Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ramanagaram Rock Climbing & temple

This write up was published in Ergo issue dated 3rd March 2009. Read it online here or scanned images below (click to enlarge)
Ramanagaram Rock Climbing article in ErgoRamanagaram Rock Climbing article in Ergo
Ramanagara, 50 kms from Bengaluru on Mysore road, is famous for its rocks. Rock climbing and adventure enthusiasts come here from all over the world to indulge in hard core adventure. Ramanagara is also known for other reasons- The legendary bollywood movie, Sholay was shot here. Most of the residents of this town still recall the days when the sets of Sholay were put up and shooting was being held. It is also known as Silk City as cultivating silkworm cocoons is a main occupation here.

On the evening of 13th December we reached Ramanagaram for our rock climbing expedition. It was organized by Chennai Trekkers’ Club and Mars Adventures Bangalore and turned out to be a memorable mission. We trekked uphill, ignoring the steps, navigating through dense forest, gigantic rocks and vertical walls. Heavy backpacks made it even more challenging. We reached by night time and set up camp uphill, near the Pattabhirama Temple. We were about 16 in number, excluding our instructor, Kameshwar Rao of Mars Adventures and his crew, Bala and Nagu.
Day 2 was when the real adventure was. Next day, early morning, Kamesh and his men were already at the rock climbing spot, doing a lead climb (the initial climb where the support rope is positioned appropriately such that subsequent climbers will have a rope to fall back on, in case they slip down…). Rest of us got ready and joined them wondering how are we going to climb that huge vertical rock.
tents, temple and rock climbingKamesh briefed us on the basics. Rock climbing is more of a will power than physical stamina… you need to balance yourself on one feet and one hand while using the other leg and hand to position yourself on a higher level- he explained. Wearing harness we got ready for the climb, with the confidence that there is a rope to hold us if we happen to slip. Sanjay was the most knowledgeable among us about rock climbing and related activities and he opted to climb first. With special purpose shoes (made of the same rubber used in aircraft tyres, designed to give maximum friction), fingers wrapped in tape and soaked in chalk powder (to get extra grip and to prevent sweating respectively) Sanjay slowly made his way to the top, pulling himself up. While it too several minutes of painful effort to climb up, coming down was kids play- its termed rappelling, just loosen the rope and hop down in multiple leaps…

3 sets of ropes were set up in parallel and everyone tried their best to reach as high as possible with most of the climbers succeeding in it, to their own surprise. As there was enough time left, many did multiple climbs.

The legend has it that while flying towards Himalayas to get Sanjeevini, Lord Hanuman kept one foot in Antaragange and another in Ramanagaram. It is interesting to note the story behind Sri Pattabhirama temple of Ramanagram. The temple priest told us that post Lanka war, Rama, Lakshmana, Sugreeva and Seeta were returning to Ayodhya via Ramanagaram along with an Idol and as they entered Ramanagaram they were attacked by Rakshasas. While fighting with the Rakshasas Lord Ram had to put the idol on the ground. After they defeated the Rakshasas and decided to move ahead, they just couldn’t lift the idol from ground. As they made desperate attempt to lift it, they heard an Ashareeravani which instructed them to install the idol here itself as it is a divine place. That’s how the Pattabhirama temple came into existence. (I think several temples have similar stories of accidentally keeping the Lingam down and then not being able to lift it- Gokarna is one such example)
Lord Pattabhirama temple, Ramanagara
As we returned to the campsite hot puliyogare sourced from a nearby Udupi hotel was waiting for us. After visiting temple and enjoying our breakfast we decamped to head towards Bangalore. Previous day evening, our tempo traveler was intercepted by police near Kengeri who gave an instant printout showing photo of the vehicle and speed reading, which obviously exceeded the permitted limit. While we were discussing this is a foolproof system wherein police can’t pocket the money, it appears our driver was offered a generous discount of Rs 100 for not insisting on a receipt…

I also learnt that what we'd done earlier at Binsar was Zoomering and not Rock climbing.

Other places: Skandagiri * Wayanad * Yercaud * Coorg * Talakona

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Yercaud (hill-station near Salem, TN) travelogue

Living at a Latitude of 13° 04' North and Longitude of 80° 17' East and may be 1 meter above mean sea level we decided to explore 11° 46' North, 78° 12' E and 1426 meters above mean sea level... (Ok, enough... we went from Chennai to Yercaud)

