Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Winding up 2008-happy new year 2009

Winding up 2008 with some random contents and updates…

1. Violinist in Belur
Found outside Belur Chennakeshwara temple, a toy violin vendor was playing nice music using his 30 Rs violin made up of Coconut shell (karata), wooden sticks and strings. The quality was at par with any professional violin and it even has a volume control (by increasing the string tension). He could have had some decent success as a musician elsewhere, but is making a living selling makeshift violin. (Durability is a question, but for 30 Rs one shouldn’t complain)

The below recorded video shows him playing 2 tunes- first one from Mungaru maLe, a kannada blockbuster and second one is airtel tune.

2. Binsar write-up on Ergo
A 600 words article on my Binsar trip got published in Ergo. Click on below image to enlarge and read it (Similar: Binsar trip travelogue on my blog * My other articles in Ergo- Wayanad trip, URLs in local languages)
3. Talakona write-up on CLAY
Talakona trip write up was accepted for publication at CLAY (Club Mahindra and You), Club Mahindra’s official blog. You can read it here. (read it on my blog here)

4. Effectiveness and proper usage of helmets
Recently there was an article in Prajavani (a leading Kannada newspaper) that death by accidents hasn’t come down after enforcing mandatory helmet law by Karnataka govt. My opinion was that helmet as such is ineffective in protecting anyone, unless they’re put on properly-i.e. one should clip the strap at right tension, so that helmet stays firmly attached to our head and is not free to move around. But most of us simply put it on, without using the strap, just to avoid police fining us-when helmet is free to move around it will either come out during a crash or will pass most of the impact to the head, instead of absorbing the same- besides advocating wearing helmets, we should also advocate its proper usage. Guest authored a post on this topic at Churumuri and a good debate followed.
You can read that here.

5. Foggy Bengaluru
Didn’t know Bangalore gets this foggy- Found at 7 AM while driving on Bangalore-Hasan road, 25th Dec. Visibility less than 30 meters.
6. Safer way to drive your car
Some fancy car was being transported on a truck. Why not just drive the car? May be it is being ferried for some special purpose, say movies?
Above 2 photos clicked by Raviraj.

7. Elevated parking
During my recently concluded coast to coast long drive (Chennai-Bangalore-Udupi and Back, 1850 kms in 5 days in a Swift diesel VDi, more photos and text later), we stopped for lunch at Kamat Upachar near Tumkur- there was a ramp meant for vehicles that need servicing. I asked the security if I can take the car on the ramp and park it. He said ok and I drove it up. That was easy, but getting the car down was not. As you can see in the image, the left side wheels got too close to the edge and had to drive reverse with extreme caution. With security guard, my cousin, onlookers everyone giving advise (come straight.. little left…. Swalpa right…stop… come come.. slowly… don’t worry…turn steering to right…) I finally got it down.
Also I feel I've managed to keep most of the resolutions I made at the beginning of this year- read eNidhi India new year resolutions (2008)

Happy new year...

Monday, December 29, 2008

2008-an year of travel

The year 2008 has been my most travelled year. Excluding initial 2 months, I’ve been travelling out of Chennai every month. Only few of these were official/sponsored and rest were personal, resulting in significant dent in my wallet (The self drive ones are biggest culprits). But I guess it’s better lose money this way than losing it in the stock market.

Looking back:

March: Udupi, Karnataka
April: Manipal, Karnataka
May: Puducheri (Pondy), Mumbai
June: Mysore (Karnataka)
July: New Delhi & Mussoorie (Uttarakhand), Agra (UP), Bangalore (Karnataka)
August: Tada Hills, AP
September: Wayanad (Kerala)
October: Binsar & Nainital (Uttaranchal), Nagalapuram (AP), Parvathamalai (TN)
November: Nagari (AP), Yelagiri (TN)
December: Talakona (AP), Ramanagaram & Antaragange (Karnataka), Belur, Kalasa, Kuduremukh, Maravante, Nagara Fort and some more places, Karnataka (Just returned from a Chennai-Hosur-Bangalore-Udupi-Shimoga-Bangalore-Kolar-Chittoor-Chennai self drive expedition of 1850 kms in 5 days)

Just a question: Now that I’ve visited Wayanad in south to Binsar in north and Chennai, Pondy in east to Mangalore, Mumbai in west, do I qualify to call myself to have travelled across length and breadth of India? (Kerala to Uttarakhand for length, TN to Maharastra for breadth? - I admit breadth is not wide enough, though length should be fine)

Some of the places visited were really nice, but there is nothing extra ordinary in my travel. There’re people who travel more frequently and to far away destinations- All my travels were just a few days max and to regular tourist/trekking places. people spend weeks exploring Himalayas or other exciting places…But since I’ve travelled much during past few years this year looks fruitful.

