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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Talakona waterfalls, AP- revisited

Revisited Talakona waterfalls in AP (70kms off Tirupati) this weekend. My last visit was in Dec 2008 [Details], during which I couldn’t notice the roads as we travelled late evening. This time we drove their during day time (in Ford Endeavor) This post offers some additional information about the place.

Several blog readers and internet visitors have been asking for contact details of the AP Forest department facilitated community guest house in Talakona. Kindly refer the image for the phone numbers. The community guest house now houses 2 new loghuts, taking total number of loghuts to 4, in addition to 2 dormitories. Rent is Rs 500 per night. Advance booking strongly recommended for weekends.

Talakona-Forest-dept-Contact-Details 2-new-loghuts

At the entrance, guards did check our belongings for hard drinks, which we didn’t have. Despite such checks we did spot some abandoned barcadi bottles on top. For each water bottle, guard collected Rs 5 as  a deposit, which he said he’ll refund once we come back with the bottles. Many might forget to collect it back, but we did and he reluctantly gave the money back.

Last time the community guest house had a pet deer named Raja. Upon enquiry we were told that he has been released into the forest. A forest Safari has been introduced, but with no assurance of any animal sighting. If you’re lucky you might spot a deer. (IITM Campus gives you better choices)

Water level was far less this time, compared to Dec 2008 (Oct-Nov is the rainy season in this region). The right most photo was taken in Dec 2008 and left most one taken in July 2010.

talakona-falls-jul-2010 Canopy-walk Talakona-falls-dec-2008

The canopy walk is now tolled at Rs 10 per person. however there’s no guard on the other end and its free if you can get into the guest house campus… Meals at the campus is good and priced at Rs 35.

Monkey menace has grown leap and bounds in Talakona campus. They damage leather seats of two wheelers, threaten people and snatch bags. One lady whose handbag was snatched by the monkey was cribbing that it had some certificates and her friend was not able to do anything but watch helplessly. Avoid carrying anything expensive and unnecessary.

Monkey-inspecting-bike monkey-on-tree-with bag

Though water levels at the falls were less, the vegetation has grown nicely. A trail on which we’d trekked last time had thick vegetation around it making it difficult for us to enter. There is a jeep trail till top of Tala Kona, which doesn’t appear to be in use. (Probably used in British Era) Need to find out where it originates from. View from top is exciting as always.

Hanuman-Temple Ram-experimenting-macro-lens

Approach roads are nice and Talakona is a nice destination to add if you’re visiting Tirupati. Buses, share autos and jeeps are available if you don’t have a vehicle. Read my previous post on Talakona here


How to reach Talakona?
From Tirupati, drive towards Bengaluru. At Chandragiri fort turn right, go into town, take left (ask people for help), drive straight. At next intersection (where you'll see a temple entrance in front), turn left, keep driving. Signboards will guide you at turns.

Nearby places: Horseley Hills, Venkatagiri, Chandragiri Fort, Tada, Pulicat Lake, Tirumala, Tirupati

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Spicejet vs Jetlite: A bit of Aviation Gyan

This post lists a set of observations and comments sourced from my close to a dozen domestic flights taken during March-July 2010. Frequent flyers might find this post redundant and are advised to check June archives instead.

1. What is the difference between JetLite, Jet Airways Konnect and Jet Airways Codeshare?
Had lots of confusion why they're having so many names and prompted me to do some study. Jetlite refers to flights earlier operated by Air Sahara. It is a permanent low cost carrier with its own branding, in flight magazine and aircraft..

Jet Airways Konnect is a temporary branding carved out of Jetairways fleet. Jet Konnect runs on the same aircraft used by full service Jet Airways, but at a lower fare, in No-frills mode. On many Jet airways routes, full service aircraft had very low occupancy, hence Jet Konnect was created as a temporary measure, to fly on those routes targeting budget passengers. If demand for full service seats at Jet Airways resumes, Jet Konnect will be abolished and will be operated as Jet Airways. So if there’s an option between Jetlite and Jet Konnect, opt for Jet Konnect. Jet Konnect flights will have business class seats and Jet wings magazine.