Yercaud GPS trailYercaud was dubbed as Poor man’s Ooty and was believed to be a very good place. With several hotels and resort companies including Club Mahindra and Starlings’ having their presence here, I was of the opinion that it should be an exciting place. When I was planning the itinerary some people told “One day is just not enough to see all the places in Yercaud, you need to spend more time”. But after our recent visit to this place, I would term Yercaud as “Nothing great-Just an OK OK place”
We started Friday night 9PM from home and was joined by Ganesh and Narayanan at Kattipara Junction near Guidy. Ganesh had offered to bring his i10 Asta (it has a nice sun roof) for the trip and with few participants dropping out we were only four and there was no need to rent another vehicle. We set out on our journey to Yercaud. There was a shorter route that would have saved some 50 kms, but we took Vellore-Krishnagiri-Salem-Yercaud route, primarily because road was good and I was familiar with route till Krishnagiri (as I’d driven Chennai Bangalaore couple of times this way).
goose at yercaud hotel with wings open
Ganesh drove till Krishnagiri and I took over from there. Road from there was partially under construction, though a heavy toll of Rs 48 was collected from us. We reached near Salem, stopped for tea and got direction for Yercaud. Narayanan had GPS on his mobile and helped us with directions. The uphill road was good with 20 hairpin bends. We reached Yercaud town by about 4.30AM (Total of about 400 kms in 6.5 hours time) and noticed signboards indicating distance to various places of tourist attraction-all were within 2-6 km from each other (unlike Wayanad or Coorg where they were spread all over the district). We’d made no prior hotel reservations as we felt it won’t be necessary. At 4.30AM we started looking for hotels-we had numbers of few and started calling them, waking up the operator/receptionist from sleep and asking “We’re in Yercaud, do you have a room? Can we check in?”. Parking outside the Lake Forest (A Club Mahindra Affiliate Resort) which we made our first call, said “No availability”. Couple of attempts later we got green signal from Hotel Shevaroys. We went there, checked in after ensuring that it is a 24 hours billing (some hotels will have predefined timings like Check in 12Noon, Check out 11 AM which wasn’t convenient to us). Room was good, priced around 1700+ for four of us (Rs 1250 for room, Rs 300 for two extra beds and taxes- extra bed fees were relatively less- Woodlands in Kalpetta had charged us Rs 800 for 2 extra beds last September) . By five AM we were done with check in formalities and went for a quick sleep.
complete list of tourist places in YercaudWoke up at 7, got ready by 8, went to restaurant (Note: breakfast was not complimentary in Shevaroy's) and we were all set to explore Yercaud by 9AM. Before that, I went for a walk and was surprised to see a group of ducks and goose roaming freely in the hotel campus. They were going from one place to another in a highly disciplined manner, forming close groups. I went near and offered some food, without slightest fear all of them rushed towards me, with a big quack quack sound and flapping their wings. After getting their piece of biscuit these ducks had no willingness to let me pat them. There was also a wild Turkey.

Pagoda point was the first place we went-4kms from city-nothing special here-just a few point. Next we went to lady’s seat- another view point. Next was Children’s seat, followed by Rose garden. Tickets fee to be paid. Rose Garden was nice-had roses of several colours (see photos) and plant siblings for those interested in buying one. Ganesh and Narayanan bought a few. Upon enquiry we learnt that Kiliyur falls has no water and roads to the place is being relaid. Shevaroy temple was the next point. This temple looks boring and uninteresting from outside, but inside it is a kind of cave, which is said to continue till Mysore, Karnataka. There’s another view point and a big field near Shevaroy temple.
ATV- All Terrain Vehicle
Yercaud seems to have lots of Bauxite resources. Botanical Garden was the next on agenda but was closed (why do they keep a tourist place closed on a Saturday?). Another place, called Bears cave happens to be in a private property and is not open for tourists (though websites said-“property owner is kind enough to keep it open for tourists”). It was lunch time by now and so far we hadn’t seen anything exciting. Just several few points and a rose garden.