The trips were highly diversified- on foot, by car, bus, train, air… self drive, chauffer driven, second class, first class (trains-not in air yet), low cost airline, full service airline, all expense paid, all expense self borne, official, personal, semi official; well planned, ad hoc planned, good experience, bad experience; all alone, with friends, with family, with relatives.

Thanks to my Manager at work who granted leave, thanks to everyone who were with me/assisted me for any of these trips or a part there of.

Year 2008 also marks a comeback year with some of my write ups getting published in reasonably accepted/popular print media. Hadn’t sent anything to print in past few years. Highly depreciated investment portfolio, venturing into giving public talks (
MIC Manipal and MSRIT Bangalore), A Visa (which hasn’t been put to use so far), a promotion and spending 20k on a camera (my biggest single expenditure in 2008) were other major happenings of 2008.

Wish list for 2009
I feel I’ll travel less next year and try to focus on something else. Have to prevent financial resources from draining. But you never know when situation tempts you to pack and leave. Vizag in AP, Mahabaleshwar in Maharastra are still waiting in my wish list for their time to come. Will have to wait and see what 2009 has in store.

Thanks for your readership and support. Advance new year wishes to you, my reader and inspiration.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Best of 2008

This post lists few popular posts published this calendar year, selected primarily based on comments and page views received.

1. An analysis of MLM companies
It is the only post which crossed a comment count of 50 this year. (Few other posts with all time high comment counts: Club Mahindra (318) * Laptop guide-HP vs Dell vs Sony vs others). While a good number of comments extended support to what I wrote, others were written with an intent of making me ‘understand’ that MLM business is very good, genuine and highly rewarding. Initially I did made an attempt to respond to each comment and make them understand my stand and viewpoint, but after sometime stopped responding, as the comments more or less conveyed the same as earlier comments.

2. Similar to above topic, the review of Merchants of Deception also attracted good number of critics.

3.Gender confusion over my name:
Many people, including Times of India, mistook me for a lady. An analysis of why this confusion happens time and again.

4. As there was no proper platform to sell timeshare memberships, myself and Bhupesh (a Club Mahindra member) created a simple Google spreadsheet wherein prospective buyers and sellers of timeshare membership could enter their details. This post for buying/selling timeshare membership has got more than 130 entries so far and several readers have indicated that they could successfully sell their membership though this post. Feels good that our posts could bring some real life value to few readers.

5, 6. My guide on Self drive rentals in India, coupled with a post on my first self drive expedition in a Skoda Octavia did receive some good attention and comments.

7, 8.Should we ban live music in pubs? A discussion over Bangalore police’s decision reached a comment count of 20, with views supporting and opposing the move. Another similar discussion was on “Why should men take off their shirts at the temple

9. Times of india publishing my photo without credit and publishing a clarification later was the other post

However, Google analytics suggests that I haven’t written anything great this year. 5 out of 9 most visited posts (between 1st Jan 2008 to 18th Dec 2008) were written last year, with the legendary Club Mahindra post still ruling the charts. Book review of Chetan Bhagat’s “3 mistakes” is the most viewed post written this year, followed by post on network marketing and selling timeshare membership

While that was about popular posts, here’re few posts which couldn’t manage to secure a single comment

Kuruva islands Wayanad-Though not successful in getting a comment from any of my readers, this post has served its purpose by reaching top 20 in Google search results for the keyword ‘Kuruva island’

Yaari changes for good- last year I’d criticized Yaari heavily due to their practice of getting email passwords from members and spamming all entries in their address books. This year when I noticed that they’ve changed the layout, design and process flow and no more require anyone to compromise with their email passwords, I felt like giving it a mention. Of course this didn’t add much value to readers and probably sounded as a commercial.

Launching a photoblog- Launching any initative is easy (particularly when it doesn’t cost money), but sustaining interest in it despite poor audience response is tough. Over confident of my photographic skills and loaded with thousands of photographs clicked during several trips, I thought I’ll launch a photo blog. Over a period of time I did realize that my camera is no match for SLRs and the photos nowhere come close to those of professional photographers. Obviously there wasn’t much response to my photo blog, though few kind souls did visit it and left encouraging comments.

To the extent possible I occasionally published a summary of posts-not sure to what extent people found it useful.

