Monday, June 30, 2008

June 2008-Quick recap of posts

Can’t believe half of 2008 is already history!

The month was great-Me fulfilling a long pending wish of a long drive, Karnataka home minister commenting on my blog, both Desipundit and BlogBharti linking to my Self drive rentals related posts (Thanks 2 Nikhil and Mridula) , me trying my hands on poetry and more. 

I’m travelling out of Chennai almost every month since past 4 months and the trend is likely to continue for next few months. (Thanks to my Boss at work for necessary leave approvals!) Here're quick notes on posts published during June 2008, for the purpose of not so regular visitors who may wish to have a high level view of all posts.

Most popular one was the Chennai-Mysore Self drive post wherein I wrote about the 1300 kms date I had with Skoda Octavia for 3 full days. This post also has lots of photos. This post is complemented by a complete guide to self drive car rentals in India.

A poem I wrote out of nothing also attracted lots of eyeballs. Hon’ble Karnataka Home Minister Dr. VS Achar writing a comment in my blog did create some hype.

Ups and downs of my blogging, and the tale of few abandoned topics were the kind of personal posts this month.

The post on Saligrama Makkala mela performing at Infosys Mysore and post on Upadhya’s tender coconut opener were least popular but managed to attract one comment each (other one is my reply)

The post “What to gift for a 5 year old kid” was read by the parents of the kid to whom I was hunting the gifts for, and they knew full details of what I was gifting, even before I landed at their home.

The warm up post wherein I said I am dating a Czech beauty was taken a bit seriously by Sandesh, who somehow didn’t comment on any subsequent posts.

Ending the month with a review of i-Mint reward scheme and this summary of posts

Read Summary of posts for May 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008

I-mint rewards Card from ICICI-Review (now Payback)

August 2012 Update: Redeemed some points from payback, delivery of gifts have been very prompt and got it in about 3 business days flat.

Jan 2012 Update: imintpoints is now

June 2011 Update: Recently I did redeem my points from iMint couple of times and the delivery of items happened promptly. I believe the issues with iMint have been resolved or minimized of late. Below is my original review of iMint, written 3 years ago...
Original Post: June 2008: iMint points-Good idea, badly executed.

Imint, in principle, is an excellent idea, but I somehow am not finding it useful. This post offers an analysis of pros and cons of this reward program.

The core idea behind the scheme is to encourage people to spend more, that too at certain specific merchants/companies with whom iMint has a tie up. In exchange for your money which is spent at channel partners you will get some points, which when accumulated, can be exchanged for some gifts.imint points reward cardIMint started sometime in late 2006/early 2007. It was fully free at that time. I applied and got a card delivered promptly within few days. They also tied up with major players like ICICI Bank, Airtel etc and got access to huge customer base these companied had. All customers of ICICI Bank, airtel etc were sent unsolicited imint cards-same individual would have got multiple cards- one for being ICICI account holder, one as an Airtel customer, one through direct application etc- NO attempt was made to consolidate and issue a common card.

I got two cards- one from direct application and another from ICICI-I seldom used any of them, because I was not frequent spender at any of the participating partners (Lifestyle, Indian etc). I never believed in "spend more, save more" concept. I always believed in "Don’t spend at all and save all" concept.

Now, here’re some observations because of which I feel it is not a good idea to keep excessive expectations from this card:

1. You get 2 points for every Rs 100 spent at lifestyle. To get Rs.500 gift voucher, you’ll need 1400 points, to get which you need to spend Rs 70000. If you’re spending Rs 70k, you can easily demand a discount of 5-10% in any shop (buying the cloths from an unbranded cloths shop can fetch you even higher discounts for that amount. Lifestyle products are always overpriced and a less than 1% discount is not worth all the pain. (You don't have to spend all 70k at once, and not just at Lifestyle-still that is a huge amount)

2. The process of crediting the points is not automated. If I use my ICICI credit card at Lifestyle, immediately the points should get credited to my iMint account (since ICICI account can be linked with iMint). But that doesn’t happen- we need to manually swipe the imint card again. For online purchases it is another headache. Most of the participating outlets, mainly HP ones are either not aware of the scheme or do not have a swiping machine to credit iMint points. Most of the HP outlets simply say "we don't entertain iMint card". Some shops listed on their website say “We’ve pulled out of this scheme”. If you miss to swipe your card during the transaction, there’s no way to claim it later. With so much technological advances, they need to make the process simple and automated, reducing inconvenience to customers.

3. I don’t see my ICICI credit card points reflecting promptly in iMint. ICICI says I need to check with iMint and iMint do not have a habit of responding to emails. (I’ve resolved not to waste my money calling their customer care) ICICI doesn’t give an option that I can chose not to go with iMint and redeem my points separately. ICICI mandating me to go with iMint has forced me to minimize the usage of ICICI card altogether. I’ve started using my other card more because of better reward schemes. (Update: this issue is resolved now-refer end of the post)

4. No toll free number for redemption/customer care. Customer care numbers have been set up in few major cities but calling them would cost significantly. Online redemption is there, but site design and navigation is not that friendly. We all know how tough it is dealing with customer care people- Repeating our story again and again each time we call them, instant promises but no action, long hold periods-I’m sure one will spend more money on phone calls than value of the gift., Why can’t they give a toll free number? Making the process complex, painful and uneconomical for end user will turn users away.

5. Most of the shops they have tie up with are some unknown shops located in unknown area-time, petrol and effort spent in locating these shops would not make it worth the value of imint points received in return. If they can have tie up with well known shops like Reliance Fresh, Big bazaar, Subhiksha and such shops which can be found in every neighborhood it will be good.

While it was free initially, now it costs Rs 199. I believe as they gain more members and acceptance they will increase the points required to exchange gifts with.

In past one and a half years I have accumulated some 240 points-not enough to redeem the cheapest item one can redeem-a HPCL voucher requiring some 350 points. I don’t spend much with their participating outlets-at some instances I did, I didn’t care to swipe the imint card. All in all, this is a useless card for low spenders like me. The money, time and effort involved in redeeming doesn’t make it worth for me. If you spend several thousand rupees every month on air travel, phone bill, shopping etc, may be you can give it a try.

