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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Experience: Tata Safari SOUL Drive to Doodhsagar falls

Automobile companies are fast realizing that Sales is Not the end of their responsibility. Car owners wish to stay in touch with the brand while brands need to listen to their customers and keep them engaged and entertained, besides addressing  their concerns, if any.
Safari convoy while returning to Bengaluru- Location spotting by Srihari
Tata Motors has taken a right step in this direction, with their new initiative, called S.O.U.L, which stands for Safari Owners United League. The objective of SOUL Drive is to bring the Safari owners and their families together, help them build a bond with each other (and the brand), provide a platform to discuss their vehicles, customizations, long drivers and issues, if any with each other and/or Tata Motors. 
I got a unique opportunity to attend the recent most S.O.U.L event, held in Goa this Republic day long weekend. The DriveWithSOUL event involved vehicle owners driving to Goa from their respective cities on Day 1, everyone visiting Doodhsagar waterfalls and indulging in beach activities on Day 2 and long drive back on Day 3. This post shares my experiences and observations during the drive. It would have been convenient for me to fly to Goa from Chennai and then join the event, but I wanted to be part of the road trip, hence took a night bus to Bengaluru and joined them by road.

On Day 1 I teamed up with other fellow bloggers who were invited- Rumana and Arjun in Bengaluru, after an overnight bus jouney. Then we headed towards Goa in a Tata Safari Dicor sent by Tata Motors.  Little later we were accompanied by Raghu and his wife in his white Safari Dicor. Raghu has been driving his Safar for over 6 years now and is one of the members of Bangalore based SUG-Safari Users Group- who frequently team up and indulge in excursions with their beloved Safaris.
Group pic on the way to Goa- Myself, Rumana, Arjun, Mr & Mrs Raghu & Balu
I took the wheel for most part of the drive- the long stretch till Dharwad is nice and wide but heavily tolled. I guess we paid around 600-700 Rs in toll total, more than Rs 1 per km. After Dharawada it was ghat section, where driving is more fun. We arrived at the resort- Doodhsagar Spa Resort, few minutes before 3PM, just in time for food counters to close.
Music with Rambola
Evening was relaxed time where participants indulged in one or more of the activities-such as ziplining, Yoga or a visit to Tambdi Surla temple. Surprisingly there were No brand promotions- where participants are assembled in a room and features of the car are explained. I saw this Ghatam like musical device- called Rambola for the first time in action. With some music and barbecue dinner, we ended Day 1 in anticipation of action packed Day 2.  

Day 2 was the real action Day. I woke up early and took a count of Safaris in the parking lot. There were 31 of them, mostly from Karnataka, Maharastra and Telangana. Few had eye catching modifications-like the Maxxis Mudzilla tyres on this one or the roof mounted lamps on the other. Many accessories were for sale- owners could opt for full body orange wrap, DRL, Roof bar, mood lighting and so on- owners could tick the ones they wish to buy in the printouts kept in the room and Tata would ensure that they reach their respective cities and get fitted on to the SUVs.

Maxxis Mudzilla offroad tyres on a Safari

We drove to Doodhsagar falls parking lot. From this point we were taken to the waterfalls by local taxis, crossing streams and muddy roads for about 12 kms. I had visited Doodhsagar falls last August by train [Photos and full details here]- that was from over the bridge and when the falls was at its fullest. This time the visit was to the bottom of the falls. More details about visiting the Doodhsagar falls by road here in this post. We spent about an hour at the falls, clicking pics and taking a dip. Refreshing fresh water cheered everyone up. Back to the resort, it was time to head to the beach post lunch.  

This time, I got to drive the Safari Storme- my first time behind the wheels of Storme. It was noticeably better than the dicor I'd driven the previous day.

We drove to Sernabatim beach in south Goa where beach activities were planned. I had a JetSki ride here, of which I made a video footage using headmount. You can watch the video here.

