permitted only outside.

Inside the temple is typical of any other Buddhist temples. Photography not allowed.

The best view of the temple is the panoramic view shown in below photo. But I was on foot and couldn't really figure out where to go to get this view. If I had a bike could have explored the area more to find better views, but on foot it was difficult.

As I came out, few people surrounded me offering bikes on rental. But they were not proper agencies, just the individuals trying to make some extra money, so I was reluctant. One person came to me, offered to take me to the hills nearby that offered great view and bring me back, for 700 pesos. (he gave his last and final offer of 500 pesos later)- It sounded like a great idea, but due to risk factor and time constraint, I had to turn it down.

  • If I go to hill with him, I can't see anything else in the city that evening
  • Not sure how safe n reliable it is- what if he takes me to an isolated place, teams up with his buddies and robs me?
Thus I proceeded to see other places inside Cebu city instead of heading to the hills

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Kala Ghoda Art Festival 2017, Mumbai

I have been hearing about Kala Ghoda Art festival since past few years, but never managed to attend one. It wasn’t viable to go to Mumbai just for this festival. But this time when I was in Mumbai it was during the KGAF time. However, I had to wait till last day, as my stay was too far from Kala Ghoda area to make a quick visit.

On Saturday, I could visit the Kala Ghoda area. It was very close to Cuff Parade where Indiblogger meet was On, so it was convenient to visit KGAF first and then go to Taj president for the Indiblogger meet.

While the Kala Ghoda street represents the main activity centre, the core attractions are various shows and events planned throughout the week. These happen at various places around Kala Ghoda and we need to plan well and attend ones that interest us. However, I had only enough time to take a quick walk in and around the streets of Kala Ghoda.

Cyclist and blogger Priyanka Dalal joined me in exploration of Kala Ghoda. She had great knowledge of the statues and buildings around and guided me about them. Most of the detailing I have added below is based on her briefing, to the extent I have managed to recall.

Kala Ghoda
The statue from which the area got its name. The statue shown in below picture, known as "The Spirit of Kala Ghoda" is a version of original Kala Ghoda statue which depicted King Edward 7 sitting on it. This new statue without the king was unveiled only in Jan 2017 [news here] so you wouldn't have seen it if you haven't been to Mumbai this year.

A victorian era building behind the Kala Ghoda statue
An art installation at the entrance of Kala Ghoda art festival.

This time theme seems to be the horse itself. There were horses made from different objects. Some pics below:
Horse from charcoal and Horses Made from bottles

3D Effect illusion art.

Modern Mumbai cake

A tank

Each of these art installations have some meaning and description. I didn't find it too interesting trying to absorb the same.

Also what we covered was only a small percentage of what Kala Ghoda art festival had on offer. It is a week long festival with lots of events, performances scheduled. Unfortunately I couldn't experience all of those. But at least I have got a feel of the festival and a good idea of what to expect in future editions.

After walking to and fro on the Kala Ghoda street, we walked a bit in nearby areas. Passed through Dalal street. Some construction seem to be happening on the BSE building as a new dome seem to have emerged. Priyanka also showed me the Watson's hotel- India's oldest surviving cast iron building, now feels like it is partially burnt. In its days of glory Watson's hotel was the choice of stay for the traders and military officers. I think I missed to click a photo of that building.
An art centre

Another historic building in Fort Area
Left of above building a red building housing the office of Mumbai Samachar
Lots of buildings in the Fort area have their own historical significance- we only covered a part of them. But the next one is super important. The church because of which Church Gate got its name: The St Thomas Cathedral. This church is 300 years old and the church gate station was right opposite this (about a km apart, now separated by multiple buildings in between) 
Opposite to the above church, Mumbai's first Starbucks opened in this building...
Town Hall
Two photos featuring me were clicked by Priyanka Dalal. Can't thank her enough for taking time out and giving me a guided tour of the area. Do check her blog

At this time I had to go to Cuff Parade for Indiblogger meet, having to cut short the fort area exploration. Till I visit Mumbai again.
Indian Bloggers

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm 2017 concludes: Suresh Rana and R Nataraj emerge victorious in Xtreme and Moto category respectively

As briefed in my previous post, the 15th edition of Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm rally has concluded in Jodhpur, Rajasthan last week. This post provides additional details on the final stage of the #MSDesertStorm, in addition to the previous post published here.