The concept behind it is really good, but the promoters of i-Mint do not seem to have any intention of making it a really pleasant experience to end users. Through their incompetent website and pathetic customer service, they are destroying a beautiful business opportunity and turning users away. It’s high time i-Mint channel partners (lifestyle, ICICI Bank, Indian, MakeMyTrip and other lesser known shops) take a serious look at this, put some pressure on iMint promoters and ensure that customer gets to enjoy their usage of iMint.

Some immediate action points for i-Mint Promoters (if they care)

  • Show some courtesy of acknowledging and responding to mails.
  • It’s not worth to make multiple STD Calls to talk to customer care. Give a toll free number and invest in site's infrastructure to increase its efficiency and reliability.
  • Points should get credited without any additional effort by the user (or it should be minimum)
  • Give online provisions to claim points for eligible transactions for which imint card was not swiped (this can be done by taking bill number, verifying it with service provider and then crediting the points-For example airlines allow you to claim frequent flyer miles post journey)
  • Value of gifts should be at least 2-3% of the amount spent to accumulate the points which were needed to exchange that gift. If it is less than 1% the extra time and effort spent in redeeming won’t be worth it.
  • Conduct a survey and collect feedback from your users to recognize how disappointed they are with your service. If you care to improve yourself you’ll automatically get more customers and business partners. (Update: They did held a survey in Nov 08)
  • Revamp your website-its not that user friendly. (For example, I need to enter 16 digit imint card number every time- a userID would have been better)
Santosh wrote an interesting comment when I cross published this post at MS. He says “Whatever you do they mint…What you get is not more than a pepper mint
Guess many of you might have got this card-say from ICICI or airtel. Did you find it useful?
Photo from Updates: I read on moneycontrol that Infosys BPO has tied up with iMint to enroll all its employees to this reward program. They are also going on aggressively to sign-up many more commercial establishments (like giving free iMint card with purchase of mobile phone etc). I only wish they fix some basic issues listed above first.
Also read elsewhere that ICICI Bank owns iMint-Not sure if it is true.

Major update on iMint card: 
iMint customer care never bothered to respond to my mails but an escalation through ICICI Bank helped. My complaint was that my ICICI credit card reward points are not reflecting in my iMint statement. I escalated this through ICICI Bank and Dennis from iMint called me from Bangalore. After discussing with him I learnt that the points were being sent to a separate iMint number which was created for me when I applied for ICICI credit card. I already had an iMint card as ICICI Account holder, mapped to my ICICI debit card usage, which was different from the card mapped to credit card. So Dennis offered to map my credit card to my old iMint card and transfer the points to this card. That was good. He also explained that now they are allowing online redemption and I need not waste money call customer care. That is a good relief.
Also one Mr Pradeep has thanked for the feedback and has offered to extend his assistance in this matter.
Feeling bit comfortable that they cared to call and resolve the issue. Many of you must be feeling similar issues-spare a moment to escalate through proper channels and get it fixed.

October Updates: Redeemed some points for a Rs 100 CCD gift coupon. Website failed me twice, but got third time lucky when tried during early morning. My first redemption in 2 years... Delivery of the item was prompt and ontime. No issues

Similar: mGinger Paid SMS Ads * ICICI Cashback offers * ICICI Bank long term customer feedback  *  ICICI Bank Cycle banking * Recruitment frauds- Job aspirants beware * SBI accepts me as Customer *

Thursday, June 26, 2008

POEM: Shaken, but Not Stirred!

Trying my hands on a poem for the first time…Nothing personal in this. Wasn't sure how readers will take it. Did a beta release yesterday at Mouthshut and feedback was positive. So with that courage releasing this to my blog readers.

Read and tell me if this looks hopeless/average/bad/acceptable… whatever…
---Poem Start---

---Shaken, but not Stirred---

I should have kept my cool
But now I feel like a fool

I’ll be in town this weekend-said he
When and where are we meeting? Questioned an eager me

Will call you once I land-said he
I’ll be eagerly waiting-said me

The person didn’t even had plans of calling me
Should I plan for an outing?-asked the stupid me

Not sure about outing-said he
Not sure means "Sure-Not"-someone should’ve told me!

He’s back in his town
I feel like thrown deep down

He’s living his life Bindaas
Why should I feel like Devdaas?

Seems to be in no regrets not meeting me
Should have known where I stand-crazy me!

Telephone calls are really cheap
Am I cheaper than that? I weep

Have to apply market correction
And consolidate my position

For him I am not even worth a call
Should I keep bothering him then?-not at all

What do I do now? Ask for an explanation?
Not interested in excuses and narration.

Was there a misunderstanding?-I don’t know
If he is willing to explain-I‘d like to know

He needs to express some interest in this friendship
Because I don't run one sided relationship

Till then I prefer to retreat
And in this friendship-stay discrete

I should have kept my cool
But now I feel like a fool

---End of poem---

You can now Start laughing/clapping/commenting...And thanks a lot for reading my poem...Can you suggest a title? I think if I replace He with She it would have been more spicy-Still I prefer to keep it simple this way.

Update: Thanks for the wonderful feedback. I've added 6 more lines (in brown)...I've opted to keep "Shaken but not Stirred" as the title as of now. Thanks to everyone who have suggested various titles.