If you’ve been following this blog for some time, I would like to hear from you which post you liked the most and least. Please drop a comment- will you? (Use anonymous if you prefer)

Best of 2007 *

Friday, December 19, 2008

Maruti Suzuki A-star test drive review

Recently launched Maruti Suzuki A-star was on display in front of our office and I spent few minutes enjoying a test drive. This post is a quick review of this car, based on few minutes I spent looking and driving this car.
Maruti Suzuki A-Star front view
The earlier concept diagrams of this car were impressive, but the real life version has quite simplistic looks and appears more of a mix of different Maruti models. From front it looks like and mix of Fiat 500/Hyundai i10, from rear it looks similar to Alto and from side it looks like Swift. The 5 spoke alloy wheels and Sun roof you see in all promo pictures and brochures are probably additional fittings-alloy wheel and Sun roof are not even an option, even in top end Zxi. Because of this “borrowed from other models” look I am not impressed with the same. If it turns heads while you drive that will be temporary and solely because this is a new model on the streets. Score: 6/10

Maruti Suzuki A-Star rear view
Doesn’t look as spacious as WagonR and Santro. Of course it is a hatchback and there’re space constraints, but I doubt if a large suitcase will fit comfortably in the rear. The luggage door is small in size and not full sized as in Santro/WagonR/Indica. Just like Swift provision for number plate is moved down into the rear bumper and length of the tail door is reduced. This means you’ll have to lift your suitcase few inches higher before dropping it in its place. I suggest check on this aspect thoroughly to ensure that you don’t feel the discomfort later. Score: 4/10

Maruti Suzuki A-Star concept version
I didn’t find anything extra ordinary. Looks adequate. (Once inside, my attention gets focused on driver’s seat and its surroundings, so don’t ask me how does it feel to be a passenger). Vxi and Zxi have rear headrests for additional comfort, not so common in entry level cars. Score: 7/10

Console and controls:
Looks futuristic. The design is slightly unconventional. The 3 spoke steering wheel, sporty gear knob, etc looks attractive. Console has a new design- a simple tubular structure hosting only speedometer and few more indicators. Tachometer is accommodated in a separate console, slightly away (an attempt to make them look similar to race cars?) But steering wheel blocks the tachometer view in normal position. I am happy Maruti didn’t move the speedo console to the centre of the dashboard (so that they can have a single model for both export and import markets, as in Indica Vista and Chevy Spark)There is no height adjustment for seats-I prefer a position from which I can see the tip of bonnet on the left side, as that helps in better maneuverability- but with vertical adjustments absent, couldn’t get this position despite trying all possible horizontal moves. Score: 7/10

No audio controls on steering wheels. Other features are Ok- power window controls, internally adjustable external rear view mirrors, ABS with break assist etc are ok. iCATs immobilizer is standard in all variants. No wiper for rear windshield- Only defogger. Remaining features are at par with regular Lxi, Vxi variants of other models Score: 7.5/10
Maruti Suzuki A-Star console
After getting used to occasional long drives in more powerful cars like Skoda, Scorpio, Innova etc, the 1 liter engine of A star was not good enough to excite me. It touched 100 kmph with ease and went little beyond that also I think- didn’t notice properly. But that was the limit. Response, pickup and breaking is good (note: Only Zxi has ABS with Break Assist), -twice I had to slow down abruptly as two wheeler riders whom I was expecting to cross the road in time slowed down- either they hesitated to cross or stopped to have a proper look at the new car in town. In the 6 kms drive I had, I didn’t feel it as driver’s car. (that can be too less a distance to make a judgment and individual preferences may vary- use your discretion) I’ll be driving a swift diesel VDi next week- will be able to give better comparisons after that.
Score: 6.5/10

Engine: A-Star boasts an all new engine, called the KB series, 3 cylinder DOHC and MPFI and may probably take Hyundai’s Kappa series head on. Its reliability will be known only in the long run and it is little early to comment on that. If A-star does well, Maruti may introduce this engine in other models in future.

Fuel Economy: A-star mileage is much hyped at 19.6 kmpl on highway and 17 kmpl+ in city. I’ve not verified this, hence no comments. Check for some auto magazines to review and publish results
Maruti Suzuki cars price comparison
Price: On road, Chennai, in lakhs: A-Star Lxi- 3.82, Vxi-4.07, Zxi-4.47. (Refer image for price comparison of A-star with Wagon R and Swift variants- On Road Chennai) Price looks Ok (given the model is new, mileage claims and a 'believed to be great' new series engine, but with all other car makers offering year end discounts and offers certainly A-Star is not a bargain or a steal at this price.

Availability: This is what Maruti representatives told me: “Sir if you order fast moving colours it will be delivered within a week or two, else it may take a few months”. "A-star's waiting period will be much lesser than that of Swift and Swift Dzire" he assured me. It is available in total 9 colours and Paradise Blue, Silky Silver, Bright Red, Arctic White and Midnight black are the usually fast moving ones. (Desert Brown, Azure grey, Sunlight Copper and Healing Green are the other shades on offer, as per brochure.
Maruti Suzuki A-Star side view
BUY it if you: want to zip around in an hitherto unseen model, are impressed with the mileage claims, prefer a maruti because of service network, don’t mind few weeks to few months of waiting
DON’T BUY if you: prefer space, plan occasional cruising on highways, are tight on budget and can manage with Santro/Alto which are 50k to 1 lakh cheaper than A-star

Disclaimer: Personal opinion and observations only. Prices, features and availability are subject to change without prior notice w.r.t city, time, dealer etc. All information as available with the author at the time of composing this post. Please check with your nearest Maruti dealer for latest info. Concept car photo sourced from internet. All other photos by author.

