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Friday, January 29, 2010

Brief date with Mercedes Benz

I remember an Old Mercedes Benz ad which says “Beg. Borrow. Steal. or BUY”. Beg/borrow/steal won’t work with me and Buy is something I can’t afford. However there’s a new option emerging- Rent it.Mercedes-benz-c220-cdi

Regular readers of this blog know I enjoy driving and riding. Though this habit has been financially heavy on pocket, I hardly miss a chance to rent/drive a high end car. My self drive expeditions started off with a Skoda Octavia in June 2008 and I’ve been driving around in various rented cars once a while since then. It is a way of de-stressing: get behind the wheels and go for a long drive. Recently I saw an ad where Mercedes Benz was offered on rent at a relatively expensive but affordable rate (500 Rs per hour, 9 Rs per km). Without a second thought called them and made a booking for 2 hours, with an idea of exploring the vehicle and a ride in it. My mother and sister were visiting Chennai, so it was a perfect opportunity to go for a luxury ride.

I wanted to give a surprise to my mother and sister by arranging a Mercedes ride for them. When they asked “what is the plan for the evening?” I said “surprise” and asked them to get ready and come out. They came out, I opened the door of the shiny black Mercedes C class C220 CDI and they got in. After getting in I was asked: “so what is the surprise?”. That was like pinning the balloon… Next 10 minute I spent advocating for Mercedes Benz, explaining its comfort, cost, status symbol…My mother wasn’t much impressed and was more concerned about the rent I was paying for it.
sea-side Shri_merc2
C220 CDi is one of the entry level series by Mercedes. The AT version costs about Rs 30 lakhs (Comparatively the S-Class costs about INR 1.1 Crores). Of course the car was great compared to other regular cars, but as such I didn’t find any WOW factor in it. Unfortunately the agency was not keen letting me drive it-even for a small distance-they insisted that risk factor is too high and the car is taxi registration, not meant for self drive. So I had to settle for sitting in driver’s seat and posing for photograph, not actually getting to drive it. (That can wait… Some other day for sure)
steering-wheel-merc-benz Merc-tristar-logo
Where do we go after getting into a Merc? No point getting stuck in city traffic where a cycle rider makes his way among traffic and reaches faster leaving Mercs and BMWs stuck behind a crowd of share autos. So I zeroed in on Fisherman’s Cove on ECR. I’d not been there earlier and wanted to check out the place. It also made ideal destination to go in a Mercedes with only few hours to spare.

Drive was smooth-luckily not much traffic on ECR and we reached Fisherman’s Cove and were let in after a thorough security check. The first thing that caught attention was the pool, which is nice. We went inside to lobby area-I was a bit disappointed-the grandeur that was expected in a 5 star place was somehow missing. I would rate Radisson's Temple Bay (formerly GRT Temple Bay) in Mahabs or Club Mahindra’s Coorg resort a step higher. The place was almost deserted (it was 4pm). I asked for directions to go to Sea Gull (name of their coffee shop, which I’d researched a bit so as not to appear clueless once reaching there)
mercedes-benz-logo mask water-bottle
We were greeted by mineral water bottles kept on each table with a tag: “Rs 175+ taxes, not complementary”. We took a pool side table. Sea was partially visible and pool had a few guests swimming and relaxing. A crow on a nearby tree was making some unusual noise-as if it is trained to behave properly in a 5 star hotel. We had a look at the menu, as expected they were all in 3 digits. (Sample: Coffee/tea: Rs 135 +12.5% tax). We ordered few beverages and snacks and they took their own time to deliver them, unmindful of our concern that we’re paying several rupees every minute to the Mercedes Benz parked outside.

To the extent I notice, their most expensive suite (sea facing villas) was costing around 22k per day 2 years ago. Now it has come down to 17k. Most of the areas were for residents only and certainly we couldn’t have asked for a guided tour. In about an hour or so we spent there, I found it a little below expectation overall- in terms of ambience and service. We had our refreshments, summoned our car and left. We went to a seashore, took some pics and then returned to city as clock was ticking.
from-sun-roof sea
Overall nice 3 hours spent trying to explore luxury, expensive one though. OK as an experimental exercise, not really worth repeating. I was expecting the driver to be uniformed-but he wasn’t. Also yellow number plate gave away the secret that it is rented vehicle. The hourly rental was a convenient scheme. Bangalore’s Car Club had a BMW and they were charging Rs 6000 for a 4 hour/40 km rental, which was not viable for me. Just hoping other cars- Audi and Volkswagen models will soon be available on rent (self drive preferably and at an affordable hourly rent)- Anyone listening?