Similar posts: Summer of 05 * My favourite lyrics lines * Bhagyada Balegala Kannada song-lyrics and translation * Krishna nee begane baaro * Rejection handling in daily life

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A tale of abandoned topics

There were several topics in my mind which I was considering blogging about, but have abandoned them later due to various reasons. This post is a quick intro to few such topics which would have appeared as a post in this blog but unfortunately didn’t/couldn’t.
 1 Blogging vs Movie making
                I thought of comparing blogging and movie making, and highlight the similarities. (for example, a. it is difficult to give hit movies all the time and similarly it is not practical to expect each post to be very popular, b. Each movie is released with lots of expectations and hope. The cast and crew await public response eagerly after release-same with blogger-he eagerly awaits what his readers may say on the latest post…and few more such observations)
                But scrapped the idea because I felt that reasons are not strong enough to associate blogging with movie making alone. Almost everything in life is equally challenging-the new project at work, a new tournament, the next academic year-almost everything involves anticipations, hope, expectations. Right?
 2 Posts that were overhauled completely
                Whenever required I keep refining my contents. I don’t do a publish and forget job. Several posts have undergone multiple updates-some typical reasons for update are: correcting syntactical/factual error, adding additional information/image, refining the content for SEO purposes/better readability, linking to similar posts and so on. Most of the time changes will be quite small, but nevertheless, regular readers, who read my post within a day or two of its publication, often miss these updates. I can’t ask readers to read the whole post again because I’ve revised it, nor it is feasible to list every small change.
                But some posts have undergone major changes since its first publication. The post on Skandagiri was first written as an experience account. But since it started attracting visitors looking for tourist information about the place, I split the post into two sections-experience account and tourist information. The legendary Club Mahindra post has evolved a lot over time and is a lot refined and mature now, than what it was initially written. In post navigation, excerpts from interview with Club Mahindra executives, disclaimer, 2008 membership price list etc were provided over a period of time. The BMTC Volvo post was constantly updated to include latest available timetable information, route info etc. In some cases the comment written by readers were so relevant/informative that I absorbed them in the body of the post (with due credits of course-like this post) and more
                 Was thinking of publishing a post listing those posts which have undergone major revamps, but dropped it, because such posts (posts listing summary of posts , best of 2007 and the likes) were never popular in this blog. Reading once is itself a big task- don’t think anyone really cares to read it second time.
  3. Journalism and Investment experience part 2
Have written earlier about my teenage journalism experience and investment experiences. Some points which were left in those posts-was planning for a part 2. But have covered most of the points in few recent posts (the SBI one and this post), so had to drop the idea of part 2
 4.  Reliance-Digitally fooling everyone
                Reliance seems to be obsessed with the term “Digital”. Way back in 2002, when Reliance launched its mobile phone service, with that legendary LG handset and a scheme wherein user had to pay some Rs. 24k over 3 years, Reliance used to call those ugly handsets as “Digital Multimedia handset”. If you’re able to visualize those handsets, just think, if those handsets were “Digital Multimedia handsets” what would they call today’s Nokia N95, iPhone etc? Only Ambani has to tell what is so digital and what was so multimedia in that handset. The advertisement those days used to show an image of K3G, a popular movie of those times, giving people an impression that they can watch movies like K3G in the handset if they buy them, which was purely misleading.
               Their current ad again speaks about Digital Voice clarity. As per my knowledge no mobile operator is using analog technology for telecommunication. So thought of blogging about this. But a quick chat with Jayasimha, a telecom engineer, revealed that CDMA is supposed to have better voice clarity than GSM. With that concluded that the case is not strong enough for a post. (This post was planned for our Ad Critics blog)
 5. Tourist places
                Have visited several places during past 9 months-Places around Mysore, Coorg, Mumbai, Manipal and more (and Many more trips lined up for near Future!) Wanted to blog about places like Dubare elephant camp, Talakaveri, Talakad, Shivanasamudra and more, but lack of unique content is holding me back. Have some photos and some basic tourist information, but these are already available on internet and since I have no unique experience/extra information/observations to share, not sure if writing a typical post-“went there-saw that-it was nice-came back” would add much value.
 6. Grand Theft Auto-Vice City Game review
Long back I’d reviewed this game from Rockstar Games and published this review in Mouthshut. Republished this in March in my blog but recalled the post after few days because of these reasons: a. With GTA 4 making record sales and rocking all over,  it’s a bit too late to talk about Vice City b. When I read my own review, after few years since it was originally written, felt that it could have been written in a far better way than the plain vanilla description of the game. Didn’t have the time to refine the contents and decided not to serve an uninteresting version to my readers.
 Do you think any of these topics deserve to be detailed and independent posts?
 That’s it in this episode. Now can you tell me the supreme irony of this post?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Self Drive Car rentals in India- A complete Guide

Updated March 19th, 2014:
Added Zoomcars and refined Hertz section, downgraded Avis.

The concept of self drive is slowly picking up momentum in India. Unlike west, manpower is pretty cheap here and coupled with the facts that driving in India is best left to professional drivers, the idea of self drive car rentals doesn’t seem to have really taken off. While in every street you’ll find couple of travel agencies offering Sumos, Qualis and Indicas for rent, the number of car rental agencies who dare to give their machines on self drive is very very few. Also, driving is not considered a respectable job and drivers are treated at par with watchmen, cleaner and such other unskilled or semi skilled jobs. Many of us do not have an idea what self drive is and if that option is really available in India.
BMW 320d from Zoom
I took my first self drive rental way back in 2008 (Skoda Octavia from Carzonrent- My trip experience). And thereafter have rented close to 50+ cars from various agencies in different cities. Based on this experience and general observation and knowledge, I am listing some notes which will be useful to travelers considering self drive options in India.

Quick Navigation:
Advantages of Self Drive* Risks involved in self drive (in India) * Suggestions to those planning to take cars on self drive rentals in India * My feedback on Hertz India (Carzonrent)* Eligibility for taking cars on Self drive * Companies renting cars on self drive in India

Advantages of Self drive:
1. You get an extra seat
2. If you enjoy driving, it will be better experience driving yourself
3. Some intercity highways are pretty good-one can enjoy driving.
4. It gives privacy
5. In many instances, self drive works out cheaper than regular cab rental- particularly for long drives.

6. Sometimes cab drivers might be extremely stressed, due to several long trips and not enough rest in between. Some drivers also tend to be rash and negligent. If you’re confident of your driving skills, self drive might give you an advantage over these factors.
7. Automatic cars are also available, if you're not comfortable with Manual transmission.
8. Can be rented on hourly/daily/weekly or even monthly basis- easy booking process on zoomcar & Carzonrent

Risks of taking a vehicle on Self drive in India:
1. Liabilities: If anything goes wrong you’ll be answerable, and there're lot of things which can go wrong (vehicle break down, flat tyre, accidents, road blocks, getting lost and so on). In a chauffeur driven rental, you can enjoy the ride while the driver will be responsible for both driving and overall care taking of the vehicle. If the vehicle breaks down you can leave the driver and his vehicle and continue journey in another vehicle. (if possible) With self drive, a small incident can ruin all the fun.

