Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Srilanka: General lifestyle Observations

This post shares a set of random observations made while touring Srilanka-of things that are different from what we would find in India
pipe-ejecting-water1. While returning from Nuwara Eliya we saw lot of pipes ejecting water out for nothing. Couldn’t understand the logic/reason for this. May be they are releasing excessive water collected somewhere.

2. LKR 500 fine for those found throwing waste around. Strictly enforced and complied with. Shopkeepers are responsible for keeping surrounding areas clean. Strictly enforced and probably primary reason why the country is visibly clean.

3. Most of the signboards are written in Sinhalese, Tamil and English. Sinhalese scrip appears to be a mix of Telugu, Kannada and may be Malayalam- are you able to read them?

3. Public telephones: If such phones are installed in India, how many days they’d last before being stolen/vandalized?

4. Local people do not seem to have any idea of chat items as evening snacks. When asked if they  have any chat shops, we drew a blank. Didn’t spot any chat items in hotel menu, roadside shops or otherwise. Some hotels sell Samosa like stuff, but always stuffed with fish inside. Good business opportunity for hotel owners to set up a chain of chat shops and give them the taste of Samosa, Panipuri and the likes!

5. Driving in SL will be similar to driving in India. I’m told one can get temporary license at airport itself. All kinds of cars are available for rent if you have the money. 

6. The Zigzag yellow lines you see on the road-indicate pedestrian crossing. Unlike in India where vehicle owners threaten pedestrians to backoff, vehicles willingly slow down at these junctions if they spot pedestrians.

7. Fuel cost in SL is equivalent to Indian prices

8. Bollywood movies are played in Srilanka with local language transcripts. But any scene involving smoking is promptly cut off as per govt regulation

9. In general the security is tight- both in cities as well as country side... Srilanka's major threat. LTTE now wiped out, but vigil is still maintained.

Already published posts related to SL trip: Srilanka Travelogue: Part 1 * Part 2 * Frequently asked questions *Ramboda Waterfalls Hotel * Srilankan newspapers on Sunday * Brett Lee in Colombo * Colombo Port area picsNegombo town- places and pictures * Hotel Silversands Negombo- Review

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lankan tour Writeup: Day 2 of 2

Before reading this bit,do read Day 1 Part1 and Part 2

bank-of-ceylonDay 2 started with some of us getting up early and going for a walk around the hotel. Beach was just 100 meters from the hotel and was very typical and normal beach. Nothing special in it. There was a church nearby and Sunday morning mass (religious ceremony) was in progress. Back in hotel, I learnt that hotel rents out cycles at LKR 150 per day. We decided to rent two, but realized that cycles were in very bad shape, without locks and eventually had to drop the idea.

Morning hours were spent in exploring Negombo town- read this post to know m ore and see pics.
By about 11 am we were in train heading to Colombo

Negombo to Colombo was a single track system and trains had to wait at station to let trains coming in opposite direction pass. At a station near airport, the train even drove back few kms to change track (since railway platform was only on one side, train moved back and changed track to let other train pass). rly station outside airport was heavily guarded- a more safer option would be to shift the station away from airport, for better peace of mind, than parking the train loaded with passengers in front of the station for 20 minutes. The 40 kms journey appeared to be never ending and took close to 2 hours. Ticket cost was LKR 40 and compartments were similar to Indian ones from outside, and seating arrangement was similar to metro compartments. Scenery outside was similar to what one would find in India.

Some Srilankan train pictures below

Do not form negative impression of SLR (Srilankan Railway by the above pics). Faster trains are glimpse-of-a-faster-trainavailable between Colombo-Kandy and other such major towns. We didn’t travel in them, but got a glance:

We got down at Colombo port station and bought 2 newspapers (read more about Srilankan newspapers on Sunday)

Once outside, we took a bus to Colombo Museum, where next few hours were spent. Museum related details will be covered in a separate post. Most of the buses were from Tata or Ashok Leyland. (Local subsidiary called Lanka Ashok Leyland) From the bus we saw the town hall building, popularly known as Colombo White House!
Another view of the White House buildingColombo-Whitehouse-view2
Had lunch at Museum canteen and we were good to go. Praveen’s friend joined us here and we headed to Colombo port area [View Colombo Port area pics] After roaming around the deserted streets, some refreshments and visit to a shop, next stop was at Twin towers. A small photo shoot in front of the giant towers and then we walked all the way to Colombo beach, passing through Hilton Colombo and few other major establishments.
To keep this post short, beach area details will be covered in a separate post.You’ll probably curse me for making separate post for almost everything, but I felt that is necessary to cover certain topics in greater details, while this post gives top level idea of what happened.