Let me talk about 2 wheeler section (Moto category) first. CS Santosh, who was the defending champion, maintained lead, till last day and was a strong contender to the title. However on the last day he reportedly checked-in late to the venue, late by full 30 minutes, which penalised him heavily. Nataraj R and team who had closed in on Santosh from his early leads, managed to take full advantage of the time penalty imposed on Hero MotoSports team and clinch victory. This observation hints at multiple things:
-It is not over till it is over- no need to lose hope if you’re not in the lead. Persistence pays

-One or two mistakes are enough to turn the tables. Even best of the sportsperson can do mistakes
Congrats to team TVS and better luck next time team Hero!

Xtreme: In the Xtreme (4 wheeler) category defending champions Suresh Rana and Ashwin Naik retained their title by winning the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm rally for the 6th time. Apparently this was not without challenges. On the last day they had to keep topping up engine oil at regular intervals.  They had started 3rd in line but soon overtook other competitors to gain and maintain the lead.
Xplore and NDure: These two categories are lighter versions of Xtreme, meant for new enthusiasts. NDure is the 4x4 category while Xplore category was for 4x2 sedans and hatchbacks. Amateurs participated with equal enthusiasm just like professional racers. Nikunj Toshniwal and co-driver Suvrajit Dutta won the Ndure category while VitaraBrezza driven by Karthick Maruthi and  S Sankar Anand bagged the first place in the Xplore category.
The 5 day rally that covered most of Rajasthan was no doubt an action packed event. There was action, there was drama, there was tragedy (accidents and break downs) and there was celebration. Good work by Maruti Suzuki to keep the adventure and adrenaline rush high year after year, pushing the limits of endurance, navigation and driving skills.
What began with Maruti Suzuki Raid De Himalaya in 1998 has since grown to include an array of events such as Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare, Maruti Suzuki Autocross Championship, Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm and Maruti Suzuki National Superleague TSD Rally Championship. With a strong belief to make motorsport accessible to everyone, Maruti Suzuki has been actively promoting motorsports in India for over 15 years now.  Whether you are an amateur or a professional, Maruti Suzuki Motorsport’s calendar is always lined up with events that will keep fuelling the adrenaline rush in you.

While we cherish memories of the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm 2017, we have to wait another year for the 2018 edition.

To know more about the upcoming events, please check or follow their FB or twitter feed
Watch the video below- 

10 tips for domestic flight bookings

This post shares my tips for flight booking in India, to help you book your trips at lower fares.

1. Check for hand bag only fare. 
Some airlines like Spicejet offer a slightly cheaper rate if you don’t have check-in bag.  If you’re sure that you don’t need to check in any bag, then this option is great. But if you’re uncertain, select a regular fare which allows 15 kg check in bag. Usually in Spicejet the fare difference between regular and hand bag only fare is not significant

2. Keep an eye for Airline Sales- Fly when it is cheap
If you have your dream destinations and are flexible with dates, look out for sales from Airlines. Often during each promo sale, couple of seats on each flight is offered at throw away fares. If you are quick and smart enough, you will be able to grab them and have a trip at much lower cost. However do note that promo sales will come with some restrictions such as “No Refund”
3. Compare Packages
At times, a package rate might be cheaper than booking flight + hotel + cab individually. For example, while visiting Andaman, Andaman Packages might be cheaper than doing flight booking to Andaman + hotel booking in Port Blair/Havelock + local transport separately. This is because travel companies such as Thomas Cook can bargain for deep discounts with airlines, hotels and tour operators and pass on this benefit to customers.  But keep an eye what’s not covered in the package. Despite booking a package you might have to spend a bit extra like meals and activities not included in the package.
4. Buy meals and other services later, closer to travel date
Amount paid for in-flight services such as meals, baggage etc are usually not refundable once paid. If you need to cancel your flight, you won’t get these payments back. And their prices do not increase over time, so there’s no advantage in booking those months in advance. It is better to book them closer to travel date, once your travel is 100% confirmed.

