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Monday, February 28, 2011

Srilanka Weekend Trip- FAQs

Ever since I made public my weekend trip, many of you have been wanting to know the details of the same. While detailed travelogue will be published soon, some of the frequently asked questions are being answered below.
scenic-tea-estate-srilanka
Will be helpful if you’re evaluating a possible trip to Srilanka

Q1: What about VISA?
30 Day tourist visa will be given free of cost on Arrival for Indian passport holders. We didn’t have any issues on this front.

For other nationalities, you have to have a valid visa prior to the trip. Sri Lankan Immigration introduced ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) in 2012 in order to facilitate tourist to obtain the visa. As soon as you have access to internet and credit card, you are able to get one, so you do not need to visit the local embassy anymore. ETA is issued with 6 month validity and you can stay up to 30 days from date of entry. For more information, please visit Srilankavisa.org.

Q2:  What prompted you to go on this trip?
Multiple factors: Low return fares offered by Spicejet (just about INR 4k for return ticket), Visa on Arrival, Highly convenient flight timings- we could start on Friday night, return on Monday morning, making  full use of 48 hours weekend. We figured out that entire trip can be achieved in less than INR 10k per person, cheaper than most of the domestic destinations.

Q3: Were 2 days enough? Why didn’t you take few days leave and have a longer trip?
2 days were certainly not enough, as SriLanka has several places of tourist interest. But then, getting leave together for a group of friends was difficult and unlike other international tours where first and last days are spent on nothing but air travel, we could make full use of 48  hours weekend to explore SL. For us this was more of an experiential travel- we just got some basic insights into Srilankan culture, cities and so on and can always make another weekend trip in near future if felt necessary.(when we take leave, value of one day salary also need to be factored)Twin-towers

Q4: How much did it cost for travel, stay, food etc?
We spent little less than INR 1000 per person ex-Chennai, all inclusive. Here’s the breakup: INR 4008 on air ticket (ex-chennai), INR 2000 on Day 1 cab rental, INR 1000 on hotel rent, another INR 2000-3000 was spent on food, local travel, airport transfer in Chennai, entry and camera fees etc (Above cost is average per person expense for a group of 6, staying at a budget hotel)

Q5: What about currency conversion rate? Where did you convert? How much does it cost?
I wasn’t involved in this  much- Few other team members took care. But to give an idea, when we converted INR 12500 to US $ first and then converted US$ to LKR, we got little less than 30000 LKR. Effectively, we got about 240 Sri Lankan rupee for every 100 Indian rupee. Sandeep used his Prepaid Travel Card. Currency conversion can be done at forex counters in airport or money exchangers in city.

Q6: How did you travel?
For Day 1 we’d booked a 9 seater Toyota Hiace minivan from Malkeys, Srilanka’s most popular car rental agency. Their rate was LKR 4500 for 8 hours/100kms, thereafter LKR  45per km and LKR 80 per hour, some additional charges for airport parking, entry fee, out of Colombo fee, 15% tax etc

On day 1 we travelled about 400 kms- from Airport to Kandy to Nuvara elia back to Negombo via Kandy. Since rental companies charge garage to garage, total usage was about 480 kms (Colombo to airport & Negombo to Colombo included): This bill came to about LKR 27500

For Day 2 we used trains, tuk tuks (rikshaws) and buses.  As we had only local travel and got help from Praveen’s friend who’s Colombo based, we could easily manage.

Q7: Language problem: Are you able to manage?
Local people were very helpful. Main language is Sinhalese, but If you know Tamil, it is highly manageable, coz you’re likely to find at least one tamil speaking guy to every 3-4 who don’t. English works fine with good number of people who readily offer assistance (like directions etc), but may not work with auto drivers and other vendors. An auto driver demanded LKR 1000 for a 3km ride, when we spoke in Tamil and made him understand that it doesn’t cost more than Rs 50 per km, his charges came down to sensible levels (LKR 200). During Day 1 we sort of managed with our van driver who knew just fine English, for day 2 we managed with Tamil, English and later with the help of local friend.