Similar: Mahindra Scorpio mHawk Vls review * is i10 car of the year? * Self drive car rentals in India * Chennai police get Hyundai Accent cars *

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Book your wall space- Now!

Lest it will be an overdose of travel write ups, have a look at this. Have you experienced people making unofficial reservations by keeping a hand kerchief/other objects? Even political parties are not spared from this habit. Found outside some road side walls of Chennai- Some political parties marking their space on the wall by writing their party name and suffixing ‘FULL’ to indicate that they own the space from this end to that end.
Because the length of ‘this end’ to ‘that end’ was not wide enough, another party booked a part of space on the same wall…
I am just toying with the idea of drawing a horizontal line below these marks and book the space for myself…
Btb how do you undo these bookings? Simple- Just white wash over it and paint whatever you want. !

Related posts: Banner Mania * Unions in IT industry * Banning live music in pubs * Home minister VS Acharya comments on my blog

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Yelagiri Hills Bikers' day out

Yelagiri (250 kms from Chennai, 180kms from Bangalore, off Chennai-Vellore-Bangalore highway) was on my wish list for some time and when a bike trip to Yelagiri was planned more than a month in advance by CTC, I instantly registered. It was executed with utmost professionalism last month (Nov 22, 23) though heavy rains did play spoilsport. There were more than 80 registrants, of which 62 people had reconfirmed their participation the previous day. 3 cars and 30 bikes were expected to join this trip. (Which is almost like a rally and makes great photo feature) However heavy rains during Friday night and Saturday morning discouraged many participants and more than half didn’t turn up. Probably they felt it risky to drive in rain or were instructed by their family members not to venture out.

I reached the meeting point at the assigned time of 4.45 AM, expecting a huge gathering of bikes. To my surprise there were none. For a moment I thought everyone were punctual and they might have left on time and I may have to speed and catch up with them. But the Hyundai Verna that was parked there looked familiar (Selva’s car) and few people sitting under the bus shelter made me have second thoughts. I slowed down and when I looked back Bala was waving me to come back. Few more bikes joined in little later but the downpour made everyone think if we should proceed or abort. After some thoughts and hesitation we started, met some more participants at Guindy, another round of discussions on to go or not to go, went further ahead and assembled in Poonamalai. It was around 8 AM now. Rain didn’t seem to ease, but there was hope that it may either calm down soon or 50 kms from city it may not be raining at all. While the city roads were water logged, the Golden Quadrilateral was better equipped to deal with water. But riding a bike in rain is more risky than driving a car and risk factor seem to supersede the fun and adventure part of it. We came close to calling off the trip couple of times, but with half of Chennai knowing that CTC is going on a bike trip, going back home and telling “we came back fearing rains” was just not an option. No better alternatives could be worked out and by taking calculated risks, organizers finally decided on a GO.

The group of 28, in 9 bikes and 3 cars, thus started off towards Yelagiri. Vinodha (Akka as she is fondly called by others) lead the way, ensuring that no biker speeds ahead while Selva swept from behind, ensuring that no one is left behind. A very moderate speed of 60-70 kmph was maintained. Sun was nowhere to be seen and even at 11 AM the cloudy sky gave an impression as if it is just 7 in the morning. Rain gave us company most of the time, but its intensity was significantly low and was manageable. Scenery along the highway was photogenic, specially, the clouds forming a ring around the mountain peaks. But I couldn’t risk my camera to water borne infections, hence entire day 1 I hardly took any snaps.

There’re clear signboards on the highway indicating exit for Yelagiri- keep watching for it once you cross Katpadi. Arun and Anala who came from Bangalore joined us here, taking the total to 30. Nearly 14 hairpin bends on the uphill drive made the final stretch was exciting and different from monotonous highway drive. We moved very slow and finally reached our base camp (some 5 kms from Yelagiri town, I guess it is a village named Puttur) by about 3.30 PM. (That’s more than normal time, but can be attributed to rains, need for staying together as a group etc. My earlier experiences: Chennai-Bangalore-by bike, Jan 2006: 7 hours (5.30 AM to 12.30PM), -by car, June 2008, 5 hours (1 AM to 6 AM)). Trek to Swami malai was the original plan for Day 1, but was abandoned as we reached late. A small trek into the woods, from 4 PM to 8 PM kept us busy for rest of the evening.