5. Uncheck unwanted stuff.
Many airline websites and OTAs tend to follow an opt-out policy, by auto selecting various additional services such as insurance, meals etc. If you don’t pay attention, your ticket fare would silently increase compared to what you saw in previous screen. Be careful and de-select all unwanted services

6. Scan social media accounts for possible discount codes:
Before your flight booking, scan social media pages of airlines and OTAs- there could be some offers going on- using a particular deal code can save you a few hundred rupees. Beware of cashback offers which take months to materialize and need you to spend even more to avail the cashback amount.

7. Check for nearby airports.
If your destination airport is not very popular, flying in into a secondary airport might be cheaper. For example, to go to Bikaner, Rajasthan Jodhpur is the nearest airport. But you will find more flights and cheaper flights to state capital Jaipur than Jodhpur. So if you’re fine with another 100 kms extra road journey, select Jaipur and save some money.

8. Co-branded credit cards: 
If you are frequently using a particular airline or portal, a co-branded credit card might help you get some rewards/better deals in the long run.

9. Always check for fare with 1 passenger. 
If you check with say 2 passengers and say only 1 seat is available at 5000 and second seat is available at 7000, you will see total fare as 14000 and not 12000. In such cases, book two separate tickets to save Rs 2000.

10. Do not book for friends with your money. While we plan for a trip, many friends show interest, but only few end up actually joining the trip. If you offer to book for them with your own money, many will say Yes, but then you will have trouble recovering money from them or will have to bear cancellation charge if they don’t show up. Use caution- better to let everyone book their own tickets.

2017 has many long weekends. Start planning your flight bookings/hotel reservations and have a nice trip.

Monday, February 13, 2017

#BergerXP Indiblogger meet in Mumbai-Busting the painting myths!

I was in Mumbai last week and was looking to meet as many people as possible, while in town. Early last week, Divsi alerted me to the announcement of Indiblogger meet in Mumbai. Sponsored by Berger Paints, the meet would be 3rd in the series, after Kolkata and Bengaluru. Indiblogger meets are always fun- we can meet all bloggers in town, get to win various cool stuff, learn about the brand sponsoring the event and return home with lots of memories.

The event was by invitation only but we could request for an invite. I promptly applied for one and waited with impatience for confirmation. The seats are limited and demand is high. Few days later I got my confirmation and was super happy. I checked Heebee's post (of Bengaluru edition) to get some idea about the event and prepare myself.

Painting is a complicated industry compared to FMCG or Consumer electronics or vehicles. Many of us youngsters who do not own a house might never had the opportunity to experience/understand what it takes to get a house painted. Painting a home is not an everyday activity- may be once in several years and the industry isn't really organized and standardized. Painting cost is usually just about 1% of house construction cost, so owners are fine with selecting most expensive option in market. But when painting doesn't last long or isn't up to the standard expected, painter could blame the paint brand, paint brand could blame it on bad weather or the workmanship of the painter.

Berger Paints claimed to have solution for above problem. They have launched a program called Berger Express Painting and we were about to find out more from the senior management of Berger Paints India on how they stand apart from the competition and how their offerings are unique.

I reached Vivanta By Taj President a few minutes late than scheduled time. The last time I was here was during the Grand Finale of Tata Nano Superdrive in June 2010. Mr Tatan Tata had flagged in the convoy that completed 28 days 15000 kms drive across India. I met Sujatha Tawde, Pooja Bhatt and Divsi at the lobby. Showed my Indipass, completed registration formality, grabbed some food and went inside.

Took some photos of the setup inside the venue while others took their seat.