While returning from the beach I got to interact with a Tata Safari owner from Hyderabad. He said he and his friend drove a dozen different SUVs but found Safari to be best bet. While he was very pleased with the vehicle, he also suggested that Company should set up regular service camps in each city, where any issue not resolved by local dealer could be addressed by Tata Motors Engineers. 

Later in the night, Safri owners thanked Ms Sonal, Mr Dan and others from the event management company, 70 EMG (Event Management Group). These folks are last to exit a scene and first to be in for next activity- with their amazing energy levels, skillful coordination and planning they made the event successful and memorable.
Daniel from 70 EMG
My interactions with Tata Motors officials gave me some good insights on the direction company is headed. I learnt that there were prototyping and testing done to try if a Safari variant could be launched with front facing 3rd row seat and bucket seats in second row. This was felt not viable due to space constraints. So Safari with bucket seats/front facing 3rd row seat is unlikely for now. I asked if Tata would borrow technology from JLR for its SUVs- while there was no straight YES/NO answer, it was clear that the two brands are coordinating very well for mutual benefits and cost savings. I also learnt that Full Throttle event has been stopped.

Day 3 we headed home in a convoy of 8 Tata Safaris. Let by Srihari in the first Safari and swept by Mahesh in the back. We left the Resort at 6 AM, had breakfast at Dharwad, lunch at Kamat Sira and then reached Bengaluru by about 6PM. It took 12 hours for the return journey compared to 9 hours it took for the onward journey.
Tata motors also conducts various city events where Safari owners meet up for breakfast and drive to nearby destinations. SOUL drive was a natural extension to it. Similar to the South Drive we had to Doodhsagar falls, there was a North SOUL Drive, at Corbett, covered by fellow blogger- Prasad NP (better known as DesiTraveller). Follow him for North Updates. I am told there are many more such events planned in Future.

Events like this indirectly help in brand promotion also. A large convoy of Safaris would turn heads everywhere we went. While many events often focus on owner alone, SOUL drive is also focused on families, so that wife & kids get to appreciate their husband's choice of car, interact with other families and get to indulge as much as the owners do.

All in all, it was a long weekend well spent. Thanks to Tata Motors and Blogadda for inviting me to be part of the experience. I will publish couple of separate posts on Doodhsagar falls visit, Doodhsagar Spa resort. Video footage also will be published after sometime, once I manage to edit them.

Similar: Landrover experience  * Zoomcar Safari Dicor photoshoot  * Safari EX 4x4 Review

Friday, January 23, 2015

Boutique hotel Zone Coimbatore by the Park

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers
Zone is a new boutique hotel in Coimbatore, by the Park group of hotels. 
I had the opportunity to be one of its first few guests, along with few other bloggers and journalists who were invited. In this post, I am sharing The Zone’s unique features that we could experience during our stay.

Zone has an Orange+ Gray theme to inspire youth and cheerfulness. One thing I noticed was that all the letters in the logo was connected. Even on the glass walls or visiting cards of the staff had multiple orange dots connecting one another. This signifies connectivity.

When I checked in, I was given a welcome drink, which to my delight was my favorite Tender coconut. I said I don’t need the straw and drank it upside down, much to the amusement of the staff and some extra work to them to clean few drops which fell on the ground. But I like this initiative of serving tender coconut instead of some soft drinks.

Elevator has a map of all places of interest nearby. The mirrors in lift walls give impression of perpetual motion. I liked this thought and execution. 
Main restaurant is called Bazaar. Serves food in an ambiance that is made to feel local.
A mobile food cart (similar to ones we find on the streets, but fully hygienic) is the main attraction at the Bazaar. Two prestige induction stoves replaced what would have been a kerosene stove or a LPG stov in roadside carts. Unfortunately we couldn't see this cart in action.
Live samples of the ingredients used are kept outside, which also helps people connect more with their food.

Just the sight of the pickle jar was enough to increase my appetite... (I think using traditional pickle jars would have been more better).