My backpack was supposed to be waterproof, but clothes inside got wet- I guess water seeped in through the zip area which consists cloth material and can allow decent amount of water in, if we travel for several hours in heavy rains. We went back into the city for dinner and came back. This was my first 2 day trek and had with me my recently bought sleeping mat. But didn’t have clear idea where and how we’ll be spending the night. Organizers identified an unused building in the village which was good enough for us to spread our mats and sleep. So there was no need to set up tents. There are several ‘house-turned- guest houses/cottages/hotels’ in Yelagiri city where visitors can stay for few hundred rupees a day.

Day 2 luckily didn’t start with the rain. It was cloudy in the morning but turned sunny soon. By 8.30 AM everyone were ready to leave, after having morning refreshments and bread, jam for breakfast. Didn’t know that some Jam makers have started selling jam in toothpaste like packets-just squeeze and jam will come out- no need to struggle with a spoon to get the jam out from the cup. Nice and convenient innovation, though that jam is more diluted and expensive.

From YelagiriBikeTrip
We drove to another part of the village to start our day 2 trek, which involved a descend to a temple downhill and back. There was no need to carry entire backpack, hence it was a rather easy walk, though return uphill journey commanded few stops. Jalagamparai waterfalls exists near the temple where devotees and others can refresh. Trekked uphill on the same trail and took some rest on a big rock. The hitherto sunny sky started turning cloudy and we were about to leave the rock and return to base, rain gods poured down on us heavily, re-drenching the clothes and shoes which had dried properly by now. Rain sustained for rest of the day, in varying intensities, with few gaps. Lunch at Elagiri city, the same restaurant where we’d dinner last night and departure to Chennai. Nearly 5.30 Pm when we started return journey. Of the bikes broke down on the way as water entered inside. It took several dozens of kicks to expel the water and get the engine running again. Reached home by midnight.

The trip did cost around 1k directly in expenses and another 1.5 k as a business continuity investment- servicing the bike, buying spares as a backup (Clutch cable, accelerator cable, headlight lamp, spark plug, chain connector, a spare tube and a footpump). My bike didn’t give any trouble during the 500 kms ride and is fairly experienced in long rides now- It has done Chennai-Bangalore, Chennai-Pondy, Hyderabad-Bidar, Hyderabad-Parigi (a village 100 kms from Hyd). Regular servicing, courtesy Castrol BikeZone and Bajaj Service have kept it ever ready for rides.

From YelagiriBikeTrip
Other than trekking there isn’t much you can do at Yelagiri, popular primarily because it is a hill station. Punganur Lake and few temples are another tourist attractions I believe. Recently paragliding was introduced in Yelagiri by Yelagiri Adventure Sports Association(YASA). But after the inaugural paragliding festival during September this year, there isn’t much news of this. Out guide told us that Paragliding basic training costs Rs 15000 for one week- not everyone can afford that amount of money and time. Simpler and economic versions of adventure sports could have been good to start off with.

Honey and jackfruits were on sale by the roadside. I was tempted to buy a jackfruit but the burden of carrying it all the way to Chennai made me decide against it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Talakona waterfalls near Tirupati AP

Back from a 36 hour trip to Talakona waterfalls, 50 kms from Tirupati, near Kodur in Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh. Nice place-An ideal weekend destination from Chennai (220 kms) and Bangalore (300 kms). Two beautiful waterfalls, never ending forest for trekking and exploration, a community operated guest house and friendly locals make this a good place to spend couple of days-either relax amidst the nature or do a bit of adventure exploring the Sheshachalapuram range of Venkateswara reserve forest. This outing was also through CTC again like few of my recent treks and there were 28 of us in total, packed in one Santro, one Qualis (rented) and a Mahindra tourister (rented)- NO, not on self drive, I swear :)

