Tuesday, October 28, 2008

India-Today group Sweepstakes gimmicks

You receive a mail by post, which looks extremely personalized and says “You’ve been shortlisted for the final stage of ABC Sweepstakes with a chance to win RS 60,00,000. All you need to do is respond to this mail within 14 days and confirm your nomination

The mail will have lots of personalized document such as ‘Eligibility Certificates’, ‘business reply envelopes’ stickers to say YES or NO and more. Cover letter explains how lucky you are to get shortlisted for the final stage of sweepstakes and since only few people in your city have got nominated how close you are to winning a big amount. That looks tempting. You’ve nothing to lose but to respond and confirm your nomination. As you prepare to reply, you find that there is something for sale-a subscription offer or a book or something else, which if you chose to buy, your prospects of winning sweepstakes increases by several times. You will have an option of saying “NO” to this purchase, but what will you do? Risk your chances of winning a big amount by hesitating to buy a few hundred rupees worth product? Or buy it?

Reader’s Digest have been using above tactic for long time and after their association with Living Media India Ltd (the group that runs India Today group of Publications), the later also has learnt the trick and implementing it aggressively. We never know if anyone actually won the sweepstakes, but at a high level this looks like an attempt to sell their products under the temptation of winning a bounty.

Some observations:
1. The mail would say “you need to reply within 14 days”-but it doesn’t state the deadline (the last date to receive confirmation). That sounds fishy, because there is no mechanism to identify when a customer received the envelope and count 14 days from that date

2. Mail would hint as if you’re the only one in your entire town to get nominated. Reality is that they would send this to each and every person in their database, hoping most of them would buy the product, in temptation of sweepstakes.

3. There will not be a mention of draw date and when the winners will be announced.

4. When I received an online nomination, I confirmed participation, without buying their product. I was expecting a mail like “your nomination has been confirmed, we’ll announce the result on -date-”. Instead I got 3 more nominations and had to mark them as SPAM.

5. What is the point in asking people to confirm their nomination? No one is going to reject the money if they happen to win right? So can’t they go ahead with the sweepstakes and inform only the winners? Instead they spend around Rs 20-25 on each individual (postage, printing those flashy documents and brochures, business reply envelopes etc), which itself amounts to several lakh rupees.

What has been your experience in this regard? If you’re a subscriber of RD/India Today, you must have definitely got one. Do you know anyone who won big amount this way?

March 2009 update: IndiaToday group has also started running another form of cheap and spammy marketing measure- They send you an email saying "You've won a gift". When you click the link you'll realize that your gift actually costs you several thousand rupees- some useless and overpriced products offered to you at a "great discount" but still expensive.

If some unknown company was running this kind of campaigns we would have ignored it. But a reputed group like Living Media is earning itself a bad name with unethical approaches like this. They may have a small success rate-some people might end up buying those products-but the dent caused to their image will be irreparable.

Related: Supermarket Supersavings-Caution *

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Club Mahindra Binsar trip for travel bloggers- Part 1

Last year, Club Mahindra had organized a trip to Coorg to a group of select travel bloggers, handpicked from all over India. [Details] This year, they organized a similar trip again, this time to a far away destination- Binsar in Uttaranchal near Almora. Team size was half that of last years, only six.

From Left to right-Prashanth,Ruchika Vyas, Kiruba, myself, Arun Bhat and Arun Nair. One more selected participant, Akshay Mahajan gave it a miss in the last minute (when Kiruba called him from Delhi airport asking why he has not arrived by the flight he was booked in), citing some urgent work, missing an opportunity for himself and depriving someone else of a chance, who could have taken his place had he informed his cancellation little earlier.

Myself, Kiruba and Arun Nair met at Chennai airport and left for Delhi. Prashanth and Arun Bhat flew from Bangalore while Ruchika flew in from Mumbai. We assembled at New Delhi airport. We had to catch Ranikhet Express which would leave from S. Rohilla at 9.50 PM or from Old Delhi from 10.30 PM. Last time, I had to Catch 10.15 PM Mussoorie express from Old Delhi station and flight had landed at 8 PM. It had taken little less than 2 hours to reach Old Delhi station due to legendary traffic jam. This time it was going to be worse. We left at around 7.30 from airport in a rented Tavera (no, not self drive- Avis fellow insisted on Rs 65000 deposit for Swift on self drive)

2 full hours in Delhi’s traffic and the station was nowhere to be seen. Had a localite not helped us through a shortcut to railway station, we might not have made it to railway station in time. Kiruba and Arun have written in detail about it, hence I’m skipping further details on this part)

We got down at Kathagodam at around 6 AM to be taken to Naukuchiatal resort of Club Mahindra for refreshments and breakfast. Naukuchiatal means nine cornered lake. This resort is a recently acquired property, commissioned on October 1st. Looks more like a hotel from outside as it is a single building and not multiple cottages as in Binsar or Coorg or other CM owned properties. Half of the rooms have lakeview and landscaping around the resort was in progress. Resort Manager Atul explained us it may take about 6 months for entire landscaping and related constructions to get completed. We were told horse riding till the hill top and paragliding are main attractions here (second one was recently introduced), besides boating in the lake.

After breakfast we left for Binsar. Bhimtal was another big lake on the way but we didn’t stop as that was not on our agenda. View of the valley was amazing throughout (at least for those visiting it for the first time)- Rivers hardly had any water and white stones were made a nice view. Roads were satisfactory and we reached Binsar resort, some 13 kms from Binsar on Bhageshwar road, by around lunch time. Binsar is on the north-eastern extreme of Uttarakhand while Dehradoon and Mussoori are on the western side. A detailed review of the resort and its staff and facilities is available in a separate review.

After delicious lunch resort Manager Bakshiji called Activity in-charge Mr Kundan and suggested that we try rock climbing in the evening. This rock climbing spot was some half a km from the resort. I came out of my room little late and rest had already left. I took guidance from security guard on how to reach the place, but took a wrong turn and headed towards Mani-pur Villa, to have an adventure of my own. I crossed few herds of Donkeys which were being commissioned to carry construction material uphill, to aid road laying work to Manipur Villa. I regret now that I didn’t click a snap of that group of donkeys-guess I was in a hurry to cross them and catch up with the team, which believed was somewhere ahead on the same road. Caretaker of the donkeys had warned that if I go close they would kick me heavily-so had to bypass the herd without going close. Interacted with a few locals who enthusiastically posed for photographs in different positions. While they were grouping together for a photo, one of them suggested : “shall we call our supervisor also”.. “uski m**…k*…” came an immediate reply, clear indication of how much respect they had for the supervisor. They asked how they can get a copy of the photo, I said I’ll send it to Club Mahindra and they can collect it from them. That’s my commitment and I’ll print it and send by post soon.

After walking over few kms and exploring the place, I couldn’t locate where this rock climbing was-on my return, Kundan and his assistant had launched a search and rescue mission and picked me up on the way and dropped at the right spot. Hadn’t tried rock climbing with professional equipments earlier and this was a good experience. Looking forward to next appropriate rock climbing mission at CTC (Chennai Trekkers Club) so that I can try little more on this front. Gopal and K G Panth were the two guys who helped us in this exercise, besides Mr Kundan who is an expert mountaineer by himself.