On our way back to city we stopped by a shop that sold herbal medicines. This shop was operated by Ramesh Singh who warmly invited us inside and struck a conversation. This person showed us an ancient list which contained several places of tourist interest in Yercaud, most of which now nonexistent or are private properties. He suggested that we can visit Bears’ cave and refer to his name if required. He also invited us to spend some time with him in his garden later in the evening to see sunset. We bought some herbal medicines/items and set out to check Bears’ cave. The last stretch of road was not good for i10 and we chose to go by walk. Without much disturbance we entered the private property and explored the cave. It is relatively small one-looks nice but not worth the hype- Nothing in comparison with Edakkal/Guna/Antaragange or other major/popular caves you might have seen.
Sunset at Yercaud
After a mild trek downwards we went to Club Mahindra’s Lake Forest for a buffet lunch (Rs 204 per head). This hotel has lots of ancient artifacts in its premises. It was little late so most of the items were cold. Ice cream, though part of buffet was served separately only on enquiry. Post lunch we set out to visit a place called Anna Malai Temple- this place is near to Pagoda point we went in the morning and could have been clubbed had we knew it in advance. On the way we spotted 2 ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles). Upon enquiry the caretaker said it costs Rs 500 for a round in a 300 meters track. Tempting but being expensive, we moved on. Anna Malai Koil (Temple) offered a very nice view. It is a nice place to relax for a while.
Indian Gaur
We came back to Yercaud city and went for a boat ride. Nothing special in this and the gardens nearby. We went back to Ramesh Singh’s house and he took us to a sunset view point through his garden. His Dog Nancy (a Labrador) gave us company. On the way few Baisons were spotted and Narayanan was quick to grab one (in camera frame). Sunset was nice. After stopping at his parent’s house en-route, we departed from Ramesh Singhji’s house and went to Hotel. We’d covered all available places of tourist interest in one day (12 hours flat). Temperature was modest-not at all chilling. Only Kiliyur falls and Botanical Garden were missed. We checked out at left Yercaud next day 6.45 AM, heading towards Hogenakkal. Overall, Yercaud wasn’t that great, but not that disappointing either (thanks to Ramesh Singhji). I’ll call it satisfactory.

GPS image & Baison photo by Narayanan.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mahindra Xylo test drive review

I’d registered for a test drive of Xylo long back but never heard from Mahindra in that regard. I went ahead with my earlier post on Mahindra Xylo vs Toyota Innova 2009 based on information available in product websites and other sources and few commented that I shouldn’t be reviewing a vehicle without test driving it. Finally got a call from Mahindra’s Mumbai office last week and a test drive was booked for Sunday evening.
Mahindra Xylo E8 outside view
Though most of my earlier views on Xylo still hold good and I aim to revise and update the earlier post soon, this post has some additional details:

My test drive was scheduled for 6PM but the representative called me at 2.30PM saying “Sir I’m in your locality can we pre-pone the test drive?” I said ok and soon a Black Xylo E8 came my way. He promptly asked me for my Driving License before letting me drive. Good that he did so-most of the reps hesitate to ask your DL, thinking that may turn off a prospect.

My first objective was to find out how smooth the transmission is. 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.
Xylo reverse guidance system
Intelligent reverse park system is very nice and will be really useful. The rep claimed that Innova doesn’t have this feature while I insisted that new Innova does have Sonar based park assist system.

Ride quality, engine response, maneuverability are all good, but despite the height adjustment one can’t see the edge of the bonnet and lot of judgment will be required during city driving (Even Innova and several cars have this disadvantage). Xylo is slightly more powerful than Innova and 12kmpl in city and 13-14 on highways is the mileage stated by Mahindra rep. If true then it is good enough and scores better than Toyota Innova, but I expect actual economy to be a km or two less per liter than promised, making Xylo at par with the later.

Various digital information related to current speed, mileage, distance to empty etc are displayed in an additional unit above the music system, whereas most of the cars have this information included within the speedo console. On being asked why it is centrally mounted at elevated position, forcing driver to turn his read to read the same, the reply was that in this position everyone in the car can see the information, not just the driver.

I asked him: “Innova has airbags and ABS in its top end 2.5V… Why no adequate safety features are provided in Xylo?”
Mahindra Rep: Sir, our Xylo has been tested extensively on Indian Roads before its launch (he quoted a number-about 1 lakh kms or something). It was found that the vehicle’ braking is very effective even without ABS, hence it was decided that ABS is not necessary.

Airbags have their own problems sir- they are supposed to go off in case of major collisions at the speed of 120-130kmph or more, but they usually go off even for a small hit at 70-80 kmph and once they go off the entire unit needs to be replaced by spending 70-80 thousand rupees…

(You life is certainly worth more than 70-80k and probably that expense can be recovered from insurance-not a convincing enough reason not to have an airbag)

Courtesy lamps are good, though not the way I’d expected them to be. I had thought they will be similar to overhead cabin lamps in aircrafts which passengers can rotate to focus on specific point, but Courtesy lamps in Xylo are just an additional lamp positioned at different passenger positions, so that everyone will have a light point near them to say read a book.

The full flatbed seats are nice. My next wish is that we should be able to drive in sleeping position, without having to sit erect all the time… Seating space for all passengers is adequate. 3 step Lumbar support , even for 2nd row passengers is a good thing and not seen in many of the cars. Length of Xylo is shorter but taller than Innova.

There’s absolutely no luggage space behind the last row (Check photo). One should either go for an overhead carrier, or fold the last row seat to make provision for the big suitcases. Dashboard material continues to be plastic.

Lamps below the door, to lit the space while you get down, are added convenience. So are multi row AC, overhead spectacle box, trays, armrests with cup holders etc.