2. Rental companies usually buy the cheapest available variant of a car and the vehicle may not have basic safety facilities or convenience accessories. 
Update: This may not be true always- I find mid to top variants on offer these days. Do check with rental company if you're very particular.

3. As per RTO norms vehicle given on self drive will have yellow numbers on black background. With Hertz sticker and this yellow number plate, rest of the road users take it as a taxi and the driver is taken for granted as an experienced taxi driver. So you may not get the respect of a car owner and since your expertise as driver is taken for granted you won’t get much consideration on the road either.

4. Driving in India is an art. Besides knowing how to drive you also need a strong mouth. When two vehicles touch each other, irrespective of whos fault it is, one driving the expensive vehicle is held guilty by default. You'll need a strong mouth (and muscle too, sometimes!) to survive an argument.

5. Besides knowing how to drive, you should also know the roads to take and knowledge of local language will be essential if you wish to take help from localities during the journey. (Zoomcars will have tablets for easy navigation and maps on your mobile are fairly accurate these days)

Is it advisable to take cars on self drive in India?

If you enjoy driving, if you're tempted by the advantages and are comfortable with the risks listed above, then you can try self drive in India. If you're risk averse and wish to play safe, go for regular taxi rental

If you plan to take cars on self drive in India:

1. Take a car made by either Maruti/Tata or Mahindra if going on long trips. These manufacturers have dealers all over India and if something goes wrong finding help will be easy. I am not saying don't take other cars- just be informed that service network for other brands is poor. Shouldn't be an issue if you drive around city only, or when a car is fairly new

2. Insist on a relatively new vehicle which is less than 2-3 years old and that vehicle should have relatively newer tyres. (Most of the cars with Carzonrent and Zoom are pretty new)

3. Take a vehicle with high ground clearance. Most of the Indian roads will be in bad condition and may have unscientifically designed humps. Vehicle with low ground clearance will make driving tough.

4. Driving in India is not as easy as driving in other countries. Attributes for this are many-bad roads, irresponsible follow road users who might make unpredictable movements, lack of road sense, not having proper navigation facilities.

5. Consider keeping an Indian friend as co passenger (preferably one who knows local language and also knows driving)

6. Take rental from a reputed company. Some operators may resort to unethical practices like charging a huge amount even for a negligible scratch, handing over a vehicle which is in bad condition, refusing to reimburse you if you had to spend money replacing a faulty spare, renting out vehicles without genuine documents etc.

7. If you need to rent a vehicle for months, better to buy a second hand car, use it for few months and sell off again. Check with a used car dealer for this.
Ertiga from Carzonrent
Eligibility to take cars on Self drive rental in India

1. A driver’s license (India or International, LMV) which is min 2 years old and without any endorsements

2. Age 23+ (it was 25+, recently brought down to 23 by Hertz, with some other operators it is still 25+)

3. A credit card with sufficient credit limit (A security deposit ranging from 30k to 1 lakh could be blocked on your card by Hertz, depending on value of the car). Zoom doesn't charge any deposit and private operators accept cash but insist on original Passport or other documents.

Terms and Conditions you should be aware of:

1. Please check with rental company on limitations on No of kms, if any and additional charges- Zoom's rental includes about 250kms worth fuel per day and a per km charge thereafter, some operators put a max cap of 200 or 300kms a day.

2. Car will be delivered full tank and needs to be returned full tank. Else 15% extra on fuel filled by the company- (This is not applicable in case of zoom, some private operators give empty tank and ask you to return empty).

3. Insurance is provided against theft, accidents and major damages. However renter will have to compensate the car company in case of minor damages (dents, scratches etc) which can’t be claimed under insurance.

4. If there’s a fault with the vehicle and if you replace the spare, car rental company will reimburse the expense (Condition: Not when damage is due to reasons like driver’s negligence, driving on bad roads etc.)
Check with respective rental agencies for complete list of terms and conditions.

Whom to contact for self drive car rentals in India?

There’re very few companies which give cars on self drive in India. So your choices are fairly limited. Only if the awareness about self drive increases, we can expect more players to come in, bringing in more options and cutting down prices.

Option 1. Zoomcars - Only in Bengaluru as of now, expected to open in other cities soon. Zoom has huge collections of vehicles all around Bangalore. Unlike others, Zoom is a pure play self drive company and this 1 year old start up has been expanding rapidly Read my complete review of ZOom here.  You need to sign up in advance- pls use
 referral code X9PDcd

Option 2: Carzonrent (Hertz India franchisee) is the leading one. Carzonrent has relaunched their self drive initiative with MYLES- now the cars are pretty cheap and options are good. They've cars all over India. Read my Chennai rental experience here 

Option 3. Autoriders: Their rates are slightly cheaper than Hertz, but do not have much options. Ford Ikon is the best car they have on self drive, as per their website. They haven't responded to my enquiry since weeks.

Option 4. Eco Rent a car -In and around Delhi

Option 5. Avis -Avis was once my preferred option, but not any more. The options they have and the rate they charge are just not worth it. Their rentals come two times the amount charged by Carzonrent. I've stopped using their services currently. Hopefully they will soon refine their self drive portfolio
Avis Ford Endeavor- Now discontinued
Option 6: Individuals: If you can scan local newspapers or web forums, you may come across individuals who have a vehicle or two on offer for self drive. They are usually vehicle owners who may wish to make some extra money out of their cars. Such cars are usually well maintained and really Cheap (Someone in Bangalore was offering Ford Ikon for Rs 3000 for weekend (Friday evening to Monday morning) which is quite cheap- Hertz charges nearly 3 times that amount). Downside here is that the deal is unofficial and often based on mutual trust. Not much clarity exists about insurance, how much you may have to compensate if there's a damage etc. Not much paper work either.

