Friday, January 30, 2009

Mahindra Xylo vs new Toyota Innova 2009

This post is a quick comparison of recently launched Mahindra Xylo with Toyota Innova (New 2009 release with a facelift) both competing in the MPV (Multi Purpose Vehicle) category.
Background: Toyota Innova, soon after its launch in 2005, created a class for itself and about 1.6 lakh Innovas are plying on Indian roads currently, most of them as commercial vehicles and rest as family wagons. It hardly had any direct competition so far as its closest rivals- Scorpio, Tavera and the likes had a jeep like rugged look and feeling, compared to almost like a car comfort, look, drivability and luxury of Innova. Sedans had a limitation of space and seating capacity and Innova was happy to bridge that, without any significant compromise.

Mahindra & Mahindra has rightly launched Xylo to take Innova head on. With a price tag about 2 lakhs less than a corresponding Innova variant, Xylo has high possibility of making its makers proud by claiming a good market share. Xylo has slapped a right question on all potential car owners- Are you sure you want to spend Rs 6 lakhs on a hatchback like Swift or i20? Or 7-9 lakhs on a Sedan like SX4, Ford Fiesta or City? Why not buy our multipurpose vehicle, Xylo, which gives you more seats, more space, at same price without compromising on comfort and luxury? Won’t you like to outgrow your Sedan? It is for you to decide…
Coming back to core purpose of this post, let us compare these two multipurpose vehicles- Toyota Innova vs Mahindra Xylo. Please note that Innova is available in both petrol and diesel variants-Only diesel variant is considered here and only top end variants are considered for comparison (Xylo E8 vs Innova D-4D 2.5V)
Both Innova and Xylo have several things in common-2.5 liters Common Rail Diesel engine, 5.4m turn radius, 7 or 8 seat options, almost similar dimensions and 55 liters fuel tank. That apart, while Innova tries to maintain a clean car like look, Xylo has been pampered with skyrack, bigger tyres and higher ground clearance to reinstate a “much mature than a sedan” feeling.

Comparing the top end models of Innova and Xylo, Innova scores much higher because of dual airbags (driver and passenger), Driver and passenger seat belt warning, Side Door Impact beams (reinforced steel beams that absorb the impact and prevent occupants from being crushed), Collapsible steering (Steering will unit will collapse to floor upon collision) and LSPV (Load Sensing Proportion Valve, a cousin of ABS, which can regulate breaking effect depending on the load- at full load of 8 people extra breaking effort is needed due to higher momentum and at light loads excessive breaking can cause skidding-I guess LSPV will compensate for these factors)
Xylo sans ABS-even in top end E6 & E8, let alone airbags. But it has a crumple zone under the bonnet that can absorb the impact of collision and prevents the same from being passed to occupants inside the cabin. Effectiveness of this crumple zone is not yet known and I don't think this can be treated as replacement for airbag. Both cars have parking (reverse) sensors. Comparing E8 & 2.5V Absence of ABS & airbags gets Xylo a relatively lesser ranking on Safety. If you compare no frills base models- E2, E4 with 2.5E, 2.5G, then both of them stand at par as far as safety is concerned.
Comfort and Drivability: Innova gave me a much smoother, comfortable and better drive, when the roads were good. Xylo had very hard transmission just like its cousin Scorpio mHawk. The Scorpio Vls I’d driven in Sep 2008 had a hard transmission which resulted in good amount of strain on my left arm at the end of 3 days 900 kms drive (Something I didn’t experience in other long drives, the 1300 kms/3 days in Skoda Octavia as well as 1850 kms/5 days in a Swift VDi). As suspected even Xylo had similarly hard transmission. A little extra muscle power will be required while changing gears and this can be stressful on your left arm during long drives. Rest of the aspects like engine response,maneuverability etc were good enough. Xylo has more height while Innova is lengthier.
Space: Xylo has slightly larger dimensions. But space is a function of flexibility to adjust various seats to secure required volume. Both vehicles claim to be fully flexible... There's hardly any space in Xylo behind 3rd row-you may have to either go for a roof mounted carrier or fold the third row seats to keep that large suitcase.