Rear glass antenna is nothing but some metal strips laid across the rear windshield. (I’d thought glass is made of some special material capable of receiving audio signals). Side profile of Xylo looks dull, but front and rear views are good. mEagle badge was missing on the right side.

The representative didn’t have information on Number of Xylos sold so far or the on road price- He suggested me to get it from local dealership.He also couldn't give a rationale behind not including Skyrack in E8. But he was very friendly and enthusiastic in explaining Xylo’s features. Said he gives 3-5 demos per day and today being Sunday he has 8 Demos to complete, all over Chennai. I still can’t give Xylo a “GO BUY IT without any hesitation” verdict, but is certainly value for money product and deserves serious consideration.

November 2010 Update: Harsha Koda has prepared a nice travelogue, around the joueny he did with his Xylo

In another update, Mahindra Xylo has recently crossed 1 lakh fans on facebook (catching upwith its elder cousin Scorpio which has crossed 2 lakh fans)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

4x4 Jeep Safari in Himalayas- Mission aborted

We always write about our trips completed and seldom analyze the plans that were abandoned or postponed. This post tells you about a crazy idea I got, subsequent enquiries, information gathering and thoughts which eventually forced me to drop that crazy idea. (Crazy because cost factor can’t be justified for my income level) You may read the post and go for it if you can…

I saw an advertisement by Mercury Himalayan Explorations (MHE) in Outlook Traveler that they organize Self Drive 4x4 Safari in the Himalayas (Leh Ladakh tourism). Driving an Off Roader like Mitsubishi Pajero or Endeavor Thunder+ at such a high altitude, on one of the highest motorable roads (4.5kms above sea level), in the backdrop of mighty Himalayas would have been an experience of a life time. Deep inside I knew it would cost a bomb but out of curiosity dashed a mail enquiring about the itinerary and price.(For the uninformed, a 4x4 vehicle will have all four wheels powered by engine while conventional cars will have only 2 wheels powered)

Below was the itinerary-which was really tempting. I’ll hold the price for now

  • Day 00: Delhi-Manali by AC Bus, (night journey)
  • Day 01: Acclimatization at Manali in a resort, 
  • Day 02: MANALI - JISPA (3142m/147 Km) 
  • Day 03: JISPA – SARCHU (4253m/75 Km) 
  • Day 04: SARCHU – TSOKAR (4485m/115 Km) 
  • Day 05: TSOKAR – LEH (3506m)
  • Day 06: LEH 
  • Day 07: LEH - DELHI 
Detailed itinerary would run to 3 pages, hence I’ve removed the details. In summary self drive would start on Day 2 from Manali and will continue till Lay on Day 6, via Rohtang Pass and several other landmark places. Stay in luxury hotels where available and in tents otherwise, Vehicle rent, Services of a mechanic, guide and local sightseeing included, while fuel expenses, air travel and some other expenses will be extra.

How much do you think above expedition would cost per person? 10k? 20k? 40k? 80k?

Well, the price quoted was 46k per person for 4 pax and 39k per person if there’re 8 people. Other expenses like air travel, fuel etc would amount to another 15-20k, taking the total to 65k for 7-8 days. More expensive than an international holiday in Singapore or Malaysia. Kenny suggested that one can try for corporate sponsorship-I felt the case is not convincing enough for someone to fund it (unless we do it on a much larger scale like a rally or something)

But then, for a moment I thought it is reasonable- I knew that SUVs like Scorpio would cost 3-3.5k per day or 20k for a week. Above trip was in Ford Endeavor or Mitsubishi Pajero, costing nearly twice as much as Scorpio and would command a rent of Rs 5-6k per day easily (Companies like MHE should be getting them at much lower rates than Individuals). Other expenses like stay in resorts, food, guide and mechanic charges etc made it sound reasonable and I thought it is a good deal at 50k. I was thinking that when there’re four people they’ll give four Jeeps, one for each participant. But I was in for a shock: I was told all four people will be made to sit in one SUV and will have to share the driving. That was the most disappointing part for me. If I pay to sit in a 4x4 I should be sitting in Driver’s seat-nowhere else. I didn’t see any value in paying 50k and spending 75% of the time sitting in passengers’ seat-I would rather travel in a bus.

Upon further enquiry I was told that cost would be almost 2-3 times, if different vehicle needs to be provided for each participant. My balloon was pinned. Tussssssssssssssssssss! 