Jetairways Codeshare again refers to Jetlite operating on Jetairways routes, with flights coded 9W instead of S2


2. In-Flight Magazines: Spice Route is found to be better than JetWings

Of all the in-flight magazines, I found SpiceRoute most interesting. In March, both JetWings and Spice Route had title article on Holi, but Spice Route was much more exciting overall. However, Spice route carries a column which explains how to cover a city in 48 hours. I thought this is a great idea when I read about Pune in March edition. But when I read about Hyderabad in its April edition, I realized that they have written the article without experiencing it. (it said 4PM Durgam Cheruvu and 7PM Lumbini Garden or 9AM Golconda fort and 11 AM Quli Qutb Shahi tombs- which is not practical, coz the drive from Durgam Cheruvu to Lumbini itself would take 60-90mins, while Golconda takes 2-3 hours to climb up n down.)

Jetlite and Jet airways have got different inflight magazines, which I feel is waste of money. Kingfisher Red on the other hand offers a film magazine.

Spicejet also offers some additional magazines, though they're seldom interesting.

3. No previous Month’s editions.
All airlines keep only current month’s edition of their in-flight magazine. Previous editions are promptly removed. In April I took 3 spice-jet flights and it was boring to read same magazine again and again. In May I didn’t fly a single SpiceJet flight. In June, when asked the crew if I can have May edition of spice route, the reply was negative. Providing a few erstwhile editions on demand wouldn’t cost much and will add value to not so frequent fliers who enjoy reading. You can refer Spiceroute mag website for archives though. But the website is poorly designed and maintained.

4 On time: Spicejet was the most on-time airline, while Jetlight and Jet Konnect were consistent in delayed departures. But point to be made, most of my Spice jet flights were in the morning and jet flights in the evening. Evening ones will have higher probability of delay as a result of delays accumulated all through the day.

5. There is a nice veg restaurant close to departure terminal, Mumbai Airport. Priced reasonably (ex: Coffee: Rs 30) it might be a better idea eating something here before entering the airport, to avoid being ripped off inside the airport or in-flight.

6. Add 45 mins-1 hour to your Delhi flight time, due to 15 mins taxi time, 10 min bus ride, delays and hovering time… It is like landing in Noida and driving to Delhi. (we indeed landed at Jaipur once as the aircraft didn't have enough fuel to hover around. But they didn't show me Hawa Mahal)

7. Passengers have a tendency to get up from their seats as soon as aircraft stops, while doors open good 10 minutes later.

8. BMTC’s Vayu Vajra is the best way to travel to and from Bangalore International Airport… Taxis are a rip off. Other cities should catch up on this idea and should offer similar Bus Services. At Delhi and Chennai Metros are being planned though.

9. It is high time airlines change the statement “Now you can use laptops and CD players” to “Laptops and ipods/mp3 players” as no one uses CD player anymore.

10. Lots of near misses are being reported off late. Do pay heed to safety instructions and other emergency procedures. You never know when something would go wrong…

11. Jetlite’s in-flight shopping, auction and scratch card (take home anything for Rs 599) schemes are visibly an eye wash. The minimum bid prize is more than the real value of the products kept for auction.

12. Spicejet also scores higher on in-flight service. They give complementary water in a 300ml pet bottle, while Jetlite serves water in cup, only on demand. While majority of passengers prefer breakfast/meals, airlines carry them in very little numbers and run out of stock super-fast. Passengers will be left with overpriced sandwiches (Rs 120). Spicejet serves ready made tea, while JetLite gives you hot water, milk and tea bag, leaving the task of preparing your tea for yourself. (Should we be thankful they don't provide a kettle and cold water?)

