Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Year End Special-Goa in Pictures

While many of my friends and colleagues are relaxing in Goa awaiting new year, I’m only recalling my June 2010 Goa visit memories and publishing some photos here. If you’re like me-not going anywhere on new year eve, enjoy a virtual tour of Goa in this post.

Self Drive Bikes in Goa…
Guess Goa and Pondy are two cities where even two wheelers can be rented on self drive :) A Honda Activa costs Rs 200 per day and Rs 200 per night (i.e about 200 Rs per 12 hour). A good option instead of renting cars or autos, which will cost in 100s per ride. Also places in Goa are far from each other. If you do not own/have a vehicle with you, renting a two wheeler is far better option than hiring a cab/auto.
You may also wish to read my other post on Self Drive Car Rentals in India

Though a small territory, Goa has good number of newspapers in circulation

Yatches are also common. Of late shared ownership concept is coming up for luxury yatches-instead of spending 50lakh on an entry level yatch, you can own one for about 10 lakhs, along with 4 other owners- sort of timeshare model…
a yatchyatch

There’re enough places to lose your money- on the ground and in the water- Casino ships will be all illuminated and buzzing with activity once sun sets. Spotted many of them in Panjim harbor area.
casino-ship  casino-carnival
Churches and museums in Old Goa area: Magnificent structures. Do visit them.
church-in-old-goa old-goa-museum

Skywatch Friday-Preponed!
Publishing 2 pics of Goan sky! (Spotted near Benaulim beach)
 coconut-tree lamp-post

Accidents are very common on the narrow NH17. Narrow roads, overnight drinking, over speeding, all contribute to scenes like below. Drive safe
accidents-on-the-highway damaged-car

And last but not the least, my priced catch in Goa- Nana Patekar at Inox theatre….
Happy new year all, see you in 2011

Saturday, December 25, 2010

2010 Roundup & Happy New Year

2010 has been a good year overall. Here’s a quick recap of major happenings, blog posts and travel stories of 2010. 138 blog posts were published in this period, averaging close to 3 per week.

2010 in Travel: While Tata Nano Superdrive kept me on the road for all of June 2010, IAMAI events took me to Mumbai and Delhi several times, helping me familiarize with these cities more than ever.

Jan 2010: Year began with a photo ride in Chennai’s local train, known as MMTS (read part 1 and part 2). Short trip to Devarayana Durga and Madhugiri Fort. ex-Bangalore was next.
Being driven around a bit in a rented Mercedes Benz with family was a nice (& expensive) experiment. Also revisited Alamparai Fort some 3 times this year

Feb 2010: Attending Cerebrate 2010 at Marg Tapovan and Helping Sandhosh Kumar with his blogging and social media updates as he climbed Mount Everest were assignments. [View podcast * View pics ]

March 2010: Delhi photos , Toyota Quality Revolution: Prado, Landcruiser SUVs * Etios, Prius and Camry

April 2010: Upclose photos from Mount Everest * Unique 3 wheelers * Aga Khan palace, Pune * 2 hours at Police station * Mumbai Random pics * Shaniwar Wada, Pune *

June 2010: Was on the road for the entire month. Got to visit Gujarat Maharastra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and TN along with Tata Nano Convoy. Details at Official Blogger for Tata Nano Superdrive More posts at . Also checkout Tata JLR pics and Superdrive in Bengaluru and Painters Day out, Coimbatore *

July 2010 : Visited Horsley Hills and Talakona waterfalls twice this year. Lodhi Garden Delhi * Kaundinya Wildlife sanctuary, Palmaner * Horsley Hills AP * Bannerghatta National park * Talakona Waterfalls AP * Chandragiri Fort near Tirupati *

August 2010: Visited Mysore,K Gudi, Mumbai, Vizag… Birds in Bheemeshwari * Incredible India: Auto drive shaking hand with international tourist * Vizag Submarine Museum * Sunflower fields near Mysore * K Gudi elephant bathing * Overcrowded jeeps * Borra Caves, Vizag

September 2010: no travel month, except for a 1 day trip to Pondy and another month end visit to Mysore