There are other city specific operators- like in Pune

Go to TOP

Finding a self drive car rental in Bangalore-another detailed account

Please feel free to share your ideas/experience/suggestions in this regard.

Related post: Hyderabad-Bengaluru by bus-Comparison of operators * Skoda Octavia self drive experience * Zoomcar Impact on Hertz & Avis * Zoomcar anniversary *

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Chennai-Mysore by Self Drive-Dating Skoda Octavia

“Indulge” is the one word to explain what I did for 72 hours starting June 5 2008 midnight till June 8th 2008 midnight. I took a Skoda Octavia on self drive from Hertz Chennai and drove all the way to Bangalore-Mysore and Back, totaling over 1300 kms in 3 days. This post is an experience account of this excursion.

Most of my friends and relatives know that I love driving. Beg/borrow/steal I try to get my hands behind wheels at every available opportunity. Many have handed over their keys to me hesitantly while few have said polite but firm NO when asked if I can drive their car a bit. Have driven several vehicles so far, such as WagonR, Mahindra Utility and Pickup, Accent, Esteem, Indica and Tavera, totaling to few thousand kms. [Details of me driving a tractor in this post, video of me driving Tavera here] But all these drives were for small stretches each time, not long drives extending hundreds of kms to quench me. I haven’t saved enough to buy a luxury car yet (maybe I can buy one on loan but I am not sure if I will enjoy owning a car as much I do driving it) but fortunately I am in a position to afford (once in a while) the luxury of renting a car for few days. Minimum age for self drive was 25 years sometime back but recently Hertz has brought it down to 23 years, obviously to target young executives. This made me eligible for self drive.

When a Mysore visit was being contemplated I decided to use this opportunity to indulge in what I always wanted to do-long drive in a sporty vehicle. I wanted to rent a TATA Safari but Hertz said they don’t have Safari on Self Drive. (For the uninitiated, Self Drive is a rental scheme where you can take a vehicle from car rental company without a driver. You drive and take care of the car for the duration you rent it) Dream brands like Mercedez were pretty expensive (may be next time) so I decided to settle for a Czech beauty named Skoda Octavia, which I felt sporty enough (A beast of 1.9 liter engine within with 170 kmph max speed). Got a booking confirmation from Hertz.

I wasn’t sure if any of my friends would join me in this drive (Reasons: 1. They do fear for their lives, 2. Departure was on Thursday night so anyone joining me were required to apply leave on Friday, 3. The mail I had sent was a bit formal-demanding high punctuality) but to my surprise many people showed interest. All 5 seats were full for Chennai Bangalore sector and I had to deny seats to two people who wanted to join. For Bangalore-Mysore sector there were 2 passengers (Chandrakanth & Nagaraj- If I had shouted Mysore-Mysore in Kalasipalya market I would have got some passengers and coffee money too: LOL). For Mysore local site seeing I had my family members and relatives for company and for return journey (It was a day journey-most of my passengers preferred to spend time with family during the day and start by night) I had only one passenger-Nagaraj.

Passengers for Chennai-Bangalore sector
Made adequate preparations for the journey- A first aid kit, a print out with name and contact details of hospitals in Vellore, Hosur, Bangalore, Madya and Mysore, pre boarding safety instructions to passengers etc. But the 3 days journey ended smoothly without even a minor incident. I was anticipating problems like road blocks etc-because of fuel price hike and fertilizer shortage related agitations. But was lucky not to face any.

Got my hands on the Skoda at around 2330 hours on 5th June. To my disappointment, the car was several years old model and had age old cassette player, except front left, remaining 3 tyres hardly had any threads on them. Natural with its age, it also had several minor dents and scratches. Took the delivery, reached home and when I wanted to take a reverse I was in for a surprise. All the cars I had driven so far had reverse gear on extreme right, below 5th gear, but in Skoda this was different-on the extreme left, adjacent to first gear. I could not move the vehicle backward-called the Hertz driver and he told that I need to push the lever down and then move to position. Not sure why Skoda has this crazy position for reverse gear-very tough to identify if the vehicle is in 1st gear or reverse, unless you experience the vehicle moving. Loaded my luggage and picked up my co passengers. Removed my shoes and shifted to chappal, as I feel more confident and comfortable when I can feel the pedals with my legs and it was nearly 0100 hours when we left Chennai city limits.

I had covered Chennai Bangalore on bike some 2 years ago and had taken some 7 hours to reach Bangalore. This time in a car, I had benchmarks to exceed. Night driving was new to me but was fun. Making way through slow moving trucks soon we hit the relatively empty highway. Had slept for few hours previous evening to prepare myself for an all night drive. Chennai Bangalore road is superb (Via Vellore and Hosur) and driving was real fun. Some stretches of the road had self reflecting navigation lights-which made driving easy. The headlamp was just adequate, though I wished they were slightly more powerful. Lack of full visibility forced me to stay within 150 kmph. Nearly 150 Rs was spent on 4 toll gates that exist between Chennai and Bangalore. With 2 minor breaks and one major break in Hosur, we reached Bangalore city (Basavanagudi) by 6 AM. 2 of my passengers (Sudhir and Krishna Shastry)) got down in Bangalore and soon we were on Bangalore-Mysore Express corridor. We stopped at Kamat Lokaruchi for a refreshment and were in Mysore (Saraswatipuram) by 9 AM.