Also see: Tata Jaguar & LR * Toyota Quality Revolution * Toyota Land cruiser Prado & 200 * 11 things you don't get in BMW 320d * BMW 320 photoshoot

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Joining day

I had accompanied a relative and their ward who had arrived in Chennai to report at a prestigious IT company. This post is a quick narrations of certain observations made at the venue.

IT companies seem to have an unwritten policy of not to entertain location preferences of new hires. Everyone who prefers Bangalore will be assigned to Chennai, whoever asks for Chennai will be asked to join at Hyderabad and so on. (Apparently this is believed to increase productivity as employees stay away from family and will have more time to dedicate to work, Also this helps money circulation-making IT people spend on travel, phone, rent and so on) So almost all new hires reporting at this company’s Chennai office that day were from other states, mainly Karnataka and AP.

While ‘software engineers to be’ assembled outside the gate and eventually started going in, groups started forming based on language and city they hail from. They evaluated the scope in IT industry, how they squeeze their staff, how their request for a different location was denied, best place to take a PG and sundry other topics. It was interesting to listen to conversations of their parents outside. Some samples: "At Trivandrum they were very strict about using mobile phones-hope now onwards they’ll be more liberal"…"ನಿಮ್ ಮಗಳು ಜಾವ ನ? ನನ್ ಮಗಳಿಗೆ .ನೆಟ್ ಅ೦ತೆ. ಚೆನ್ನಾಗಿದ್ಯ ಅದು?" (your daughter is in java? my daughter is in .Net is it better?).. "పెరున్గుడి లో ఒకటే ఫై జి చాల బాగుంది అంటే అంకల్ చెప్ప్యారు -పెరున్గుడి ఎక్కడ ఉంది?" (I’m told there is a nice PG in Perungudi-where is Perungudi)..., "9am and it is so hot already-can’t imagine summer in Chennai…" "why can’t we go inside and see-its my Son’s office after all…" "Seems they’ve about 10 offices in Chennai-not sure which office my ward will have to work from..."

When new hires arrive at a strange city for their first job, there’ll be challenges in terms of finding an accommodation, not knowing local language/city. Add to this, everyone will have their preferences and wish list (it has to be a pure veg PG, 3 of us should get at one place, it shouldn’t be too far...) This is made even more complex with IT companies never giving a clear idea as to what is in store for them during and after their training.

An opportunist business man, who apparently runs a PG (Paying guest) accommodation was very active at the scene, distributing small pamphlets to all anxious new hires and their even more anxious parents. For those who asked where is his PG, he handed out an additional leaflet which had map and directions to reach the place. During his first round, he ignored me, as I was in a casual dress-not wearing any shoe or tie like new hires with which he might have concluded that I am not a prospect and there’s no point wasting a pamphlet on me. Whenever a new share auto stopped, dropping off a dozen new hire, he would rush to the road and give a copy to all of them. Naturally he received lots of inquiries-ranging from “is it pure veg?” to "boys and girls will be in separate PGs right?” he answered all of them. During his second round he took pity on me and thrust a copy to my hand-the pamphlet was small- one fifth of an A4 sheet, but was filled with information-stating that they charge no deposit/advance, that they are just 30 mins from Airport/CMBT/Rly stn, mentioning names of all major IT companies, that it is very close to Adyar, Perungudi, Toraipakkam, Sholingnallur, Taramani and other locations and much more details.qualis

Security guards had their chance to show who is the boss-at least at the gate, asking parents to move away, checking ID cards with extra vigor and keeping the entrance from vehicles and people.

Once all new hires went inside to report, parents waited outside evaluating what they should be doing for rest of the day. Some of them expressed interest to check out the PG of this guy, who promptly stopped an auto to take them to his place. Soon some more people gathered, our PG man abandoned the auto, got hold of a Qualis which had just dropped off IT professionals and ushered his prospects in. One more person can come with me in bike- he declared and left the venue on his bike, with a Qualis full of prospects following him. I’m sure some of them would have decided to join. His intelligence (knowing that lots of new hires are expected today), preparedness (of having pamphlets ready) and opportunism (of using the Qualis to escort his prospects) would have definitely paid off.