Back from beach, was walked past Colombo port railway station again, spent some time in a cloth store, had food and headed towards Colombo bus stand. I picked up a street cat for a minute and almost got separated from the team. Eventually we got into a nice minibus which took us back to Negombo. Compared to 2 hour train journey in the morning, return journey by bus took about 45 minutes. Ticket fare was LKR 75 (for normal buses its LKR 40, I’m told)

A short auto ride and we were back in Hotel. Informed the hotel owner about our midnight checkout, settled expenses, booked cab to drop us airport, went into our rooms, took bath. We thought we’ll take a small nap, then getup and go for one final walk in the beach before bidding adieu to Srilanka. We went for deep sleep and got up only at 0030 hours when Sandeep came n woke us up!
Ride back to airport did cost us LKR 1500 and return flight was online (ahead of time actually) and back in Chennai by the time daylight broke. Back home, ahead of scheduled time. Hot dosas and vada onboard and I instantly forgave spicejet for bad food during onward flight. Fully utilized 48 hours. Office and the life cycle continues, leaving behind memories of first international trip.

Chennai Colombo return fares have dropped to under INR 3000 now, if you book 6 months in advance…

Already published posts related to SL trip: Srilanka Travelogue: Part 1 * Part 2 * Frequently asked questions * Ramboda Waterfalls Hotel * Srilankan newspapers on Sunday * Brett Lee in Colombo * Colombo Port area pics * Negombo town- places and pictures * Hotel Silversands Negombo- Review

I’m still not done, standby for another 4-5 posts on Srilanka trip… :) Thanks for your support as always.

SilverSand Budget Hotel, Negombo, SL Review

Hotel Silver Sand is where we stayed for close to 2 days during our SL visit. Located in Negombo town near sea shore, Silversand is a budget hotel with basic facilities and friendly owner. The hotel gets enough patronage from international tourists. The reason we chose Silversands were simple: rates were affordable, location appeared nice, we got quick reply from the owner when we enquired and booking could be confirmed without any prepayment.

This post will be useful if you’re evaluating this hotel for stay purposes. Else ignore.
What’s good at Silver Sand Hotel?
  • Highly affordable: Room with 3 beds priced at LKR 2200 per day, Room with 2 beds priced at 1600 LKR per day.
  • Has a small library full of books- Not many hotels will have this. If you enjoy reading, you can grab some book and enjoy them lying by the seashore
  • Located on the sea shore-can walk into beach any time
  • Friendly owner (Mr. Francis)
  • Cycles available for rent at LKR 150 per day (The cycles were not in great condition though)
  • 3-4 kms from railway station/bus stand. Not too far.
  • We could book over email and no advance payment was necessary.
What is not so good:
  • The locality seems to be mosquito prone. We didn’t encounter them in large numbers, but all rooms had mosquito net setup
  • Bathroom fittings were very loose and shaking
  • NO TV and weak fan
  • Power sockets weren’t working properly. Had to use workarounds.
  • Just enough space in room to move around.
Note: Some of the above could be specific to the rooms where we stayed. At a low rate of US$ 15-23 per room per day, I shouldn’t be expecting Hilton like facility and services…

Hotel has 2 floors and lot of rooms. Silversands has a restaurant unit that closes by 9PM. Food cost at par with what neighbouring hotels cost. Like veg fried rice at LKR 350 or so.
There were many hotels and guesthouses along the sea around Silversands.

Hotel website:
Contact Info:

Mr Francis
Hotel Silver Sands
229 Lewis Place,
Sri Lanka.
Telephone:  031-2222880
Tel/Fax:  031-2237364

Srilanka Travelogue: Part 1 * Part 2 * Frequently asked questions
Ramboda Waterfalls Hotel * Srilankan newspapers on Sunday * Brett Lee in Colombo *
Colombo Port area pics * Negombo town- places and pictures *

Negombo, Srilanka- Dutch Fort, fishmarket, Church

Saturday morning… Let me prepare couple of blog posts first and everything else later.