October 2010: Made 4 trips on Chennai-Bangalore route. Once to Mysore for Kingfisher’s Mysore-Chennai service launch, once on Coorg trip, once for Ford Figo Discover Smart drive and once more for Social Summit 2010. Kodagu (Coorg) trip posts: Chiklihole Dam, Skywatch Coorg special, Chelavara Waterfalls, Sera jey University * Ford Figo Discover Smart DriveDiscover Smart Drive in Bangalore *

November 2010: Hogenakkal * What not to do with a life Jacket * Volkswagen polocup * Heritage Scooters * Toyota Fortuner stuck in mud *

December 2010: Very little travel- Kolli Hills  and a repeat visit to Horsley Hills and Talakona

Guest posts:
* Singapore Underwater world
* Scuba Diving in Netrani Island (BP Bhat)
* A day in Hollywood- Harini
* Life without Technology- Ruchika Vyas
* Hot Air Balloon ride- Harini

Product and Service Reviews:
Quick reference to various reviews I’ve published in 2010: Marg Tapovan Villas * Jungle Lodges and Resorts * Bala Takes the plunge Book review * ETWOW Show * Ford Figo Review * RangDe Micro Finance * SBI Credit card double standards * Nissan Micra review * Ford Endeavour XLT review * Book Review: Imprints-Colours of life * Acer Aspire D255 netbook with windows and Android Dual OS *
Tips and Advise:
Thoughts, Vews and Misc:
Thanks for your readership and have a prosperous 2011. Not expecting much travel in 2011.

eNidhi India Best of 2010

A quick compilation of popular posts of 2010, from this blog:

Popular by Comments
(Only posts published in 2010 are considered. Under 30 comments are nothing great by blogging standards, may be I can term them decent)

Popular by Pageviews

Of all the 136 posts published in 2010, below were the ones which were viewed most number of times

  • CWG Spoof (thankfully the event went on very well and won applause and didn’t end up like a disaster predicted in this post)
  • About Me (people are more interested in knowing about me, than my blog posts?)
  • Acer netbook with android OS

Bloggers’ Choice:
Some personal picks, not covered above

Standby for another post which will give a round up of all posts published in 2010. If you’ve been regular here, do leave a comment as to which one has been your favourite so far.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Kolli Hills Salem temple waterfall Quick Visit

Just like Vizag, Kolli hills was on my target list for long time. Finally made a lightening visit to Kolli Hills last Sunday.

My expectations from Kolli Hills were limited- I was told/had read it’s a fairly small hill with couple of waterfalls and temples. An ideal way to explore Kolli hills would be to trek/camp around spending couple of days. However I didn’t have the luxury of time and had to complete the exploration in under 24 hours, ex-Chennai.

We left from Chennai by Saturday midnight, reached Salem by 6 AM, went to a Praveen’s place by 6.30 (Praveen is an entrepreneur who runs and online marketing business named Auxil Solutions) left for Kolli Hills by 7.15 or so to reach on top of the hill just before 9 and explored it till 2-2.30PM before starting return journey.


I’d expected the top of Kolli hills to have a fairly smaller surface area (similar to Horsley Hills or Nandi hills), but it turned out to be large enough, similar to Yercaud. Various tourist destinations are spread in different directions. We went direct to a place which looked like town (with a bus stop and few small hotels, where we had breakfast, at an economic cost of Rs 138 for 6 people).

Then went back to the main temple called Arapaleeshwar Temple, several kms away. The Arapaleeshwar Temple is fairly small and typical of any other temples. Photography is banned here and it is believed that this god has some wired powers-of destroying photographs taken by devotees. Ram had written in his post as to how he had clicked a photo secretly and when the role was developed, the photo was just not there… The inside of the temple is fairly dark, as in any temples and no quality photo can be taken without using flash. Anyways, if the god can ensure that no one can take photos, then why ban it? People can be allowed to try their luck, since god would anyway delete those pics. Anyways didn’t find this temple and its photo ban powers worth worrying about.