TT, Pool, Carom, VirtuaCops and Cricket kept us busy when there were no outdoor activities. To be continued in subsequent posts. If you're in a hurry, refer to CLAY or Arun Bhat's blog where a complete travelogue has been already published.

Read part 2 of Binsar trip write up

Similar: Wayanad travelogue * Review of CM timeshare membership

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ways our Credit cards can be made safer…

Most of you own credit cards and have been using them for a while. Depending on your financial strength you must be having a credit limit of few thousand to few lakhs. The cards typically have a 16 digit number and a 3 digit CVV number and are extremely susceptible to misuse, both online and offline. If a card is lost, the person who finds it can go on shopping without slightest hesitation. If someone can note your CC number and CVV he/she can shop online, the card is also vulnerable to magnetic card readers using which miscreants dupe people. There’s hardly any fool proof control for me as a user to prevent misuse of my card. In this post, I wish to present a set of simple measures, if banks can incorporate, would make credit cards far more safer and reliable.

1. Let users set their limit. Assume my card has a limit of Rs 1 lakh. Probability of me shopping for Rs 1 lakh at once is extremely low. I spend very little, not more than few thousands at a time. So why should I carry a liability of Rs 1 Lakh with me? Can’t the banks give users an option to set their immediately available limit on their credit card. If I have total limit of Rs 1 Lakh, I may wish to set an intermittent limit of Rs 10000. This way, at any point of time, maximum risk/liability I carry will be confined to Rs 10k. In special occasions when I feel the need for higher limit (while buying expensive items/travelling abroad etc) I should be able to login to my credit card account and increase the limit.

2. Don’t print CVV on back of the card. Why is CVV printed on back of the card so that anyone who gets the card can use it for online purchases? I believe customers can afford to remember the CVV or PIN number. Let them store it in their mind and there should be a provision for me to change the CVV/PIN if I fear it has been compromised. This way, if a card is stolen, its online usage will be restricted.

3. Make entering PIN mandatory for offline usage too… The pin shouldn’t be stored on the card (magnetically) and should be retrieved from the bank network for verification. This way, if someone copies card data through a magnetic card reader he won’t be able to use it, without knowing the PIN.

4. Bring in biometric readers-Register the fingerprints of card holders-let them swipe their fingers while using the card. This is a fool proof way to prevent unauthorized usage.

What do you think? Am I wrong anywhere? Is there any technical inhibitions to provide above features? Do you have better ideas? Your thoughts please.

Monday, October 20, 2008

16 in 1 Quick Movie Reviews

Just a few words or few lines about some of the movies I saw in last 5-6 months. I know all of them are old by now and I am not of first day first show type. I'll watch it at leisure when situation permits... here's what I felt about some of the recent movies...

1. Sarkar Raj:

The first half of the movie was interesting. Looked like a story as interesting as ‘corporate’ movie-as to how they will face various challenges in setting up the power plant and how they overcome it and all.

But post intermission, almost all characters are killed, back to back and Amithab explains the whole logic behind all these killings in one go. The END.

The last scene consisted of Aishwarya asking for a cup of tea. If my guess is right, in next sequel she will be the one heading Sarkar empire

2. Aamir

Simple, straight forward but Refreshingly different story. Last time I’d seen Rajeev was in Left Right Left serial. This particular movie is about how terrorists make him get involved in terror. I feel the story would have been more interesting if Rajeev could identify what is coming up little sooner and in parallel devise a counter strategy to kill those terrorists/gets them captured.

3. ShowBiz
An old movie-makes a good watch.

4. Mast
Typical Ramgopal Varma flick. Ok Ok. I can think of a similar kannada movie starring Shivaraj kumar

5. Hindustaani
Kamal Hasan-Good story and great execution. His idea of punishing the corrupt was good, though illegal. Liked it. No one to carry forward his idea though. Even Lokayukta doesn’t have enough powers to take actions. (If you've read one of my previous posts- a quiz to you: in which raga the song: "telephone dhun main hasne waali" is composed?)

6. Jane Tu…
Good movie. I’d accidentally seen Genelia last time in Bommarilu, a telugu movie which was played while I was travelling in a night bus. Coming back, I liked Nasiruddin Shah’s “Chacha Chowdhry” character the most in the movie.

7. 2050 Love story
Learnt the entire story and saw some clips in a television review. Didn’t feel like watching the movie.

8. 1971
A war movie about how a group of Indian Soldiers makes a failed attempt to escape from Pakistani jails. Based on true incidents like 1971 war and subsequent media reports about several Indian soldiers still kept captive in Pakistani jails (‘last seen alive in 1988’-so touching)

9. Kakana Kote (Kannada)
An interesting Girish Karnad movie. Late Lokesh (kaka), Pavitra Lokesh(Kaka’s wife) and Srinath (King of Mysore) are so young in this movie that it was a whole new experience. Story is about tribal groups and their taxation system.

10. Ondanondu Kaaladalli (Kannada)
Another Girish Karnad movie. Story line is about rivalries in tribal groups and fight between two such groups. Shankar Nag in the lead role. Shankar Nag was a promising actor, whose life was cut short at a young age of 35 due to a road accident. Today’s youth might not have seen much of Shankar Nag, though his brother Anant Nag has been immensely popular. Ranga Shankara in JP Nagar, Bangalore is built in fond memory of Shankar Nag, by his wife Arundhati Nag.

Both Kakana Kote and Ondanondu kaladalli are available with Sri Ganesh Videos for Rs 35. Watch it when time permits-Strong recommendations from me.

Additional info on above 2 movies from Sandesh:

"Kakana kote: Its a drama written by Masti Venkatesha Iyengar. Hero's name in that is actually Kaacha! Well performed by Lokesh. His wife is Girija Lokesh. Pavitra Lokesh is the daughter of Mysore Lokesh (used to be seen in most of the 90s Kannada films as a drunkard), Pavitra Lokesh might not have been born by that time or may be a child.

Ondaanondu Kaaladalli - I'm not sure if it is a Girish Karnad venture but a good one. Its supposed to be Shankar Nag's first movie. Sad that he passed away soon lest, the industry would have grown even better with more sensible movies."

11. A Wednesday
Very good movie. Must watch. Wish every common man could do the same. As interesting as Aamir.

12. Kismat Konnection
No complaints. Retained interest throughout.

13. Bachna Ae Hasino
It was a good decision from the hero to go back and apologize. Rest of the story and movie were typically filmy.

14. De Taali
Not good.

15. Indiana Jones and Kingdom of Crystal Skull
Didn’t like it. Overhyped story.

16. Singh is King

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ergo, Moon, tourism, Binsar and more

Today (17th October 2008)'s issue of Ergo, a The Hindu group publication in Chennai carries my travelogue about Wayanad, Kerala. You can read the article through image below or visit, go to ePaper section and navigate to page 10.
I'd sent the above article in some 1800 words length, thinking they might carry it in two parts over 2 issues. I was asked to trim it down to 600 words and that was a tough task. The original one was 1800 words long, I suggested them to publish in 2 parts- Day 1 in one issue and Day 2 in next. But when asked to cut down to 600 words all I could write was "We went to place A, then to place B, then to C, halted for the day and next day we went to D,E F and returned to Bangalore" 

Nevertheless I edited it to 599 words and resent it. Ergo team did a could job selecting a good title and extract for this article. A very detailed travelogue on Wayanad trip is already available hereand here.