13 ATR flights will have much lesser cabin space and some regular cabin bags may not fit in…

14. Each Spicejet flight is named after a spice.  Now, with Marans buying a stake in SpiceJet, I am wondering if they'll rename each flight after a family member...

15. Of all the airlines, I like Indigo's branding- Indigo to 35000 feet, their TV commercial and other aspects are nice. Didn't fly Indigo since long time, will be flying them August first week. Hope they've not increased the price of cashew nut on-board... (Read a previous post on Indigo in-flight shopping)

16. Most of the flight attendants do not recognize in-flight mode feature present in your mobile (this feature disables all communication functionality and allows rest of the harmless features like music, games etc, so that there'll be no interference with aircraft's communication and navigation systems) They insist you switch off the mobile.

Similar Posts: Kingfisher Experience

Disclaimer: All information and comments as observed by the author during his flights. Experience may vary from person to person and information, pricing and service levels are subject to change over a period of time

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Assembled vehicle Jugaads (aka Maruthas) of North India

This is a fairly old post that was published in my photoblog (now dead) after our July 2008 north India trip. Republishing now, to reach out to wider range of audience. You know about assembled computers-know have a look at these assembled vehicles, which I found in hundreds in UP/Haryana region. Initially I didn't know the names of these vehicles, but thanks to Indiamike users and other readers, I figured out that they're called Jugaads (aka Maruthas)

Jugaads are made by local mechanics, using spare parts of other vehicles. Engine could be from a Mahindra Jeep, a tractor, a van or even a generator. Other than engine there's nothing much. Basic control like steering wheel, levers and pedals. No cover for engines, no instrument panel. Lighting and decorations are done as per the taste and requirements of the designer/buyer
Jugaad found in Punjab/Haryana Border

First time when I saw this, I thought some local mechanic might be experimenting with this makeshift vehicle, but during next 2 days, I saw hundreds of them. Seems quite popular and visibly cheap-couldn’t have cost more than a lakh per vehicle. (And you thought TATA NANO is pretty cheap-I’m sure given enough support these guys can make even cheaper car) None of the vehicles have any sort of registration details on them. There’s no proper protection to engine, which braves everything from dust, air, rain and sun. Rear view mirror, turn indicators, Airbag, seat belt, ABS- try explaining them all these...

Jugaad found in Delhi-Agra road!

Clearly, this is very much an unorganized business, but with no proper branding, license, permits and such things that bother any legitimate enterprise. Whoever is behind this, must be pretty genius and could have taken up this initiative on a large scale adhering to applicable guidelines. (May be he’ll lose the cost advantage if he starts following rules and regulations) Law enforcement agencies seem to have turned a blind eye towards these unauthorized vehicles on road. Though our driver Ajay told these vehicles are found only in villages and on highways, where policing is pretty low, we did notice them almost everywhere in Punjab, Haryana and Agra.

A side view:
Assembled vehicles of North india!
One of these jugaads was also featured in the movie Shakti, starring SRK and Aishwarya Rai.

Just wondering if someone has thought about CNG version...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bannerghatta National Park Wildlife Safari pics

I don’t remember going to Bannerghatta National Park earlier. Guess I’ve never been there earlier. Don’t know how I missed out on this popular place just outside Bengaluru…

Went to Bannerghatta for a half day visit last Sunday. Went off better than expected. Sandeep had warned us that there’ll be a huge queue for the jungle safari. We reached there by cab+bike by 10.15 AM and the camp wasn’t that crowded. As we entered tiger safari area, our guide Keshav exchanged a few words with the driver. From their conversation I understood that during the last Safari the previous day, they couldn’t spot any tigers and visitors had to return disappointed. He was hoping that won’t repeat today and so did I.
Animals cure-deer

Spotted a few wild bears, oxen, wild cow and other herbivore animals first and eventually entered into carnivore area where lions and tigers were housed. A lioness and 3 of her cubs were our first catch.
lion-cub2 lion-cub
lion-cub-bannerghatta mummy-lion