Q8 What all the places you people covered in 2 days?Lankan-Army-personnel
Day 1: Kandy (tooth temple, city view point, royal palace, museum), Nuwara Eliya (waterfalls, tea plantation and tea factory), back to Negombo (400 kms drive through hill station and cities)
Day 2: Negombo (Beach, Dutch Fot, fish market (closed), church), train to Colombo (Museum, Twin towers, Whitehouse. Beach and Pettah Market in Colombo)

Q9: How was the trip overall?
It was good. By and large the places were similar to India, except minor differences. Whatever we could cover in 2 days we did, within our stipulated budget old-man

Q10: What’s good, what’s bad and what’s ugly?
Good: Cities are much cleaner, food, travel and stay at affordable cost, transport made easy with tuk tuks and buses, friendly VISA policy, cloths are cheaper, friendly people
Bad: Trains are slow and unreliable, newspapers relatively expensive, petrol n diesel cost same as in India,
Ugly: Finding vegetarian food is big trouble. Veg fried rice is the only sensible thing one can find for lunch and dinner, apart from rice and daal, if available. Non vegetarians will not have any problem. Also be aware of Full Moon Day celebrations

Disclaimer: All the above information are based on just 2 days of observation. Needn’t necessarily be accurate or valid all the time and can’t be your ultimate travel guide to Srilanka. Individual perspectives and preferences may vary. Please do cross check with other sources and use your judgment.
This should answer most of your immediate queries, standby for detailed posts.

Updates: Read Srilankan Trip Travelogue Part 1 * Ramboda Falls * Sunday Newspapers in SriLanka *

Smart folding seats in Srilanka buses

folded-seat
Yet another small post from SL trip.
You’d have probably seen folding seats in Volvo city bus and few other places. Noticed an even innovative way of seating inside buses in Srilanka.

When I sat in my seat, the space in front of me was empty. Suddenly one person came, created a seat for himself out of nowhere and sat on it. For a moment I wondered what happened and how did he get that seat. A closer observation revealed the following:

The arm rest you see in the pick is a seat by itself. It has two parts, which when unfolded properly result in a seat strong enough to seat and support an adult. Tilting it 90 degrees anti clockwise gives you a seat and unfolding the other half forms backrest…

 unfolded-seatBus body builders in Karur may please take note.

Maruti Suzuki SX4 sports Hatch

A small post sharing 2 pics of Maruti Suzuki SX4 Hatchback

I didn’t know Maruti Suzuki had a hatchback version of its popular sedan, SX4. These are not sold in India but are available abroad. Spotted one such car in Kandy, Srilanka- Few pics below. Will be nice if Maruti thinks of making it available in India (diesel pls)
suzuki-sx4-sports-hatch sx4-sports-hatchback-pic
Also read other vehicle stories: Toyota Fortuner stuck in mud * 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 challenge* Ford Endeavour XLT review *

Aussie Cricketer Brett Lee in Colombo-Pics

I'm not a cricket fan and had it not been for the crowd,wouldn't have recognized this cricketer in Colombo beach yesterday…

Apparently Australian cricketer Brett Lee was in Srilanka and had visited the beach, where cricket crazy crowd caught hold of him.. (Or was it a planned activity as I saw some TV crew readily recording it). Anyways I managed to click a few photo of Brett Lee and here they are, for the interested.
Brett-Lee-Cricketer
Below: Crowd surrounding Brett Lee and Brett Lee giving autographs to as many people as possible. Caught unprepared for celebrity amongst them, many people were found scrambling around for pieces of paper to take his autograph
Brett-Lee-with-crowd-Colombo-Beach Brett-Lee-giving-Autographs
Our team posed with Brett lee…
brett-Lee-with group
Whole of March will be Srilanka related posts on enidhi.net


Other 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

Friday, February 25, 2011

Kingfisher A320 wooden prototype at Chennapatna

Alert: This is a stock clearance post and shares some pics which may not be that interesting.