Getting into print more frequently these days-in times of India to take credit for my photograph and in Mint about mainstream media lifting content from web. But this article above bears additional significance as it is the first time my photo got published in print. (I'd been on TV twice earlier) The mint article had a screen print of my blog that included the tiny profile photo but that doesn't count.

Thanks to Raviraj, Jayasimha and Raveesh for joining me in this Wayanad trip else this travelogue wouldn't have got published. 

In other updates, clicked this close up photo of moon at Binsar. Never knew my DSC H50 can take me this close to moon.
An up close photo of the moon Check my photo blog more more photos.

Guest authored at Churumuri on 5 Things Karnataka tourism can learn from Kerala

Read Binsar trip travelogue that got published in Ergo

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Resort Review: Club Mahindra Binsar Valley

Disclaimer: Our visit to this resort was sponsored by Club Mahindra, however there has been no editorial control exercised by CM on what we write. Everything written here are as per my experience/observation during our stay. Readers are advised to use their discretion.

Club Mahindra’s Binsar valley resort is nearly 13 kms from Binsar town in Almora district of Uttarakhand (formerly Uttaranchal) State. It is a medium sized resort and is one of the RCI gold crown certified resorts in Club Mahindra’s chain of resorts. We stayed here from 9th October afternoon till 12th October noon. Our stay was really pleasant, with resort staff going out of their way to ensure that our holiday experience is not compromised.
Club Mahindra Binsar Valley resort
Few examples of staff going out of their way to help us:
1. On first two occasions Kiruba Shankar told the restaurant staff that he prefers chilled water. 3rd time onwards entire staff knew his preference and cold water was served to him without he having to ask them.

2. On day 1, we went out to try rock climbing and rappelling, to a place which is half a km from the resort. I came out of the room little late and rest of the team had already left. I checked with security for the directions- he told me to go half a km on the road and I’ll find it on the left. I started walking, little less than half a km I spotted a road on the left. I thought I need to take this road and diverted. I walked for another 2 kms but the team was nowhere to be found. I walked ahead to reach a place called Mani-pur villah, explored the place around on my own and started retuning. This particular road is full of rocks and almost non motor able and a construction is underway to make it smooth. I asked locals if they spotted a group of 5-6 people around and also asked if there’re any rock climbing spots around. They replied in negative. Seeing a big camera in my arm they insisted that I click their photos. I had nothing to lose, so clicked many photos of them and showed them for their delight. After that I was on my way back-I found an Omni stopping near me. Mr. Kundan, who is an expert mountaineer and head of holiday activities at the resort had come with his assistant looking out for me, as I didn’t reach the rock climbing spot. I was then taken to rock climbing spot in the vehicle. Had they not cared to note that I didn’t reach my destination and send out a search and rescue squad, I would have walked all the way back to the resort and missed a chance to learn rock climbing and rappelling.
a studio apartment room
3. Day 3, we were camping on a hill. We had 3 boys from Club Mahindra- Arun, KG Pant and Gopal with us who set up the tent and were in charge of our safety during the night camping. We had our dinner packed from the resort restaurant and these guys had their dinner packed in their personal boxes. During dinner we ran out of pickle. On hearing this, these guys started to check if they have pickle in their personal food. They were under no obligation to do that. Even they didn’t have it and we could manage without pickle, but we were moved by their hospitality.

4. While returning from Bhageshwar, Kiruba was supposed to pass room keys to Arun. He does some stunts and key lands in the garden bush. They searched for it for about 15 minutes but in vein. It started to get dark. Mr. Amarnadh Bakshi, the resort Manager who was passing by asks what is the matter. On hearing that keys are lost, he asks the duo to forget it and just go straight to the room. In the meanwhile, he makes 2 phone calls- one to the reception to open their room with master key and another one to the gardening in charge to send his boys to search the key. Within minutes of Arun and Kiruba reaching their room, the missing key was delivered to them. (As narrated by Kiruba later)
guests playing table tennis
5. Most of the restaurant staff used to remember our schedule for that day and either give some tips about the place or ask us how our experience that day was. It takes a lots of effort to show that much interest in someone else’s life and they have to retain that smile every day, 365 days an year, irrespective of their mood/personal problems.

Other observations:
"We’ve to source our supplies from far-away places, including Delhi" –says resort Manager, Mr Bakshi. "Locals produce mainly for themselves and whatever excess they sell will be in minute quantities which doesn’t work out for us to buy"-he says.

"There’s a general complaint all over that Indian tourists often tend to steal accessories from hotel rooms-have you experienced it? If yes how do you counter it?" I asked Mr Bakshi. “Yes, once in a while few items do go missing. If it is an inexpensive item like soaps and shampoos we don’t mind. But when expensive items like towels go missing we’ll have to take it up diplomatically with the guest during check out and will have to charge them” he said.

I asked him if it will be feasible to leave atleast one plug point which will supply power even when key card is taken out, so that our electronic gadgets can get charged even when we’re away (Any individual will have multiple gadgets-laptops, mobile, ipods, camera-all these need to be charged on a regular basis, but in hotels the power supply will be cut off once you take out the key card-so you can’t get anything charged while you’re away). Bakshi said its engineer’s recommendation not to do so, due to safety concerns. But I feel a safe work around should be possible.
travel bloggers team with resort Manager Mr Bakshi
Binsar Resort is relatively smaller than the Coorg resort we’d visited last year. Enough space is left for gardening and play area-where other hoteliers would have thought of building some more rooms. Himalayan peak is visible from one point near the funzone (provided sky is clear). I noticed many guests buying Maggie packets from the store-probably because they find restaurant food expensive? Never the less the rooms are well equipped with microwave oven, coffee maker, refrigerator and other basic accessories, good enough to cook basic food.

Resort staff were manually entering the feedback given by the guests into the system. The software was not that friendly (for example, the printed form had an option “didn’t use this service” but online version not. So the person was entering “extremely dissatisfied ” as there was no provision to enter “not applicable”. Would be good if CM can automate this-they can use Optical mark readers or some other technology. Also feedback form needs to have provision to enter general comments and appreciation to specific staff.

The activity centre is well equipped with lots of events-indoor and outdoor. Rock climbing, night camping and Jeep Safari are the main outdoor events while several games, shows and competitions are held indoors.

There is no swimming Pool-for those this matters. Rest of the facilities are great. Airtel signal was very weak-would be good if resort management can talk with airtel and get a tower installed. For other service providers it was satisfactory I guess. Resort is Wi-Fi enabled (chargeable extra) and activity centre has an internet connected computer which guests can use. In Coorg all cottages were given a name, here it was just numbers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

When you don't pay sales based incentive...