I asked how much they would charge just to provide a guide and a mechanic while I’ll rent the vehicle on my own. Got a reply that they don’t operate that way and it is either full package or nothing. (Driving in the Himalayas is not like our intercity drives-could be too risky without proper guide and mechanical help)
Some tastes are really expensive… Hope they become affordable one day…More over it is a recession time where one shouldn’t fancy spending big money this way. With a heavy heart I replied to MHE that I’m standing down. Abort Mission-I repeat, Abort Mission…

If any of you are interested please proceed. Itinerary is quite flexible as per your needs and cost would vary accordingly. The roads open May 15 onwards…
A little search on internet tells you there’re several other operators who conduct similar safaris for around INR 20k onwards, but I understand most of them are not self drive ones and are held in much cheaper vehicles

Related Info: Mahindra conducts off road Rallies which one can attend if he/she has a Mahindra Product. is an online community of 4x4 enthusiasts. More about Self drive in this post.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Deep Forest Trekking-An experience & some precautions

Disclaimer: Information about the incident mentioned in this post are sourced from Chennai Trekkers’ official website and reposted here not to criticize anyone, but only to share the experience and to spread awareness so that one can be more careful and prepared while entering forests.

Chennai Trekkers’ Club (CTC) is an adventure group founded by Peter Van Geit which conducts trekking expeditions for its members, predominantly in South Indian hills. CTC Google group has about 2000 members and it has successfully conducted hundreds of trek so far, with Peter and several core members volunteering their time and expertise to organize treks at various places. Usually every trek will have some experienced trekkers, few who’re familiar with the terrain, few knowing local lingo with the rest being amateur trekkers. Cost of a trek will be very low, due to several factors (High number of participants, members bring their own vehicles, night is spent using sleeping mats and bags, organizers do not charge for their service etc). I’ve done about 9 treks with CTC in past 6-7 months and all were very good experiences. [Read: Skandagiri * Yelagiri * Talakona * Nagari, Nagala and Parvatamalai * Tada * Ramnagaram/Antaragange * Venkatagiri *]

Recently an army of 59 people from CTC set out to explore Venkateshwara Hills in AP, in 16 vehicles-cars and bikes. It was a 3 day excursion from Jan 24 to Jan 26. Fortunately or unfortunately I had not joined this and only came to know the details later.

Seems they entered the forest, parked the vehicles and set out on their 3 day trekking activity, camping in between inside the forest and finally returned to mainland on Day 3. Upon their return, at a Dhabha, they spotted a newspaper sporting pictures of their vehicles, with a heading “ఆ వాహనాలు ఏవరిలి?-Whose vehicles are these?” (Refer Image- it reads: Whose vehicles are these? 16 vehicles found in suspicious manner, Forest officials searching for owners of these vehicles which belong to unknown people from Tamil Nadu) Incidentally, forest guards who spotted these bikes and cars abandoned (i.e. left without any caretaker) inside the forest failed to identify its owners and when no one returned to claim them for days, suspected something fishy might be going on inside the forest. These abandoned outstation vehicles bearing TN registrations caught media attention and made into headlines of Telugu media. On Day 3 when vehicle owners, fully tired due to 3 days of nonstop trekking in the forest, were promptly arrested by the police. Seems CTC organizers had taken permission over phone from a forest official, but for a different route.

So the entire group, which included several women and few foreign nationals went to police station and upon hours of talking with police officials, explaining who they are, what they do, why they came and so on, finally they were released, only to have another round of negotiations at the forest office, wherein officials wanted to confiscate the cameras and vehicles. At last all were released, after paying a fine of Rs 1000 per head for illegal entry into reserve forest.(Foreign nationals had to pay even more) Thankfully, presence of media in full force (who interviewed several CTC members) prevented any under the table activity or third degree treatment.

It should have been a lifetime experience for everyone involved- to go for a trekking and get branded as smugglers or thieves and getting arrested, at least for the moment. For good or bad I missed it. Read more about this trek at CTC blog (encounter with police part at the end of the post).

Few simple tips/lesions learnt:
  • Take prior permission from forest department, if in doubt whether permission is needed or not check with locals/forest department.
  • Have a local as a guide or at least have few people familiar with local lingo
  • Spend some time with the local people and make them understand who you are and why you’ve come here
  • Have required documents handy (Identity proofs, vehicle documents, border fee, toll fee etc)
  • Consider having a person/additional driver who will stay with the vehicles when you’re away.
  • Avoid parking in isolated areas-part in compound of a local person etc where feasible
It is a free country and one should have the freedom to go anywhere. But given the issues such as Naxalites and terrorists, we can't blame police either.

Photo by Ravi S Ghosh, Information from CTC blog. Translation by self.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Vehicle number plate positioning-bad practices

One of the reasons why vehicles are mandated to have a registration number displayed properly in front and rear is that a passerby should be able to read the number plate and identify the vehicle, in case the car (or any other vehicle) speeds away after causing an accident. But several car owners resort to some practices which defy above purpose. In an earlier post several years ago, I’d written about Fancy Number plates, written in some strange fonts or designs which are very difficult to comprehend from a distance. In this post, it is about positioning the number plate.