The day reminded me of my joining day in front of Satyam’s Secunderabad office 4.5 years ago-but that is for some other day

Similar posts: Satyam-One year later * Should IT Cos have Unions? * Chennai Roadies * Chennai MMTS photo ride * Bangalore-Hyderabad-Chennai comparison of 3 cities *

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chennai MMTS Photo ride-New Year morning

Note:-swapped part 1 and 2 so that part 1 appears on top-
Its a long time (about 2 years) since I commuted in Chennai’s local trains (MMTS-Multi Modal Transport System). As I walk to work and have a bike for other travel there wasn’t a need to use MMTS. Two weeks ago, 1st of Jan we (me and Ram) decided to take a ride in MMTS purely for the sake or riding in it and while doing so, photograph the city. Chennai has multiple MMTS tracks- we chose Velachery-Chennai Beach route as this route runs mostly on elevated tracks, which is good for photography. Thus the idea of photo ride was conceived and executed.

I went to Tiruvanmiyur MMTS station. MMTS Stations are considerably large in space and are spread over multiple stories. However I didn’t see any improvement in the condition of station compared to what it was two years ago. Building construction still incomplete, huge amount of space still left vacant, cleaning and maintenance still not satisfactory. Escalators are added and thankfully ticket prices remain the same as they were 2 year ago.

View of Chennai’s IT Corridor (Rajiv Gandhi Salai/OMR) & Tidel Park is nice from top of Tiruvanmiyur station (Unfortunately beauty of the IT corridor starts at Madhya Kailash and ends at Tidel Park)-Beyond that work still remains incomplete though it has been more than an year since they started collecting toll fee.
RajiGandhiSalai1 (2) RGS-3
Down below, not far away from Tidel park Signal, a mobile cart was doing good business,selling breakfast. While some passengers, along with their baggage were spotted waiting for auto driver, who is away having his breakfast. (Looks like he is done and very happy-Task for you: Identify the auto driver in left hand side photo below)
breakfast auto
Had it not been for the new year’s morning, its not easy to get a traffic free photo of tidel park signal.(This was at 9.30AM) I’m told from knowledgeable sources that the design we see on Rajiv Gandhi Salai from Madhya Kailash to tidel park was inspired from Panchabhootas or 5 elements of life: Fire, Water, Air, Earth and space. Subsequently the design team changed and the concept has gone for a toss-there’s nothing much to admire on the OMR beyond Tidel park.
tidel-park-signal tidel-park-fob
There’re are few Foot over bridges across IT corridor, but are seldom used, as people find it convenient to cross the road itself, instead of having to walk several hundred meters to reach nearest FOB. Recently an attempt was made to connect FOB directly to Railway station, so that people can reach the elevated platform directly. Effectiveness of this idea needs to be seen.

I bought a ticket (6 Rs, journey should commence within 1 hour of issuing tickets-trains arrive a a frequency of approx once in 20 mins). Journey took us through some interesting landmarks in city
landmark1 chennai-beach
towers landmark2
canal landmark-building
Also spotted a large fleet of unregistered Volvo city buses, probably waiting to be commissioned. A set of two drums (sheets rolled as drums) reminded me of 3 Idiots movie…
volvo-city-buses 3-idiots
Read Ram’s write up on this here. Though view from the train was photogenic, beauty is somewhat compromised by a sewage canal and adjoining slums that are located right next to the track. Later we also went to some lakes in Velachery. Expect some more photos and writings in a subsequent post.

Update: Read Part 2 here

Update: read in today's post: A feature will soon be introduced in these trains to announce names of stations ahead
Similar posts: Chennai Roadies * Chennai MTC Volvo City Buses * Random Photos *

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chennai MMTS ride part2

This is a continuation of a previous post. Please read part 1 here if you haven’t, so as to get complete picture.

After boarding the MMTS train, I kept looking out of the window for anything interesting. The Rajiv Gandhi Salai (formerly Canal Bank Road) was by and large deserted. Contraction work was at full force at the space adjacent to Tidel Park. The all blue Foot over bridge at Kasturbai Nagar looked interesting. Lots of greenery still prevailed on the other side of the road, which is good.