13th October 2008, Café Coffee Day outlet in Terminal 1A, Delhi Domestic airport

2 of their staff were sitting at a corner and chatting-No customers at the counter.
Me: भैय्या ए समोसे कित्ने मे दी? (What is the cost of these Samosas?)
CCD guy: साब चियालिस रुपये एक प्लेट । (Rs 46 a plate)

Me: टीक है। एक प्लेट लगाओ। (Ok, give me one plate)
CCD guy: सर् पन्द्रह मिनट लगेगा-हमारा शिफ्ट बदल् रहा है। -kuch counting or baaki kaam chal rahan hain (Sir, please wait for 15 minutes, due to shift change we need some time to do counting and other related work)

Me: ok

Our flight is delayed and we continue to wait. In between people started visiting CCD and making purchases. One hour later we checked in baggage, got boarding pass and came back to waiting lounge. We went to CCD counter again-No customers and same 2 guys sitting and chatting.

Me: भैय्या दो प्लेट समोसे लगाओगे? (Can you give me 2 plates of Samosas?)
CCD guy: Pandrah minute lagega sir, shift change ho raha hain na- counting or kuch auri kaam baaki hain (Sir, please wait for 15 minutes, due to shift change we need some time to do counting and other related work)

Me: कुच एक घन्टे पेहले तुम यही बात सुनाइ थी ना? क्या आप का शिफ्ट हर घन्टे बदल्ता रेह्ता है? (one hour ago you told the same thing-does your shift change every hour?)
CCD guy: surprised: Oh- aap tabh bhi the? Ek minute-main de dunga… (Oh-was it you that time? Just a min, I’ll get them for you)

I suspect these guys get only a fixed salary and no sales based incentive. So probably they are using this shift change excuse to sit idle whenever possible. CCD management should pay attention on this- else they would risk losing customers.
Even KSRTC had a similar issue- its drivers and conductors used to drive empty, without making any effort to fill seats. Then a policy was introduced wherein driver and conductor would get a small share-1% or 1.5% of the ticket fare collected- this changed the scene-now bus crew take efforts in filling as many seats as possible-by shouting out the name of destination etc...

Monday, October 13, 2008

TOI runs clarification-issue resolved

Lots of activities happened last week w.r.t my image which was published in Times Of India without permission[Details]. I was on a kind of vacation and couldn’t update my readers promptly. I’ve updated previous post with latest news that TOI has ran a clarification regretting the incident and giving me due credit, so most of you might have noticed it by now- this post details the sequence of activities that happened since my last post “Update on TOI’s image theft”.

Monday, 6th October 2008 : A journalist from Mint (A Hindustan Times-Wall Street Journal publication), Mr Samanth calls me hinting that he is doing a story about Plagiarism by print media and wants to note down my experiences. I told him my experiences (almost nothing more than what I’d written in my blog till that time about this incident)

Monday, 6th October 2008, an hour after above event: I noticed that TOI publishes email IDs of some journalists along with their article. I picked up 2 email IDs, mailed them explaining the issue and requesting them to give me contact details of some competent executives in TOI Chennai with whom I can take this up. One of the journalists, Suresh Kumar, was very kind enough to call me immediately (within an hour of sending the mail) and gave me email ID and landline number of TOI Chennai Resident Editor, Mr. Sunil Nair.
After seeing this mail on 6th October evening, I mailed Sunil Nair explaining the incident and asking him to investigate/verify and respond. I also added that I’m not mailing you for the sake for few rupees, but it is a question of my Intellectual property and credibility of Times of India that is at stake.

Tuesday, 7th October 2008 evening: TOI Chennai resident editor Sunil Nair promptly responds, stating
“I'm sorry for all the trouble this has caused. We usually follow a policy of acquiring copyrights before using photos from the internet and do not use material over which we do not have a copyright or license. Sometimes, photos are used from sites which permit free downloads and not otherwise.

In your case, obviously, we have erred. If it's ok with you, I could run a clarification stating that the photo used on that particular day in the story on the green corridor was sourced from your blog and that we apologise for any hurt that it may have caused. Please let me know.”

I was quite happy to see his prompt response, in which he readily accepted that there’s been an error and offered to run a clarification. This eliminated any further need for argument/proof that it was indeed my photo. May be I should have insisted on a payment, but I felt like taking it easy this time. I replied on 7th October night, stating I’m ok with the damage control approach of running a clarification. Also added: “let me know once it is published”.

8th October 2008: I had a flight to catch and some last minute packing was pending. I only glanced at the newspaper (Times of India) and didn’t read it in detail. Later I left for Binsar, where I was scheduled to spend few days at Club Mahindra Binsar Valley resort, along with a bunch of handpicked travel bloggers/writers, as a part of complementary trip for travel bloggers, sponsored by Club Mahindra.

9th October 2008, evening. After nearly 24 hours of travel we had reached Binsar. After some outdoor activities like Rock climbing/rappelling, we went back to the resort and I checked mails-I saw a mail by Satish Raghavan, one of my esteemed readers, who mailed about Times of India publishing a clarification but referring me as a lady in their Chennai edition dated 8th October. I was surprised. I hadn’t expected them to act so fast- publish a clarification the very next day of replying to my mail. But they didn’t mail me that it has been published and I didn’t notice it in time on 8th October as I was in a hurry. Else I would have updated my blog and Mint Journalist before leaving for Binsar. Anyway as it was my duty to keep the Mint journalist informed of this development (so that it can go into his article appropriately) so I promptly updated Samanth that TOI has published a clarification.

Times of India Chennai Edition dated 8th October has carried following clarification in Page 6.

10th October- Again we were busy touring around Binsar and isolated from rest of the world. I checked my mails again in the night-few comments and a mail from Samanth informed me that Mint has published an article about mainstream media picking photos from blogs and internet without giving due credit. This article had Times of India lifting my Chennai Police Car photo as main incident along with several other similar examples, including the accusations against their own home publication Hindustan Times.[Read the article online here-if you need pdf version ask me] It also had a reply from Times of India that they are “cracking down” on my concern that TOI had published my photo without permission. However, it missed to mention that TOI ran a clarification in its 8th October issue. (This news that a clarification has been published couldn’t reach Mint in time for the article, due to various factors- TOI didn’t mail me that they have published a clarification in 8th Oct issue, I didn’t notice, was away and couldn’t inform Mint in time, due to quick turn of events.)
Same day, received a mail from TOI expressing concern that Mint article mentioned “I didn’t get any reply from TOI” and had no mention of clarification. True- the Mint article had only those updates till Monday, 6th October. I didn’t have a clue that things will change dramatically within next 2 days and when it happened, it was a bit too late to prevent Mint article from going to print. I replied to this mail explaining the same and offering to run a clarification about it in my blog.

An analysis:
My first encounter against plagiarism has resulted in a satisfactory ending. Satisfactory because I got the credit and an apology, would have been “Good” if some payment was done. Some of my readers and well wishers advised me to demand a payment from TOI for this, but for now I’ve decided not to pursue this further due to following reasons:

1 After learning that others had very tough time dealing with TOI, I feel my case got resolved pretty easily. I was surprised by their quick response and action. I think the key is to contact right person. If I had argued with a journalist, he/she is not at all answerable to me and will not have any powers to run a damage control. Even other executives who are not related to editorial work may prefer not to respond, as it is a negative issue and no one prefers to get into trouble by replying to something they are not answerable. A journalist was kind enough to give me the correct contact details and this resident editor was brave enough to accept the error and offer a correction. If I had to deal with a stubborn and adamant person, the fight would have been much tougher. Greetings to Sunil Nair. Since it is first time I felt like taking it easy. Next time, using this experience I can take much tougher stand, if I detect someone has stolen my photographs/content.

