Friday, June 25, 2010

Interesting bits from my South India tour

This post offers 5 standalone bits of incidents/interesting information, sourced during my current South India tour in Nano.

1. Roses win hearts
As we were heading from Solhapur to Kolhapur, we paid a visit to Pandit automotives, Sangli. We were all welcomed with a small rose each. Usually flowers go waste after the welcome ceremony, but in our case, it served a unique purpose. One of our drivers had his fiancée in Solhapur. Evening time, he cleverly collected the roses from everyone and took them to shower on his fiancée… So thoughtful no?
From TataNanoSuperdrive
2. Interstate Travel is so expensive…
We’ve an events team which takes care of hotel and mall events in each city. (At each city we visit in our Nano, this team goes ahead of us and does settings in the Mall and Hotels (where customer meets are scheduled) They carry their materials (backgrounds, standees, games materials etc) in a tourist bus and go to the next city ahead of us to do the preparations. As we travelled across 6 South Indian States in past 26 days, this team has paid a whopping Rs 1.5 lakhs for interstate tourist permit alone (for their tourist bus). Though we’re free to move anywhere in India, if you’ve to move in a vehicle, there’s a heavy price to be paid at each state border… (Toll and other expenses not included)

3. Kolhapur’s Mercedes Connection
Though Kolhapur is a visibly small city with non existent traffic signals, poor roads and other facilities, it houses several rich businessmen and industrialists. Apparently several years ago when a Kolhapur Businessman went to Mumbai to place an order for Mercedes Benz, dealer refused to deliver the car to a small town like Kolhapur. This irritated the businessman, who had a discussion with all his peers in town and they together placed an order for a whopping 110 Mercs. This took entire Merc management, including their Head Office by surprise and eventually, Merc’s second showroom in Maharastra was opened here after Mumbai.

Recently another Maharastrian Town is competing with Kolhapur- Rich men in Aurangabad have recently placed order for 115 Mercs, 60 of them E Class. Unfortunately I couldn’t meet any of those super rich businessmen during my trip, but instead I did spot this guy on the roadside counting crisp currency notes.
From TataNanoSuperdrive

4. Fraud Mechanics on Mumbai-Pune Expressway
As we were driving from Mumbai to Pune, we noticed several scooter riders riding slowly on the opposite direction, near Lonavla area where uphill journey starts. We’re told about their Modus Operandi- The roads in the area appear to be straight and plain, but are steadily uphill. The slope may not be obvious to the eyes, but the engine of your car will reciprocate with drop in speed. New car owners or unskilled drivers get worried with the sudden drop in engine response and often pull over concerned. These scooter riders who ride in opposite direction scout for such cars and stop nearby offering to help/suggesting that there’s a mechanic nearby. The Fraud mechanics at this makeshift shop near top of the hill will act like repairing the car and charge you 500-1000 Rs. From there downward slope starts and you’ll cruise happily thinking that your car has been fixed, while in reality it didn’t have any issues at all.
From TataNanoSuperdrive
So next time on Mumbai-Pune highway, look out for these crooks.

5. Nano Carnival and Nano Seal
At each city, we've Nano Customer Meet, called Nano Carnival. Its more of a party and entertainment than a formal meeting. It involves lots of games and entertainment, music and of course buffet dinner. The entry is by invitation only. (Nano customers in that city, and a few FM Radio winners are invited)

Access control is very critical in events like this, (to ensure that uninvited people do not get in) and after verifying the invitation of the Tata Nano customer, he/she and his/her family members will be let in, after putting a seal on their arms. This seal is the basic rubber stamp with Nano logo on it and helps identify that a person's entry has been confirmed.
From TataNanoSuperdrive

Regular party goes are used to this mode of authentication and readily extend their arm for the seal. For others this is a new experience and they take it with good spirit. I've seen a few kids showing discomfort towards this and trying to rub it off...

