Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hotel Grand Seasons, Kuala Lumpur : Review

While planning KL trip, I booked rooms at Hotel Grand seasons. Though I had my eyes on much cheaper hotels, Grand Seasons came highly recommended from a colleague and since I was going with family, opted to spend extra and book a good hotel.

Hotel looks majestic and is visible from a distance. Lobby and interiors were spacious and good.

Breakfast costs about 25RM and dinner costs about 30RM, after discounts and taxes. Breakfast is not complementary with some of the promo room rentals. Food was just fine by Indian standards, but considering that we were outside India, I should say it was good. For dinner hotel has a dedicated section in basement for Indian Style Buffet.

A 48 hours stay for 3 people (2 rooms) costed us about 16k INR, including food bill for one of the days (On Day 2 we ate outside). There're much cheaper alternatives available if you're tight on budget.

What was good:
  • If you get the right room, you can view KL tower and Petronas twin tower, both from your window
  • Swimming Pool at 11th floor is nice
  • Hotel gives free city map, which is helpful for basic planning
  • Booking was simple and could be done easily online. There was no need to pay in advance.
  • Located at a walk-able distance from Chow-kit monorail station, saved us some taxi expense.
  • Has all standard facilities- Spa, Business Centre, Gym etc. Most of them are chargeable extra
Below: View of the grand seasons hotel building- first photo is taken from the street and second from top of KL Tower.

Not so good:
  • No 24 hour check in check out format.
  • Very few support staff. If you need anything or if there’re any issues, takes considerable time.
  • A room we were allotted at first had water leakage problem. When complained we were shifted to another room, but we lost 30 minutes of rest in the process
  • Not all rooms are of same size, though rent is same.
  • Hotel has 35 floors but last few floors are not accessible to guests. Nothing on top floor. Would have been nice to have a restaurant or observation deck etc on top floor
  • Hotel staff tried to convince us to book a taxi till LCCT, when we knew we can travel much cheaper by taking bus from KL Sentral
  • No email address on their website. If there’re any issues/communication to be done, phone is the only option.
  • Hotel offers free shuttle to KLCC and back, but this is only once a day and not always useful- departs at 11AM and returns at 3.30PM
  • No baggage scanners/security measures.
  • For a building with 35 floors, lifts could have been bit faster.
  • Hotel took full 2 weeks after my check out, to release the amount blocked on my card.
Below: View from our hotel room in 24th level. Note Petronas twin tower and KL tower both being visible in one view.
Other property Reviews: Hotel San Martin Valparaiso Chile* Sea Sand Hotel, Negombo, Srilanka * Hotel Ramboda falls, Srilanka * Club Mahindra Binsar Resort India* Hoysala Village Resort, Hasan India* Woodbriar tea estate Bungalows , Valparai, India*

Monica Estate-Woodbriar Group Tea Bungalow at Valparai

Woodbriar group reportedly owns 2300 acres of plantations (across Kerala and Tamilnadu). In Valparai, they have many bungalows. Some of them are for exclusive use of the company (corporate guest house, chairman’s bungalow etc) while few others are open for tourists.
We stayed in one such Bungalow for 2 days and this post shares the feedback.

At 5000+ per room per day, the rates might be on the higher side. But in these hills, there’re not many alternatives. The facilities and ambience considerably justify the rates, plus the demand is greater than supply, hence they may not have any motive to lower the price.
Because we were 10 people, we took about 3 rooms, one having 5 beds. (Practically that was entire bungalow. There were no other guests other than us.) Our bill came to 39000+, for 2 days (after some discount and after including few extras, tips given to staff extra)

Food was excellent. Everyone loved the food and ate to their heart’s content. Staff were friendly.