Looks and Feel: Innova has been around for years and will no more turn a head. Even the new 2009 model just sports a modified front grill, headlamp and tail lamp combination. Xylo, though has nothing astonishing in its looks, is the new baby in town and can grab some attention in the initial days. Scorpio still has better overall looks than Xylo. Innova has a neat, lean and more aero dynamic looks. Xylo comes in some exciting colours while Innova's default shades look boring, simply because we've seen so many of them.
Price: Xylo variants (E2, E4,E6 and E8) range cost between 6.26 to 7.7 lakhs while Innova (2.5E, G and V) cost between 7.64 to 11.1 lakhs ex showroom. Add about 20% to these prices to arrive at an approx on road price (white board, about 10% in case of yellow board). Xylo's price advantage of 1.5 to 3 lakhs w.r.t a corresponding Innova variant can be tempting, but I feel Innova's high price gets somewhat justified for a quality and safety conscious customer.
Other aspects:
Xylo has some fancy features like Glass Antenna (instead of conventional steel rod), Side body cladding, Ski rack (only in E6), theatre effect lamps (lights go off slowly in style, like in theatres), foldable flight trays behind the seats, courtesy lamps (lamps illuminating specific target areas and not just lighting up the cabin in general), Illumination Ring around the keyhole to help identify the same in night, roof console, under seat storage and Digital Drive assist (a host of information you may need while driving. Some of these are interesting & useful and you can happily show them off to your friends...
On the other hand, the new 2009 Toyota Innova boasts audio controls on the steering wheel (a feature now getting common in many cars, after Maruti introduced it in SX4, Xylo misses it), Automatic Climate Control, Adjustable passenger seat (in addition to driver’s) and several safety measures mentioned earlier. Toyota's quality and reliability has been tried and tested. More feedback on Xylo will be known only after some time.

Common features: Both Innova and Xylo offer alloy wheels in most expensive variants, flat bed front seats, electronic control for external rear view mirrors, customized AC controls, captain seats, tilt steering, height adjustment for driver seats, wood finish interiors, two DIN audio system and side protection molding.

Buy Innova if you are:
  • Looking for a passenger vehicle primarily for city and highway use
  • Not constrained with budget and don't want to trade safety for cost advantage
  • Keen on less operating cost and high resale value
Buy Xylo if you
  • Prefer a more rugged vehicle, say for urban, non-urban use, without much compromise on luxury
  • Are attracted by the price difference, Xylo's looks, colours or the fact that it is a new baby in town
  • Feel Xylo is a better option than Chevy Tavera and Sumo Grande

Hope this helps. Images from respective company websites. Expect some more updates and photos if I get to test drive one. Your views welcome.

Update: I finally test drove Xylo. My views by and large remain the same, but additional details in this post-Mahindra Xylo test drive review.

May 2009 Update: Drove the new 2009 Innova. Most of my observations listed above are vindicated. Engine is much smoother than the current one. Rear sensor is just the beep, which beeps faster if there're obstacles closeby. No visual indications like in Xylo. Climate Control is basically temperature control, which tries to maintain car temperature at a preset value.

November 2010 Update: We toured Coorg in an Innova 2.5G from Avis, self drive... was a nice drive

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Self Drive rentals: cost comparison, procedures and more

Of late, I’m getting various questions from multiple directions about self drive car rentals. Most of them are pertaining to cost aspect and few are about the procedures and formalities involved. Many of them change their mind after hearing about the cost, security deposit and risk involved. My earlier posts [read them here and here] on Self drive rentals notwithstanding, this post is an attempt to answer few such questions.

Cost Comparison between self drive rentals and normal chauffer driven rentals- Will it be cheap to rent on self drive?
Honestly speaking, for most of the circumstances, self drive rental is NOT economical, except for long trips and high end cars.
Case 1: Short Trip (say 1 day, 150-200 kms, economy vehicles like Indica/Sumo etc): For short trips self drive won’t be economical. Example, for a 200 kms 1 day outing the normal rental of Tata Indica with driver would cost about Rs 1500 (Rs 200*6.5/km + driver batta, effectively Rs 375 per person for four people),the same trip, on self drive would cost about Rs 2300 (1500 rent+500 fuel +Rs 300 delivery & collection charges, Rs 460 per person for 5 pax)
Case 2: Medium trip (Example: 3 days, 1200 kms, Toyota Innova): For medium duration trips , Self drive and chauffer driven rentals can almost break even (Self drive at Rs 3300/day,3600 fuel= Rs 13500, Chauffer driven: 1200*10.5 Rs/km +900 Rs driver batta=13500)
Case 3: Long trip (4 days, 1800 kms or more, relatively high end car): For long trips self drive is far economical than regular chauffer driven rental. Say for a Skoda, 4 days, 1800 kms would cost Rs 20,000 (Rs 16000 rent+4000 fuel). If you want to hire a skoda or similar car on conventional per km rental, you’ll realize that not many agencies will have such cars on offer and those who have will quote exorbitant price. Hertz quotes Skoda at Rs 25/km for non corporate customers. Even at Rs 15/km, 1800 km trip would cost Rs 27000. (Also why would I rent ever a Skoda if I can’t drive it???). Even for economic cars self drive is cheaper for long distances.