2. After several such incidents probably my incident served as a last straw and triggered lots of debate about this issue in various forums and groups. Sudipta’s call for blogathon on this issue, intense discussions that happened at various blog posts have all created a good amount of awareness, that now bloggers/photographers will take extra precaution while uploading their photos and someone trying to copy will certainly have to pause for a while and think of possible consequences in terms of negative publicity etc. So I feel the cause is fulfilled. All this discussions might have prompted TOI to respond asap, fearing a PR disaster. Probably there were some internal pressure also to settle it asap, as Mint Journalist had approached TOI for a comment on this.

3 In my communication I’d clearly stated it is not about money, but about an intellectual property and credibility of TOI. I hadn’t been writing/blogging for money as well. So as I got my due credits (and additional publicity through mint article) am comfortable with it for now.

4 I feel the photograph was lifted from internet and added at the last moment just to fill some space. The article was not quite related to Chennai police car and the journalist who wrote it claimed that she didn’t submit the photo with it. There are over 100 such cars in Chennai- probably TOI should send someone to click few snaps of that car and keep it with them, than simply copying from net.

So with this I call an end to this for now. Thanks a lot to each and every one of you, for being a part of this mission directly or indirectly.

Also read: RK's cartoon on this issue

Feb 2009 update: Another incident of TOI violating intellectual property reported here, yet again.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bangalore Wayanad Trip Travelogue –Day2

Wayanad trip Day 2: 21st September 2008
Continued from previous issue (which was 300th post in this blog)
Places covered: Lakkidi, Pookud Lake, Banasura dam, Kuruva island, Nagarahole Forest, Mysore Palace- Bangalore

We had a quick discussion with the hotel executive on our plans for day 2. We had to cover 4 major places today- Lakkidi, Pookud Lake, Banasura Dam and Kuruva Island. We decided to skip temples as we were not interested and had to skip those places which were full day activities like trekking spots (Chembra peak etc-We already had a mild trekking climbing Edakkal hills). Hotel executive tells us Pookud lake opens by 8 AM. So we planned to start off by 6.30 AM, visit Lakkidi, Pookud lake and return to hotel for breakfast and check out.
We left by 6.45 AM towards Lakkidi from Kalpetta. Internet literature had said Lakkidi is a nice view point and the uphill climb will include some 9 hairpin turns. When we reached Lakkidi we realized that we’re already on top and there is no more going up. If we go down we’ll reach Calicut (Kozikode-some 60 kms). We stopped to take some photos, went few kms down clearing few hairpin turns and then decided to return back. Also I hoped to see some mist/fog, which was absent but view was breathtaking nevertheless- would have been better idea to visit Lakkidi during evening- Sunset would have been a great view-missed it. By 7.15 we reached the Pookud lake, drive around for some time and reach the entrance by 7.40-we were told it opens by 9 AM and not at 8 AM as told by hotel staff. Disappointed, we decided to head back to Kalpetta and return after breakfast. Complimentary breakfast was very good-Dosas and Sambar were tasty, though there was no fruits and juices as a part of buffet breakfast.

By 9.30 we’d checked out of the hotel, moved all luggages back in the Scorpio and left Kalpetta. Had a good peddle boating at Pookud lake. There were options of row boats as well. Lake is medium sized and well maintained. Other than boating there’re provisions for children park, shopping and aquarium. Our next destination was Banasura Dam, the largest earth dam in the world. Speed boating is the main attraction here which lasts for 30 mins, taking you deep into the backwaters at a cost of Rs 250 for 4 people. Water plashing on you while the boat cruises ahead refreshes you off all your tiredness. During heavy monsoon and overflowing dam, speed boating would be suspended. We were lucky not to miss it. Other than scenic view of the dam we could see that some parks, coffee shops and other facilities were being constructed here.
Within few hours we were done with boating, resting and back in the Scorpio, licking ice creams. Next stop was Kuruva Island, but we were getting hungry. After driving for over an hour through various roads we reached Mananthavadi, one of the major towns in Wayanad. But due to Ramzan most of the hotels were closed. We drove around for some time and even bought some bananas as a business continuity plan, in case no hotel could be found for lunch. However before we could leave city limits we managed to spot a hotel that was open (courtesy tip from a localite) and rushed in. Typical Kerala style mean at just Rs 15. I thought it is limited quantity meal and left to wash my hands after emptying the plate. Soon after returning with clean hand I realized that rice is unlimited and decided to sit for one more round- filled leftover spaces inside the stomach. Our journey continued and at around 3 PM we reached Kuruva island.

Complete details about Kuruva island and how we got lost there is available in a separate post. Our Wayanad trip had come to an end with each of us drinking 2 tender coconuts each before departing from Kuruva island.

We did a mistake of taking a closer route to Mysore-via Nagarahole forest. The roads were nonexistent from the moment we entered Karnataka border and for next 20 kms it was a real bumpy ride. Just a few meters inside Karnataka border, a villager waved us to stop, I kept moving-he came near and gently taps on the bonnet of the slowly moving vehicle-maybe he wanted to tell us that the roads are bad- go back, or maybe he wanted a lift till Mysore or something else. But my instincts suggested that I shouldn’t stop and I drove ahead ignoring him. Thank god we were in a SUV-Scorpio handled this “supposed to be a road” thing very well which would have been too difficult to near impossible for ordinary cars. We spotted a heard of Baisons in the jungle at a distance. We also heard a roar, which we interpreted to be of an elephant but not sure. After crossing HD Kote we hit state highway and rest of the journey was smooth. Had dinner at Mysore (again Kamat) and headed towards Bangalore- We saw Mysore Palace all illuminated on our left- This was a bonus addition to our trip. I was driving, hence couldn’t take proper look or photos. Others too were too tired to stop and spend some more time. Soon we were on Bangalore road and reached Mandya by around 11 PM. Again a possession was going on here and few people flagged us asking us to stop. May be they wanted to ask for some contribution in the name of their god/festival (chanda)-I instinctively increased speed and zoomed past them. I was feeling too sleepy to drive, so chose to pull over and rest for 30 mins. But it was 1 AM when I woke up. By now the road was deserted and I covered remaining 100 kms in 1 hour flat, to reach Bangalore outskirts by 2 AM and reached Raveesh’s place by 2.30 after dropping off Ravi, bringing our 2 day Wayanad Escapade to a memorable and happy ending.