What is good:
1. The bathroom is bigger than a budget hotel room
2. Each room has a sub room (with dressing table, beeru etc)
3. Wide open able doors are nice
4. Lot of birds visit the campus
5. Provisions for setting up fire for additional warmth.
6. Caretaker accompanied us while visiting tea estates, falls etc, serving as navigator and guide.
7. Located in an elevated ground, offers cooler weather and view.
8. Good connecting roads and bus connectivity (Once an hour or so).
9. An orange like fruit tree in the campus was nice to see (not nice to taste though) and attracted birds

Additional services, as per their website (extra charge). We didn't try these. 
  • Jeep safari across the plantation to see animals – Rs 1000 per room
  • Tea factory visit – Complimentary
  • Bonfire and BBQ dinner – Rs 1000 per room
  • Picnic below near the stream – Rs 800 per room
What is not good:
1. The staff didn’t segregate vegetarian and non-vegetarian food properly. Some food items with eggs were passed off as vegetarian items. If you’re pure vegetarian be extra careful.
2. Gardens could have been maintained professionally
3. No proper signage giving directions to the bungalow.
4. Bungalow is very old and its gigantic doors and windows are not physically strong. No proper fencing/protection in case wild animals (or wild people/thieves) chose to strike. This kind of incidents are unlikely to happen though.
5. Tata Sky in living room wasn’t working. But no complaints because we didn’t go there to watch Tatasky J
6. Staff doesn’t know Hindi and other languages. You’ll have to manage with sign language and few English words that he knows, in case no one in your group knows tamil
Disclaimer: All information as experienced by blogger during mid-august. Rates, user experience and other factors may change over time.

More info: (simple website, don’t expect any exciting info/experience) Below: another bungalow that belongs to Woodbriar group
Alternate places to stay in Valparai: There’s a Krisha Logde near Valparai bus stand- should be ideal for budget travelers. Few other budget hotels exist and some home stays are emerging, contact number of one such home stay, as per display ad near bus stand is 9443101120 (I’ve not called or tried this home stay-book at your own risk)

Tata Coffee and many tea companies have their plantations in Valparai and all of them will have bungalows, figure out if you can access them.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Panasonic Lumix FT3 Review- Part 2 & India Price

Part 2 of 2 of Panasonic Lumix FT3 product review. Read part 1 here

Image quality and Zoom:
The 12 mega pixel CCD sensor offers some great photos. You get 4.6x optical zoon at 12 MP. Reduce the image quality and turn on the digital zoom - you can get much closer photo of your subject, at the cost of image quality. There’re no moving lenses, hence less electro-mechanical problems.

Flash and LED light: Besides the flash which is common in digicams, FT3 comes with an LED light, which can serve as a torch or can provide additional lighting on your subject.

Menu and navigation: Is well planned but may take some time to get used to. There’s a mode button just to select modes (auto, standard, underwater, beach, 3D, snow, sports) This button is ideal when you’re not aware of technical settings ideal for these situations. Scene mode has about 30+ sub modes for portraits, food, outdoor, kids and so on. Each of the mode has a text description too. Camera gives mode specific alerts
Then there’s main menu for settings specific to video recording, still recording, GPS and other general settings.

Then there’s a quick menu (the same button that serves for deleting in playback mode) which lets you select white balance, image size, burst, autofocus, ISO,  turn on/off LED light, GPS, ISO and so one. You can select modes like black and white, sephia etc, adjust LCD brightness and so on

Some buttons may have more than one functions.  For example, clicking on display button once shows setting details, clicking again shows the grid, clicking again shows GPS, altimeter and compass information.

I also like the autofocus feature in the camera. You can select from multiple options- from focusing on single point to 30+ points. Ability to take 3D images is another feature, but I couldn't view the 3D image for which I would need a 3D TV. Fuji also had come up with a 3D image taking camera several months ago.

Price of Lumix FT3 from Panasonic
With all the features listed above I’m sure you’re not expecting the camera to come cheap. US price for this model is about 300 US$ and India price of Panasonic Lumix FT3 digital camera is Rs 22900

Battery charges in about 2 hours and can use the camera nonstop for 3 hours. This means you can use one battery for about half a day at a stretch if switched off when not required. Buying additional battery is advised for multi day trips. Impact of GPS and such features on battery life yet to be studied. May be battery will last longer if they're turned off. Package involves two types of power plugs, one with round edges for India and another with rectangular edges which works in other countries. No need to buy universal adapter for this camera.