Two waterfalls exist near the temple. The main one is far and one needs to climb down several hundred steps to reach there. We didn’t have time for this one and had to skip. The other one was a smaller water fall, shown here.
Other tourist attractions on Kolli Hills are a viewpoint, another waterfalls (which looks great from a distance, full view won’t be visible once you go near), a small natural lake with boating and a Shiva temple (though boat ride was priced at 15 Rs for 20 mins, we found all boats unoccupied- either the service was not there or no one preferred the boat ride.Kolli-Hills-Viewpoint
Another destination was Pot Burial-a different kind of cremation ground. An entrance which called itself Botanical Garden was closed and when Dhruv peeked inside, he found nothing exciting. We stopped to buy jackfruits, honey and other fruits at the bus stand and commenced our return journey.

A resort called Nallathambi Resort exists on top of Kolli hills, but this is a small building with few rooms and not really a resort. They didn’t even have a restaurant to serve food. Wildorchidcamp, which provides Swiss tents, seems to be another option to stay there, but I didn’t notice any signboards pointing us to this place. Not sure where it is located. Salem will be the nearest town for luxury hotel rooms.
small-garden-near-temple kollimala-temple-outside-view
Kolli Hills also has few residential schools.

Best way to Visit Kolli Hills:
If you’re a leisure tourist, you can make a weekend trip to Kolli Hills-start Saturday early morning from Chennai/Bangalore, reach by afternoon, stay at Wildorchidcamp/Nallathambi or few other accommodation option available on top of Kolli hills and commence return journey by Sunday  afternoon. Yercaud will be more interesting place for casual tourists, but Kolli can be taken up as a onetime visit.  Maruti Omnis are available on rent at the bus stand to take tourists around.

If you’re trekking enthusiast, better option would be to take overnight train to Salem and take public transport to Kolli Hills/(or drive all night) spend 2 days trekking along the hills and camping and return. Haven’t done trekking here, but hills are visually more appealing for trekking and camping.

If you’re crazy you can also plan a 24 hour action packed trip-like what we did-enjoy driving through 70 hairpin bends and most of the tourist places and go back. Had to force people to hurry up so as to keep up the timings. Per head cost came to about 1700 Rs, ex-Chennai. Was driving most of the time and ran out of battery on camera, hence don’t have much photos.

Similar: Yercaud trip * Hogenakkal * Yelagiri * Vellore * Nandi Hills * Munar *

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ford Endeavour 2days, 1500kms Road trip Itinerary

Had an intensive road trip last weekend involving 48 hour of near nonstop driving covering 1500kms.
Almost everyone who learnt about this plan termed it crazy, few quoted their long driving experience to suggest how bad idea this is, others suggested that I change the plans. However I held on to the plan and it was successfully accomplished, in time, within budget.
Here’s the itinerary I adopted:
  • Friday 2300 Hours: Take Delivery of Ford Endeavour from Avis counter. I was expecting my regular second gen Endeavour which I’d rented twice earlier [pic and review here] but got a different one this time- a 1st gen one with 4 wheel drive. Was decent overall but had very poor pickup and lower top speed of 120-130kmph
  • 2330 Hours: Pickup Day 1 participants (8 of them) and leave for Horsley hills- 280kms, via Ranipet, Chittoor and Madanapalli, approx 5 hours
  • Saturday, 0515 hours: Arrive at Horsley Hills, rest, wait for daylight to break
  • Had quick bath at APTDC Harita Resort, explore few view points, breakfast and some adventure activities
Note: Endeavour got about 5 hours rest here
  • 1115 hours: start from Horsley hills towards Talakona waterfalls- about 120kms (Original plan was to leave by 9.30-10AM, but got delayed due to outdoor activities we got into, as a result, one of the destination-Chandragiri Fort had to be skipped)
  • 1400 hours: Reached Talakona Community Guest house, plan was to have food there, but the staff there refused to serve as we hadn’t ordered in advance. Spent some time in the campus and drove to Talakona water falls
  • 1445: Reach Talakona waterfalls. We went till the waterfalls- I didn’t see any noticeable increase in water level compared to my Dec 2008 visit or recent 2010 visit, hence I came back to the vehicle and slept, while others took a bath under falls.
SUV got about 2 hours of rest and I too caught up with some sleep
  • 1645 hours: start from Talakona, head towards Chennai via Tirupati. 45 mins stop at a Dhabha on the way, reach Chennai by 2230 hours. Drop off participants, end of Day1
  • 2245 Hours: Begin Day 2 trip to Salem & Kolli hills, start picking up participants from various places
  • 2345 Hours: Leave Chennai and start towards Salem, via Vellore-Krishnagiri-Dharmapuri route, 370kms 
All night driving, swapped between me and another driver, the SUV wasn’t cruising beyond 120-130kmph (not sure of the reasons- might be some speed governors installed?) extending our travel time
  • 0600 Hours: Reach Salem, 0630hours reach Friend’s house for refreshments
< 45 minutes rest for the Endeavour >
  • 0715 hours: Start for Kolli hills 100kms, 70 hairpin bends
  • 0900 hours: Reached top of Kolli Hills after thrilling 70 sharp hairpin bends
  • Breakfast, explore various places on top of Kolli hills-couple of waterfalls, temple, viewpoint, a small lake etc. We covered almost all of Kolli hills, except for the big waterfall, which involved climbing down and up 100s of steps and was half a day program by itself. Sadly ran out of Camera battery power at this point.
  • 1415 hours: Start return journey, quick stop to buy jackfruits and other products
  • 1600 hours approx: Back at Salem town, refresh
  • 1620: Start journey towards Chennai
  • 1830 hours (approx) Food at Krishnagiri, head to Chennai
  • 2300 hours: Reach Chennai, drop off people at different parts of town
  • 2400 hours: Return the vehicle to agency
  • 0100 hours: Another short visit to sort out a missing bag issue and return home.
Strong and sound sleep and back in office by 9AM on next day!