Fellow blogger Sankara recently published lot of colourful photos of toys made at Chennapatna, a small town enroute Mysore from Bengaluru. Chennapatna toys are world famous. Read his post here

Seeing Sankara’s post I realized that I’d visited few toy making units of Chennapatna in 2010. I do not have colourful pics of final products, but got to see their machinery and workshops, where they turn out wooden pieces into colourful toys.

Besides toys, they also cater to wide range of corporate requests. They were asked to make prototype of a Airbus A320, one of the aircraft types most of Kingfisher fleet belong to. Earlier in the day I’d clicked few close-up photos of the aircraft model, at Mysore airport [Related: Kingfisher service launched from Mysore]
Kingfisher-aircraft-miniature-model kingfisher-plane-parts 
Above: Airbus A320 prototype spare parts separated…
Below, work in progress version of wooden prototype and the workshops in Chennapatna
Wooden-plane-model chennapattana-toy-workshop wood toy-wooden-plane
Don’t have much text to write about, just wanted to share the above photos. Sankara's post has more details and interesting pics.

Possibly related: My Kingfisher experience * Aviation Gyan * Fly free on Indigo * Wayanad near Mysore * Elephant bathing in K Gudi * Coorg * Kingfisher vs Satyam *

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Movie Review: I Am Number Four


I did watch the recently released movie “I am Number Four” and this post is a quick review of the same.

When I initially saw the trailer, it didn’t give much clue about the movie-trailer just said that 9 people from other planet have landed in earth and are being hunted down, three of them are dead and fourth one is the next target.
i-am-number-four-review
Few other reviews I read before watching I am Number Four, gave some idea as to what to expect and I went to theatre with right expectations.

Movie is short and precise, just about 1 hour, 40 minutes. Sticks to its well defined story line, which goes something like this:

Story backdrop: About nine people from another planet named Lorien have landed in Earth as they had to flee from their home planet. The bad guys from their home planet are hunting these nine people down, one after another, in a sequence. The three people before him are recently located and killed at various places all around planet earth and now their next target is Number 4, John Smith, played by Alex Pettyfer. The movie goes on to illustrate how John attempts to save himself from being identified and how in the climax faces the bad guys and wins.

A fairly predictable story line, with a bit of teenage love thrown in (to complicate the matters or may be to interest those part of audience who’re not interested much in Sci-Fi actions). John has to keep changing his hideouts, keep a low profile (which becomes difficult due to some rouge guys in school and his love affairs). He has some superpowers with which he can move big things without touching them, fly around etc. These super powers allow him to do lot of stunts to entertain audience, in the pretext of protecting himself from bad people. Audience also get to see some colour coded fire power in climax.

Few other points:
  • Bad guys in the movie (Mogs?) are unnecessarily shown in ugly faces-not sure if that was necessary. If both John Smith and his enemies are from same planet, either both of them should be ugly or both should be normal-right?
  • The puppy, which converts itself into giant animal and fights enemies, got lot of applause from audience.
  • The role of chameleon which crept into the vehicle during initial scenes, is not clear- was it a spy or did it convert itself into the puppy?
  • A mystery girl (Teresa Palmer) appeared in couple of frames in first half and only towards the end her identity gets revealed-she’s also from Lorien, Number 6. If John and one more person (No.5) are killed, next will be her turn, so she’s also tracing John and protects him. This lady and her firepower gets charged by touch (when John Smith hits/pushes her hard or something). Her Ducati bike was nice.
  • What the bad guys were carrying in the truck was not clear. Only in climax it was revealed, when the bad guys unleashed the two dinosaur looking animals on John and team
  • These alien creatures turn into sand once killed.. No cost of burial or cremation :)
In the end, two pieces of stones, added together,destroy all bad things. Aliens (No 4 and No 6) go back, along with Sam (they were seen driving away, not sure where did they go. No UFO was shown) (Sam’s dad was abducted by bad guys for knowing too much about them )while Sarah (Diana Agron) who was Number Four John Smith’s original love interest, returns to her ex.