Available in 4 colours: Orange, Silver, Blue and Red. Refer Panasonic India official page for more information

What’s missing in Panasonic Lumix FT3 camera?
  • Memory card is not part of the standard kit. Hopefully the reseller will give a card free
  • Built in memory of 20MB is too less (Panasonic official response is this: "We are already supplying  4GB mem. card with all our cameras & mem. can be expanded up till 32GB using an additional card. Customer's now adays doesn’t really look  for internal memories in such high end digital camera's "
  • User Manual doesn’t explain usage of many features such as GPS, 3D imaging etc. Panasonic said they'll be including updated manual
  • No viewfinder
All in all Panasonic Lumix FT3 is an ideal component for outdoor adventure loving people. Price is still reasonable for the goodies loaded into it.

Panasonic's HDD Camcorder SDR-H101 review

SDR-H101 is a budget video recording device from Panasonic. This post shares quick review of this unit.

I'm not regular user of handicams. I don't find it convenient to make videos of everything, as editing, storing and sharing them is a time consuming affair. (If a 10 minute video takes 300+MB, dealing with it is not so easy) Whenever there was a need, I used to manage with my still camera, Sony DSC H50

Then I got Panasonic SDR H101 for review. SDR-H101 is an improvised version of SDR-H90. This unit is a hard disc based video camera or camcorder (Handycam is Sony proprietary term) which comes with a built in 80GB hard disc. (About 10 years ago, my desktop computer had just 40GB hard disc.) 80 GB space can record 19 hours to 72 hours of video, depending on mode. If that is not enough, there's slot to insert SD memory card. I remember an uncle having an handycam which used to take tape based memory- he had to insert a tape, record it till the end, take it out and insert next tape... besides being inconvenient and expensive to maintain, they also make you lose some precious moments.

The camcorder comes with 78x optical zoom, one of the highest in its class and hence rightly highlighted all over with stickers and marks.

The display unit is not touch screen (Non touch screen units can last longer than touchscreen ones). It is driven by a joystick operated menu, which is pretty smooth. The display unit can tilt 180 degrees, so that you can video-graph yourself without needing help from others.

The box comes with two types of power adapters- one that suits Indian markets (circular pins) and other with rectangular pins, used in many eastern countries. You don't need to buy a universal adapter for this.

Menu has a scrolling text description to help users understand what it is. Ideal for new users. Even with out help, the controls are simplistic and first time users can get started with recording within minutes.

H101 carries O.I.S, what Panasonic calls Optical Image Stabilizer. A LED light on top provides additional lighting. 33mm wide angle also needs a mention.

The owner manual is very extensive.

What is not that good with Panasonic camcorder SDR H101?
The battery is somewhat exposed to air, moisture and shock. My ideal design would be one where battery is housed in a casing, so that it is protected from dust, moisture etc. In this model (and many other models of Panasonic and others) battery is external. Designers may have their reason to position it like this, but I have my reservations.

Also in this camcorder battery can't be charged separately. I need to plug in charging cable to the camcorder body and then power it on. This means I can't have 2 batteries- one battery being charged while I use the camcorder with the other battery.

There's no mention of HD (High Definition). But then, it is better to have a camera that takes good non-HD videos than one which claims to by HD ready but takes poor HD videos.

When I connected the camcorder to computer, I could only copy files and not cut it. To remove the files from camcorder's HDD, my only option was to format media using camcorder's menu. Not sure if I'm missing something here.

Outdoor videos in bright daylight won't help much comparing/analyzing video quality. Below are two sample videos taken using this camera: First one, recorded at about 7.15 PM at a beach near Chennai, I made an attempt to record how far it can zoom in (with digital zoom off) and the clarity during zoom. If I had used a tripod I could have got better clarity in this video.

Second video is captured indoors- in an electronic goods showroom. Video quality here is fairly promising.