Above photo (mobile version of it) when tweeted, later won me photo of the day award.
It also gave me my moments of fame as I spoke about my visit to Mumbai and the fact that this is my 10th Indiblogger event (Others being 1.Tata Grande, Chennai 2. Ambi Pur, Chennai 3. Oyo Rooms, Bengaluru 4. Nano Genx AMT, Pune, 5. Nano Chosen Ones, Ahmadabad 6. BNLF, Mumbai 7. Flipkart Outdoors, Bengaluru,8. Tata Zica, 9. Tata Hexa Hyderabad 10. Berger XP Mumbai) I got a Rs 1000 worth Amazon gift card from Berger India.
Below; A group photo with other Mumbai bloggers. From left to right-  Jaibala Rao, Anahita Irani, Sujatha Tawde, Riddi Sharma and Pooja Bhatt. Also met Avantika, BlogwatiG and many others- please pardon me if I have missed to mention your names.
As the event began, Anoop, Co founder of Indiblogger kick started the session with warm up activities, to activate sleepy attendees. The activity was musical chair. Has been decades since I ever played one. There were two rounds-I managed to retain my seat in first two. Last round was tricky with only 1 chair for 4-5 participants. I was sheer lucky in this round and won the musical chair for our table. Got a T shirt as my prize!

Next was the presentation from Berger Paints Management. I will summarize the key points from the talk of Chandranath Banerjee, Service Head, Express Painting, Berger Paints India.
  • Berger paints was started in 1760 by Lewis Berger in Europe. The shade of blue that he introduced became extremely popular.
  • Berger Paints is No.2 in India, No 1 is Asian Paints, #3 is Nerolac and #4 is Durex. But Berger Paints is closing in fast with non stop growth YoY
  • Berger was first to introduce Express painting concept and modern tools to aid in painting.
Before Berger introduced Express Painting, below were the concerns of Indian consumers
-Repainting a house was a messy affair taking months of time, loads of dust and affecting daily routine. Because of this most customers preferred to postpone repainting as long as they could- once in 4-5 years or so (while in Europe the norm is almost once an year)
- Despite selecting most expensive emulsion, the final finish was not satisfactory- either due to poor mixing or poor craftsmanship of the painter
- Creating a perfect shade was a complicated process- paint vendor had to maintain dozens of different base colours and had to mix them manually to derive desired shaded- often prone to errors and not economically viable for small quantities.

Berger Paints has brought in following innovations:
Innovative machines: Berger has introduced different home painting tools, which when used reduce the time taken to paint, reduce the dust produced (machine sucks the dust into a pouch) and ensure a more qualitative output. Berger has been training painters on usage of these machines and the benefits of using them. These machines are motored and hence do make some noise, but nothing louder than that of a domestic vacuum cleaner. Some of their tools are Sanding Machine, Multi Purpose Mixer, Auto Roller, High pressure washer and airless paint sprayer.

5 base paints, unlimited shades: Berger has introduced a machine that can churn out huge combination of shades, with just 5 base colours. A paint dealer now needs to stock only these 5 base paints and any shade of customer's choice can be generated from this machine.

Express Painting: Professional painting services, at no extra cost: Interestingly, Berger's Express Painting services comes at no extra cost to end consumers. Only half of the total painting expense is on actual paints- rest is spent on labor cost. In mega metros, labor cost is as high as 65%. Though Berger paints partners need to invest in buying/renting the tools, they can finish painting much faster, requiring less labor expenses, so that overall cost to end customer remains highly competitive.. What would have taken 30 days traditionally, can be done in 18-20 days with Berger Express Paints (40% faster)

Training the painters- Berger has been training thousands of painters all over India to enable them use modern tools and finish their paint jobs more efficiently

Next we were given the activity to experience sanding. The previous team finished the task in 24 seconds, our team took 17. Not sure who won this activity.

Unfortunately it was time for me to leave. Had to go to Dadar station, pickup by bag and proceed to Airport via Santa Cruz. I learnt that the event lasted another hour or so wherein bloggers got their hands dirty trying the tools, painting their pictures and so on. I missed that part but was glad I could attend the first portion of the event and meet many bloggers. Many participants won generous gifts. A few bloggers are slated to win mega prize- to have one of their home walls painted with Berger Illusion paintings. We were told that Rachna Parmar won it in Bengaluru- let us see who wins it in Mumbai edition.