This post shares few photos clicked in and around Negombo town. Negombo town is located 40kms north of Colombo. Negombo is much closer to Colombo international airport than Colombo town and hotels here are bit cheaper than the capital city.
A curch-Negombo SLearly-morning-streets-Negombo
This post shares photos of some popular landmarks in Negombo town, that we could explore. Negombo is said to have some beautiful lagoons- due to lack of time and guidance we couldn’t find any during our short exploration.
Our day 2 morning agenda was to explore Negombo a bit and catch 10.30AM train to Colombo. We took an auto and asked him to take us to the lagoon area. His asking fare of LKR 1000 came down to sensible LKR 200 after talking to him in tamil. He dropped us near a bridge. It was kind of backwaters, but nothing much scenic. Looked like a boat repair and parking yard for local fishermen. We’d missed breakfast and enjoyed nice tender coconuts at LKR 30 apiece. A short walk took us to a Dutch Fort. This fort is now converted into a prison and hence not open for tourists. Nothing big/great about the place either-appeared too small and simple one. Click on the images to enlarge and read history.
 Negombo-Dutch-fortprison-inside-dutch-fort-negomboA stadium near fishmarket-Negombonegombo-fort-history
Next to Dutch fort is a small church- St Stephens Church and Sunday mass was in progress. Few fishermen were fixing their nets there and upon seeing us they offered to take us for a ride on their boats into the backwaters. Their demanded fare was LKR 2000 for half an hour ride and LKR 5000 for 2 hour ride. We didn’t have time for boat ride and hence told them we’d come back in evening if possible.
st stephens church negombo
The famous Negombo fish market was nearby, but was closed on Sunday. A stadium nearby was also deserted.
We took 2 tuk tuks (LKR 100 each) and arrived at railway station by about 9.45AM. The ticket counter was closed, but people were waiting outside. We tried to figure out if train is on time and when the counter would open, but no one could give convincing answers (language problem). We went to nearby bakery, had some food, came back by 10.15, still no sign of counter opening. Eventually we learnt that train will be late by 15-20 minutes, tentative. We weren’t sure if it will come in 20 minutes or might get delayed further. We decided to abandon waiting for train n catch a bus, but as we walked , Praveen’s friend called and confirmed  arrival of train, we walked back to station and waited. 
Standby for more posts. Read previous ones if you’ve missed…

Srilanka Travelogue: Part 1 * Part 2 * Frequently asked questions
Ramboda Waterfalls Hotel * Srilankan newspapers on Sunday * Brett Lee in Colombo *
Colombo Port area pics *

Monday, March 21, 2011

Social Media for Students: My Talk at CII Event

10 days ago I got a chance to speak at a CII event held in Chennai. The event was aimed at encouraging students to innovate and consider entrepreneurship path in their life.

Because one of the original speakers, Mr Kiruba Shankar couldn’t make it to the event due to his US trip, I got a chance to replace him with less than 24 hours notice. Thankfully folks at office granted necessary permission and I prepared myself to talk for 15-20 minutes to the audience which primarily consisted of college students.

I was supposed to talk about “How students can Leverage Social Networks”. This post shares a brief summary of my talk, edited and improvised a bit now, for the benefit of those who might find it useful/interesting.
How can students benefit from Social media? When session moderator Kumar did a quick pole before start of session as to how many among the audience wanted be be entrepreneurs, about 5 out of 50 had raised their hands. Rest would be primarily looking for a good job in reputed company and few would go for higher studies (after which they’ll again look for a job or take self employment path)

If a student gets placed at campus interview his/her life will be at relative ease compared to other freshers who hunt for their first job in a fiercely competitive world. (Same applies to entrepreneurs who seek VC funding). For any entry level job opening in a reputed company, about 500 resumes would pour in from all over. Close to 400 of these will get filtered out during initial screening, either due to poor academic records or non-matching skills and other fundamental shortfalls. Assuming a student clears initial screening and is now in shortlisted 100. How can he ensure that he’ll get shortlisted further to next 15-20 candidates who’ll be called for an interview?