All vehicle manufacturers give a designated area at the front and rear of the vehicle to affix number plates-usually at the centre. But some car owners use this designated space for some fancy writing and display the registration number elsewhere…

So what’s wrong in it?
First, when a car speeds away after an accident, we’ll have very little time to note down the number. By default our eyes look at the spot where we expect the number plate to be. By the time we realize that the required number plate is not there and it is located elsewhere, few precious seconds would have been lost and the car would have moved several hundred meters ahead, making it difficult for us to read the actual registration number. So this habit of misplacing number plate negates one of the core purposes of displaying the registration number.

Second, most of the car manufacturers provide a light on top of the place where we display registration number. Thus during night time there’ll be some light on this spot and one can read the number plate displayed under the light. When registration number is displayed elsewhere, there won’t be lighting on it during night, making it even difficult to read it.

So, shouldn’t the traffic police enforce correct positioning of registration number? What do you think? May look like a trivial matter, but when the very purpose of displaying number plate is at risk, I believe we should understand it and correct ourselves.

Also read: Surviving Traffic police in India * Speed governor issue in Karnataka * Forgotten factor: Safe breaking distance * Reader unfriendly designer number places * Chennai police get Accent cars * Why spiderman can't work in India * Predict trajectory of this car accident * Car reviews: Fiat Linea * Scorpio Vls * Maruti Suzuki A-Star * Innova 2009 vs Xylo *

Monday, February 09, 2009

Moonlight trek: Skandagiri hills Chikballapur revisited

Revisiting Skandagiri was a good experience. Last time we’d been to Skandagiri was during March 2007, about 2 years earlier. It wasn’t so popular then (going by the fact that we hardly got any blog posts or information about the place when we’d searched for it in Google). That was a day trek- we left from Bangalore early morning and returned by evening- Though it was a very good trek we’d missed a few elements like Sun rise, sunset, camping and most importantly the clouds… [Read about our earlier post on Skandagiri]

When CTC (Chennai Trekkers’ Club) announced a moonlight trek to Skandagiri I signed up, as an overnight trek is bound to give a different experience than a day trek.

In-post Navigation: History of Skandagiri Fort * Comments *

We (17 was the total count, including 2 who joined us at Chikballapur) assembled at KSRTC Terminal in Majestic by about 1430-1500 hours and boarded a KSRTC bus heading to Chickballapur. Ramki & Arun Gowda did fetch tents on rent from (Organizers of adventure activities, headed by Kameshwar Rao, under whose guidance we did a rock climbing in Ramanagaram and Cave exploration in Antaragange, Kolar and I’m yet to write about that trip).

Chikkaballapura is about 60 kms from Majestic on Hyderabad road we reached there by about 1630 hours. Though it appeared a small town, beggar menace was high. Not one or two, but dozens of them... Even the uniform clad school children didn’t have any hesitation demanding “ಅಣ್ಣಾ, ತಿನ್ನೋಕೆ ಏನಾದ್ರು ಕೊಡಿ, ಇಲ್ಲಾ೦ದ್ರೆ ಕಾಸು ಕೊಡಿ...” (Give me something to eat or give me some money).

The Papagni Matt, the starting point for Skandagiri trek, is about 6 kms from the Chikkaballapura city bus stop. An elderly man, named Bhairappa approached us enquiring who we are and what are our plans and such. He said he is from the same place (Kalavarahalli) where Skanda hill is located and indicated that there’s a bus expected anytime now. He was curious to know what’s so special or attractive about Skanda hills (According to him, people visit in hundreds during weekends, which we later found to be very much true) that he has not seen all his life.

We waited for the bus till 5.30 PM and eventually reached Papagni matt in a mini-bus. On the way the driver showed a LPG truck surrounded by several autos and said they’re selling LPG in black there. An Ashram has come up here which was not there during my earlier trip. Rest all looked pretty much same. We started before sunset but it was little late to climb up the hill and catch the sunset. We came across another elderly man who was sitting on a rock and singing patriotic songs and dialogues (With his unsolicited talks and songs he visibly appeared like a Psycho but deep inside he must be a patriotic and emotional gentleman heavily disturbed by the corruption and other state of affairs)

We climbed up using an existing trail. The vertical height of the hill is not much, but the path being kind of circular, it takes longer. Half way through it turned dark but moon was in full force (full moon day was 2 days ahead) to guide us. Anala’s Akki Rotti was a good energizer. Within few hours we were on top, overseeing a fully illuminated Chickballapur town. Already several teams had reached there and occupied strategic locations. It was not as cold as I’d anticipated, but the mighty wind force was threatening to take off our tents as we started erecting them. Firewood was available in plenty (so was the dry grass all around and a strong wind: a deadly combination to cause and spread forest fire, so extra precautions were taken to avoid such possibilities). Nothing tastes better than a cup of hot noodle soup. Packed dinner and little bit of chat and we retired for the day, while several more groups of people continued to pour in all through the night.