I've recorded few more videos, but they are heavy (370MB for a 10 min video) and hence gave up the thought of uploading most of them, at least for now.

I installed the driver and video editing software that came with the camcorder. Sorry to say it wasn't impressive. Apart from titling and few other features, the tool wasn't really friendly for heavy duty video editing and managing. Installing this utility also slowed down the system (not sure if I should blame the windows update which i installed along with this) and eventually uninstalled it (there was no uninstall option in the menu, had to do it through control panel)

H101 takes still pictures, but as with all camcorders, still images are no replacement for ones taken with a quality digicam.

Unfortunately there seems no option to support/select output file type (.mpeg, .mov, .3gp etc) H101 only lets you select XP, SP and LP (High, Medium, Low quality) and there's a web mode for quick light weight videos.

Verdict: Unlike its rugged still image counterpart Lumix FT3 which I reviewed recently, camcorder SDR H101 from Panasonic has no "Wow!" factors. It does execute its primary functionality of recording video to the satisfaction of its owner, has good storage and optical zoom and is fairly easy to use. Because of my limited exposure to camcorders I refrain from making any judgmental statement if you should buy it or not buy it.

Related: Review of Panasonic Toughbook CF53 * Panasonic Experience Centre and Bloggers meet

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kuala Lumpur : China Town photos

After getting down at a Monorail station called Maharajalela, we headed towards China town area. We reached China town area by about 5PM. China town looks its best in night time, with all its lights on. When we reached there by 5, the shopkeepers were just beginning to set their shops on the road.

Before we reached China town market place, we stopped by what looked like a chinese temple- don't have more details on this- just the pictures

China town is a place for cheap dress materials, shoes and electronic items. A simple t-shirt which we'd bought the previous day at KL tower for RM9 (Rs 135) was available in China town for RM6 (Rs 90). No visible difference in quality.

China town has couple of hotels which cost one tenth of standard hotels. I only saw the signage and didn't go inside to check the status of rooms. But if you're on shoestring budget, you might wish to consider staying here.
Below: Photos of a temple near China town area

Below: A nice white building, Chinese Assembly Hall

Below: A worker fixes the outer frame which forms the boundaries of his shop.
Below: Menu card of a chinese restaurant.. Now I can claim I know how to read 3 Chinese words. On the right side is a street adjacent to China town area.

Couple of photos of the food outlets... You get to pick a live frog or any other animal and they'll cook it for you
We didn't bother buying anything here, just roamed around a bit. Thankfully, some options for vegetarian people
A nice building nearby
A shoe shop. All of China town area is full of small shops like this selling various merchandise, often fake ones of reputed brands.

Another eatery on the road side

A pet shop had couple of dogs for sale. This dog was tagged at INR equivalent of Rs 30000. Hope whoever buys this pet keeps it as a pet and not a consumable.

I feel this place can be skipped if on tight schedule. Nothing unique or interesting unless you're a non-vegetarian or fan of Chinese foods, or like shopping cheap stuff. Strict vegetarians will feel uncomfortable in this area

Petrol Prices in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

You’ve read about fuel prices in Chile in this post. Let us check about fuel prices in Malaysia now.

In India, we can hardly spot a 2.0 VVTi petrol Innova. Almost all Innova s we get to see are D-4D diesel ones, obviously because diesel as a fuel is cheaper in India.

In Malaysia, however, the situation is opposite. All innovas we saw there were petrol units, hinting that diesel has no price advantage over Petrol in Malaysia.

When I checked out at a nearby fuel station, I found that a liter of petrol costs about 2 RM or about 30INR approx. That is 1997 prices in India

Saturday, August 27, 2011

AirAsia low cost carrier: travel feedback

June 2014 Update:
AirAsia begins India operation. Chennai-Blr fare analysis

August 2012 Update:
Made another trip to Thailand, thanks to Air Asia's cheap tickets. Return trip costed about 8300 per person all inclusive, booked 6 months in advance. Bought 1 check-in baggage- 20kgs extra- costed Rs 420 for onward journey and 700+ for the return journey (bought return check in baggage late, by that time they'd increased the check in baggage rate). Service standard was same and performance was on time. No complaints.
Photo by Vidya Mayya

Bangkok doesn't have a low cost terminal like Kuala Lumpur, so Air asia passengers get to use the regular international airport.