Our safari van driver, Venkatapati, turned out to be an excellent photographer as well. When the van stopped near some wild animals he almost snatched the camera from me saying he’ll take the photographs. :) I hesitated for a moment, but then gave him the camera, partly due to his enthusiasm and mainly because he had the most strategic place in the entire van for photography. While rest of the van is fully covered with mesh, only driver’s seat window had clear view, so from his seat he had better chance of taking a clear shot.
keshav-the-guide venkatapati-the safari driver

He turned out to be an good at photography too. Within seconds he figured out basic controls like wide, tele etc and started taking snaps. For example, below photo of the lioness yawning, it taken by him. After sometime I almost forcefully took my camera back, as he was doing all the clicking and I was just watching. Immediately he took camera from another tourist and continued his photography.

lioness-yawning regular and white-tigers
However, unfortunately I couldn’t get a clear shot of any white tigers. Spotted about 4 of the 5 white tigers in the park. One was extending its Sunday morning sleep on its bed (images below), the other was stationery with its back towards us (above). Two more were in cage, couldn’t get clear view of them for photograph.
white-tiger white-tiger-closeup
Apparently even these animals have various groups within them and if left loose, they would fight among themselves. Hence they are let out one group at a time, while rest are caged.

Post safari, we came back to the zoo. Now the queue for Safari had grown into a fairly long one and we felt good that we came early. The range of animals there is fairly high. The zeebra below was hoping to get some food from visitors, but when I got a clear view, it refused to budge and I had to settle with a photo of its rear…
Zeebra zeebra-back
lizard elephant-eating-green-grass
Most of the animals couldn’t be photographed well due to heavy mesh surrounding them. You better visit in person to checkout.

Sunday morning well spent. I’ll probably go there again, just to get different poses of those tigers and lions. BMTC has frequent bus service to Banngerghatta National Park (Route 365 from Majestic).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Lodhi Garden, New Delhi: Photo feature

Lodhi Garden, located close to India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road is a vast green park in North Delhi. Spread over 90 acres, Lodhi Gaden houses several tombs of Lodhi empire, inside Gumbad, (Gumbaz or small buildings built around the tomb, reminds me of Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur) most of them were built during 15th Century.

I had a free time of couple of hours and I ventured into Lodhi Garden.First thing I noticed was the presence of numerous squirrels and mynas moving freely all around. This immediately reminded me of Agra Fort where I’d seen similar population of squirrels.

  myna-birdsquirrel
squirrels-3  DSC00064

The first major building I saw on entrance was this…Bara Gumbad (probably meant Bada Gumbaz or Lodhi-garden-bara-GumbadBig Dome). There was nothing inside. Each corner was occupied by one couple, who were little worried if I might take their photographs. I had to be conscious not to get them into the frame or give them a feeling of it. The buildings were visibly deteriorated, damages clearly visible all around. But then, they’ve survived 6 centuries and will survive many more. As I moved ahead I realized that this is just one among many such buildings in the garden. The one immediately behind this is called Sheesh Gumbad. A stranger, who identified himself as South African, asked me about the history of these buildings, which I was clueless about. I advised him to refer to the stones(images below) which had details inscribed in them.
 Bara-gumbad-history Bara-Gumbad-mosque A designer chair in Lodhi Garden

Sheesh Gumbad had some designer glasses in its exterior design. However the inside had a series of tombs, with a dog comfortably sleeping on  one of them (look at the right most one) Only one corner of this tomb was not occupied by any love-birds, hence I took liberty of taking a photograph.
sheesh-gumbad-mosque inside-sheesh-gumbad

As I walked across, saw a big group of birds-lots of pigeons, parrots and squirrels feasting on grains. Of the two parakeets I saw, the one had a dark ring across the neck while the other didn’t. Not sure of the difference-male and female may be.(any idea?)
 2-parakeets Green-parakeet