Please note that above calculations are based on current rental rates in Chennai. Rates are subject to change w.r.t time, city, rental agency and other factors. Also, if you’re sharing the expenses or want to carry maximum passengers possible, please note that you can save a seat in self drive mode and per head expense can be less, even if total expense is marginally more than regular rental.
Self drive rentals are popular abroad because hiring a driver is expensive there. In India if you are trying such adventure it could only be because a. you enjoy driving, or b. you’re 5 or more in number and don’t want to waste a seat for driver or c. you want full privacy.
Let me reiterate the risks and advantages of self drive as I find it:

Risks: You need to return the car without any dents, scratches or other damages. Else damages can mount to several thousand rupees. Vehicle will be covered under insurance for accidents and third party liabilities and if there’s a genuine (not arising because of driving on bad roads etc) technical failure (say you’d to replace a spare) rental agency will reimburse the expense. But in either case, you can’t abandon the car on the road and reach your destination in another vehicle (which could have been an option if it was a regular rental with a driver). In case of major incident your trip will go for a toss. So, you need to be confident about your driving skills and be prepared for the risk factor involved. Long driving can be stressful at time and one small mistake is all it takes to cause an accident.
I've taken various cars on self drive rental 4 times in the year 2008 (Skoda Octavia, Scorpio, Innova and Swift) and was lucky not to have any unpleasant incident, except for flat tyres. Hope my luck doesn't run out one day.

Advantages: I go for self drive rentals because I don’t own a car yet and find it convenient to rent some relatively up market car and enjoy the drive. Other advantages are: Saving on an extra seat for driver, not having to pay inter-state border fee (in some cases), privacy and complete ownership on the car, for the duration of rental (to flaunt it or to experiment or to explore). Also, the white board cars won’t have that boring white colour and taxi like feeling
What are the prevailing rates for self drive rentals?
Approx per day rental for various cars are given below- These rates may differ w.r.t agency and with age/variant of the car etc. Also most rental companies will give good discount if rented for longer duration.

Santro, Indica: Rs 1300-1500/Day, Getz/Swift: Rs 1800-2000 per day, Ford Ikon, Accent: Rs 2000-2200 per day, Ford Fiesta, Honda City: Rs 2200-2500 per day, Civic, Skoda Octavia, Toyota Corolla, Chevy Optra, Scorpio, Innova: Rs 3000-4000 per day. Note: A security deposit ranging between Rs 5000-25000 will be payable, in addition to full rental amount at the time of taking delivery. Some agencies may insist on some advance at the time of booking confirmation. Any damage to the vehicle is at renter’s risk. Delivery and collection charges of Rs 100-200 may be applicable and few agencies put a limitation on max no. of kms (150 or 200), if rented for just one or two days and additional kms will be charged extra at say Rs 5 per km.
In comparison, conventional car rentals with driver, charged on per km basis, can approximately cost as below: Indica: Rs 6.5/km, Sumo/Qualis/Tavera: Rs 8.5/km, Force Traveler (formerly Tempo Traveler): Rs 9.5-11 per km, Toyota Innova Rs 10-11 per km (Minimum rental of 200 or 250 kms may will be applicable along with a driver fee of Rs 200-300 per day)

What is the procedure for renting a car on self drive?
You can either approach an agency (like Hertz, Avis) or contact individuals who give it on rent, Agencies will have pre-defined rates, requirements and formalities. Usually they need you to own a credit card and hold a driver’s license 3 years old.[Detailed eligibility and websites of self drive car rental companies] Rental amount + deposit will be blocked on your card and upon return, deposit amount will be unblocked. Few individuals who rent their cars may have slightly different procedures. Usually they’ll keep an original document as additional security and need rental and deposit amount in cash. There may be an agreement or any other formality at the discretion of the person.

Jan 29 Update:
Note: 1. Chauffeur driven options needn't always be safe- You won't know how experienced the driver is and how stressed he is (say because of his earlier trip). In self drive you'll have option of hiring services of a driver, if you wish, at an additional cost of approx Rs 300 per day, so that you can ask him to drive when you're tired or otherwise.
2. Most of the travel agencies will have basic variants of cars without ABS, Airbags and other safety & entertainment features. In self drive you can get full details of the car before booking it so that you can know the age of the car, variant, features etc.
3. Be sure to check fuel type. A petrol car may cost cheaper but a diesel car can save substantially in fuel expenses, even if rental cost is more by few hundred rupees.
4. Also enquire about the age of the car. Avoid old cars as they are likely to have worn out tyres. Be sure to note the existing damages while taking delivery

Disclaimer: Personal opinion and observations only. Rates and terms are subject to change without prior notice. eNidhi India recommends safe driving with seatbelt on.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Designer Doors in South Canara homes

An integral part of constructing a house in Coastal/Malnad region of Karnataka was “Dwara Bagilu”(roughly translates as Main Entrance Door). This door and its frame are a treat to the eye as it exhibits extensive artwork, carved on it.