Watch the trailer below…


If you have an idea of the story, then movie can get boring at times due to its plain vanilla nature that is highly predictable. If you enjoy Sci-Fi/Alien concepts it might keep you excited. Climax is good for those who seek action. Wondering if the sequels will be named "I am Number 6" "I am number 7" and so on..

Credits: First image sourced from Screenrant.com. Video from youtube.

Also read: 16 in 1 quick movie reviews Corporate movie review Earlier set of movie reviews * Watching news in a movie-an observation *Sevanthi Sevanthi (kannada) movie review * Moserbaer cheap movie VCD and DVDs * life saving skills from movies * Why spiderman can't work in India * Watching news in movies * Money Transfer scenes in movies *ಪಂಚರಂಗಿ ಚಿತ್ರ ವಿಮರ್ಶೆ Pancharangi Kannada movie review

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Blackberry Curve 8520 Smartphone ownership review

Blackberries were once prized possessions of senior corporate executives. The small wonders using which they used to take million dollar business decisions while on the move…Now the device has become fairly common and has lost its exclusivity. Cheapest blackberry costs under 7k now.

I’m using a blackberry 8520 curve since about an year and here’s quick review.

At the first look, its sleek, trendy and once you get used to it, it is highly addictive. Typing a mail or SMS is now much more convenient compared to a non-QWERTY phone. Blackberry mailing service gets your latest mail from your webmail and pushes it into your device. Lot of applications readily available to be able to use Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Google talk and sundry other stuff.

It does increase productivity of business people by facilitating instant email access. The address book has so many fields to hold entire biodata of a person, only thing missing was provision to hold his/her twitter handle and an ability to write a biography of the contact at the press of a button.

I’m not using Blackberry Messenger, as I felt I don’t need yet another messenger option since I’m already overloaded with half a dozen communication channels (twitter, fb, gtalk, mails, calls, SMS  etc)

The aircel network I used with the phone wasn’t one of the strongest outside metros. Not sure weak network contributed to phone’s battery and other loads.

What’s not good in Blackberry Curve 8520?
I’m not finding the device reliable enough. Its battery drains fast. Initially a fully charged battery wouldn’t even last till evening when used extensively. Then I uninstalled Gtalk for bb application and also foursquare and now the charge lasts for about 12 hours in normal usage. (Almost all smartphones have the same problem. Compared to a typical handset which is used only when there’s a call to make/receive or SMS to send/read, smart phones are used all through the day- to check mails, to read tweets, to use maps, to chat and so on. This means a smart phone’s standby time is limited and its screens and processors will be active most of the time. Thus naturally battery will drain fast.) My Sony Ericson W705 lasts close to a week without charge, but Blackberry won’t survive full 24 hours if used extensively without charging.

Busy Bee: I’ve noticed that the device goes into Busy Mode at its own will and takes its own sweet time to become usable again. (Refer screenshot) This doesn’t happen frequently, but happens when you’ve some urgent work to do or sometime even while the call is in progress. There’s no logic to predict when or why this hangs or how it can be prevented. Device doesn’t ask us if it can go busy to install some updates (or whatever it wants to do)and gets busy whenever it feels like. There’s no way to tell the phone to pause whatever it is doing for a while, nor does restarting the phone fixes the problem. Only option is to look at the phone helplessly for several minutes for it to finish its personal work (Microsoft Windows at least works after restarting) Battery drains even faster when this happens. I did check some support forums, which suggested that this is due to cache overflow and clearing browser history and cache should solve the problem. Didn’t find that practical.
blackberry 8520-error-screen
I’ve been lazy to update with latest firmwares and that could be a cause. Not sure if everyone are facing this issue, but I guess just like Windows Operating System for computers, smart phone OS are also likely to hang occasionally under overload or other factors.