We could have left on Saturday morning, but the trip was planned specially for those who work on Saturday, hence we started by Saturday evening. Starting from Tidel park and picking up people en-route, we finally left Koyambedu by 6.30 PM as against the targeted 5.30 PM. (This time all participants were on time, only vehicles came in late) Though it is just 220 kms from Chennai, the roads were bad (There’re more than one route to reach-I am not sure which one we took) and add to that we did a mistake of hiring a 16 seater Mahindra Tourister, which just couldn’t go at a decent speed on highways and moved at snail's pace, slowing the group further. (DO NOT RENT this vehicle for outstation travel-it comes cheaper than Force Traveler and takes more people, but is only suited for city rides and not highways) This, coupled with factors like having to stop for fuel, permits, taxes, confusion over the route etc made us reach our destination at an unearthly 2.30 AM,(8 hours for 220 kms or 27.5 kmph), outsmarting all provisions one might have kept for possible delays. But then, the forest department officials and guest house staff were very friendly. Even at that odd time, one forest department jeep escorted us to the guest house and the staff there quickly made provisions for extra beds etc, so that we could go to sleep without much delay. We saw the Tamil version of Telugu popular movie- Bommarillu on the way. Raja the deer at Talakona Guest House
This guest house is operated by local people (under the banner of their community and with guidance from Forest department) and rates are pretty cheap. The Loghut (A one bedroom, elevated structure-ref pics) costs around Rs 400 per day and the Dormitory costs Rs 1000 per day (Can comfortably accommodate a group of 10-15 people with extra beds). There’re only 2 LogHuts and 2 dorms available, so better plan in advance. (I saw one more forest guest house near the temple, but that was a normal building-nothing special in any way. Tirupati is the nearest town if you want more options). The guest house campus is very good- a water stream flows next to it-anytime one can go for a dip or a swim, they have a deer as a pet (named Raja), which is naturally reluctant to come close to strangers, but will come near and readily accept food if offered. There is a hanging bridge on which one can go for a walk anytime. Over crowded population of monkeys is something you need to watch out for. Protect your belongings from being snatched away by them. We didn't spot any sort of animals during the trek but there were several boards on the way with paintings of various animals and birds, with messages related to forest and wildlife conservation.

Breakfast was good and PuLiyogare was packed for lunch. They insisted that we buy water bottles from them, stating that “it was found recently that water on the hill is contaminated with some iron related substance”. We didn’t find merit in that statement and felt it is said purely to scare us and make us buy water from them. We anyway had good supply of drinking water with us. 9.30 or 10 AM in the morning was the time when we finally left the guest house for the trek. Trek was fairly easy, with well established trails. Since we as first times were not familiar with the terrain we commissioned 2 guides. At around 12 Noon we reached the first waterfalls (named Etikoppaka falls, the first image you see on top of this post), after a break at a small stream (which formed another waterfalls which we were going to see later in the day). The place is very scenic (see pic), but the lake is not that friendly for amateur swimmers-the water is either too shallow (near the shore) or suddenly too deep. But then it is good enough for a good refreshment.

After spending nearly 2 hours we started for a place 30 mins away where we would stop and have lunch. During this walk we spotted a camera man recording our walk. Our organizer enquired with a ‘director like looking’ person (Name-B.V.Ramana) on who are they and what they are doing. The conversation thus struck resulted eating up 30 minutes. We learnt that it was a local telugu devotional channel (Name: SV Bhakti Channel) owned by TTD (Tirupati Tirumala Devastanam) they were doing a documentary on Talakona and wanted to record few clippings of our organizer speaking about our experience in Talakona and all. It’s not every day that you get a chance to see yourself in a TV (never mind that channel is hitherto unheard of). I simply stood in the frame upon request along with my bag as they wanted more crowd, but others had gone far ahead and were in no mood to walk back all the way. [Related:
Watch me in an ETV Kannada program] The recording went on for couple of minute and was okayed in the first shot. The director didn’t have an email address to offer-not sure how he operates without one.

When we finally finished shooting, subsequent conversation and declared pack-up, rest of the team had finished their lunch and was waiting. Next on the agenda was to visit some British Bungalow somewhere uphill, but I understand we had to stop and start return journey, as it was beyond 3.30PM and our objective was to return to base by 1730 hours. On the return journey a villager asked for some fever tablet, as someone is having high fever. Hema had some paracetamol and we gave him two tablets. He enquired us on the dosage and returned with a thankful eye. Just see how difficult life in these places can be. One may have to walk for miles before you could meet another human being-let alone basic facilities and luxuries. Hope his family member who was suffering from fever recovered fully.

We walked down the hill though using steps and soon landed at another water fall- named Gunjana Falls, which is 3 times bigger than the earlier one and most popular of all Talakona falls. This water fall forms out of the stream we’d crossed in the morning uphill, which abruptly gushes out of the rocky mountain to fall a lengthy, powerful eye catching fall. Walkway have been constructed in the middle of this falls- people can walk in and take shower under the falls, water flows further down the vertical rock into a small lake (not as good as the one we saw earlier). Talakona falls are fairly popular as tourist places. There is a motor able road to take people near the water fall area and well built walk ways till the falls. The other waterfall we went in the morning needed several kms of walking in the woods, hence was relatively undisturbed. Many trees had several pieces of cloths tied to them. Some religious belief or customary I assume.

Finally by 5.50-6 PM the first batch was back in the guest house. Few of those who reached early didn’t have the room keys and had to wait for others to come. Few took their own time to get ready keeping everyone waiting till then, we took off by 7 PM. Return journey took equal amount of time , with a stop for dinner at Tirupati and we reached Chennai (Koyambedu) by about 2 AM. Per head expense was around Rs 810, which I feel is reasonable.