Teakwood (Sagavani or Tega in Kannada) is the preferred choice for making these designer doors, reason being, teak is relatively soft and easy to carve upon. Large designs carved on a single stone/wood are a common sight in most of our temples, but similarly artistic doors are common in ancient homes of undivided Dakshina Kannada (Now Udupi & Dakshina Kannada districts) as well as nearby regions.

Couple of decades ago when my parents were constructing our home, I remember our carpenter camping at the construction site for weeks and carefully carving beautiful designs out of wooden planks. Besides visualizing eye catching designs in mind and cautiously realizing them on wood, the carpenter also had to keep in mind the symmetry and the fact that one wrong strike of the chisel can destroy the beauty of entire artifact.
Another factor to note is that the height of Dwara Bagilu is maintained slightly lower than average height of other doors. This is to force people to bend a little when passing through the door, which is a way of showing respect to gods.

Unfortunately, this trend of incorporating artistic ‘Dwara Bagilu’ is slowly vanishing in new age homes- primarily due to non availability of skilled carpenters and due to cost of wood and labour (majoori). But if you get a chance to visit any ancient homes in this region, do visit, for a hands on view of these designer pillars and doors.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Article-19 by Manipal Institute of Communication

Recession is spreading its tentacles everywhere-Job freezes and layoffs are obvious while most of the campus recruits are uncertain when exactly they’ll get to join. Sales and profits go downwards and no one wants to spend money unnecessarily. Fund raising is tough and sponsorships are hard to come by…

Students of Manipal Institute of Communication (MIC) are reportedly finding it difficult to get sponsors for their Annual National level communication festival, named Article-19. Article 19 is scheduled for Feb 26,27 and 28 2009. This post on their blog reads “…Students are not getting money to do a simple college festival and these corporate big-shots are stealing away gloriously!” Reading the same, thought of writing a few lines about their event...

I’d attended their event last year-Manipal Media Students’ Convention- MMSC ’08. [Experience Account] The students had put up a great show. With a series of sponsors including Times of India, Bank of Baroda, Radio Mirchi, Campus18 and others, everyone envied the way the show went on… Veteran journalist Madhav Kamat did remark- “you people have done a good job getting all these sponsors- Next time I want money for some events I’ll call you”.

A lot has changed over an year. The economy has nosedived and funding this year’s event is the challenge students of MIC are up against. A member of core team with whom I interacted expressed confidence that they’ll still be able to go on with the program in a no-frills manner if no one comes forward to sponsor. They’ve confirmed participation from celebrities like Rahul Bose and Prahalad Kakkar and a series of interesting events.

An electric bulb, code named Bijlee Baba has been chosen as their Mascot and Switching off Manipal for one hour to create awareness on conservation of electricity is one of the events on the agenda.

Main sponsorship costs Rs 3 lakhs (negotiable)-Didn’t know college level events can get so expensive. Taking care of celebrities (air travel, hotel etc) will be the most expensive part I guess. In case your company is interested in sponsoring feel free to contact the core team of Article -19

If you’re a college student you can nominate yourself for any of the express awards. Kiruba Shankar and other dignitaries will be on jury panel (Kiruba gave their event a miss last year)

Event sites:  * BijleeBola * Manipal University
Near Manipal:Nearby places: * Endpoint Manipal * Karkala * Bekal Fort * Maravanthe

Post event update: Event went really well. They got sponsorship from Airtel, Union Bank, Greenply, Internet Society and others. Rahul Bose, Sandhya Ravishankar, Prahlad Kakkar, Kiruba Shankar and many others made this event a memorable one. Detailed post later.

May 2010 updates: Looks like and are not renewed and I didn't notice much mention of the event this year... May be the juniors couldn't organize it as good as previous years (2009 and 2008)

Monday, January 19, 2009

A tale of missed photos

Have you ever experienced this?