That’s how the 50 hour road trip went, logging about 1500kms. Vehicle was switched off for a total of 8-9 hours during these 48 hours and rest of the time it was on the move. Drove for most of the distance while allowing other eligible participants to drive for a while. A very hectic schedule it may seem, but executed with precision, not to overrun cost/time/places to visit. Had to force people to hurry up, so as to avoid spending more than necessary time at a given location.

Was it a bad idea to plan such intensive trips? May be or May be not… I rent cars like this only once in 2-3 months and on those few days I strive to make the most of it and enjoy driving every mile.

Also read: Ford Endeavour 2.5XLT review * Other SUV Stories: Toyota Landcruiser Prado and 200* 2010 Ford Figo review * Mahindra Scorpio mHawk 2.2 Vls review * Wayanad in a Scorpio * Mahindra Xylo vs Innova * Self Drive cars in India * Tata jaguar and Landrover * Brief date with Mercedes benz * 4x4 Himalayan Jeep Safari-mission aborted * Mitsubishi great driving challengeFord Endeavour XLT review *

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thick suites for bikes

Where do we find this in South India?

I’ve seen many bikes in Delhi and other north Indian cities, wearing full body super thick dresses as shown below. I assume this prevents loss of petrol through evaporation and hence saves money, besides may be giving a bit more comfortable ride and easy to wash body cover.


Above pic was clicked in Ahmedabad during June 2010 (suddenly stopped by this pic while browsing through Nano Superdrive archives)

Don’t remember seeing them in South Indian cities. Are they available in Chennai and Bengaluru (or other cities)? Have any of you tried them and found a difference?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Roadtrips by auto companies- Pros and Cons

Auto companies are planning month long road trips one after another. A few recent ones are Mitsubishi Lancer great India challenge, Nano Superdrive, Ford Figo Smart drive and few that are planned are Skoda Right of Way. I was part of Nano Superdrive, Hrish Thota was involved in Great India Challenge and Figo Smartdrive while Mridula Dwivedi will be part of Skoda Yeti Right of Way.

I am only referring to long term road trips done with lots of media publicity and public involvement. Auto companies regularly do road trips internally for testing, auto magazines regularly do short trips with new cars to study them and write about them-these are not public events and hence not considered here.