The sheer amount of visitors has turned few localities into entrepreneurs and two makeshift shops, which were nonexistent previously, selling Tea, Omlet etc have come on top of Skandagiri. Those sensitive about hygiene are advised to not to buy from these shops.

Day 2 began with sun rays visible at the horizon. Sun god took his own time to come up while hundreds waited for the scene. Sadly no clouds were below us, except a thin layer of fog which does nothing good but spoils the sharpness of the images. Population on top of the hill was in multiple of hundreds. Post sunset we did little more exploration, photo sessions and decamped and started walking down through a different route. Good thing about late evening & early morning trek is that there’ll be no burning sun overhead. Halfway while on our way down we diverted from the default trail and made our own way down navigating through bushes, thorns and rocks. (The target, Papagni Matt was in visible range, hence direction was clear)

Upon reaching down, people took shelter in an under construction marriage hall. We encountered the same old man (who was singing patriotically last evening) -“I thought you people will come down by that way…you’ve come by this way…” was his opening remark, as if we’ve come to listen to his speech. I didn’t attend to much of his talk but Arun retold us later the story of Skandagiri’s PaLeyagara (local ruler), as it was narrated to him by this old man.

History of Skandagiri (As told by a villager and retold by Arun)
During the time of Tippu Sultan, Skandagiri was under the command of a powerful PaLeyagara (name not known) who’d very effectively defended his fort and thwarted Tippu’s invasion attempts. This local ruler, along with his trusted men had built such a fortified and defensive cover around the fort that even seasoned commanders of Tippu’s army couldn’t find a way to break-in. Finally Tippu’s men managed to bribe two milk women who used to supply milk to the ruler, his family and other staff on the fort. These milk women, under the temptation of money and land, agreed to betray their king and helped Tippu’s army in two ways- one, they dropped small quantity of some elements (Jeera or something) along the path for several days, so that Tippu’s men could know the route to take, and later, on the D-day, they served a poisoned milk to king and his crew, due to which most of them died and rest were killed by Tippu’s army. This is how Tippu Sultan took control of this place, which he eventually lost to the British on 19th October 1791 (date procured from Wikipedia). Further, the two milk women who helped him secure this fort were promptly killed upon their return but remains of the fort live on.

With little rest and a comfortable bus ride with an on board entertainment of a vendor auctioning his cloth products, we reached Bangalore by lunch time. Majority of the team members departed here while few remaining went to KSCA club adjacent to Chinnaswamy Stadium for lunch (Courtesy Azad sir). End of a memorable trip. Thanks to Ramki, Arun and Anala for the organizing.

Additional bits:
  • Grape gardens are very popular here-you can save 10-20 Rs/kilo compared to Bangalore prices
  • Nandi hills and Tipu’s fort in Devanahalli are other two attractions nearby, if you wish to visit multiple places
  • On weekends Skandagiri is getting too crowded and too much of littering is spoiling this place. Please do not throw things away…
  • No water stream on the hill. Nearest water source is Papagni Matt and Chikkballapur town is the closest place for food and accommodation

Also read: My Skandagiri March 2007 experience * Skandagiri tourist info * Wayanad Travelogue * Talakona * Yelagiri * Omkareshwara Temple & Abbi Falls, Madikeri * Coorg *

Saturday, February 07, 2009

New Fiat Linea -Review,Onroad price & more

Update: Linea is now available in Multijet and also suspension kits are available to increase its ground clearance. Fiat plans to separate from tata motors and launch its own showrooms.

The most interesting thing for me in Linea was the classic looks. While most car makers are reducing the grill size and giving their cars more clean, sharp and aero dynamic looks, Linea flaunts large grills, which look large because the grills are extended downwards into the bumper (this has a downside too-radiator is over exposed to potential damages), giving it a retro look without compromising on the aero dynamics. I remember seeing images of some Jaguar variants with similar aggressive looks.
One advantage of working in a large IT campus is that lots of people come here to showcase their products or services and we can experience them for free, without any compulsion of buying them. (But a disadvantage is that they expect us to buy their products/services). Fiat Linea was on display outside our office and several people had gathered around it enjoying its looks. While others were discussing the looks I went ahead and asked the representative for a test drive. In next few moments we took off…

Once I got inside, first thing that impressed me was the instrument panel- again a retro feeling with modern touch. But the next thing I noticed wasn’t that comfortable- the ignition switch is not in-line with the steering column, its projected outside. Instead of inserting the key perpendicular to the steering wheel and rotating it towards the windshield, I had to insert it vertically downwards and rotate it towards the right door. May be one will get used to it in sometime, but wasn’t convenient at first.
Indicator and headlight controls are interchanged, as in Ford or Skoda-again those habituated to conventional positioning will find it confusing for a while. Foot rest near the clutch pedal is a good idea (I remember seeing bus drivers who keep a wooden plank next to clutch pedal to rest their leg) because some drivers will have a habit of keeping their legs partially on the clutch, straining the engine.