Driving by green country side

My family and relatives were taken by kind of surprise when I told I came driving all the way. 550 kms in 8 hours. After refreshments plans for next 3 days were drafted. We had seen Mysore local tourist places-palace, KRS, Chamundi Hills etc, so this time focus was on tourist places on the outskirts of Mysore. We visited Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Srirangapatna, Shivanasamudra, Talakkad and Somanatheshwara Temple and the Infosys Campus. Information about these places already exists on internet, so not planning separate post on each of these. (To be honest, we did a lot of searching on internet about these places but the info was bare basic. For all practical information (what is the distance between two places, which road to take, is the road good etc) we had to stop and ask locals)

Taking a vehicle on self drive has its own pros and cons, which warrants a separate post. I enjoyed being undisputed owner of that car for 3 days. Could perfect my skills in every aspect of driving-city and highway, day and night, good and bad roads, parking, reversing and more. Two wheelers and autos were the most dreaded things during my drive, because of their tendency to make unpredictable movements. Had to ask Nagaraju to keep an eye on vehicles coming on left side for any possible abrupt movements. To all those maniac drivers of 2 and 3 wheelers- if you’re alive still it is not because you drive great-it is because we, the four and six wheeler drivers are being considerate enough to accommodate your rash and abrupt movements on the road.
3 days went off in a flash. Wish the journey lasted little longer…

About the car: Except that engine was powerful, didn’t find any appreciable difference in this car w.r.t interiors and suspension, compared to other cars I have driven, say WagonR and Indigo CS. (Note: The Skoda I drove is 4-5 years old model, cheapest variant in its class and was being used as a taxi. So one shouldn’t keep too many expectations.) But vehicle is quite sturdy and stable. Even at 160-170 kmph there were no hesitation from the engine or vibration in the body. For 1300 kms it consumed over 81 litres of diesel, resulting in a highway average of nearly 16 kmpl, which is quite decent.(AC was used for may be just 10% of the drive-rest of the time we rolled down the windows and enjoyed the cool breeze of nature). Ground clearance was a bit poor, wiper and indicator controls were unconventional, similar to Ford.

The rent was supposed to be Rs 4500 per day plus tax, but Hertz gave me a discount and charged me Rs 13014 (or Rs 4340 per day approx-not sure why I was given a discount-I think it is a corporate discount while JOJO feels it is because I returned the car in one piece!) Little more than 3067 Rs was spent on diesel, resulting in net expense of about Rs 12.4 per km, which is far cheaper than chauffeur driven rental option for 3 days/1300 kms for Skoda. All in all it proved to be a bit heavy on my pocket but as I said in the beginning, once in a while we need to indulge in what we enjoy doing, so I am not complaining.

I want to drive a Volvo bus next… Any rental company in this world giving me a B7R on self drive? Please let me know.

Related: A driver's instincts * A Complete Guide to self drive car rentals in India * Bangalore Wayanad escapade in a Scorpio

2011 Updates: Hertz has sold that Octavia. Skoda has also discontinued Octavia and Rapid is the replacement for it. I doubt if Rapid can be as good as Octavia. Aria 4x4 review * Aria photoshoot Set 1Set 2 * Aria in Mullayanagiri * ottinene * Ford Endeavor Review

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Saligrama Makkala Mela performs Yakshagana at Infosys Mysore

Yakshagana is a folklore art popular in coastal Karnataka. It is a mix of dance and drama wherein a particular part (episode or Prasanga) of some popular story (say Mahabharatha) are enacted with unique costumes, background music and a combination of dance and drama. Saligrama Makkala Mela (ಸಾಲಿಗ್ರಾಮ ಮಕ್ಕಳ ಮೇಳ) is a troupe of child artists who learn Yakshagana from its founder H. Sridhar Hande. Unlike other troupes or bands members of Makkala Mela team keep changing- Children grow up and eventually leave the team due to various reasons including studies. So Sridhar Hande continuously need to keep looking for youngsters, train them from scratch and make them perform on stage.Saligrama Makkala mela performing Yakshagana in Infosys campus mysore
Makkala Mela was founded in 1975 and the troupe has toured all over the world, including US and Behrain. Recently they were in Mysore and was invited by Infosys to perform in their campus. I happened to be in the city on that day (Sunday, 8th June 08) and visited Infosys Campus and watched this Yakshagana show.

The episode was related to Vrishasena, son of Karna, who, on 17th day of Kurukshetra battle heads the Kaurava Army. Couple of still photos and videos of this show below.



More about Yakshagana in this website:

The Infosys Mysore campus was great too. “Whatever we have here is the best one can get in the world” is the one line description of the facilities there. I think a zoo is missing. (Satyam’s Bahadurpalli campus has it, though one cannot compare two campuses) Don’t want to blog too much about it- some Infy bloggers will be better equipped to write about it.

For those of you wondering what I am doing at Infosys campus, I was just there as a visitor.

Similar: Saligrama habba photos

Monday, June 09, 2008

Karnataka Home Minister Dr. VS Acharya comments on my blog post

Yesterday Morning I was in for a pleasant surprise-Was checking my mails in gmail and saw a comment from Dr. VS Acharya. (for my Coco Fresco Hyderabad post, wherein I had described a new approach adopted to promote tender coconut) The name sounded familiar-went to blogger profile and subsequently to his blog. 

As suspected, it turned out to be the blog of the very person who had taken oath as Cabinet Minister along with Karnataka CM Mr. B S Yadyurappa a week ago and was assigned the portfolio of home ministry less than 24 hours earlier. (He was minister for Medical Education earlier).

Never expected politicians to be tech savvy and have a blog. (Do SM Krishna, known for his IT friendliness, has a blog? No idea.) But then, Dr. VS Achar is a doctor by qualification and is one of the few highly qualified personalities in the political corridor. His bio data in this post

I feel honored to have such high profile visitors to my blog who stop by and leave a comment too. Here's wishing Dr. Acharya all the best for his tenure as Home Minister of Karnataka and sir, we're hoping to see some real improvements this time...

You can read the person blog of Dr. VS Acharya here. Photo sourced from his blog.

Note: Its official- In an interview with Vishveshwara Bhat, editor of Vijaya Karnataka, VS Achar speaks about his blog. Image here (refer last question). So this is authentic enough to believe that the said blog is of Home minister

Innovations-Upadhya's tender coconut opener!

This post is triggered by a comment from Hon'ble Home minister of Karnataka Dr. V S Acharya. [Comment here, details in this post]. I had seen this device long back but I guess I didn't have a blog then. Recently saw it again in my uncle's house and yesterday a comment prompted me to write a post about this.