Though the event might be promoted in a different way, the ultimate objective will be to promote the brand and ensure higher sales. This post is a personal assessment of pros and cons of such road trips, for the automotive companies
Above: Ratan Tata flagging in Nano Superdrive convoy. Hotel Taj President, Mumbai, June 2010

Advantages of Road Trips
  • Experiential marketing like road trips give auto companies a different way of promoting the cars, something different from traditional ways of advertisements
  • Helps create brand awareness and hype around it, attracting public attention, at least for the moment.
  • Morale Booster for staff and dealers: Company employees and dealers will have something to speak about in their peer group and gives a good reason to celebrate. Most of the dealers we’d stopped by during Superdrive had mini celebrations when the cars were entering/leaving their dealership
  • Get public involved and get extra publicity: Online contests where wannable winners have to secure lots of votes or contests with good gifts command large number of public involvement on websites/social networking sites. People often tend to promote the brand in temptation of some prize (or even otherwise). Figo almost doubled its fan base in facebook during Smartdrive. Couple this with offline events involving customers, public etc, there’ll be good word of mouth publicity, at least for a short term
  • Gives good business to event management companies, PR agencies, social media consultants-creating employment for hundreds of people
  • A small part of general public may get to part of it in some way and it could be life time experience for such people
Below: Ford Figo Discover Smart Drive finale in Chennai, October 2010

Disadvantages/Limitations of road trips
  • Roadtrips cost in crores. While a simple drive from city A to city B would cost only few thousands in fuel bill, month long road trips cost auto companies several crores. Majority of expense will be on travel- (company officials, event management personnel, guests etc) and offline events (hotel rent, food, publicity etc) Lots of money is also spent on PR, Media, photo & videography, contests & gifts etc. During Nano superdrive, a mini bus that carried event materials paid about 1.6 lakh rupees just for interstate permits (money had to be paid while crossing each state, about 7 of them). Top company officials flying in for press meets will alone cost a few lakhs.
  • Measuring ROI can be tricky. Ultimately the buyer of the car will have to cough up extra money to reimburse the amount spent on such road trips. If 10 crores is spent and if company plans to sell 50k cars, each buyer will have to shell out about 2000 rs more towards the event cost.
  • Its difficult to sustain the buzz for long time. Despite spending crores, general public can easily forget about the event and brand in few weeks and move on.
  • People won’t buy a car because of road trips. Nano sales dipped to all time low of 506 units in November 2010. Figo is a good value for money car on its own and will continue to clock good numbers, with or without road trips. Segment leader Maruti sells close to 1 lakh cars a month without much marketing stunts. Buyers are smart enough to judge a car for what it is.
  • Lots of caution is required during such road trips. Any negative incident can cause PR disaster
Comment if you can think of any more pros and cons
Ford-Figo-Discover-Smart-Drive Nano-Vidhana-Soudha

Also read: Figo Smart drive vs Nano Superdrive * Mitsubishi Great Indian Driving Challenge * Fiat Linea Review * Ford Endeavour TDCi 2.5 MT review * Maruti A-Star review * Scorpio 2.2 Vls mHawk Review * Ford Figo Review * Chennai Roadies * Nano Superdrive *

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Turning into a weekend blogger!

After the recent job change, I fear I am turning into a weekend blogger… After four and a half years in IT Companies, was doing a short stint at a social media consulting firm. Social Media job in an emerging start-up was a great experience. I’m now back to mainstream IT company. More details in LinkedIn for those interested.

Weekdays keep me fully occupied and little time I can spare before hitting the bed is usually spent in approving & responding to comments, checking facebook updates, reading other blogs and other online activities. Haven’t managed to publish a proper post during week days of late. That might continue for a while.

Hence expect new posts only during weekends for some time. Posts published during weekdays, if any, will be either prepared on a weekend and scheduled to go live on a weekday, or short posts prepared in very little time.