You’re out on a trip- say in a car and with a group of people, you’ve a camera capable of taking and storing thousands of snaps- you go on clicking whatever that seems remotely good/interesting/useful. Suddenly you notice something interesting by the roadside, but by the time you realize it and get your camera ready, the vehicle has cruised several hundred meters ahead-You’re in a dilemma- stop the vehicle, go back and take that photo or ignore it and move ahead (as you’re getting late/there may be similar scenes ahead/you don’t want to bother rest of the occupants). At the end of the trip, you may have taken 100s of good photos, but those few missed photos often keep haunting you…

Not that the trip became a flop because you didn’t click that frame- not that those pictures were life changing-not that they can’t be captured ever again, but then a disappointment is a disappointment. On each of my trips I’ll invariably having few such instances wherein I’ll be left with a feeling-‘Oops! Should have cared to stop and click that thing’- Some instances where I missed to take a photograph…
  • A photo of people crossing Souparnika river near Maravante in a boat (totally forgot)
  • A photo of a beautiful sunflower field near Hassan (thought I may get a similar or better field ahead, but there was none)
  • Photo of pathetic state of roads in Nagarahole reserve forest, while returning from Wayanad (was busy off-roading with the Scorpio)
  • A photo of flare coming out of Mathura Refinery, UP (By the time I asked cab driver to stop we were a km ahead and the view was covered by trees)
  • A photo of a multi coloured bird in Venkatagiri (I should have clicked in whatever mode I was on-stupid me tried to optimize the camera setting and the bird was gone in seconds…)
  • A photo of a white dog standing knee deep in canal waters, near Hoskote
  • A photo of NICE road, Bangalore (Camera will be the last thing on your mind while cruising at 160 kmph)
  • Photos of donkeys carrying sand and stones on a hilly route in Binsar
  • A flock of ducks crossing the road during our Nagari trip. (My Camera was in a car half kms away- managed to click one with mobile cam-image below, but not happy with the photo)
  • Photos of Bidar Fort (I didn’t have a camera then)
    Reasons are many-In all the cases, the object of interest comes unexpectedly when we are not on standby to shoot them. Sometimes I’ll be driving and camera will be with someone else- too much time will be lost by the time I mobilize the resource and equipment, sometimes the usefulness or significance of the subject that we didn’t click strikes only after we reach home, sometimes there’ll be time constraints and you don’t want to put the whole team into inconvenience by stopping for a photo that no one else in the vehicle seemed to be interested it, at times we’ll just not have a control on the situation (like you can’t stop the train or bus you’re travelling in)

    Do you have similar experiences? How do you feel or how do you manage them?

    Not that we forgo every opportunity to take a photograph- we often succeed in making the most of it, but there’ll be few instances of compromises which we can improve upon, with better preparedness

Friday, January 16, 2009

Maravanthe beach, Padukone & Sauparnika river

Maravante is a picturesque place 14 kms from Kundapura town (50 kms from Udupi, Karnataka) on National Highway 17. Arabian sea on the left and Souparnika river on the right makes this a unique landscape. Besides the amazing view of sea and river, this place is also known for virgin beaches, recently introduced boating and Padukone village, birthplace of Prakash Padukone and now famous Deepika Padukone…

Refer image below- The island like place you see on the right is the Padukone village. Badminton legend Prakash PadukoNe and now bollywood celebrity Deepika Padukone have their roots in this small village, covered by water by most sides. (It is connected by road as well from one side, but a boat ride across the Souparnika river from Maravante side is the popular mode of transportation for villagers and visitors)
Some of our relatives were living at Padukone, hence this place is synonymous with boat ride for me. Besides the hand rowed boat which ferries people across the river, a motorized boat has been introduced recently to take visitors for a jolly ride into the Souparnika river. For a boat-full of people (say 10 people), half an hour ride costs Rs 450. During rainy season water level will be far higher than what you see now and boat service is often suspended and people rely on round about bus route.
Sea at Maravante is not ideal to enter into, due to huge pile of rocks stacked to prevent soil erosion and protect NH17. For that you can go back a little to Trasi or drive ahead just a few kms to find a place called Nagur, from where you can take a small road which leads to a beautiful beach with couple of big rocks…(take the first exit on left-seek help from villagers if needed). Afternoon time will be ideal due to slightly less water levels, compared to late evening. Sunset will be a bonus...
Villagers claim this is the bone of a shark...
Dead Body of the deadly Sting-ray fish. This is the fish that killed Steve Irvin...
Turtle Bay resort would have been an ideal place in case you prefer to stay here, but unconfirmed reports tell me that currently  this resort is not in a good condition due to lack of maintenance and not enough number of customers. Do check on that. Kundapur town has couple of good hotels.
Nearby places: Murudeshwara * Endpoint Manipal * Malpe * Udupi SriKrishna Temple * Karkala * Agumbe *

Friday, January 09, 2009

Forgotten factor-Safe Braking Distance

Parents often advise children- “go slow- don’t drive fast”. We see lots of sign boards which tells you not to cross a particular speed limit. On a straight clear road when driver speeds up, others ask him to slow down. In brief, there is a general belief that driving slow is a the best way to avoid accidents. Our traffic police have interceptors on highways to catch speeding vehicles and fine them… While driving slow helps, there is another important factor, which most of us never give importance to (or may not even be aware of). It’s called Safe Braking Distance (SBD).