Traditionally it takes a relatively strong person and substantial physical effort to chop off the tender coconut and take out the water. Ever wished for a simple tool to open tender coconut? Heres one.
innovative device to open tender coconut
Invented by Upadhya brothers (P Venkatramana Upadhya & Manjunatha Upadhya) of Saligrama, a town 24 kms north of Udupi, Karnataka, this small and trendy tool can drill through a tender coconut within a minute. To see how to use it watch the video below. My aunt took nearly 40 seconds to drill through. A stronger person may finish within 20 sec. Also, if you wish to drink only half of the water and preserve rest, you can replace the cap and store it…(Otherwise coconut water needs to be consumed immediately after opening-it cannot be stored otherwise).

This tool will be very handy when you wish to store some tender coconut at home or take them with you while going out on a trip. Available for less than Rs 80 at Mantap Stores, near Bus stand, Saligrama.

Video link:

But this works only on coconuts which are quite ‘tender’. On slightly ripe ones one would find it difficult. May be Upadhya brothers can think of a motorized version with a stronger drill bit powered by an electric motor (MICO-BOSCH would be an ideal business partner I guess).

Update: The photo you see is slightly older model-A new model with plastic handle is also available.

Contact details:
P V Upadhya
Upadhya Brothers, Saligrama Post,
Udupi District - 576 227
PH: +91 97395 24260

Also read: COUNTER TOP COCONUT GRATER from the same inventors

Thanks to Dr. V.S. Acharya (Hon'ble Home Minister, Govt of Karnataka) and, Jayasimha Upadhya and Manoj for related inputs. Photo and Video by Shrinidhi Hande, location and demo courtesy: Hande Family, Mysore.

Related: Coco Fresco, Hyderabad * Branding tender coconut

Update: 2 other useful links on tender coconut water

Update: Updhya's innovative tender coconut opener is now available as a mass market product, thanks to a Coimbatore based manufacturer.

Also read: Innovative mouse traps * Table top coconut grater *

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Dating a Czech Beauty

Deal all,

I am currently away from Chennai dating a Czechoslovakian beauty. Keep watching this blog for hot pics and juicy updates. Assuming nothing goes wrong, I am scheduled to date her 3 days and 3 nights.
But then, please don’t start dreaming or visualizing bad things-hold your breath for a day or two for details.
Secret revealed: Full details in this post

Other updates:
My book review of Chetan Bhagat’s “The three mistakes of my life” has reached top 15 in Google when you search for keywords related to “the 3 mistakes of my life”. It took just 10 days to reach this position from infinity.

Cross posted my “12 reasons why MLM companies go bad” at Churumuri (A popular news blog moderated by Journalist Krishna Prasad)-Within couple days comment count has neared half century-You can read the comments here if interested.

Also read: Tata Aria drive

What to gift a 5 years old kid?

This post gives quick analysis of some probable gifts you can pick for a 5 year old. I spent couple of hours in Landmark Chennai analyzing the gift items and sharing my observations here.
What makes an ideal gift for a child of 5 years? I had to finalize a gift for a cousin (5 years old boy). Since local stores around my place didn’t have enough collection decided to head for spencer’s plaza. I spent couple of hours in Landmark store and studied several potential gifts for their pros and cons. These were my person observations and thought process-yours need not be exactly same... But I think you can use this post as a reference while shopping...

Option 1: Children’s laptop- Rs 500-Rs 1000
This is a laptop like looking toy with a small screen and keyboards. Lets children learn some fundamentals like alphabets etc. But I didn’t like them because of following reasons:
*The screen size is very very small-Slightly bigger than that of a handheld video game-A kid would strain his eyes to read from that screen
*Wrong keyboard layout. Where we have space bar these toys have return keys. Many other irregularities-not a good idea to let the kid get used to a wrong keyboard layout and then let him struggle when he starts working with original keyboard.
* Typing is pain-like hitting a typewriter...
Since almost everyone has a computer at home it might be better idea to let the kid practice on real computer itself.

Option 2: Flying planes and helicopters
When I was a kid this kind of toys didn’t exist. We have really flying planes and helicopters now, starting Rs 1000 onwards. I studied couple of models-found that they were made of thermocol, to keep the weight minimal. But thermocol as a material is extremely susceptible to heat and pressure. It is practically impossible for the child to keep a thermocol made toy safe all the time. It will be disappointing to everyone if 1800 Rs worth toy helicopter gets damaged within few days. May be the expensive models made of plastic were better lasting but couldn’t consider them.

Option 3: Skating wheels: Rs 1500 approx
Almost zeroed in on this. But the store didn’t have a safety helmet a kid should wear while skating. Didn’t have time to go to another shop searching for safety helmet, hence had to drop this.

Option 4: Remote control cars:
I picked up a model and noticed that shop had affixed a semi transparent sticker on the box hiding the original price of MRP Rs 175 and besides which new price sticker of Rs 325 is affixed. Didn’t feel like buying this. I believe big bazaar sells the same model for Rs 175. Also this a very common toy these days-every kid has one.

Option 5: Mobile swimming pool
This is a plastic thing which when blown air becomes a circular tub which could be used as a pool for the kid. Price Rs 500 +. Might have bought this, had it been packaged more appropriately. (Explanation deleted.)

Option 6: Kids tent: Rs 999
Cost conscious mind in me felt Rs 999 is too much for a small tent. I’d bought a mosquito net 3 times bigger for Rs 80 and would have got tarpaulin sheets several square meters in area for that price…There weren’t any specifications on the package (height, volume etc)- Not sure if the kid will be able to move freely inside

Kite would have made an ideal gift but was missing.
Games requiring 2 or more players or not suiting the age group had to be ignored.
There were so many other options-kids telescope, microscope and several traditional ones (construction kits, board games etc) It was a tough time deciding right one. Store closing time neared and I had to decide fast.

After much deliberation I decided to diversify my picks and decided to split my budget into 4 parts. Bought a “learn 75 magic tricks kit”, a “map building game” and a set of drawing equipments. (each around 200-300 Rs) The fourth part haven’t decided what to do-may be some sweets or dress material-will decide later. Hoping that at least one them will be interesting/useful to the kid.