In Mangalore, one esteemed gentleman, who came pretty late to the event, almost got ignited when the guy manning the door touched his hand to put this seal. "What is this? What are you doing? I'll write to Tata Motors!" was his reaction. The poor guy, who was a college student,working part time for an event management co in Mangalore (to which Tata Motor's event management co Shobiz had sub contracted) was taken aback. The gentleman was eventually allowed in without the seal but I am still wondering what text would have gone into his letter/mail if he were to write about this to tata motors!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

South India Hotel Reviews

During My 26 day road trip, I stayed at around 15 hotels. This post is a quick review of those hotels. All of them were budget to 2 star hotels, with room rents ranging from 1k to 2.5k (after corporate discounts). This review might help those looking for some decent accomodation in these cities.

1. Ginger Hotel, Ahmedabad
There’re multiple Ginger Hotels in Ahmedabad. We stayed at the one located in Drive-in Road. Ginger Hotels are run by Tata Group and are unique and standardized. While rooms are clean, well maintained, cost is saved in every other aspect (this cost advantage is directly passed on to those who pay for the rooms (not necessarily to those who stay there-you got the difference?)

There’s no room service, no free soaps in bathroom (can be purchased from reception at MRP). Breakfast costs Rs 150+ taxes and Lunch & Dinner, Rs 250+tax. For certain packages breakfast can be complementary and for others its not (if your employer gives you separate food allowance, then they can request Ginger hotel to exclude complementary breakfast and give some cash discount). Wifi is free at few hotels and few other facilities like Gym are available in few hotels. Regular rooms cost Rs 3000 per day onwards, but with proper corporate discount, it can be as brought down to much as 50% of that.

2. Hotel Ashoka International, Surat
Budget hotel, nothing special or good about it. Stayed there to kill the night as we reached Surat at 2.30AM (and Ginger Hotel was at the other end of city) Avoidable.

3. Ginger Hotel, Surat
Same as above, but located on outskirts of City.

4. Hotel New Bengal, Mumbai
So far the worst hotel in terms of facilities, on the trip. Highly cramped, bare minimum facilities, very fragile building, no vehicle parking. (but then, in Mumbai the space is at premium) Located in Crawford Market area. Complementary breakfast at nearby restaurant. While checking out I said I’ll keep the bags in the car n come while they prepare the bill, but the room boys were very particular about me settling the bill first, though it was prepaid, fearing that I might escape without paying…
Verdict: Not recommended at all

5. Hotel Bhushan, off JM Road, Pune
Centrally located, clean and decent place. No lift. Has a tiny balcony, nice place to stay. Complementary breakfast has 2 south Indian items. Good hotel

6. Lotus Resorts, Bernaulin Beach, Goa
Nice Rooms, cost Rs 2000 per day onwards, checkout time 9AM. Very close to Bernaulin beach, ample parking area.
However, mobile and mobile broadband signal is very weak in the area, the resort is too far from city and breakfast won’t be ready even by 8.45-9am, though the display outside the restaurant says 7.30AM. (if you’re on vacation these things are actually plus points, but when on business,they cause a lot of inconvenience)

7. Ginger Hotel, Mangalore
Located on Udupi road. Review same as earlier

8. Hotel East Avenue, Calicut
We had to halt at Calicut as we couldn’t reach Kochi before night. East Avenue was very close to where we’d stopped and they had different rooms ranging from Rs 800 to 3500. Since we wanted multiple rooms, owner agreed to give a spot discount of 20%. I was put up in Rs 2500 (Abt Rs 2000 after discount) room. I asked what’s extra in 3500 Rs room. “LCD TV and better furniture” was the reply. We started very early next morning, so I don’t know if they’d complementary breakfast. Rooms were neat and clean. Good parking and restaurant facilities. Good place.

9. Hotel Aishwarya, Kochi
Off MG Road, Hotel Aishwarya gets an OK status from me. All basic facilities good. No free breakfast.