Lobby area is well designed with octagonal overhead lamps, a gaming area, a highly decorated auto selling ethnic stuff, a 24x7 business centre (with a Mac and a windows computer). It is great to have business centre open all the time, as many other hotels keep it open only during day time.

Baggage tags at the hotel are also very friendly. They say "It's mine- take care". So touchy.

The rooms at Zone Coimbatore:

Zone has about 56 rooms spread in 3 floors. There is only one Super special room (The Suite), which can be seen below. This room has large living area apart from a super premium bedroom.

Standard rooms

Rooms are fairly high tech. You can play your contents on the hotel TV by connecting your device to hotel TV via USB or HDMI port etc. The power outlets support multiple formats, which is very useful for international travelers who may not have India specific power adapter.
Rooms have safety lock, ironing table and ironbox. The light switches for the main lamps were sort of hidden, but hotel staff usually show them to the guest upon arrival, so this should be fine. Switches are very sleek and modern looking. A gentle tap is enough.

When I checked in at about 4.30PM, I asked if I can give my cloths for laundry. I was told it will be collected only next day and will be delivered by 7PM. This meant if I am checking in at 5PM and wish to check out at 5PM next day, I can't get my cloths cleaned in this 24 hours. When I took this up with hotel authorities, I was told that such special requests can definitely be addressed if there is a need. 10 AM to 7 PM is the standard laundry timings. Express service can be arranged on demand. Good.

WiFi is free for all guests in Zone. Another good initiative, because many hotels charge in thousands for a day of connectivity.

On the top floor there will be a Gym, a roof top restaurant and a pool. But these were not yet open to public pending regulatory approvals, so we couldn't check them out. They should be opening anytime soon.

On Day 2 we had some activities- wherein Chef Kumaran explained the concept of tastes, omelettes and so on.

I was taught how to make a smoothy! I added  2 strawberries, some curd, milk, sugar, oats and few other stuff and stirred it in the mixer- first in course grinder and next in fine grinder. It was a good experience, though I wish I could add few more spoons of sugar.

The hotel campus of Zone Coimbatore is located in the main road but the location was very clean and quiet. Zone is about 8 kms from Coimbatore airport, about 15-20 minutes drive.

The park group of Hotels has planned a series of Zone hotels in multiple cities- including Mahabalipuram, Jaipur and other cities. Best wishes to them. You can follow Zone By the Park on twitter here and on their website here

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Skywatch Friday: Sunset pictures

Some sunset pictures clicked last week at my native place...

It is a regular sunset but trying to use the regular trees for effect by moving myself in all directions to get good perspective. Your comments are welcome.

 For more skywatch pics, visit Skyley.

Other popular sunset posts: Sunset near Honnemaradu * Sunset near Kolar- Ecosport special * Sunset at Chikmagalur * Sunset at Muthukadu *

Moodbidire Koti Chennaya Kambala-the buffalo race photos

Kambala is a popular sport in the coastal Karnataka districts of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada (South Canara). It involves racing a pair of buffalos on a short watery track. Though this is an annual ritual held at multiple places during my childhood, all these days I hadn’t bothered to attend one. Recently someone complained about possible animal cruelty in Kambala and court banned it outright, along with few other South Indian animal sports such as Jalikattu (held often in southern Tamil Nadu).
I felt sad on hearing the ban news and felt guilty of never paying enough attention to my home district sport. Thankfully after various people explained to the court that Kambala doesn’t really harm the buffalo in anyway, Hon’ble court has given an interim permission to continue conducting the Kambala activity, but subject to expert supervision and additional precautions that ensure animals are not harmed in any way. Because of this, the series of Kambala celebrations is allowed to carry on for now, until court takes a final call.
Instructions not to harm the buffaloes and comply with court order
Then suddenly I came across the current season Kambala schedule, thanks to my facebook friends like Kudpi Raj, Mr. Gopala Krishna Baliga, Mr Krishna Mohan's blog has full schedule. I realized that there’s a Kambala happening at Moodubidire on Jan 17th. This was a convenient date as I had a home town visit planned around that time. So I set aside Jan 17th to spend at Kambala venue.
Coming back to Kambala, it is pretty straight forward- buffalos race each other in pairs and the best pair wins. But here’re some more details, from whatever I have heard, understood and seen about Kambala.