Safe braking distance is the minimum needed empty distance ahead, needed for the vehicle to come to complete halt without bumping into vehicles ahead, from its current speed, from the moment an emergency occurs. In other words, SBD is the distance you’ve to maintain, between your vehicle and the vehicle behind you, so that your vehicle can be safely stopped in case of emergency.

How do you measure Safe braking distance?
Primarily, SBD is a function of speed at which you’re cruising. Higher the speed, more will be the distance required to stop the car. Normally, for a decently skilled driver, on a normal road, it will take about 100 meters under normal condition to stop a car from 100 kmph (that is on a dry road. Can be twice or thrice that distance for wet road) and distance increases exponentially with increase in speed. But then, one can’t physically measure the distance while driving and will have to rely on his/her judgment to assess if the available distance is enough. Also the distance required to stop depends on dozens of parameters, detailed below.

One should maintain additional Safe braking distance if
  • It is night time
  • The road is slippery due to rain/snow/loose gravel
  • There is no road divider to separate oncoming vehicles
  • The road is curvy or visibility is affected due to fog or other factors
  • The driver is not skilled/experienced/confident enough
  • Vehicle doesn’t have ABS (ABS may not significantly reduce the breaking distance but it mainly prevents vehicle from skidding and gives better control/confidence to the driver)
  • Driver is less attentive (either due to alcohol consumption or he’s listening to music or talking with co passenger/on mobile etc) as this increases response time and vehicle would have cruised several meters before the driver comes to his senses and applies the brake.
  • The manner in which the vehicle ahead is being driven (if it is being driven rashly or stops/slows down abruptly etc)
  • You’re not regular on that road and not fully familiar with the road terrain (if there’re abrupt speed breakers or bad stretches on an otherwise good road, drivers miss to notice the hump/bad stretch till they come very close- this means abrupt stopping and vehicle behind may not anticipate it and ram from behind- live example, see the photo- Innova caught by surprise and bumps into the truck as truck suddenly slowed down due to bad road
  • The condition of the vehicle ahead is not good (no working tail lamps, worn out tyres/visibly aged vehicle etc- most our Indian trucks may not have their tail lamps and break lamps working, even if they are working, they may be covered with mud or may not be visible due to broken glass-this means, during night time you’ll not notice the vehicle till you move very close)
  • There’re no free additional lanes at left or right (if you don’t have a space to go, only option will be to ram into the vehicle ahead)
  • There’s no fencing and possibility of stray animals, people crossing the road is very high
In my opinion, maintaining safe braking distance is more important that going at slow speed. I don’t see any harm speeding if the road is straight, empty and has full visibility, provided the driver is in his full senses to anticipate any signs of trouble and can slow down in time.

While we usually maintain some distance from the vehicle in front of us, it is also critical to keep an eye on the vehicle on your tail, unless you enjoy being bumped in the back. But while we can slowdown and increase the distance between our car and vehicle ahead, it may not be possible to tell the car behind you to maintain the gap. If you suspect the distance is too close, best will be to let that car overtake and pass.

I had a similar experience last month on 28th December- While driving from Shimoga to Bangalore, I had a cat and mouse chase with 2 other Swift cars (all 3 were Swift VDis, mine Copper Red colour, other two were white and blue ones). I enjoyed the chase for a while, but eventually slowed down as road condition was not that encouraging. The other 2 cars continued the race. Few kms later, we spotted these 2 swift cars parked on the road side with drivers talking/arguing with each other. There was a speed breaker and when the car ahead (blue one) braked abruptly, the white Swift which was on the tail couldn’t anticipate this and before it could be stopped, it had given a deep kiss to the blue swift ahead. There weren’t any casualties, but the dent to the brand new car was clearly visible. Later I spotted the car at Kamat restaurant outside Tumkur where we’d stopped for dinner- I took a photo of the car but the owner came out and insisted that I delete the photo and I had to honor his request.

I spotted a more serious collision the next day while driving from Bangalore to Chennai, via Chittoor and Ranipet. The photo you see in this post is taken during that drive, where truck driver stopped/slowed down abruptly due to bad road and Innova rammed into it from behind. The wind shield had a severe crack but hadn’t shattered into pieces. I believe this version of Innova came with airbags (both passenger side and driver) and hope the occupants didn’t suffer any major injuries. After observing these 2 incidents and noticing that we hardly give any importance to the concept of safe braking distance, I felt like writing this post.