Places missed: Matunga wildlife Sanctuary, Meenmutty Falls, Nanjanagud, Sunset at Lakkidi, Trekking at Chembra peak
Total expense: Rs 3200 per head. (Would have been lower if a. we had 2-3 more participants, b. had rented a cheaper vehicle than Scorpio, c. had stayed at a cheaper hotel than Woodlands)
* Read part 1 of this travelogue * Binsar trip (Uttaranchal) * Ooty trip * Yercaud Trip *

Note: As TOI has cared to respond and promised to publish a clarification, I'm putting on hold the idea of adding "TOI don't copy my image" watermark for the time being, purely as a goodwill gesture.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Weekend Escapade to Wayanad (Kerala) Day 1 of 2

-------------Post number 300 on this blog----------------------
July 2009 Update: National Highway passing through Bandipura reserve forest is likely to be closed for traffic between 9pm to 6am, due to a HighCourt order, to prevent disturbance to wild animals-You may wish to plan accordingly.
---Post begins---
When I was planning a weekend escapade to Wayanad in Kerala, almost everyone said two days are just not sufficient to cover all important places in Wayanad. But we had only 2 days and after careful study and planning we designed an optimized itinerary that cuts unnecessary travel, delay and wastage of time so that we can visit all important places in Wayanad within available 2 days.

Day 1, Saturday, 20th Sep 2008
Bangalore-Mysore-Gundlupet-NH212-Bandipura reserve forest-Sultan Bathery-Edakkal Caves, Museum-Soojippara waterfalls- Kalpetta-Halt

I reached Bangalore by train, which was delayed by over 90 mins. Mysore bound Kaveri express reached Bangalore city railway station by 5.35 AM, (This very train had reached SBC by 4.10 AM on 23rd July against the scheduled time of 4.45 AM and I had to ask my cab driver to come early). Hertz representative Anil was waiting patiently for me (I’d hurried him so much stating we’ve to go on long trip and asked him to come to Railway station by 4 AM) in the railway station with the brand new Scorpio and I got the delivery in few mins after completing rental formalities (we’d also completed most of the formalities the previous day itself so there was no need to go to Hertz office to take the delivery). Registered on 15th September and less than 600 kms on the Odo, this Scorpio Vls, powered by mHawk was on its first rental and I had to return it safe and sound after using for our trip.[Review of Scorpio mHawk Vls]

I picked up my friends from their homes/nearest pickup points and we were on Mysore road by 6.35 AM, 35 mins behind schedule. We stopped at Kamat Lokaruchi for breakfast and then by 7.30 AM head nonstop towards Mysore. Traffic on Mysore road wasn’t much and I could maintain 120-140 kmph at most of the times. Touched 155 + once I think- Couldn’t go faster as the new vehicle wasn’t responding properly. We reach Mysore by 8.30. Here we got confused which route to take to Gundlupet. We asked couple of people and got inconsistent answers. None of the signboards were helpful either. Apparently there were multiple routes we could take-via ring road, through the city, short cut etc, which is why different people guided us in different directions. Finally we hit the correct road and speed up. Road from Mysore to Gundlupet was pretty ok.

We reached Gundlupet by around 10 AM, 1 hour delay w.r.t. original itinerary. Now we were on NH 212 to Calicut- A very superb road and we began cruising. Soon we were inside Bandipur reserve forest. We halted for a few mins inside the jungle, crossed Kerala border by 10.45, stopped for a moment at a beautiful Seetha Devi temple and reached Matunga Wildlife Sanctuary by 11 AM. We were asked to pay nearly 500 Rs here, as entry fee+ camera fee+ guide charge+ jeep Safari fee. The Safari would last about 12 kms/ 1.5 hours but will we get to see the animals from close was uncertain and dependant on our luck. We decided to give it a miss and move on, as we’d already visited several zoos and sanctuaries. We thought we’ll visit while returning, if time permits.

Next we reached the city Sultan Bather by 11.20. There were no signboards to indicate how to reach the actual Sultan Bathery (the place where Sultan’s cannons (battery) and ammunitions were supposed to be kept). We asked some people how to go to Sultan Bathery (the tourist spot) and every one said “this is Sultan Bathery” (the city). We had a really tough time explaining “we know we’re in Sultan Bathery town-where exactly is the popular tourist spot where cannons are kept…” Finally we learnt that it is inside Jain Temple. We went there- found that there’s hardly anything worth seeing. No cannons, no idol inside the temple, almost nothing-just a stone building which once was a temple and was eventually destroyed by Tipu Sultan and was used to store his ammunitions.
on top of Edakkal Hill

Our first two stops were a kind of disappointment, but the next one was going to be a memorable one. Edakkal Caves-just a small detour from highway and easy to locate, was an exhilarating attraction. The road was narrow and fun to drive. We reached here at little after 12 noon, parked our vehicle and headed towards the hill. We had an option of taking a jeep till the foot of the hill or walk upwards ourselves. We decided to take the jeep for uphill and walk on the return.

Edakkal cave is not a cave as such. Few giant rocks are positioned in such a way that it looks like a cave. Other than that it is just a hill with lots of rocks. Upon reaching the foot of the cave we take entry ticket and start walking through a narrow way amidst rocks. The view gets more and more exciting as we climb up. Wherever it is impossible to climb, ladders/ropes were positioned to assist people climb up. At many places the rock was carved to create a footrest where we can firmly position our foot. Though it appeared too steep and difficult, we soon reached the top of Edakkal hill, took some rest and lots of photos-the 360 degree view from here was mesmerizing. Weather was cool and inspiring. But we couldn’t stay longer on the top as there were some moth like insects which would bite.
Edakkal Caves entrance, Wayanad Kerala
Descent was equally challenging. Upon climbing down drank some tasty buttermilk at a shop and bought few ground nuts. Few monkeys came close to us seeing eatables in our hand. Jayasimha extended his arm with few ground nuts on it and monkeys would approach him with caution, quickly grab a nut from his hand and move back a little. We had a simple but stomach full of tasty meals consisting of boiled rice, sambar, buttermilk and pickle. We were back in the parking area by 4 PM. Next we decided to check out a museum, which was just a few kms from Edakkal caves, though it was not a part of our original plan. This museum had few stone and marble statues and artifacts as well as items used by villagers for their agricultural and related activities. This museum is quite a small one, but worth 30 mins of your time and 10 Rs entry ticket, only if you’re not familiar with village life. We referred the map and figured out that we can cover Soojippara waterfalls before reaching Kalpetta (Wayanad District HQ) and calling it a day. Taking directions from museum staff, we head towards the waterfalls, which was some 35 kms from where we were and took little less than an hour for us to reach there. Drive through lush green tea plantations and curvy mountains were a wonderful experience. For the first time I wished had I not been behind the wheel I could have enjoyed the scenery better. The last few kms were so narrow; I had to drive reverse for about half a km to make way for a tourist bus that was returning from the falls.
amidst lush green tea plantation

We had to walk about 2 kms before reaching the falls. The view was refreshing. The falls was small in height but had a strong force and width. There’s a small area where people could take a dip/do a small swim-but this place was crowded and it was not lengthy enough for a proper swim. Some of us wanted to jump in but we’d left our cloths in the vehicle and had wallets, mobiles, cameras and other accessories with us. So we refrained from jumping into water, hoping we might spot a better place to swim next day (which wasn’t going to be), spend some good time near the falls and head back as it started to get dark. Our original intention was to stay at some good home stay, but it was pretty dark by the time we reached Kalpetta and the town appeared to have a power cut-we couldn’t locate any signboards advertising home stays. After driving around for few kms we decided to stop searching for home stays and checked into hotel Woodlands. Priced at Rs 1400 per day + Rs 400 per extra bed, this was slightly above our budget, but overall the hotel was good (except non availability of hot water during evenings) and had safe parking space. It was nearly 9 PM when we came out for dinner and most of the shops had closed. A few hotels that were open had only leftover items to serve. We ate some parathas and return to hotel, calling it a day.