It is held in three categories, based on the age of the buffalo. Younger ones, medium aged ones and fully grown ones race in their respective categories.

Then there’re multiple types- simple race wherein the buffalo jockey (man who runs with the buffalos) runs along with racing buffalos, the second type is when the BJ stands on a skating device which is pulled by the buffalo.
Above: A buffalo pair being taken to start point. Notice the skater on which jockey will stand
Below: Closeup of the start point and overhead targets. Rider or Jockey will spray water upwards to reach this white ribbons. Whoever sprays water higher will win. I missed this part of the race.

I went to the venue at about 10 AM- I realized it was too early. Kambala is usually overnight event. Though it begins in the morning, it gains pace only in the evening, runs all through the night and concludes next day. At 10 AM, there were practice sessions going on and also some young buffalo category races happened. I spent about an hour walking around the campus, clicking lots of pics and then got bored. Went back to town and came back by 3PM. More crowd had gathered by now. I was hoping they might add some more water, but no. Water level was same. More water might mean better photos, but it will be more difficult for the buffalos and their jockey to run.

Leaping forward
Most of the announcements were in Tulu, popular local language in and around Mangaluru. Unfortunately I don’t understand this language much so it was difficult to understand all the details. I was told that last year there were 184 pairs of buffalos taking part in the Kambala, this year some 150+ pairs are taking part. Few felt that the charm of Kambala is diminishing because of excessive controls and fear of ban.

Kambala also attracts lots of amateur and professional photographs, as the race in muddy water, coupled with evening sun can get very photogenic. Announcer said that many people have won international photo awards by clicking photos of Kambala.

Laser guided system to decide winner
For the first time, laser sensors were used to decide the winner.Facilitated by Skyview, lasers accurately decide which of the two pairs crossed the finish line first and illuminate a lamp accordingly.

How is Kambala different from Jalikattu?
In Jalikattu, the primary motive is to tame the bull. To be able to hold on to its horns, control it and avoid getting killed in the process. Against each buffalo a bunch of brave men jump in and try to stop it. In Kambala, primary motive is to have a short race. The buffalos don’t need any pushing or pulling- most of them set off on their own once unleashed… It is the jockey who has to keep pace. At the end of the lane few support staff are deployed to ensure that buffalos won’t march into wrong direction or into general public. They are taken back to shed and readied for next round of race, if any. 

Dignitaries on the stage keenly watching Kambala race

Full view of the dual race track (Jodukere)
 Below: That moment when the buffalo jockey lost control of his buffaloes...
Lost control!

So is Kambala bad for animals?
No. Just like a horse owner is proud of his horses, the buffalo owner is usually very proud of his assets. These buffalos are given additional care, good food and shelter, so that they can win races. Most of these buffalos need no push to race. Show them the track and they are more eager to run than their masters. There’re couple of people assigned to control the buffalos and release them only when it is time to begin the race. In a horse race jockey constantly need to push the horses to run faster. In a buffalo race, it is the buffalo jockey who struggles a lot to keep up with the buffalos.

Is there’re cruelty involved? No. Most of the hits were usually to guide them in right direction-just like how a bullock cart driver uses a whip to make the bulls go in the direction of his choice.
The Trophy for winning pair
And coming to animal cruelty, why not BAN bakrid during which lakhs of innocent goats are killed? Isn’t that cruel? Why not ban horse races? Besides using all tactics to make horses go a few second faster, many people also lose money only to make a few super rich even richer. Why not ban chicken biriyani?

I had to leave at about 5PM due to various reasons. I couldn’t witness the finals or the main even where water is sprayed up to 6-8 feet. Should definitely go one more time.

I have some more photos and video footage to share. Will do that in a separate post little later.

Similar: Bullock cart rally to raise awareness * Polocup Race