I walked further, spotted a mini fort like structure. This thing houses Sikandar Lodhi’s tomb, surrounded by a garden. The garden was all dug up, understandably under renovation ahead of commonwealth games. The workers were spotted taking a powerful afternoon nap.
sikandar-lodhi-tomb-mosque Sikandar-Lodhi-tomb
nap-time-workers-sleeping-next2-sikandar lodhi tomb art-work

Walking across the walkway takes you to the other exit. Next to Sikandar Lodhi’s garden lies a water body, which is believed to connect to river Yamuna. It also houses a small bridge, called Athpula (8 pillared) which is build on 8 pillars and showcases 7 arches, center one being biggest. The water body is not well maintained and houses dirty stagnant water. Spotted a few birds swimming in the same. A Cormorant just came out of its swim and stood still with its wing spread out, drying itself in the sun.
athpula water-soaked-bord
bird 2-birds
There was still a lot to see and might have spotted few more birds if I had the time and patience, but had to rush back to IHC for work. Do leave your comments.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Me Nano Superdrive in TV9...at namma Bengaluru

To watch video of me speaking to TV9 Journalist, click here
DSC08776June 18th, 2010: We re-entered Karnataka from Hosur side, at around 5PM and were expecting lot of traffic after crossing electronic city. Surprisingly there were none. Probably due to the recently opened elevated flyover, traffic was minimal and we reached our destination, Concorde Motors near Dairy circle, ahead of time. Weather was nice and for a change, we stopped AC, rolled down windows and have a pleasant drive. Also spotted a new variant of electric car, Reva, which was being at a fairly high speed, which Nano couldn’t chase. Later, while heading towards the hotel, got to see this beautiful rainbow.

The next day, we set out for our landmark activities. First destination was Bangalore Palace.

We passed through MG Road, which seemed to have lost its charm, due to al the construction work of Namma Metro. An auto driver, named A Joseph, who had a badge of Ka. Ra. Ve (Karnataka Rakshana Vedike), asked us curiously if Nano is available in diesel. After briefing him that it is not, I just asked him how is Narayana Gowda. After a minute he realized whom I was referring to and reply was “he he!”

Doordarshan’s TV Tower and a giant wheel opposite to hit looked majestic. After a brief stop at Bangalore Palace, we headed out to Cubbon Park, our second destination. The media was invited here and they turned up in larger number, compared to other cities. I spoke to couple of TV Channels here, including TV9 and Kasturi, about the Superdrive.

Also met Prashant (who blogs at Payaniga.com). The right hand side photo above is clicked by him. TV9 report was telecasted same day evening, a poor quality recording, which I made using my camera, can be found below.

Also check: Bangalore classic scooters at Central Library

Then we headed towards Vidhana Soudha. Taking photographs here was very tricky. Busy traffic and with no permission and space to park the cars, we had to click while cars were moving slowly, hoping that no other vehicles come in between. Managed to click some decent shots (Check this post for more Vidhana Soudha shots)
From TataNanoSuperdrive
The 3rd location was Lumbini Garden, Hebbal. FM Radio winners were invited here, but the turn out was very less. (Attributing to the fact that Lumbini garden is at the other end of town and on a Saturday afternoon people would have many other things to do) Nano was also kept on display at Garuda Mall, competing with Volkswagen Beetle for attention, which was also displayed in the same campus.

In the evening, a customer get together was organized at Crown Plaza, electronic city. This also had lesser than expected turn out, again because Electronic city is on the southern extreme of the city. But over 200 people who turned up had good time.

That’s a brief on Bengaluru visit. Next day we drove across Karnataka, from Bengaluru to Kolhapur, just bypassing Hubli, Davanagere, Belgaum… Road (NH4) was superb and we could cover 630kms in 12.5 hours, including all breaks and stops. More about it later.