10. Hotel Sree Murugan, Coimbatore
Located close to Coimbatore Railway Station, Sri Murugan has good parking space, decent and spacious rooms. Hot water was available on during specific timings. Laundry facility is available, but without bill. Food is decent. Though the hotel staff acknowledged that my booking is confirmed and payment received, they insisted that I give them a printout of booking confirmation voucher. This was sorted out later.

11. Hotel Nachiappa Park, T Nagar, Chennai
Worst in terms of Service. When I went there, they made an attempt to send me off to some other hotel, saying all their rooms are full due to a canceled Malaysian airlines flight. I insisted that since I have the confirmation I should be given a room, full refund or send someone with me to take me to the other hotel and complete the check-in formalities. After 10 minutes, they provided me a room in the same hotel. However there was no TV, AC was blowing only normal air and not cold air, no response from room service for requests like water/room freshener etc.

During check in I’d noticed how unprofessionally they deal with customer requests-writing the requests on one dirty piece of paper and then shouting at some unseen person to deliver the items to concerned rooms. Breakfast and parking space was decent. Rooms are Ok. Building electric wiring has earthing problems. Should be avoided if possible.

12. Riverstone Homestays, Koramangala Ring Road, Bengaluru
Decent place. Small but well maintained rooms. Good service. Food not that good, most of the staff speak Hindi and not Kannada, hot water is available only during specific timings when they turn on the geyser.

13. Hotel Shalini Palace, Kolhapur
Nice heritage building, built in 1931, now converted into a hotel. Affordable, with rooms ranging from Rs 1500 to 6000 (for Maharaja Suite). Located next to the huge Rankala lake, nice campus including big trees, lawns, temple and so on.
From TataNanoSuperdrive
However I was told they don’t have a laundry service (strange). The campus is poorly maintained. Lots of beer bottles, broken metal objects which were once part of the palace and other materials are thrown all around carelessly. Gardens are also not maintained well. Doors are fragile and not that safe if you’ve lots of valuables.

Food is just ok. Verdict: Stay purely for the experience of staying in an erstwhile palace. [more photos of this hotel can be found here]

14. Hotel Tripursundari, Solhapur
Good Luxury Hotel and reasonable rates, starting at Rs 1500. Food cost on the higher side, service is good and so is the lobby and building. Has a good veg restaurant.

15. Ginger Hotel, Nasik
Located in MIDC (Maharastra Industrial Development Corporation) area, outside Nasik city limits. No other shops/restaurants in the vicinity, hence you’ll be a captive customer for the restaurant. No free wi-fi. Not recommended unless you’ve some work in MIDC area

16. Hotel Astoria, Churchgate, Mumbai
Will update the post by weekend about this hotel.

Similar posts:  * Hotel Honeymoon Inn, Mussoori *

Saturday, June 19, 2010

June Random Pictures

Publishing a few random pic clicked during the Nano Superdrive, as we passed through Gujarath, Maharastra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and TamilNadu.

Pic 1: Audi R8 V10 and Tata Nano's Advantages over it
What advantages does a Tata Nano have that Audi R8 V10 5.2 litre mid engine sports Coupe doesn't? (We had spotted one in LOnavla, Mumbai-Pune expressway)
From TataNanoSuperdrive
  • Nano can comfortably take 4-5 people while R8 can seat only 2.
  • Audi R8 costs 160 thousand pounds while Nano costs a fraction of that...
  • 2 Nanos can be parked using the parking space required by an R8
  • Nano's Max speed can probably be reached within city itself, but to drive R8 at its top speed, one has to escape from city n hit a highway.
  • When you zip across in an R8 people may not notice, but when you drive around in Nano, you'll be noticed for sure...
  • In terms of turning radius, maintenance, fuel economy, spare costs and lots of other aspects, Nano does win over Audi R8
2. Special Surprise at Office:
Took some time off and went to office when I was in Chennai. Colleagues had arranged for this cute yellow Nano Cake, to mark the superdrive Celebrations
From TataNanoSuperdrive

3. Nana Patekar in Goa
From TataNanoSuperdrive
Nana Patekar was rushing to watch a movie in Inox, Goa. We asked him if he'd like to know more about Tata Nano (as we had it on display there), but we being total strangers and with his movie about to start, he had no time or interest listening to us and he refused and moved on. Thus Nana Patekar became No No Patekar when asked about Nano Patekar... Managed to step back a little and click this snap.