Second photo courtesy: Bala. Other photos by author
CTC, me & Google groups * Tada * Parvathamale, Nagala & Nagari * Yelagiri * Binsar, Uttarakhand * Wayanad, Kerala * Skandagiri Bangalore * Chandragiri Fort

July 2010 Update: Revisited this place last weekend. For contact details of the forest department guest house and driving directions, check this post

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Encounter Specialist Dayanayak likely to rejoin Mumai Police Service (मु. पो. से.)

Saw the movie “Risk” recently (Few months ago to be precise) and Daya Nayak’s thought occupied me. I was in higher secondary school when Daya Nayak was in his days of glory. He was a distant relative of one of the students in our school and had visited our school once. We saw him from a distance and were kind of scared to go near because of the pistol in his holster. He also had addressed the students and spoke few words, though I don’t remember now what exactly he spoke.

One of the most respected and celebrated police officers in India, Daya Nayak needs no introduction. He was a nightmare to Mumbai’s underworld. Himself and his team made India proud by clipping the wings of underworld. I won’t go into details of his heroism, which have been effectively portrayed in movies like Ab tak chappan, Kagar, Risk, Encounter Daya Nayak (Kannada) and Shootout at Lokhandwala. With over 83 encounters in his account his rivals might have realized that they can’t face him face to face and devised novel ways to eliminate him from their way. Sometime in 2003 he was made victim of a conspiracy (he hasn’t been proved guilty yet and ‘investigations’ still pending, as far as I know. But I believe he is innocent) and booked under “disproportionate assets” case. He was arrested, his house was raided, family members humiliated and a lion was conned into a legal cage. The credibility of the ‘journalist’ who made the allegation is itself in doubt, but no one seem to be interested in looking at the incidents from a different angle. Later he was also booked under few more cases like extortion etc, the credibility of the case and investigations not known.

Of late there haven’t been much news of him and I thought I’ll dig around a bit to see what he is up to these days. More than 5 years have passed, we don’t have much idea what he is up to, what happened to all those allegations against him and the progress of the cases slapped on him. Even Google doesn’t throw much updates… May be Mumbai police is happy to keep him away…

It happens only in India… MPs who take 100 crores for a vote are never questioned… Politicians who don’t have elementary school education but manage to amass hundreds of crores within few years are never booked. An exemplary police officer who risked his life to fight the underworld, so that others can live peacefully, is grilled for several years questioning him how he bought a house and a car. So many politicians like Jayalalitha, Mayavati and dozens of others who are facing charges of disproportionate assets, amounting to several crores (several times their possible lifetime income) are going about their business as usual, as if nothing has happened. Why Daya Nayak is treated so badly when he is not yet proven guilty?

I found a
blog dedicated to Daya Nayak which carries some pretty detailed information about Daya Nayak’s career, allegations against him, Mumbai underworld and all. Last post in the blog dates to Feb 19, 2006, wherein the author says he would stop blogging as Daya Nayak has ‘broken his silence’. [An interview during the same time where Dayanayak spoke with a regional news Website can be found]No further updates.

In between, there’re reports that Daya Nayak is unofficially helping Mumbai police teams in probing July 11 bomb blast case. [2006,
HT news]That’s a bit of a relief-his skills are somewhat utilized, though it doesn’t look like his rank and honors are restored fully.

Lots have been said about “encounters” and human rights of these gangsters killed in the shootouts. Where do these people hide when terrorists strike time and again, killing more and more people? Your thoughts welcome.

Sad to say this, but it seems the law of this land are applicable to only those who care to respect it. Our traffic police never chase a biker who speeds away when signaled to pullover for a document check, but thoroughly torture someone who cares to pullover. Same at other instances.

Why am I writing all these now?
Because I learnt recently from a reliable source that DayaNayak is likely to re-join Mumbai police service shortly (within a month). [Identity of the source has been withheld as I am not sure if it is appropriate to disclose the same. It is not clear at this moment if cases against him have been dropped and at what rank he is being reinstated] Was trying to find out some updates on Daya since sometime but had drawn a blank almost everywhere. This latest news, looks promising, as it would mean justice to an elite officer and country gets back the services of a skilled cop. I wish him all the best in whatever assignment he undertakes and am sure he will regain his days of glory. With terror strikes now becoming a common phenomenon, we certainly need more officers like DayaNayak (with a free hand to operate on their own) to fight the evils. ( Disclaimer: Information mentioned in this post are as available with this author at the time of posting this. Administrative decisions are subject to change and no liability is accepted regarding this)

I end this post with the same question Amitab Bachchan asked in the movie “Shootout at Lokhandwala”- When someone with a gun enters your home, whom do you prefer that person to be? A police officer like Daya Nayak? Or a member of underworld/terrorist organization?