I suggested that Social media can help students get an edge over their peers (with other fundamentals like marks etc being equal). How does that work? Let us see some possibilities:

If a student has an active blog where he is writing in detail about his passion (let us consider example of an automobile enthusiast, who blogs about new launches, comparisons, features, upcoming launches, races, tips and so on) If the job opening is for a post related to automobiles, a quick look at one’s blog will give confidence to selector that this guy knows about the industry and increases his/her chances of getting shortlisted vis-a-vis another candidate whose resume may not state his/her passion towards automobiles.
But then creating a blog won’t get you a job. Building a decent blog takes several months and dedicated efforts. Without actual interest and passion, it is difficult to fake it. But once the blog gets some visibility, returns will be worth the efforts.

For entry level jobs, what recruiters look for in a fresh out of college candidate is passion, interest, commitment and ability to learn a new thing and attitude. These things can’t be stated effectively in a resume, but an active social media profile can surely get lot of brownie points.

Many students thought linkedIn is only for professionals. It is equally useful for students. Typically, by the time you prepare a resume,upload it to job site, some agency picks it up, sends to a company, someone in the company reviews it- there could be a time gap of 3-6 months and your resume won’t be reflecting your progress in past 6 months. Having an updated linkedIn profile will make it easy for recruiters to know more about you (if you’re still looking for a job, any recent certifications and skills, updated contact info, etc)
Similarly each social tool has its potential uses and advantages, which students can easily master and use for their advantage.

10 years ago it was difficult to know what other entrepreneurs are doing. Today, thanks to social media, a wannable entrepreneur can learn from others’ mistakes and get lot of ideas, tips and support through social media channels

Having an email id like will instantly get you a recognition compared to others who use web emails. This and other online personal branding techniques can help a candidate gain some leverage over his competition and get noticed by prospective recruiters/investors. But again, this can only complement core skills and not to be treated as a replacement.

A student asked how they can get in touch with industry people who are generally not accessible or too busy. This can be achieved in multiple ways:
1. Meeting them in person, during events , 2. following their social media activities closely and building a relationship over a time or 3. get introduced through a mutual contact. (I gave only 2nd answer during the talk, 2 others struck me later)

When checked how many students were active on social media, we found out that less than 5% had blogs, very few were active on linkedin, few more were active on orkut, facebook and twitter. Students didn’t have much questions to ask, probably because they’re not yet familiar with the social platforms.

What not to do in Social Media?
Many think Social networking is waste of time. If used in wrong way, it is indeed waste of time and productivity. Also how you project yourself to others is critical. Using fowl language might get you some likes, RTs and fanfare, but will instantly turn off a prospective employer (I don’t want the guy I’m hiring to use all bad words in his regular communications with colleagues, clients etc)

I hope my talk made some sense and would be put to use by at least few students.

It was nice to be meeting my fellow speakers. I was a minnow in front of them, but made an attempt to put up a brave face. The panel included Vijay Anand, better known as the Startup guy, Kumar S, who heads Innovations at Cognizant, Sharath Babu- IIT-IIM graduate who now runs a multi crore Food Kings business, A Balachandran,who heads incubation facility at VIT
Photo Courtesy: CII
My other talks:
1. Talk at Loyoa College about relevance of blogging
2. Talk at MSRIT Bangalore during Blogging workshop
3. Talk at MMSC, Manipal Institute of Communication

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Colombo Port Area pics

Port area in Colombo was fully deserted on a Sunday afternoon. It was nice to see the clean roads and majestic buildings. They are somewhat similar to Mumbai Port area (around church gate, Gateway of India etc)

Just sharing few pics of the building in and around Port area, Colombo, capital of Srilanka
Above: Clock tower and Srilankan Pharmaceutical corporation building in Port area, Colombo. Below: A view of the port, from a distance. (We couldn’t go inside or nearer due to security reasons)colombo-port
Naturally port areas are commercial hubs. The location houses several banking  institutes, including Standard Chartered, HSBC, SBI, Indian Bank and few Srilankan Banks.Llyods-Building-colombo
A view of the deserted streets during a Sunday afternoon
Other posts in SL Series: Srilanka Travelogue: Part 1 * Part 2 * Frequently asked questions
Ramboda Waterfalls Hotel * Srilankan newspapers on Sunday * Brett Lee in Colombo *

Sunday, March 13, 2011

2 Days Lankan Tour: Travelogue: Day1-part2

This post is part 2 of our Srilankan Travelogue. Please read Part 1 here first to get full context.