4. A luxury Yatch in Goa Jetty
From TataNanoSuperdrive

5. Autorikshaw converted dining table, at Ginger Hotel, Surat
From TataNanoSuperdrive

Got my caricature done for the first time...
From TataNanoSuperdrive
Will publish another set of photos soon. You can check the picasa album in the meanwhile, by clicking on the album link below the photo

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tata Nano Superdrive FAQs

I’ve covered about 6 states in past 13 days (Gujarath, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and TamilNadu) along with Nano team. I’ve been getting several questions about the Nano Superdrive. Here’re some of them and answers.

Q0: What is this Nano Superdrive?

Nano Superdrive is a 26 days road trip across India in 9 Tata Nano cars. 3 cars on each route (Saffron-towards Delhi, White-Towards Kolkatta and Green-towards South) would be visiting 36 cities, covering 15000kms.

Q1: I saw 3 Nanos in the pictures. Which one is yours?

Well, there’s no specific Nano assigned to me. There’re professional drivers who’re hired and Tata Motor Officials and other winners who’ll be joining us in the drive. We all share the driving and keep changing the seat and car as per wish/requirements.

Q2: Can you visit our home in Nano when in our city?

No. At each city we leave the cars in the custody of concerned Tata Motors dealership. I won’t have the liberty to take it to places as per my wish.

Q3: Can I drive Nano?

Other than the already selected winners who’ll be allowed to drive from one city to another, only FM Radio winners will be allowed to drive. So your only way is to try your luck and win the contest at FM Radio (its Big FM for most of the cities). Else at the max you might get a ride in Nano.

You may only have to wait a few months more, as Nanos are expected to be available readily in the showroom near you.

Q4: Where can I meet/see the Superdrive Nanos?

At each city, we’ve what’s called as landmark activities. Nanos will visit a few selected (most popular) landmarks in each city (like Bangalore Palace, Cubbon park and Lumbini Garden in Bangalore), usually between 11am and 2pm. You can visit these places and have a close look at Nanos (for exact timing you can stay in touch with me on twitter or phone).A separate Nano will also be on display through out the day at a selected Mall in each city (Spencer's Plaza in Chennai and Garuda mall in Bangalore)

Q5: Where can I see the photos?

Refer to or

Q6: What’s your feedback on Nano?

Its been good so far. Standby for detailed review in subsequent posts

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Nano Superdrive-Journey so far