Air Asia is expanding rapidly- now Air Asia Thailand, Air Asia Indonasia and many other subsidiaries are in operation. Let me see where else we can travel next.

Original post (August 2011)

Few months ago, when I spotted a tempting fare at AirAsia from Chennai to Kuala Lumpur, I decided to take my family on a short trip and booked tickets. First two tickets costed me about 7000+ and 3rd ticket costed around 8000+, about 30% cheaper than other carriers.

Knowing that it is a low cost airline and we can’t expect any premium services, our expectations were set to zero. The flights went well and this post shares the feedback.

Seat Selection: If you wish to select your preferred seat at the time of booking, Air Asia will charge you Rs 450+ tax extra per seat. For 3 people, return trip, that is about Rs 3000 INR down the drain. We chose not to select any seat and try our luck while boarding.

Couple of days before the flight, when I did web checkin, system allotted me seats. We wanted 3 seats in sequence (next to each other) and we got it. Air Asia’s System seem to assigns seats in sequential order, so all passengers in a ticket will get seats in a sequence, except in cases wherein couple of seats in between is selected by someone else as preferred seat, at the time of booking. Our gamble paid off and we got seats together, without having to spend a lot.

Also on both flights good number of seats were empty (about 20% of the seats were vacant I guess). Budget passengers made their own makeshift business class upgrades, by sleeping across the 3 seats row.

Food: we had preordered the food- veg biryani at about INR 170 and it was served promptly. As in all airline meals this is not adequate to fill stomach, but can help keep you alive during the flight. Air asia sells other items: 300ML water at Rs 50, 200ml minute maid at Rs 75, snickers at Rs 75 and so on

Entertainment: None, except children crying in neighboring seat or a passenger arguing with crew as to why a particular item costs so much when it is available for 10 times less back in Chennai

Cleanliness: Flight was clean. No issues detected

On time: Chennai-Kuala Lumpur was almost ontime (20 minutes delay that stated time) and arrival was on time too. Kuala Lumpur to Chennai: Boarding happened ontime, but we were delayed by about 90 minutes. Some sort of emergency at KLIA is stated as the reason for delay.

Crew: Were good and helpful. No issues. When my mother was hesitated to buy a mineral water as it was expensive (300 ml at Rs 50), the air-hostess smartly said "Sir, the flight is for 4 hours", meaning "You better buy it"

In-flight magazine: Magazine has less articles and readable content, but whatever present was good. Magazine also had few pages to highlight why air asia and its cargo division is great. Magazine claimed Air Asia has above industry average performance when it comes to “flown as booked” and they have lowest “No of clicks it takes to complete a booking” (Both these are related to AriAsiaCargo)

How Air Asia saves money
Air Asia is about 10 years old and has been winning best low cost airline award since past 3 years. AirAsia may not offer luxury and comfort of premium carriers, but can take you to your destination at half the price of a full service airline.(if you book their promo fares)

Below is how AirAsia saves money:
Breakdown the cost structure, charge extra for everything- Customers can save money by not opting for checkin-baggage, not selecting preferred seats, not opting for inflight meals and so on. If you avail all these services, ticket costs will still be 20-30% cheaper than full service airlines

Dedicated Low Cost carrier Terminal (LCCT): Malaysian Capital has a dedicated low cost carrier terminal, called LCCT. (because people may not get what LCCT means, all buses that display LCCT will usually display AirAsia in brackets.). LCCT is a bare minimum facility- you get down from the plane, walk about 1 km to immigration counter. No shuttle buses, no walkalators or other services. Because of simple infrastructure and no expenditure like buses etc, Air Asia saves significant amount of money compared to full service airlines. Full service airlines go to KLIA (Kuala Lumpur international airport) while low cost carriers divert to LCCT, though both use same runway. LCCT is practically across the runway from KLIA but is 20km by road. The airport is about 60km from city (KL Sentral) and is well connected by buses.