Soon after Kotturpuram, train crossed Adyar River and from here on slums occupied most of the space adjacent to tracks. River was being fed with all sort of pollutants, waste and black coloured water. Just before Mandaveli station there were lots of horses-I missed to take a proper photo of them as I didn’t notice them in time.

adyar-river slum

Traffic was minimal-both inside the train and also on the road. Soon action shifted to the other side of the track, where one could see Marina Beach and later Chennai Port. Lots of interesting buildings were also seen (which have been already published in previous post) I was under the impression that this train would go till central, as ticket attendant didn’t say anything while giving my ticket. However I realized little late that to go to Central I need to get down at Park Town station (from where central is walk-able)

Madhya Kailash Temple roof

Came back to Park town, learnt a new word: Punga means Park in Tamil.I was joined by Ram here, we headed towards Velachery. Few other stations also had Tamil names written in Hindi (Kadakkarai for beach), somehow light house station name was spared from translation.

park-town lighthouse towards-beach

We returned on towards Velachery, the last stop for the train. Elevation ends in Perungudi and on our left were a few water bodies. We got down from the train, walked a bit to shoot some birds there. Later we went much closer on bike as well. (below photos were not shot from train)

bird birds-in-action

black-bird roadside-celebrations

I didn’t really know we have such water bodies and birds so close. But unfortunately its unlikely that these water bodies will remain there for long as ongoing construction works are likely to destroy them. A priest was performing pooja to a Ganesha idol close to Velachery station.

MMTS is a great idea. Its utilization will go up if ample car parking is provided in MMTS stations so that car owners can park there and reach their destinations instead of driving all the way in Chennai city traffic. Having some departmental stores and other facilities/commercial activities inside will help generating revenue and also make it convenient for commuters. Further most of the MMTS stations do not have proper auto stands-forcing auto drivers to wait on main road for passengers.

More MMTS tracks are being planned around Chennai-I’m told by 2011 construction will start to extend MMTS towards Mahabalipuram.

New year took off with a very good ride. If possible need to do similar rides on other MMTS tracks. But most of them run at ground level so not sure if we get any unusual shots.

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It makes lot of business sense for corporate to move from traditional copper wired telephone lines to a more sophisticated and dedicated VoIP service. Voice, Fax, Chat, Email and even Web Conferences can be facilitated by VoIP and the integration saves money and makes life more convenient. VoIP can operate on PC system hence without needing much of a dedicated hardware.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

It feels great to win

2010 is certainly off to a great start. Few days back a brand new Cannon IXUS 95IS was delivered to my office, which was a runner up prize in One for the Road Contest organized by CLAY.

I always enjoy organizing trips (more so when it involves self drive) and planning itinerary for the same. Its another story that 4 out 5 conceived trips never materialize (due to not enough people, budget constraints, not getting leave and other reasons)

Early December 2009, Club Mahindra Blog (CLAY) announced a contest wherein participants had to submit their itinerary for Bangalore-Ooty trip. This was very easy for me as we’d toured Ooty, Coonoor and Kotagiri last May. I managed to draft an itinerary based on our trip experience, improvise it a bit and submit it within deadline.

December last week I received a communication that I’ve won Runner Up place in this contest and I will be getting a Digital camera as my prize.

I liked the simplicity of this contest-All I had to do was prepare my entry and submit it, judges reviewed the entries and declared winners. I didn’t have to go around asking people to vote for me, nor there were any expectations that I blog about it, follow them in twitter or the likes. I was expecting an entry level or even unbranded Digital camera, but was delighted to receive a brand new Cannon IXUS 95IS, which retails at around Rs 9700 (Source: jjmehta.com)

A digital camera couldn’t have come at a better time, because I was seriously contemplating on a secondary camera which would fit into pocket, since my Sony DSC H50 is a bit bulky to carry around. Also our Olympus FE 170 was damaged after a fall and service center quoted Rs 3000 to fix it without any warranty as to how long it will last. A quick research had revealed that any decent branded camera will cost Rs 7000 upwards, as manufacturers have focused on increasing mega pixels instead of bringing down price.

Haven’t explored my new camera much, but it has favorable reviews on net and has standard features like 10MP sensor, 3x optical zoom, view finder and so on.CannonIXUS-95IS

So where is the itinerary that you submitted?

It has been submitted to a contest and now its their discretion to either make it public or use it for internal purposes. I’m not disclosing it here as of now but it is largely based on (and improved upon) our Ooty trip travelogue.

Your chance to win:

I am given to understand that contest is still open for Northern circuits (Delhi-Corbett-Naukuchiatal-Binsar). If you have a useful itinerary to tour these places, you can submit your entry. Focus on following points: Where to stop for food/stay, time taken to travel/explore the place, road conditions, interesting places not to be missed and more).Please check CLAY blog for details and contact them if you have any queries (I’m not sure of the last date, prizes etc)

I’ve been following CLAY since its inception. Arun Nair, Lakshmi Sharath and others have put lots of efforts and passion in giving it a great shape. (Of course backed by their company in terms of support and funding). CLAY is a good example of running a corporate blog without any direct sales pitch and focusing purely on quality content.