As you’re aware I’m on the road for past 10 days, driving across the country in a Tata Nano. We flagged off from Ahmedabad on June 2nd Evening and after covering Surat, Mumbai, Pune, Goa and Mangalore, we’re heading further south today, towards Cochin. I've been either busy updating the event blog and or tired/clipped by poor connectivity to update my main blog
From TataNanoSuperdrive
The journey has been great so far. I could visit some of the prominent landmarks in each city, meet interesting people including Tata Motors officials, FM radio RJs, celebrities who are invited to flag off the rally in each city and the ever enthusiastic public. As a blogger I’m treated at par with any other media personnel would have been treated. With a ‘professional looking’ camera and Tata Nano T-shirt, people automatically open up for discussions, photos or videos.
From TataNanoSuperdrive
While Superdrive might look like a bunch of people driving around in Nano, the Nano superdrive is much bigger exercise than I’d initially thought. Close to 300-400 people must be working on this assignment. While we’re around 10-12 member team driving on the south route, two other teams are covering west and north routes. Each route also has an event team which takes care of the mall displays, customer meets and other city specific activities. Then there’re dozens of Tata Motors officials, at different levels who are involved. They join us for a specific leg and fly back. A dedicated PR agency is active in promoting the event through media. In each city local media is invited to check out the car, they’re allowed to drive, photograph. Partner FM Radio channels are involved in spreading the message, selecting winners and give them a chance to drive. There’s a huge backend team which offers support-such as hotel bookings, permissions (say to photograph at particular place), various other arrangements. At each city local dealers support us in checking the vehicles, showing us around in city and guiding us till next destination. Lot of people from event management company, Shobiz and its affiliates ensure that everything goes on as planned. Everyone on board has his or her set of responsibilities, appropriate backup support, supervisor and escalation mechanism. Good amount of documentation and daily reporting is involved. Lots of people-both top down and bottom up-make several phone calls a day, just to ensure that everything is fine.
From TataNanoSuperdrive
The Car has such has been above expectation. Many people didn’t have much expectations from a one lakh car and they still have that mind set that this car is not good enough. In terms of speed (we crossed 100kmph at times), space, pickup, fuel economy and value for money, almost everyone have a praise to say about Nano. We covered hills and bad roads (between Pune and Goa) and with 3-4 people on road, Nanos pulled it off without any difficulty. The Nanos we’re travelling have logged close to 2000 kms in past 10 days and so far there’s been no significant issues with the vehicle (can be attributed to the fact that each day cars are checked by the dealers in respective city. Would have been more challenging if it was non stop long journey). The 15 litre fuel tank makes us stop every 300 kms and for a family outing, luggage space can be little less. With a top speed of 100kmph you can’t compete with other cars, but this speed is decent enough for most of the practical requirements.
Lot of people keep asking about the fire incident and on road price of Tata Nano Given that fire was one isolated incident out of 35000 Nanos that are on road, for the time being I believe that was one off incident. On road price of Nano ranges between 1.5 lakh to 2.2 lakh depending on variant, city etc. Booking is not open now. The new cars made at Sanand will be first delivered to those who’ve already booked and awaiting delivery. Sometime in August/September fresh bookings would open and shortly supplies are expected to be good enough so that you car drive out a Nano from showroom.
Below is a brief presentation prepared by Tata’s Mumbai office on the journey so far. Do check it out.
We passed through my home town and my parents had great time in Nano. Pune, Goa and namma Kudla have been great cities. Visited Goa after some 15-20 years...We're done with Mangalore and will be heading further south today.

Stay tuned to the official event blog, for daily updates

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Tata Jaguar, Landrover, Mumbai, close pictures

While I am riding around in World’s cheapest car, also got an opportunity to take a close look at Tata’s recently acquired jaguar and Land Rover, the two iconic and international brands. Couldn’t find out much details, but managed to take some pics. Enjoy the pics for now.
I noticed 2 variants of Jaguar. The XJL and XK, the convertible. Both have 5 litre V8 petrol power plant.(That’s close to 8 nanos in terms of cc)  These cars are priced 65 lakh onwards. (XK Range costs upto 90 lakhs
IMG_0243 IMG_0236
IMG_0241 IMG_0240
I hope Tata will organize an All India drive in jaguar soon…(and more importantly get me as official blogger!) (July 9th 2009 was when these cars were rolled out internationally under Tata’s ownership. The first anniversary is coming up… someone please please suggest a road trip…)
Land Rover, on the other hand, would compete with the likes of Toyota Landcruiser Prado and 200, with a price tag starting at 65 lakhs and special edition going beyond Rs 1 crore.
IMG_0247 IMG_0230

From 1 lakh to 1 crore, Tata Motors have lots to offer...Chose your pic.