Your thoughts welcome.

Photos by Krishna Shastry

Monday, January 05, 2009

Chiranjeevi, Prajarajyam and public

Statutory disclaimer: eNidhi India is politically neutral and this post not intend to support/criticize any political party or politician. It just shares writer’s observations and readers are requested to use their discretion
We entered Venkatagiri town (in Nellore district of AP, some 38 kms from Naidupet) on Saturday afternoon and the town was flooding with banners of Praja Rajyam, the recently floated political party of Telugu megastar Chiranjeevi. We didn’t give it much importance and went ahead with our trekking plans. The situation was much more aggressive while we were returning back on Sunday evening.
We learnt from locals of Venkatagiri that their favorite Chiranjeevigaru would be visiting their town for the first time ever that evening (4th Jan 2009). The entire town was on the streets to welcome him-there was still some time before his arrival, so we could manage to drive our cars out of town, had it been 30 min late, we would probably be stuck inside Venkatagiri town for few hours. We stopped at one point where we struck a conversation (with our broken telugu) with the local youth who were holding a party flag in their hand and were visibly over excited. Not just the youth, even old age men and women were also on the streets. As I took out my camera, the group asked me: Photo or video? And before I could respond, they shouted several non-stop slogans and dialogues in support of the visiting mega star and his party. Once they finally stopped, the old man continued explaining how great Chiranjeevi is and more. The essence of his talk, as I could interpret was that everyone in the town have lots of Abhimanan (respect) towards the megastar and they’re waiting to get a glimpse of him. The youth told me that they are on the streets since 2 PM (ETA-Estimated Time of Arrival of Chiranjeevi was in the evening- 7 or 8 PM). I asked if he is being paid any dabbu (money) for his efforts- he said “first time kada, emi Dabbu lEdu” (telugu for: since it is the first time for this party, we’ve not been paid any money) So most of them were volunteering and probably expected good remuneration once party grows politically strong and ‘revenues’ start coming in. A police jeep patrolled at high speed, with siren ON, as we spoke this.
There’s no specific answer why they’re so crazy about one individual. Most appropriate answer could be “because of the same reason my Tamilians are crazy about Rajanikant or Hindi viewers are crazy about Big B and SRK” From someone who did stunts and miracles on screen, probably they expect some similar results in real life too. An educated and sensible man may probably value these icons for their real worth and capabilities, but majority of the public gives them a near God status. May be hoping these stars to play god is probably the best thing people can hope for…

We drove further, had tea near Railway station and crossed the gate (which marked entrance to the town and had a huge gathering, with one individual who madly started dancing in front of our car, before being pulled aside by a fellow person (who looked authoritative with a car key in his hand) who made way for our car and the bus behind us.
Just as we crossed the main entrance of Venkatagiri town, 7 PM approx, megastar’s Motorcade came in from the opposite direction. I believe he was in an over-decorated bus, sitting inside (as they were outside city he wasn’t standing and waving I suppose). A truck was deployed right in front of his vehicle which carried a series of floodlights, powered by a generator to illuminate the megastar and his vehicle. Before I could identify the right vehicle and focus my camera they were gone. Loud music started as soon as his convoy neared the entrance and it took another 10-15 minutes for all vehicles in his convoy to pass. We didn’t see him, though he passed in front of us. (no regrets on that front, though I wouldn’t have minded a photograph)

As we left Venkatagiri and headed off towards Naidupet, a bus stopped infront of us to offload some passengers- a middle aged gentleman, who’d just got down, suddenly shouted a slogan on Prajarajyam, at the top of his voice, in the middle of nowhere, on seeing our convoy of cars. If you like a person, want to vote for him fine-what is the need to shout and dance to express that ‘joy’? anyway… I had the temptation of shouting ‘TDP’ or ‘Congress’ or ‘BJP’ and just see how he reacts-but if I do that, then what will be the difference between us?

I later read in newspaper [the Hindu report] that in his talk Chiranjeevi blamed congress for trying to suppress his party and requested people to give his party “one chance”. A typical political speech. AP assembly elections are due in few more months and time will tell how effective Chiru and his party will be.
Film actors entering politics to encash their popularity for power is not new. Only our Kannada matinee idol Dr.Rajkumar stood as an exemplary exception. Talks are ripe about Tamil Superstar Rajanikanth’s political debut. Several Kannada heros- Anant Nag, Ambarish, Dwarakish have entered assembly but I am not aware of any exemplary thing they did after joining politics. Hindi kingpin Big B has been associated with a particular party, canvassing for them. Probably politics is the best place for them after they grow old and can’t act in movies. How many will retain their integrity by not getting corrupt because of power is quite a debatable topic. Another argument is that if they want to serve the society they can do it without entering politics or at least, without any show-offs and fanfare-but who will listen to that?