Photo from BBC website.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Google Groups, CTC and me...

I am not a regular user of Google groups. I’ve subscribed to very few groups. Recently I (not once but twice) irritated nearly 1000 members of CTC (Chennai Trekkers Club) by sending mails to whole group, instead of a specific person (author of the thread). It was not intended, but the damage caused was permanent- everyone receiving mails not meant for them-few continuing the thread with replies (to the entire group) like “no one should reply to the whole group and reply to authors only”, “please stop discussing more on this topic-we don’t want to receive any more mails”, “keep me out of this”, “why are you spamming others”, “here are the guidelines every member should follow” creating a mayhem ensuring a series of unsolicited disturbance to everyone. Few mails landed in my inbox from blackberries expressing how disturbed they are to see unrelated mails landing in their inbox.

I regret the inconvenience caused to CTC members by my ‘reply’ and this post shares few observations in Google group’s design, which I feel can be improved. (not blaming Google for my carelessness, but just mentioning a few possible inbuilt controls will make the system more resistant to user errors and add to convenience of the members)

1. Misleading button positioning
Gmail has ‘reply’ button on the left, which sends reply only to the sender and ‘reply all’ button on the right, which sends your reply to everyone. On the contrary, in Google groups, the reply button on the left sends reply to entire group, while ‘reply to author’ button is on the right, which sends the reply only to authors. As a not so frequent user of Google groups, I did a mistake of selecting reply button, as I do always in email and the mail went to all group members, while I was expected to use ‘reply to author’ button on the right. Moving reply to author button to left and/or renaming ‘reply’ to ‘reply to all’ would remove any ambiguity. (It is positioned that way, probably because primary purpose of having a group is discuss your message with everyone and not with one individual. Regular users might be used to this-I’m a not so frequent visitor, so find it odd)

2. Trigger mail with a small delay
All email alert systems-the blogging platforms, forums, groups, websites send out email alerts instantaneously after the occurrence of the event (publishing a comment or posting a reply etc). If someone commits a mistake (wrong posting, spell errors etc) he/she will not have a chance to correct his/her mistakes as the mail would be already gone and damage caused will be permanent. If these platforms can send the mail after a delay of few minutes, author will get a chance to correct his/her mistake. I am sure a delay of few minutes will not cause any harm to anyone. Many a times I get mails in duplicate- someone submits a comment, realizes some mistake in it, deletes it and resubmits the corrected one, but I get both earlier and corrected mails. Some wordpress plugins allow readers to edit their comment within initial few minutes. Most of the forums as well as Google groups have options to edit/delete a post, but there is no way to recall the email triggered.

3. Thread specific alerts/unsubscribe options
In forums like Indiamike, you’ll get an email alert when someone replies to your thread (or any thread you’ve chosen to receive email alerts). Unless you click on the link and visit the site, you’ll not receive any subsequent alerts, even if others post replies. In other words, if you do not want to receive email updates for a while, just ignore the first alert as long as you wish- no more mails will come to your inbox till you visit the forum. But Google groups doesn’t have this option. Members can not subscribe or unsubscribe from a specific thread. The only option is to shift to digest mails (once a day updates or an update after every say 12 posts) or to receive no mails at all. While it is recommended that people subscribe to digests or daily updates, many do prefer to receive live email updates, either because they need to monitor and regulate the group, or they are very much interested/involved in the topics and wish keep a close watch on all discussions. A few unrelated mails a day can easily spoil their mood.

Purpose of having any group is to facilitate discussion between members. Usually that’s what people think they do, when they reply to threads. But what’s ‘discussion’ to one can become ‘SPAM’ to someone else. When member base touches thousands, there will be several posts every day, some may be relevant to all, some relevant to few and others to none. When the group platform doesn’t offer adequate controls to stay isolated from unrelated posts, we’ll need to rely solely on judgment of members to post only useful contents. Usefulness is subjective and often can create a clash as to if a particular content is useful or not. Also in forums people do not care to search the existing threads/links for the information they’re looking for, as they find it easy to create a new thread and post their questions. Others who’ve already written about it or have answered it somewhere, feel this repetition as avoidable and spam.

Another wise decision will be not to subscribe using your primary email ID/company ID to public groups.

No major complaints on Google groups as such. It simple to create and operate, free and integrates well with other Google products-just a few thoughts which I felt might be useful in making this platform more effective. Your suggestions welcome.

Related posts: Treks I did with CTC: Nagala, Parvathamalai and Nagari * Tada Hills * Yelagiri *Talakona, Tirupati * Skanda Giri (Bangalore) * Ramanagaram/Antaragange* Venkatagiri * Javadhu* Anantagiri (AP)

Similar: Few tips how Google can make orkut a better place * Deep Forest Trekking- An experience and tips *