Day 2 experiences in this post, .

Acknowledgements: Kenney Jacob and Nikhil Narayan tried to help us in optimizing our itinerary, but I couldn’t reach the contacts given by them. I relied on information available on internet and sent final plan to Arun of Painted Stork for his comments. Except a small suggestion about timing at Edakkal, he said it looked fine, before adding “Rest all looks good, though I wonder if you are planning a holiday or working on a mission with some tight targets :)

We also troubled over a few hundred localities for exact directions. Nearly 80% replied പോ“nEra po" (malayalam for: go straight), about 10% said “Ariyille” (don’t know) and the rest said left, right, up down and some other things we couldn’t make sense of. Thanks to everyone for helping directly or indirectly.

Similar: Raveesh's travelogue on day 1 experiences* Part 2 of this travelogue * Yercaud travelogue *

May 2009 update: I accidentally spotted this Scorpio again in Ooty during our Ooty trip (for which I rented a Ford Fiesta from Car Club). Details in this post

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Free Assured Holiday package gift demystified

You might have noticed several advertisements of late, which promise assured prizes worth several times the product value you’ll be paying. For example, The Mobile Store, an Airtel venture, offers “Rs 10,000 worth assured gifts on purchase of any mobile”. Several other companies advertise similar offers of free gifts and holiday packages luring people with an illusion that they’re going to get a great deal. Reebok, Cannon, India Today group and many more companies have resorted to this tactic.

Now, a simple question: Does it make any sense for a seller to give away gift worth Rs 10000 along with a product (say mobile phone) which is costing just 10-20% of that amount? Simple mathematics tells you this is not feasible. They can’t stay in business giving everyone a Rs 10000 worth gift when someone buys a Rs 2000 mobile.

Then how does this offer work?
Usually you’ll be given a scratch card by scratching which you’ll get to know what your gift is. The promo may say you're going to win any of the following- A digicam/ a diamond ring/a mobile or a free holiday package. You’ll never get any of the physical gifts and in 100% of the cases it will be 'holiday package'. (You can estimate the value of physical gifts like digicam/mobile etc- but value of a holiday package is very tough to assess, as it depends on season, quality of rooms, what all are included/excluded etc and promoters can easily mislead consumers)

So, you’ll be left with no option but to feel happy that you’ve got a free holiday package which you can now enjoy with your friends/family.

Next comes the process of redeeming this holiday package, which will be kept so unfriendly, secretive and inflexible to ensure that at most of the time you will never get to enjoy your “holiday package”.

Below is the standard process- how you’ll be asked to redeem your holiday package.

A true holiday package should atleast cover travel, stay and food expenses. Though they call it as a holiday package, what you will be offered is just stay in some unknown hotels at those times of the year(off seasons) when their hotels will be running empty. Travel, food, site-seeing, everything at your expense. There will be an online form, in which you’ll need to select hotel and preferred dates (all popular seasons excluded) and submit your request. (You can select a maximum of 2 or 3 preferred locations and date combinations max) Next, there will be one postal address, of some agency in Delhi or Mumbai, to whom you’ll have to send a certain amount-raning from few hundred to a few thousand rupees, in the form of DD/Cheque, in the name of “Processing fee”. Note that there’ll be no phone number/email address so that you can contact and ask any questions/check availability/confirmation/request for change in check-in dates.

Just a direct question to them- why can't you make the redemption process online and automated?- let people see the live availability-if they spot a vacancy at a given hotel/location during the dates of their choice let them block it right there- why give 3 preferences and wait to see if any one of them is available? I feel it is kept manual only to retain full control so that they can decide if they want to give it or not- what happens if none of the 3 choices are available?

Thus, you are required to make a payment of substantial amount and wait for a reply to see if your booking is confirmed. What happens next is left to your fate. If everything goes fine, you might get a communication (hopefully in time so that you can make travel plans, but don’t surprised if the communication reaches you after the preferred dates you’ve selected) that your rooms have been confirmed. You’ll get it only when it is off season and hotel authorities feel like giving it to you for a petty amount than leave it vacant. The valuation “Rs 10000 worth holiday” is always overhyped. Actual cost for that hotel during that off season would be just a few hundred rupees per day. (For example, in Mussoori, tourist season is only 2-3 months an year, rest of the time all hotels run near empty) Further, whatever amount otherwise one would pay as rent might be collected from you under the disguise of “Maintenance/utility charges” during check in. In all cases it will be off season and you won’t be able to enjoy the place due to bad weather. You’ll spend a huge amount on travel and other expenses trying to utilize this “free holiday package”. My recommendation is, don't fall into this trap.

Have you experienced this “Free holiday package” offer? Please share your experience here.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Times of India responds and ran a clarification

This post was supposed to be published yesterday, but due to reasons beyond my control, I couldn’t. This post is an update on Times of India lifting one of my photographs from internet and publishing in their newspaper last week. More details in this post, if you haven't read it yet.

So far there’s not been any noteworthy progress in this. Here’s what I’ve tried:

1 Mail to editor through their website-
Result- Postmaster reply that mail to has permanently failed. (note: this postmaster’s mail was marked as spam by Google-may be their online feedback mechanism is just a joke and Gmail might have been fed up with so many failure messages.

2 One lady, identifying herself as Assistant Manager in Times Group, had approached me earlier asking if I can contribute articles to a new “professional networking site” that Times of India is about to launch. I thought she might be able to help me in this plagiarism issue and mailed her explaining the situation and requesting her to forward it to concerned person in their Chennai office or give me name and contact details of appropriate person in Chennai office who can help me out.
Result- Absolutely no reply till date.

3 Mail to explaining the situation and asking for a response
Result: Absolutely no reply till date

4 An acquaintance gave me name of a person in TOI Chennai office but no number. I called their board number in Chennai (044-24342121) and asked the operator to connect to this person. Day 1, after 3 calls which went unanswered (operator would connect to an extension that would ring sine die and finally call would return to operator) I was told he is on leave that day. Next day 2 attempts, still couldn’t get that person on line.

5 I called the TOI office and asked them to connect to concerned reporter who had published that story- I was lucky to get connected- After hearing to my concern she said she had not submitted that image along with the story and said she has no idea who added it and from where. She offered me to connect to “City bureau Chief”. I could hear his voice and before I could talk further, a kind of disturbance creeps in into the communication, voice starts breaking, faints and call ends with dwindling “hello hello”. May be it was a genuine technical failure, or most probably a tactically induced technique to avoid 'unwanted' callers. I called the console again and asked them to connect to city bureau chief- this time no answer.

At this point I realized that I am only wasting my time and money on telephone calls and decided not to call anyone anymore.

Also I realized that mine is not a remote incident to call it an accident. Times of India has an heritage of lifting contents from elsewhere and publishing without credit or compensation. So they must be habituated to bloggers/photographers complaining about it and by now might have mastered the art of dealing with/avoiding them. Since they do not appear to have any intention of correcting themselves, I felt no use trying to contact them.