Related: How to make children save money?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Ups & Downs of my blogging

This post shares few ups and downs I faced during past two years of my blogging:
1 The MLM Supporters
Any talk on network and multi level marketing will be potentially controversial. When I wrote couple of posts on MLM (12 reasons why MLM cos go wrong * QuestNet reopens as Lotus marketing in Srilanka * Amway Inside story * An analysis of MLM companies) as expected there were lots of comments which criticized my stand. But then, I received couple of communications wherein someone sent detailed arguments and wanted to meet me in person and explain why & how their business is genuine and legitimate. Few wanted me to attend their presentations to understand the business properly. One thing common among these people was that they agreed that a particular company (Amway or QuestNet etc) are scams but insisted that their company is genuine and legitimate.
I am not sure if I want to take the discussions offline. I have an opinion, based on certain observations and analysis, which I publish as a post. Few will like it and benefit from it, some more will not agree and ignore it and rest of the world will not even notice it. That's the way it is-we need to accept that. To a reasonable extent I can respond to comments and provide clarifications, but beyond a limit it gets too much. Certainly I can’t afford to spend all my time and energy convincing the world that I am right. When someone doesn’t agree and insist that I change my stand I may have to ignore them and move on. Sorry folks.

It may not be bad to make friends online and take it offline. But not all will have good intentions and some due diligence will be required before trusting an hitherto unknown person and chose to meet him offline. For this reason I had to reject certain friend requests and requests from unknown people to meet me in person. When Club Mahindra suddenly invited me for their Coorg Trip for travel bloggers I had to do considerable ground work before accepting it. Sometimes it is like suspecting too much, but can't help it. Protocols are to be followed.

2. Me not an expert
I may not be an expert in most of the topics I write upon. But some readers believe otherwise and send in questions and concerns-Sometime it feels good that people are approaching you for help, sometime feels bad that you’re not able to help them (not knowing what to help or time constraint etc). Tried my best to help those who sought it, while had to ignore some.
a. One person sent a mail (with his resume) saying he is a student of hotel management and wishes to work as an intern with Club Mahindra. I have no clue what made him think I could get him an internship at Club Mahindra. Though his resume was written in such a bad English I sent it to Club Mahindra executives.

b. Someone else said she invested 30 k in reliance mutual fund and hasn’t got any communication in months. I had nothing specific to console her but assured her that probability of fraud seems very less in this case and after a quick discussion with a friend advised her to check with her broker or call reliance office to get her portfolio number. Never heard again from her-hope her investment is giving good returns now.
Many others sought help buying a laptop. (Because of this post) Responded them to my best knowledge-Haven’t received any feedback how many of them went by my suggestion.
The Club Mahindra post went beyond control-Many commented saying they feel cheated by CM and asked me how they can come out of that mess. I do not have any control over CM and there wasn't much I could do about it. Wherever possible I pointed them to other comments where readers had shared similar concerns and were considering their options, including legal ones.

3. Journos Contacting me
One Russian Lady, Reshatova Anneta approached me early last year [Read her comment here] who wanted my help in some article/report she was preparing. She said she works for russian company HR- media ( I verified her identity and couldn’t find anything fishy. I spent around half a day of my time and gave her the information she wanted. (Her article was something related to employment and empowerment of women in India) . This effort from my side proved to be a total waste-never heard from her again as to what happened to that article-probably it was rejected by her editor/boss or it was used for some internal purpose or she decided not to bother me once she got what she wanted.

Another lady, who identified herself as ABC (name withheld) from Hindustan Times, contacted me from Delhi regarding timeshare holidays. I gave my opinion as to why I felt investing in timeshare might not be a good idea and she promptly asked “What else people should do?” Think I didn’t give a convincing answer to her- I said something like “People can invest their capital smartly and  using the returns take one time holiday which gives lots of flexibility” Probably it didn’t convince her. Never heard again from her as well.
Few people sought my permission to use my club Mahindra articles for their newspaper/magazines-(like this comment for example)I generously permitted, but never heard from them. Thinking of it, a newspaper cannot easily quote a personal blog. If I were an editor, I would never rely on information sourced from a personal blog, because unlike a blog, a newspaper cannot easily criticize a company in its articles, unless the newspaper has enough evidence to survive a defamation case and be ready to lose advertisement revenue from that company. Also business articles seldom publish links to personal blogs-(Swati did that once [read it here] and for reasons not known to me, her column got stopped thereafter) So for all these reasons I guess those who wanted to quote my blog in their articles couldn’t do it.

4. From ideas to reality
In this post I suggested that public toilets in India can be made free (by recovering operating expenses by showing ads). A group of people, headed by Abhishek Pandey, under the umbrella of ‘soon to be registered’ NGO called Dream India projects (DIP) came up to implement that idea in Delhi. They made some good progress initially but since past one month or so there’s been no updates on that. Hope that project becomes a reality soon. Details in this post

5. Prizes that never came
Won a contest in January last year and was supposed to get return air tickets as prize- Never got that till date. (Last year abandoned pursuit after a set of email follow ups) [Details in this post]

6. Lucrative offers 
Once upon a time my Club Mahindra post used to come right below Club Mahindra official website (image in this post).(Now the position has dropped due to a set of reasons, including smart counter SEO strategies from CM, such as registering dozens of websites with club mahindra in its name). During those days I have received several offers where some people wanted me to either a. write a positive article about their company and make it come on top or b. write a negative article about their competition and make it come on top. Nothing great about those companies either-people who approached me identified themselves as "representatives" of the company. I had to reject such offers because those were not my purpose of blogging. Can’t write good or bad just because someone is willing to pay me. 

7. Stupid acts
Some of the activities I did during initial days look stupid now-During early days I didn't know if Vijaya Karnataka (a kannada newspaper) is available online. In one of the Kannada blogs I wrote a comment asking for URL of ’s website. The link was available in their blogroll or I could have even googled it-but these simple things didn’t strike me that time…
Wrote comments leaving by blog URL behind and then wondered why the blog owners deleted it…

There're some more incidents like this which I can share. Will do that sometime soon...