I can already sense a small dip in traffic. Hope to recover that by being regular on weekends.
In other updates,
  • Learnt that fellow blogger Sankara has also joined mainstream IT after a break- congrats to him and Mridula Dwivedi will be joining Skoda Yeti-National Geographic Right of the Way road trip. Congrats to her and looking forward to read her posts and seeing her on NatGeo as well.
  • So many scams all around- 35k crore foodgrains scam, 70k crores CWG scam, 1.7 lakh crores 2G scam- I feel the need for a bigger unit- something like calling 1lakh crore as 1SCU (Standard Corruption Unit), so that we can keep track of them more easily. In comparison, Satyam Computers 7000 crores looks too small and insignificant. In all these scams getting resignation of concerned people is treated as victory- recovering lost money is something that may never happen
  • Back home, BSY Govt has put people to shame and nothing much left to write about it. Sudden exodus of popular editor Vishveshwara Bhat and few other key columnists from popular Kannada daily is also sounding suspicious. Was it a govt hand at work? TOI’s changed priorities? Something else? hope a wikileaks equivalent will throw some light
  • Wikileaks, Barkhagate and lots of other developments have made it difficult to keep track of current affairs. Lets see what’s in store for 2011

Monday, December 06, 2010

Borra caves- Araku Valley, Vizag

Borra caves in Araku Valley, Vizag was bigger than I’d expected.  It is believed to be the deepest in India (about 80 meters)

Textual information is all available at wikipedia and other places- I don’t have much to add, hence sharing some of the photos I’d clicked, and a brief description where possible/felt necessary

Below: Burra caves, Araku valley, AP- Main entrance and a board displaying history. Click on images for larger view
burra-caves-entrance burra-cave-history
Above: Rocks subjected to water fall over decades, taking unique shape and Poojari posing with Lord Siva’s temple inside Burra caves.

Below: What looks like frozen ice is a piece of rock, directly below a gap in ceiling, from where water dips… Below right: You can assess the size of the cave by comparing size of human beings in the photo with the visible height of the cave.

water-affected-stone inside-burra-caves

Above:  people climbing stairs to reach Lord Siva temple inside the cave.Above right: A hole in the ceiling of the cave. It is said that the Burra cave was discovered by a British officer, when a goat or cow fell into the cave through this hole…

Below: A stone laid by Indian Railways to mark that a railway track is passing right over this Borra cave, vertical to this point… Right: A closer look at the walls of Bora caves
railway-stone-inside-burra-caves   interior-walls
Also see: Submarine Museum, Vizag * Over crowded jeep ride * Ooty Heritage train * Incredible India *

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Club Mahindra Social media PR case study

Long term visitors of this blog would know about a blog post of mine, about Club Mahindra Holidays and Resorts, which became immensely popular on the net for sometime, commanding close to 500 comments till date.

About an year later, I was invited, along with few other well known bloggers, for an all expense paid trip to their Coorg resort. For few years, I didn’t have much clue what all had happened behind the scenes.
Below is an interesting video, wherein popular blogger and social media consultant Kiruba Shankar talks to a group of students in IIMB, explaining how he advised Club Mahindra to counter the PR disaster caused by my blog post. Watch the video below:

Just trying to imagine how things would have turned out if I had to face a legal battle with Club Mahindra…

My post was never a criticism of Club Mahindra resorts as a venue. Wondering if both Kiruba and Club Mahindra missed the point. It was more about various customer unfriendly stuffs in their membership policy- which are either not revealed to members at the time of bookings or covered superficially with oral promises. If you analyse 480+ comments, most of the complaints are related to what they were promised by the sales staff and the difficulties they’re facing, while trying to make use of their membership. So the focus is needed in preventing sales teams from over promising and ensuring that all customers get to enjoy their annual holidays (and if they’re not able to, due to no fault of theirs, then provide them a compensation/exit option)

Anyhow, a lot has been written about Club Mahindra in this blog, so not planning to write any more. Here’re the links to previous posts

*Club Mahindra Timeshare Membership- Review

*Club Mahindra Binsar trip for travel bloggers Part 1 & Part 2

*Club Mahindra Binsar Valley- Resort Review

*A set of Q&A with Club Mahindra official response, published during their IPO

*Interview with Arun Nair, Sr Manager, Web Initiatives, Club Mahindra

*Club Mahindra's Coorg trip for travel bloggers

*Club Mahindra Kodagu Valley- Review and some FAQs

*Club Mahindra post topping search engine

*Analysis of initial 100 comments to Club Mahindra post

*Buy/Sell used Club Mahindra and other timeshare memberships - Has been widely popular with hundreds of entries

*Buy/Sell days of timeshare membership

*Is fixed week timeshare membership better than floating type?