Trackball problems: My trackball and other controls are working fine. No major issues. Have read about others complaining about it. Getting a problematic BB fixed by BB official service centre is also reportedly a painful process. (You may have to leave your phone with them for several days) There’re many unofficial vendors who fix the problem faster and cheaper.

The S key, probably the most used key, has showing signs of trouble as it now needs extra pressure to produce the letter.

Couple of features I wish Blackberry Curve 8520 model had:
  • Option to delete multiple SMS’s/mails at once (is there a way that I’m not aware of)
  • Option to search within emails
  • Display emails as conversations
  • Sync emails with webmail to remove deleted mails
  • Option to fetch older mails
  • When a contact has more than one numbers, automatically dial next available number if he is not reachable on the first
  • Can’t manage facebook pages for which we’re admin, from Facebook for Blackberry app
  • Updates to apps should happen silently in the background when the phone is idle (like how Chrome updates itself). Downloading and installing an app every time there’s some updates is a pain
  • If the processor gets too busy and system is about to hang, user should be alerted, so that he/she can close/uninstall few unwanted apps or take other preventive measures
  • Lot of Chinese manufacturers provide secondary battery with the phone, to prevent people from complaining of poor battery. RIM can adapt the idea too
  • Way2SMS, 160by2, Indyarocks and other such web based free SMS service providers should provide a smartphone app.. People can save on national SMS charges
Blackberry 8520 is not 3G enabled but it’s expensive cousins are. Overall the device was good value for money an year ago. Not sure if the same can be said today also, due to flooding of so many Android based smart phones-which are available at better price ranges. Due to its battery concerns, Blackberry 8520 is not an ideal travel partner. A backup phone or additional battery will be required if travelling for more than 24 hours without power source. Its fine if your company provides it, but if I’ve to spend my own money, I’d seriously evaluate other options.

RIM’s ongoing battle with Indian Govt over security issues is still unresolved. Need to watch out how this tug of war turns out to be.

Disclaimer: Personal observations and experience only. I’ve not used other smartphones long enough to compare. Individual experiences may vary. Smart phone performance depends on lot of factors such as signal strength, no of apps running and so on


Similar posts: eNidhi.net is now available as Ovi store app * Acer Netbook with Android OS * Ladies who (used to) call me everyday * Aircel Consumer feedback * Business by missed calls * Topend vs entry level *

Friday, February 18, 2011

Indian Express picks my tweet as Tweet of the Day

In this post I’m just patting my own back… Feel free to skip if that doesn’t interest you.

It’s not every day you get to see your (nick) name on front page of a national newspaper. A photo is a bonus.

Well, it happened with me today, though it contains only an icon sized image and twitter handle. 

One of the tweets I had made yesterday was picked up by the New Indian Express team as “Tweet of the Day” and was honoured on the front page of their today’s edition (18th Feb 2011)Indian-express-feb18-titlepage
Here are the views of the newspaper and close up of the section which showed my photo n tweet.
Original tweet can be found here on twitter. You can follow me on twitter at @enidhienidhi-twitter-tnie

Above would have gone unnoticed, but for an ex colleague who identified it and brought to my attention. Thanks to Aska for the alert.

Vijaya Karanataka (Kannada) and Youth Express (New Indian Express supplement) were two papers in which some of my work had got publish during high school days. Feels good to be back in Indian Express, though in a negligible form. Ever since blogging took over, writing for mainstream media has almost stopped. Should focus a bit on that. Appearing in print is always more satisfying than online.

Recently completed 3 years on twitter-never worried about follower count-something considered as your measure of success on twitter. For me it has always been quality of content and usefulness of the information

Twitter is proving to be good source of content for mainstream media- Several channels display tweets during discussions and debates, what trends on twitter is often discussed in print as well...