Also see: Toyota Landcruiser 200 and Prado details * AutoMall Bangalore-Review * Tata Nano Superdrive *

ICICI Bank Cycle Advertisements in Gujarath

Net banking and phone banking are history. ICICI bank has launched Cycle Banking in Surat…

I saw these cycles with big ICICI branding... They were spotted at Surat, Gujarath. About 5-6 of them were parked outside an ICICI branch. The cycles had multi sided display, announcing the launch of new ICICI branch and other related information (such as services etc)
This is how they look when in motion…
And a closer look…The young riders were clad in saffron uniform.
I feel this is a very cost effective publicity. No need to spend lakhs on newspaper ad, no need to put up huge hoardings… Just pay a few hundred rupees for these young guys to cycle around the city and thousands of eyeballs guaranteed. Employment for the youth, something different for people to look at and good publicity for the bank.

I’ve not seen this kind of promos in other cities. Wondering if this is an initiative by local branch manager… or may be they are testing in concept in Surat? Or is there some special event management company that specializes in this.

What do you think of this? Good idea? Have you seen this in any other cities or any other brands?

Related: ICICI long term customer feedbackRecruitment frauds- Job aspirants beware * iMint * SBI accepts me as Customer * ICICI Cashback- your chances of winning * Aircel long term customer feedback *

Friday, June 04, 2010

Tata Nano Roadtrip-What’s it all about?

I’m into day 3 of 26 days Tata Nano Superdrive’s Green Route, which is a 4800 kms drive starting from Ahmedabad and passing through Surat, Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Mangalore, Cochin, Coimbatore, Chennai, Bengaluru, Solhapur, Kolhapur, Nashik and Ahmedabad…
nana ready for flag off
Based on my first 2 days experience, here’s a brief account on what this trip is all about.

The Superdrive has 2 prime activities at the top level. One is the drive, where we drive 3 Nano cars from one city to another. The cavalry consists of about 6-10 people, which includes one or two Tata Nano officials, a blogger (that’s me!), crew and drivers from Shobiz.

Driving is done by the designated drivers (and bloggers and other members who’ve valid license and are interested in driving). At select stretches, pre-selected members of public will be given a chance to drive the Nano for a good distance.the 3 official bloggers for Tata Nano

Second is the city specific activities, which include landmarks (Taking photo of Tata Nano infront of popular landmarks in the city), Mall activity (display of Tata Nano inside popular malls of the city, Test drives (wherein winners of partner FM Radio channels will get a chance to drive/Ride the Nano and customer meets. Nano customer meet in each city is organized in 5 star hotels, wherein all existing Tata Nano customers of the city are invited to a get together party. Lots of games, music, magic show and other activities are arranged for customer meets, with of course good food.
 Shrinidhi Hande with green route Nano 
What’s my role?
As an official blogger for the route, my responsibilities are to document the trip, by means of blog posts, photos and videos. Yesterday I interacted with Tata Motors dealer, RJ Sethu of Big FM and FM Radio winners who took a test drive in Nano, members of the Shobiz event management team, Tata Motors officials and Tata Nano customers who shared their experience with Nano and general public who’re curious about Nano.

I’ve started updating my designated blog and you can stay tuned to it for detailed updates. My work usually starts when everyone else’s work ends. Once I return to hotel room, I start uploading photos, writing blog posts, recharging my batteries, mobiles and laptop and so on. (I can do it on the move, but if I open the laptop and start writing during day time when other activities are going on, I might miss some action or updates)

Below: Curious customers checking out nano and RJ Sheshu of Big FM and Shilpa Ben, a winner, taking a test drive in Nano.
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Miniature Nano at Nano Customer meet and media people photographing the Nano outside Valentine Mall, Surat
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The event isn’t as simple as I’d initially thought. More than 300 people are working behind the scenes to make the Superdrive a success. Tata Nano officials, its dealers in each cities, Showbiz (the event management company), Social wavelength (Social Media company), Logistics partners and several other invisible hands and brains need to be thanked for putting together such a massive plan and executing it with perfection.
We’re heading towards Mumbai today. Standby for more updates.