The one I drove was a diesel Emotion variant, but the silence and smoothness was very good. For a slow start engine responded well. (with only 2 people inside) I was told we can’t hit the main road as the car doesn’t have registration, so had to settle with a small round. That was a disappointment-couldn’t cruise on RK Salai to get a better feeling of this car. The top speed is 160+ kmph, according to the representative, which if true, is not good enough. (Cars like Accent & Swift can match that easily). (I couldn’t find exact top speed in Fiat linea’s website-another website quoted it at 168kmph). The engine specifications are not impressive enough when compared to Honda City, though its slightly better than Ford Fiesta 1.4 TDCi. (Feb 7 update: Probably that's the reason Ford has slashed price of Fiesta 1.4 TDCi)

Linea boot space has an interesting feature-not sure if any other sedan has it-one can fold the rear row seats and open the passage to boot area-see pic- If one needs to carry a lengthy object it can be carried this way. (A criminal idea: When police are inspecting the driver and passenger seats, hide in boot, when they go back to check the boot, move out of the boot area into the cabin).

Passenger seats are a bit thin- this may result in compromised comfort during a long journey. Interiors are not of high quality. The wheel cap is quite deceiving and gives an alloy wheel like look from a distance.

Emotion variant has most of the gizmo features available in cars of its class. Blue & Me and MyCar are extra. Microsoft provided Blue&Me technology helps you sync your Bluetooth enabled mobile phone or laptop with cars audio system and play your songs, or issue voice commands to operate your phone. Mycar 1 system is Fiat’s name for various digital information the car can display (no. of days for next service, current Fuel economy, FM channel number etc)

I’ve a major doubt about Tata Motor’s ability to provide good after sales service. Already there’re too many tata cars (mainly commercial vehicles like Indicabs and Sumos) on roads and on any day their service centre will have more cars lined up for servicing than they can service in a day. With Nano hitting roads in a few months, will TATA be able to give enough attention to each of their customers and their vehicles, unless they substantially increase the number of service centres? What do you think?

Naming convention adopted by Fiat is a bit odd. Say in Maruti Swift I know if it is Lxi, Vxi or Zxi it is petrol and LDi and VDi are diesel. Both petrol and diesel variants of Linea have same names. If it is 1.4 I should understand that it is petrol and if it is 1.3 then it should be diesel, but the number 1.3 or 1.4 is not mentioned along with model name.

On road prices in Chennai: Linea Petrol range starts from 6.8 lakhs (Active) to 7.9 lakhs (Emotion Pack). Diesel range varies from 7.8 lakhs to 9.1 lakhs. IMHO those looking for a value-for-money typical city use petrol sedan while hoping for very good fuel economy can definitely consider Linea but for a diesel car at 9 lakhs one can give a consideration to Optra Magnum. I couldn’t drive Linea long enough to make a judgment, but I can confidently say one shouldn’t take Linea for granted without personally checking it and satisfying themselves. Hype about Linea and its looks will settle down after sometime-ensure if it meets your expectation w.r.t. drivability and other aspects.

A quick comparison between Honda City and Linea for the interested: City has Airbags and ABS as standard in all variants (Linea has it only in most expensive variant). City doesn’t have a Diesel variant so those looking for Diesel can rule out city. City is expensive by a few lakhs but houses better engine and interiors. City & Linea have their own unique looks and brand name. I feel a brand and image conscious customer would still prefer city.

Similar: * Scorpio mHawk Vls review * Maruti A-Star Review * Wayanad Trip in a Scorpio * Chennai-Mysore in Skoda Octavia* Incorrect positioning of number plates *

Sunday, February 01, 2009

My Article in Today's Vijaya Karnataka

After a gap of few years I managed to write a brief write up in Kannada and send it to a Kannada newspaper. Happy to see it got accepted for publication.

Please read below a Kannada write-up by me which got published in Today's (01 Feb 2009) Vijaya Karnataka, Karnataka's number one daily, Page 2 of Sapthahika Vijaya supplement.
Click on the image to enlarge it. The write-up is about gender confusion surrounding the name Shrinidhi- I've written in detail about this in English here in an earlier post.

My other articles which were published in Vijaya Karnataka can be read here, here and here. Refer the sidebar for my other published articles.