My other media mentions:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Paul's Present-A CBSE English textbook story

Our CBSE English textbooks had several exciting stories which I still cherish. One such story was My Dog Marcus about which I have written in an earlier post. This post shares another such touching story.

I’ve forgotten the title, names of the authors or the lead characters, but subject of the story is still intact in my mind. Below is a brief recreation of the same. All credits to original authors. (Feb 23 Update: Story name is PAUL's Present, Paul is the name of lead character-reminded by Vasudha)
The story has two characters- a poor family consisting of a son who is ill and bed ridden, and his mother who is working hard trying to make ends meet.
Son’s birthday is nearing and mother has no money to buy a gift. She tries to make her son’s birthday special by sending a request to local radio station to read out her msg on his birthday. On the day of his birthday, Mom borrows a radio from neighbours, charges it (age old radios weren’t as simple as present day ones) and as the evening program starts, she and her son sit to listen to radio, with mom hoping to surprise the kid as his name will be read out in radio.
Earlier in the day, when mom was away at work, some thing different had happened. A post had arrived from the radio station and son had opened it. It was a regret letter from Radio station stating they won’t be able to play her birthday wish request (due to some reason- may be too many requests? Radio stations those days had the courtesy to respond stating they can’t play a request)
Hence the kid knew that the station won’t be announcing his name, despite his mom’s best intentions and hope. Fortunately for him, his mom falls asleep due to sheer exhaustion, while the program was in progress.
This is what the kid does: He suddenly jolts his mother and wakes her up.. “Mom Mom, did you know what just happened?” he exclaims in excitement… “they just wished me-they read out my name. can’t believe they did”
“How did they know?” – asks mom trying to act surprised… They both hug each other…
Ok- Above is not an artistic narration and misses out most of the finer details that makes the story exciting and meaningful to read. if you can get hold of the text book, please do read.

Sadly it looks like there’s no archive of such textbooks. Some university or organizations like Google should digitize such books and make them available for everyone…

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Commuting to work by cycle: Pros and cons

Cycling to work is cool and green thing to do- to get some attention among peers, to enjoy the obvious benefits of exercise, fuel savings and so on. But then, is cycling really practical? Does it help a lot? I’ve been riding to office for some time and am listing a few observations below.

cycle-bsa-matrixWhile deciding to cycle to work, primary factor will be the distance. If your work place is less than 5kms away, cycling won’t be much of a trouble. If it is 5-10kms, it’s still possible. When the office is more than 10kms away, it depends largely on your stamina to cycle, will power and patience to spend adequate time cycling all the away. Cycling may not be practical if the distance is more than 20kms.

Assuming an ideal condition that office is 5-10kms from home, let us evaluate the pros and cons of cycling to work. As everyone knows about advantages, let me mention disadvantages first… (Disclaimer: This is not intended to discourage anyone from cycling, just listing the factors to be aware of...)

Disadvantages:

  • You’ll be spending more time on the road, without the cover of a car. This means you’ll inhale more polluted air than you’d have had you zipped past in a two wheeler/car. This depends on how polluted the streets you use,and exposure to pollution has its own set of side effects.
  • Half way through if you realize that you’ve left something important behind (say a file required for the meeting), going back all the way to get it will be time consuming and effort intensive activity.
  • While there’s a savings on fuel bill, if lot of money needs to be spent on juices and other refreshments (coz you’re tired after long cycling), then the cost advantage might get nullified. (Even then it will be worth it, due to long term health benefits)
  • Changing lanes need more time and patience as speeding vehicles do not care about cycles. With nearly zero gadgets (like turn indicator) cyclist needs more caution on the road
  • As far as safety is concerned, cycle is far less safer than any other vehicle. Because of its negligible weight, even a mild impact can toss the cycle and its rider up in the air and resulting in severe injuries. Bikes on the other hand offer some resistance to the impact due to their weight. Cars are much more safer. Not many motorists respect cyclists and cycle rider needs to be extra alert and cautious about the vehicles around him/her. Dedicated cycle lanes would have been great, but don’t think anything like that will happen in India anytime in near future.
  • Not ideal if you don’t have a fixed commuting plan (For example: Sales people who’ll have to travel to different parts of the city)
  • If one has to carry laptop, lunch bag and other goods, cycle can’t be ideal (though it’s very much possible to carry laptop n lunch bag on a cycle)
  • If you value your time more than the exercise n other benefits, if you’re the one who’d finish lot of work in the back seat of the car while being driven to work, cycling may dampen your productivity and profitability.
  • While wearing a cycle helmet is good idea, hardly anyone use them in India and you’ll surely get lot of extra attention if you ride with one. (ok, this one may not be a disadvantage)
  • Your brand new and reliable cycle will not remain brand new and reliable always. It does command some attention w.r.t. maintenance. If not, you might have to face problems like low tyre pressures, weak brakes, chains coming off etc, inconvenience caused from which can spoil your mood/day
  • Can’t give lift to anyone! (Technically it can carry 2 people, but riding double for long distance is not really practical)
  • Climbing up a flyover will consume considerable energy, but you won’t be able to speed down the flyover, to leverage momentum, due to traffic.
  • Not practical under hot sun. Rider should plan to leave early morning and return after sun sets
  • Riding night time, while it is raining etc add up to complexities and demand even greater alertness as other drivers may not notice the cycle till they come close.

 

File Photo from Mahabalipuram Cycling Trip, Feb 2009

Advantages:

These are obvious and no brainer, still quickly mentioning them for quick reference

  • Exercise & Health Benefits
  • Fuel savings (its notional- If you were riding a bike earlier, savings will be say Rs 1 per km. If you were driving car it might be Rs 5 per km and if you were renting a Merc, the savings could be in few thousands)
  • Eco Friendly
  • Carbon Credits
  • Can take part in cycling events that keep happening in all cities-network with like minded people

Summary: Though cycling to work has its advantages, its practicality needs evaluation based on one’s commuting distance and other factors listed above.


Similar: Tour of Nilgiries *

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Colombo: Every trip has a purpose!

Feb 13 Update:-All hype and preparations aside, Murphy's law has kickedin and I might not be able to travel to SL- more details as time comes

------------Original Post-----------
As communicated in a previous post, we’ve a 2day trip to Colombo, Srilanka lined up for later this month…


The purpose of this trip are listed below:
  • To become eligible to call oneself “International Traveller” and “Foreign Returned” without spending a fortune (Trip budget under 10000 INR per person)
  • To take advantage of the cheap return fare offered by Spicejet (Rs 4008, when booked in Jan 1st week)
  • To make full use of weekend with an international trip that lasts from Friday night till Monday morning- fully optimized for 48 hours in SL and back in Chennai on Monday for work
  • To Explore couple of key places in Srilanka, to the extent possible, in 48 hours
  • Hope for a 6hour+ delay in flight so as to claim 500$ compensation from travel insurance company, an amount 2 times our entire trip expense!
  • Familiarize myself with roads, driving rules and other aspects of Srilanka, so as to assess possibility of renting Toyota Landcruiser Prado from Malkey (SL’s leading Car Rental Agency) on self drive rental during future trips
  • Enjoy Scenic train journey in Srilanka, in ICE (Intercity Express) Observation Car (Subject to availability of ticket)
  • Cloths are very cheap in Srilanka. Explore possibility of buying a few suitcase full of them and sell them in T Nagar,Chennai, to recover trip expenses! Just kidding! (Advance booking open!)
This post is prepared as an entry for Indiblogger-Cleartrip MyPurpose contest, have induced some fun element to make it interesting. I’m required to collect maximum number of votes to win the contest, but such contests always benefit the organizers/sponsors than participants. (All participants need to link to cleartrip wesbite, but there's no provision to link back to our blogs from cleartrip site) I need to drive traffic to Indiblogger site to get votes, something I don’t like. I’d suggest don’t waste your time voting, unless you’re already active on indiblogger and it doesn’t take much time n effort to vote. If you like the content and can leave a comment, that'll be more valuable to me.