Note: above experience will be same irrespective of the party, anywhere in India-not to be mistaken as an isolated incident.

Photos of Venkatagiri trek * Banner mania *

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Keladi Dynasty's Bidanur fort at Nagara near Shimoga

On our way to Sagara (in Shivamogga district of Karnataka) we stopped at Bidanur Fort, A small fort belonging to Keladi dynasty of 17th century, partially deteriorated and being restored.
The Bidanur fort is located adjacent to Nagara town, in Hosanagara taluk of Shimoga district. The fort is not that big (Compared to Golconda fort, Agra Fort, Bidar Fort etc, probably has a carpet area similar to Bekal Fort) but nevertheless big enough to defend a small royal family. There're no remains of a palace-Only a small foundation which is identified as ”Durbar Hall” of Shivappa Nayaka. There is a dry well, few tiny cave like structures which were probably meant for safe exit of royal family in case of invasion, and several watch posts. The fort walls had collapsed/damaged at several places and are being reconstructed using red brick. We also found an abandoned cannon. Unlike some of the forts which only have steps, this fort has drivable path inside to most of the places, most probably to move the cannons mounted wheels.
I am not sure if this place was strategic to build a fort. Though it is on an elevated ground and one can get an excellent view of several miles in all directions, the fort is not located on any hill, which is an usual practice while constructing forts. One can see western ghat few miles from this place. A canal dug around the periphery of the fort has dried up. Bekal fort had special provisions (holes) in the fort through which one could fire at the enemy or pour hot oil on those trying to climb up. Didn’t notice such provisions here.
While we knew that this fort is associated with Shivappa Nayaka and Keladi dynasty, there were no proper displays within or around the fort premises explaining the history of this fort. So I’d to refer to history textbooks and search the net after coming back. There was a board which declared it a place of historical importance and that’s it. It doesn’t get much visitors and there’re no one to man the fort or assist/supervise tourists. I found following brief from
a THE HINDU report
Veerabhadra Nayaka (1629-1645) of the illustrious Keladi dynasty built the fort in 1640 after the fall of Ikkeri, the original capital of the dynasty at the hands of the Bijapur Sultan. The fort, which saw the growth of power of the Keladi dynasty, now stands as a monument to two-and-half centuries of its rule.

Shivappa Nayaka, Veerabhadra’s uncle, succeeded him in 1645 AD as the latter had no sons. Considered the most benevolent among the Keladi rulers, Shivappa Nayaka did much to improve and enlarge the capital. His successors ruled there until its fall in 1763 AD to Haidar Ali. Though he renamed Nagar as Haidar Nagar, it became the practice to call it simply as Nagar, a name in vogue to this day. The fort, which is also known as the Shivappa Nayaka fort, offered excellent protection. The fort is entered by a gateway supported by two round bastions. The courtyard inside shows signs of a former guard room. Inside the third wall is a large open court facing which is a terrace overlooking the fort.

Here appears to have stood the fort palace or citadel of Shivappa Nayaka. Keladi Channammaji (1672-1697), the celebrated queen of the Keladi dynasty, succeeded her husband, Somasekhar Nayaka, and ruled the kingdom from this fort with great distinction up to 1697. She came into prominence when she offered political asylum and protection to Raja Ram, son of the famous Maratta warrior Shivaji in 1685. After the assassination of her husband, there were intrigues, rivalries and internal fights in which some agents of the Sultan of Bijapur had a hand. She tactfully thwarted them and restored order. When the forces of Aurangzeb invaded Bidanur she fought with courage for several days, finally losing to a powerful army in the war.
Related Information:
What are the other places of tourist interest nearby? Jog falls, Keladi Temple (Sagara), Ikkeri, Varahi, Tyavarekere animal sanctuary, Gajanur Dam, Kemmannugundi, Udupi (Sri Krishna temple), Malpe (beach), Agumbe (sunset)
How to go to Bidanur Fort?
From Bangalore-Shimoga-Hosanagara-Nagara (approx 350 kms)
From Mangalore-Udupi-Haladi-Siddapura-Nagara (approx 200 kms)
Similar posts: Bekal Fort * Golconda Fort Hyderabad* Bidar * Hampi *

Also see: Madhugiri Fort, Tumkur *Mattur near Shimoga *