Modern airports charge considerable amount  (few hundred rupees for domestic passengers and few thousand rupees from international passengers) as User Development Fee, which airlines pass to passengers. If these airports can build a low cost terminal like the one in Kuala Lumpur, airlines can lower their cost and pass on the benefits to the customer.

We found Airasia cabin crew and captains also taking buses to go home from LCCT. Assume the airline doesn’t arrange taxies for them and crew might be getting a share from airline’s savings on taxi expense.

Will I fly Airaisa again? Yes, if I come across any irresistible promo fares

Also be informed that Indigo is launching low cost service to Bangkok, Dubai, Singapore, from Mumbai and Delhi, from September 2011. Spicejet already flies to Colombo, Nepal and few other places

There’re some talks of Air Asia and Malaysian Airline tieup-hope that brings more offers to passengers.

Cons: No cons as such, but couple of factors you may wish to keep in mind:

In KUL they have tie-up with Skybus to take you from LCCT To KL Sentral. Skybus tickets cost RM 9, while it is not that popular or frequent. Another operator ferries people from LCCT to KL Sentral for about 8 RM and this bus fills up faster compared to Skybus.

AirAsia tempts us to buy skybus tickets along with airline ticket, but there’re no advantages of buying the skybus tickets so much in advance. Better buy it on the spot.

AirAsia prices that appears on travel portals like Makemytrip can be different from what is quoted on Airasia website. Sometimes promo fares may not appear on travel sites. Be sure to cross check

Air-Asia charges extra for payment through credit cards. Not sure if they have any payment option which doesn't cost extra. All in all, expect to end up paying 60% more than the amount quoted in promo fair. Thankfully they don;t charge extra for oxygen mask and emergency door usage

Related posts: 
Kingfisher Experience *  Spicejet vs jetlight *  A travel App no one has * Malaysia posts digest *

Nano Superdrive covered in Exhibitor Magazine

Happy to announce this. For the first time ever, I have earned a few dollars by permitting a magazine to use my photos.

Exhibitor Magazine is an international magazine that focuses on industry events, exhibitions and so on. The Tata Nano Superdrive 2010 edition, (of which I was a part of as one of the 3 Official bloggers) has caught the attention of this magazine and its August issue carries a detailed story.

If you have time, do read this, because it shares lot of inside information we were either not aware of or were not authorized to talk/write about.

The article puts the money spent on Nano Superdrive 1 at about 1.3 crore INR. Article also talks about the social media side of Tata Nano superdrive- how the event was being managed online and its results and so on

A web version of the article can be found here. The article uses photographs taken by us, the official bloggers. It makes a general reference to us saying "Shobiz reps blogged the event", without any specific credit.

It showcases photos clicked by fellow Nano Superdrive bloggers- Sankara and Deb whose photos have been relatively superior to mine. Thanks to them for all the support during the event and later.

Usually event management company hardly gets any credit when an event becomes successful. The event management company in this case is Shobiz entertainment. Thousands of Shobiz employees and their vendors have worked day in and day out, in order to plan the event and ensure that it gets executed as planned. Working with these guys opens up another side of the event management to you. They work under constant pressure from the client, their seniors, people on the ground, officials like Police and so on. They often work so hard, compromising on their own comfort, rest and preferences.Though they're the best people who can talk about the event to media, often they're not authorized to do so. Now that the name of the event management company is public, I wish to take this opportunity to thank all the employees of Shobiz, with whom I had the chance to work during Nano Superdrive 1

Shobiz event managers who were running Nano Superdrive show... Ravi Mehta (Centre) managed the hotel events (interaction with nano customers) in every city, while Shiva (right) managed the road show for Green Route.