After finishing whatever we could see in Kandy, we had to decide on our next destination. Our original idea was to spend time in Kandy till 3PM and catch ICE (Intercity Express) back to Colombo. Kandy had tooth temple, a botanical garden, a budha statue and few other temples which we could have visited. But we also had another destination in mind- Nuwara Eliya. This place is another 80kms from Kandy and is kind of a hill station. When I stated our idea of driving to Nuwara Eliya and then driving back to Negombo, our driver Kapu almost revolted. “That will be too much of driving sir,I’m driving since 11pm yesterday- I can’t drive that much-Let us stay at Nuwara Eliya and get a room for me also” was his proposal.
Kapu said he was accustomed to leisure tourists who go to hotel first, refresh, then cover only few places per day and as a driver he gets enough rest. We weren’t that type and were determined to exploit our 48 hours to the max. Resting was last thing on our list of preferences. We were taken aback by driver’s dictating terms. Nuwara Eliya was about 80kms from Kandy and returning back to Negombo was another 170kms. It was just about 10.30AM and we had whole day at our command. We felt our plan is quite practical and staying at Nuwara Eliya or Kandy would mean we’ll have very little time left for Day 2 at Negombo & Colombo. But then, we weren’t familiar with the terrain and if the driver feels it is not practical and is not willing to drive, forcing him could have had unsafe consequences. (Some of us could have shared the wheels, but he wasn’t authorized to let us drive)

We debated internally if we should proceed to Nuwara or return to Colombo- 2 people preferred Nuwara, 3 preferred returning, 1 person neutral, another deep asleep. As we almost decided on returning, our driver suddenly changed his mind and agreed to go to Nuwara Eliya. About 30 minutes were lost in this discussion and we started moving. We missed few places like Kandy botanical gardens, elephant camp and few temples, but Nuwara Eliya was good replacement.
a-waterfall-at-a-distance  tea-gardens  
Hilly journey started. Similar to some of the hilly terrains in India- say Wayanad or Ooty. We stopped at a waterfall, a tea garden and eventually at a tea factory. We were shown how tea leaves are made into tea and then were served tasty tea. More about tea factory will be covered in a separate post

We didn’t enter Nuwara Eliya town and started our return journey. A stop at Ramboda waterfalls for lunch was nice option. Review of Ramboda waterfalls hotel, along with photo of the waterfalls available in this separate post.
Rest of the day was just spend in van ride, from Nuwara Eliya to Negombo, via highways A5 and A1, passing through Keggala, Ambepussa, Nittambua and other towns). The van was being driven at a modest 60 kmph, prolonging our less than 200 kms/3hours journey to eternity. Santhosh got down near Kandy as he had his own 7 day plans and we proceeded towards Negombo. Highways in SL were similar to those in India, so nothing special about them. Our driver Kapu told us that there’s a speed restriction of 76kmph and only VIPs with police escort can cruise at 120kmph. I was wondering what’s the use of having luxury cars if one can’t touch 100 kmph…

In the meanwhile, my Matrix issued Dialog SIM Card kept looting me of my money all through the dialog-mobile-robberyjourney, through their unsolicited schemes, forcing me to literally switch off the phone. Need to see the matrix bill to get final damage. There was No option to SAY NO to these schemes and I would get an alert stating the amount charged. No proof (like SMS) was available, hence I clicked screenshot using camera. Will review matrix international sim card service in a separate post.

What could have taken about 3-4 hours under normal driving, took about 6 hours. A break for tea in some little known town (I think Nabuluwa) and by 9PM (that’s about 5.5 hours since we started from Ramboda waterfalls) we made it to our hotel in Negombo. We drove a total of 400kms that day and including garage to garage movement, total was 480kms. Total bill came to some 27400LKR (@ LKR 45 per km+ extra hours beyond first 8 hours at LKR 80/hour + out of Colombo charges LKR 300, Airport parking charges LKR 300, Airport visitor area entry fee LKR 280 (I think), + cost of placard in which my name was written- LKR 300 + 15% tax on everything)

We paid and released him. We included a small tip but Kapu wasn’t visibly pleased. Our host, Mr Fancis of Hotel Silversands was almost about to give the rooms for someone else as we didn’t turn up in time. We checked in, refreshed, had food, did our day 1 calculations and slept.

Standby for Day 2 writeup