Right now this is what I plan to do-
1. Launch an online petition, get as many bloggers to sign it as possible and submit it to Bennett Coleman Co (propitiators of TOI) with copies to concerned government bodies and regulatory agencies. Currently I’m preparing the text for this petition and gathering examples of other incidents where TOI has indulged in shameless plagiarism.

2. Starting now, any photo I may have to upload to my blog, which I see a potential of TOI stealing, I’ll be adding a watermark “
Times Of India, Please do not copy this image” as a symbol of protest. This will at least keep the fact alive in the minds of readers.

3 Will waste another Rs 5 on postage and send a formal letter to Times of India keeping it in writing (maybe I’ll go for a registered post). Not expecting a reply, but I’ll have a proof that I’ve brought the issue to their attention.

4 In the meanwhile continue to explore if I can reach any appropriate executives in TOI for possible corrective action.

5. Also, take extra precaution never to upload a high resolution image. Compress it to a much smaller size and upload. A low resolution image will not compromise blog viewer's experience much-but will discourage a publication house from printing it in big sizes (say for magazine cover etc) as any attempt to enlarge it will result in distortion to image quality.

9th October Major update:
TOI Clarification:
Times of India Chennai Edition dated 8th October has carried following clarification in Page 6.
They didn't pay me, didn't mention my blog URL and mistook me for a lady. Nevertheless I thank their resident Editor Mr. Nair for promptly responding to my concern, accepting that there's been an error by TOI and willingly run a clarification as a damage control. Not sure if I want to drag this further. I'm currently vacationing at Club Mahindra resort in Binsar. Will write more about this next week once I return.

10th October 2008: Meanwhile, Mint Journal ran an article in today's issue (10th Oct 2008- Link here) about this issue and quoting my experience. I hereby inform all my readers that I suspect this article has gone to print before I could alert the said journalist about the fact that TOI has run a clarification. This is to ascertain that TOI has promptly responded to my concern and promptly published a clarification giving me due credit. Read more about this in this post

Thanks to all of you for your support. Sandesh and Sudipta have published their post in response to call for Blogathon on plagiarism by media. Thanks to them. If anyone else have written about it let me know, I’ll be happy to link.

Update: Harishankar and Gradwolf publish awareness posts on the same topic. Thanks guys.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Kuruva island, Wayanad, Kerala tourist info and experience

Tourist information about Kuruva dweep, Wayanad District, Kerala in the first half and our experience at this place during our 2 day Wayanad trip in the second half of this post.

About Kuruva island:
Kuruva dweep consists of a set of islands inside Kabini river. Nearly 1000 acres of dense ever green forest, no human habitation and a possibility of spotting rare birds, herbs and flowers. Kabini bifurcates here to form one major island and when water level is low, some more minor islands emerge around this one.

Tourist Attractions:
Nothing specific as such-just you and nature. You’ll be ferried to the island in a boat and you get to spend time there as much as you want and need to return before 4.30 PM. You can either walk around and explore the vegetation or spread a mat, setup a camp and relax for some time. You can also cross the river on a raft and go to other side of the river bank, to see some nice green paddy fields and couple of huts, shops and tree top huts.

Boat fee: Rs 10 per person for ferry (There was an option of selecting between ferry and boat-we couldn’t spot any difference-both were looking same)
Island entry fee: Rs 10 per person, Rs 30 for still camera
Raft ticket: Rs 5 per person (to go to other side of the river bank)
Tree top hut rent: Rs 750
Guide Fee: Rs 50 (not sure what all he will show- we didn't hire one- probably he'll explain name and significance of various trees and take you through an optimal path)
Vehicle parking fee: Rs 10
(Note: Rates as on 21st Sep 2008. Subject to change without prior notice)

How much time to spend at Kuruva island?
If you’re on a tight schedule, 2-3 hours is the normal time required. If you’ve a large crowd or enough time, you can make this a full day or half day picnic program. You can also chose to stay in tree top huts for Rs 750 (too small in size-not really worth in my opinion)

How to reach Kuruva Dweep?
It is in the north west part of Wayand district, about 17 kms from Mananthavady on the road that heads towards Mysore. Approx 5 kms detour from main road, through a forest full of bamboo trees-couple of sign boards are there to guide but you’ll need a sharp eye to spot them. Locals (some looked like tribals) will readily help if required.

Other tips:
*Access to the island might be cut off during monsoon due to overflowing river and strong currents that make boating across a risky task.
*Absolutely no signboards inside- easy to get lost. Have a look at the map and keep a geographical sense while roaming around.
*Do not throw plastics and pollute the river/forest. Please bring them back to mainland and dispose off safely.
*Doesn't look like an ideal spot to swim. River was muddy and didn't appear deep. Slippery rocks and strong currents command caution.
tree top hut in Kuruva island

Satellite image sourced from Wikimapia . island map photo by Jayasimha U.

Our experience at Kuruva Dweep
Kuruva island was the last spot on our 2 day Wayanad trip itinerary. We reached here at around 3 PM. The last few kms approaching Kuruva island had bad roads, other than this, roads were very good allover Wayanad. We bought tickets for the boat and were told to return before 4.30 PM.

Getting lost inside an island:
Kuruva Island satellite image from WikimapiaWe crossed the Kabini river and entered the island. We roamed around and by 4 PM started returning towards the pickup point. We took a longer route along the periphery of the island and soon realized that we’re lost. Even after walking for 30 mins there was no sign of our destination (boat pickup point). No human beings around and no sign boards. To the extent possible we stayed close to the river but at times had to divert into the woods as there was no other way. We crossed our deadline of 4.30 PM, still clue less how long we’ve to go. Should we stop and walk in the opposite direction (return on the same path-which may take time but guaranteed to take us to original point) or should we continue hoping we’ll reach destination soon? Will the keep a count of people and wait for us if they realize we’re missing? Legs were tiring and we weren’t carrying anything except mobiles and cameras. Everything else was in the vehicle. Will we end up spending the night in the island? There’re no contact numbers printed on the ticket to call people and tell that we’re lost. Somehow we kept moving and by 5.20 PM we suddenly found our destination. Fortunately there were still so many people around (probably they also got lost like us?) and boatmen were operating still to take them to the other side. With a sigh of relief we took our seat in the boat and were back on the mainland, safe and secure. Each of us drank two tender coconuts each.

Root cause analysis:
I did an attempt to understand why we got lost inside the island. Have a look at the image, you’ll get an idea. We didn’t have an idea on the shape of the island. First we took a diagonal path, reached the other end very quickly. (Point A to B in the map) We crossed the river in a raft, spent some time on the other side of the bank and came back. While returning, as I said earlier, we took a longer path across the edge of the island. We thought the island should be circular and we'll reach Point A without much effort if we keep walking by the river side (the red path). We didn’t have an idea that it will be more than 10 times the distance between point B to point A, if we traverse through the edge. Due to triangular shape we went upto point C and back to point A, which was really a long walk. Soon we got tired and felt we’re heading nowhere. As we crossed closing time and no one else were to be seen around, it only added to the tension. If only we had an idea on the shape of this island and a compass in our hand, we could have changed direction and reach destination faster.

Did I miss anything?
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