Overall I am glad I could attend the event. Besides meeting the friends, now I am more vise on the concept of painting. Thanks to Berger Express Painting, repainting a house is no longer a month long messy affair. It can be faster, cleaner and better and at no additional cost. Next time repainting is on your mind, do take a quote from Berger paints and their competitions, compare and decide for yourself. This link has all the details you would need.

Next edition of BergerXP meet is slated for Delhi on Feb 25.

Update: This post breaks into Top Posts of Day section on Indiblogger

Indian Bloggers

#TheGoodYouCan: Simple effortless steps that can result in Major difference

There’s a saying- Tiny drops make mighty ocean. In our daily life, there’re several instances where we do some simple mistakes which we don’t even realize it as a mistake. When thousands of individuals do the same mistake day after day, the impact compounds and affects the whole ecosystem. If each one of us can take some minimum precautions and avoid these mistakes, the benefits also naturally compound and benefit the whole city, country and the world. It doesn’t take lot of effort to do these- just the presence of mind and a will to take that little extra effort. Let us see few of them:

Running engines in stuck traffic
We drive to office on our cars and bikes (even if we had options of using public transport or car-pooling, many of us prefer the flexibility of having our own vehicles). Any ride to office or back home is not complete without waiting for several minutes at various traffic signals on the way. We tend to keep the engine running, even after seeing that green light is few minutes away. All it takes is one turn  of the ignition key to turn off the engine and another to turn it back on, but we are either lazy or do not want to lose that 2 seconds spent in starting the engine. We feel “what will happen in a minute”- but think about this- Assuming an average 90 minute commute per day, at least 20 min of this is spent at traffic signals. That is 1 KG worth of CO2 per day, 25 tons over a lifetime. (only idle time count, not full 90 min travel). Think of the impact when every driver on the road is doing the same. Switch off your engines in signals, encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same.

Better option: Buy a car equipped with micro-hybrid technology. Such cars cut off fuel supply to engine if it is idle for more than certain no of seconds. Engine starts automatically once you press the accelerator. Most Mahindra vehicles like Scorpio and XUV have these.

Even better: Use public transport or car-pool, saving even more precious fuel.  Driving Solo in a 5 seater car is such a waste of fuel and road space. I have not bothered to buy a car till date and managing without one pretty fine. You can do that too, if you stop thinking of car as a social status symbol. The amount of money you will save by not buying the car- EMI, Maintenance, loan interest amount, toll, parking charges etc- you will thank me later for giving this suggession.

Many of us are financially well off to be able to afford decent meal every day, while there’re millions of people who find it hard to survive for another day, due to poverty, malnutrition and non-availability of food. More and more agricultural land is being used for commercial purposes, consistently reducing farmland and number of farmers. Because of all these, we should think really twice before wasting the precious food.

300 grams of food wasted every day, adds-up to 7 tonnes over a lifetime for one person. This much food can feed 3500 people for one day. Order only what you can eat, eat less, eat all, do not waste. If there’s excess take it as parcel and consume later, than throwing it away and buying fresh food later in the day. Instead of ordering multiple items in one go, order second or third round only if you think you can consume.

3 mins of wasting water while brushing adds up to 15 lakh litres over a lifetime. That’s enough drinking water for an entire village for one full month. We also waste water in washing cars- instead of using a direct hose which keeps dispensing water non-stop, use a bucket. Bath tubs waste lots of water- use shower or bucket instead. Recycle water for secondary purposes such as flushing, watering plants etc.
Most of us use about 55 kgs worth paper in a year, that is about 4 tons over a lifetime. If we can use recycled paper instead, 100s of trees can be saved, plus think of the CO2 they can eliminate and oxygen they can provide. Plus lakhs of tons of water needed to process these trees into paper is also saved. Use digital modes where possible.

It takes very minimal effort to do the above tasks- all you need is some motivation and will. The impact of your act- good or bad- may not be obvious the very next day, but it will be felt over years to come. Watch the video below for better understanding of how each of can make a difference. This new year, let us make some meaningful resolutions.