Possibly related: Mouthshut-where is my free airticket? * Sweepstakes gimmicks * SMS and win? * Club Mahindra Binsar resort review *

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Madhugiri fort near Tumkur

We made an unscheduled visit to Madhugiri this Sunday. Our original plan was to cover Devarayana Durga and Shivagange and return by evening. (Ultra original idea was to go to Horsley hills in AP). We (myself, Arun Bhat, Ravi and Santosh) We left city by 5.30 and by 9am we were done with Devarayana Durga. On the way a display indicated that Madhugiri fort is some 30kms away. Since there was lot of time I thought we’ll drive there and try to cover it as well and then head to Shivagange. We had breakfast, took a detour, visited Siddagange, Namada chilume and then headed towards Madhugiri and reached Madhugiri town by noon.
welcome-gate fort
All of us were totally clueless about Madhugiri fort and had no idea how tall or how complex it will be. I had thought it to be a small to medium height fort which would take couple of hours to cover. However it was not possible to get complete height of the hill in one view, we under-estimated its height and soon embarked on what seemed like a never ending climb. Initial part was easy and soon we could get nice view of Madhugiri town, other hills around it and few water bodies at a distance.
madhugiri town watchtower and barracks
Fort is typical of any Indian forts- deteriorated over time, damaged further by graffiti of senseless people. A few attempts of restoration could be seen. Buildings which were supposed to be part of palace appears to destroyed completely. Tree roots could be seen in between rocks that made fort wall. Steps were carved on rocks to make climbing easy. But at many places there’s nothing to hold on to and steps are very tiny-can be risky if someone sees the down and gets nervous. There isn’t much shade, except few spots like entrances or big rocks under which one can take shelter. As expected there’s no water source either-A Kalyani is all dried up. Fort has a total of 7 or 8 rounds of defensive walls, numerous watch towers, inverted domes which looked like store house and several buildings which were either barracks for soldiers or were used as warehouses.
another-view climb
Half way through we came across a highly sloped rock with some very tiny steps carved on it and absolutely no support to hang on to. (Actually this looked like top of the hill, only after crossing it we realized we’re just midway). At this stage we almost thought of giving up and returning, more so because a few who returned from top declared that there’s nothing exciting over there. However Arun Bhat continued to climb, called us from top and encouraged us not to give up. With some hesitation we managed to cross this risky section . Thirst and tired legs notwithstanding managed to reach to the top of Madhugiri fort.
tree-roots restored-walls
(Quick Trivia: Refer image above of the fort wall- Don’t you think it is a bad idea to leave projected stones like that-Will it not be easy for enemies to climb up fast?)
On top we found a ruined temple, a large warehouse, and a big man hole- which could be an escape tunnel. View on top is typical to any hillock. It was a little disappointing that after reaching all the way to top there isn’t much to see-the exercise and fun we had in climbing is the core advantage.
the final round of walls warehouses
Wikipedia says Madhurigi fort is at about 3930 feet (that is 1200 meters- higher than Burj Kalifa) The fort is built by the Gangas and eventually ruled by VIjayanagar Dynasty, Mysore Wodeyar and then by Hyder Ali. There’s no entry fee and no petty shops selling stuff. We came down and had two sweet tender coconuts (Rs 10 each). Guess we took about 4 hours to climb up and return. This meant there wasn’t much time left for Shivagange.(absolutely no regrets) We returned to Tumkur, had a feast at Kamat Upachar and returned to city by evening, as I had to return the car and catch train for Chennai.
DSC04066DSC04032

Madhugiri is an excellent trekking spot, non commercialized and drivable from Bangalore for a one day activity. However this place can be made more tourist friendly by creating wider steps, some support structures, rope way etc. Displaying some relevant information near the base will also help.
store entrance
Route: Bangalore-NH4-Right turn at Dabaspete-Pavagada route. Approx 130 kms from Bangalore. Road condition is excellent till Devarayana Durga- thereafter it is pretty decent with occasional bad patches/pot holes. Pavagada, another popular and historical fort town is about 50 kms from Madhugiri.

Update: Arun Bhat's write up on Madhugiri *

Related: Keladi Fort * Bekal Fort photos * Monkeyman in Chitradurga Fort * Skandagiri * Nandi Hills *Alamparai fort and backwaters * Mattur near Shimoga * Kodachadri * Gingee Fort * Golconda fort, Hyderabad * Hampi * Bidar * Chandragiri Fort, AP *