Below: Shobiz Senior Management

It is nice to see an international magazine covering details of an event we were part of. It is a good event to cherish. Unfortunately I couldn't attend the second edition of the event (2011)

Related: Superdrive FAQs * Nano Superdrive in Bangalore (TV9 Coverage) * GreenRoute blog * Superdrive 2011 *

Thursday, August 25, 2011

KL Monorail Kuala Lumpur

I hadn’t travelled in a monorail  before. Had seen Monorail tracks in Mumbai last year, but got to use it in KL. There has been considerable debate if monorail is good or metro is good for cities like Bangalore and Chennai

Listing some differences between Metro and Monorail, based on personal observation, though I’m not an expert in this matter

Metro can run on an elevated track, underground or at ground level. But Monorail is best suited for elevated tracks only.

Monorail tracks take less space. Track is smaller than the train width, hence monorail construction cost is said to be cheaper than Metro, which needs wider tracks

In India Mumbai has monorail facility, while Delhi has Metro. Bengaluru and Chennai will be having metro

It appears Monorail’s ability to have no of compartments are limited and hence it can’t carry too many passengers compared to Metro.

Because of less no of compartments and its design allows Monorail to take sharper turns, while Metro may need larger turning radius.

KL Monorail feeds into KL Sentral, which is a larger hub for buses and trains going in and out of Kuala Lumpur.

Ticket fare from KL sentral was 2.5 Ringgit per person till Chow Kit (INR 40). A two stop journey costed us about INR 20

Frequency of trains was good. In about 10 minutes you’d get next train. Trains run from 6AM till midnight. There were no restrictions on photography.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Velu, Muruga and Nallamudi Poonjolai (Viewpoint in Valparai)

We arrived at the Nallamudi viewpoint which presented us several waterfalls, small and big, close by and too far. “That side is Kerala” someone was explaining… “those are the huts of tribal people” they added. Not sure how true that was, we were enjoying the scenery at the viewpoint and were taking photographs.

Suddenly a jolt of loud prayer shook us. An old man was shouting at the top of his voice. Shouting is wrong usage- he was actually praying to his god, Muruga. As expected couple of tourists around initiated a conversation with him and as if waiting to talk, he began speaking out. He claimed he knew very little English, but his English was good enough for all practical purposes.

He claimed he saw god in this place some 36 years and 82 days ago. “God appeared with lightning and thunder, he was strong and powerful- it is my lifetime privilege to have seen him” he went on speaking. When tourists had nothing else to ask, he continued “ask more, what else you want to know?” He said he has built a temple for the god nearby, said he has two children whom he’s named after god and so on. He criticized other sanyasis and priests for faking things. “My name is Velu… Nothing before and nothing after” he reiterated.  He spoke much more in tamil and English before tourists forefully separated themselves from him, but above is the extract I’m able to recall.

Forest guards on duty at the viewpoint were at ease with him and said because of Velu only the place become famous.

Lakshmi Sharath has more on this in her Metro Plus column

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Herd of Indian Gaurs spotted at Valparai tea estate

During one of our early morning walks in a tea estate in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, we spotted a herd of Indian Gaurs, about 10-12 in number. They were feeding themselves in the middle of a tea estate. We went closer, under the guidance of estate caretaker.

Here're some closeup photos of the Indian Gaur clicked in Valparai tea estate.

Below one gives closeup look of female Gaur...
 Below photo is without zoom-you can spot about 5+ in the picture, there were 5+ more around
The mighty Indian Gaur (Male). This one appeared to be in command of the group. Weighing about 1500 kgs, most of it is muscle and not fat, attack by these can be deadly.
 As we went closer, there was constant eye battle. While the gaurs evaluated if we're a threat that needs offensive action or if we can be ignored, we evaluated how further we can go without agitating the animals. Eventually there was a trade off. Gaurs slowly started moving away from us and we started retreating. I was thinking they were planning an ambush taking advantage of tea estate, but that didn't happen.
 Because of tea estate, we couldn't see their white coloured legs. Even without that, it was a good experience getting so close to the gaurs (aka Indian Bison)
Similar: Tigers at Banngerghatta park * Animals at Vandaloor Zoo Chennai * How to survive an elephant attack * Elephant bathing at K Gudi