When I was checking ticket prices, I realized that cleartrip isn’t the cheapest option. In fact it is not even showing Spicejet SG1 and SG2 between MAA and Colombo while searching for tickets. We booked tickets directly on Spicejet website, which cost us few hundred rupees less than Makemytrip n other travel portals. This para may spoil my chances of winning the contest, but still had to say this.

Waiting for Feb end!

Related posts: Jetlite vs Spicejet  * Fly Free on Indigo * Kingfisher Experience * Kingfisher takes off from Mysore

Monday, February 07, 2011

Customer feedback: Aircel postpaid Chennai


We blog only when something goes wrong. This post shares few notes regarding Aircel Chennai Mobile postpaid service, sharing both good and not so good things experienced from their service.

I was happy with prepaid all my life. For the first time got a post paid connection last year, as the handset and rental was paid for by the then employer.

Initial few months were big pain: Had  a major issue with the credit limit and the way they’d calculate unpaid amount. I was given a credit limit of 750rs, but my monthly rental alone would cross Rs 850 (Monthly rent+blackberry charges+CUG+taxes). Within few days of paying the bill, I would get calls and SMSs alerting me that I’m nearing my credit limit and need to make interim payment. This was highly annoying- instead of adding rental amount at the time of generating the bill, system would calculate proportionate rental amount and in about 2-3 weeks I’d reach my credit limit. Even though I’m entitled for unlimited internet usage and a number of free local calls, these would stop automatically if I don’t make interim payment.
Raised a request to increase credit limit, but was told that can be done only after 6 months. Used to pay an additional amount along with the bill to offset the gap between credit limit and my rentals, but their system would consider extra payments only during bill generation, nullifying the very purpose. There seemed to be no solution for this and had to survive initial six months with this annoying demand of making payments even before bill date.

Subsequently the credit limit is raised and not facing this issue anymore.

Billing: has been precise. No faulty billing detected so far. Sometime back they started delivering the bill to a wrong address (instead of Door No 1/1234, they started showing it as Door No 11234, missing the ‘/’ and creating lot of confusion) and I had to go through a big cycle to correct it-as if I’ve changed my address completely. Used to pay at their counters initially and eventually started paying online.


Customer care is just fine. Folks have been fairly helpful. Didn’t have any major issues other than what’s described above, hence I didn’t have a chance to test their efficiency.


Coverage: Pretty good in Chennai and few other TN towns I’d been to. Unlike Vodafone or Airtel, Aircel doesn’t have presence in all circles, hence offers roaming in tie-up with other operators. Data connectivity is an issue in some tier 2 cities and on highways. At many places, while my other Airtel connection shows full signal, Aircel network faints.

Call charges and Plans: Not the cheapest-but I’m not much of a talker, hence wasn’t a consideration. Have 200 local minutes per month which covers most of my usage. Activated STD pack recently.
Apps: Aircel has an app world for Blackberry- haven’t tried it at all, as I’m using bare minimum apps on the phone.

Aircel website gives option to analyze the bill and few other basic options, but it’s not fast or user friendly as others.

Do I recommend Aircel to others?: Excluding couple of issues detailed above, my relationship with Aircel has been decent. But few of my friends were terribly upset and were evaluating going to consumer forum. So use your discretion.

Will I change to other operator:  Not planning anything right away. After changing job, I’m paying the monthly rental from my own pocket-the always ON addiction has its side effects. Need to see if I can manage without blackberry services. Alternate option would be to opt for 3G services, which again will cost similar and needs extra spend on handset. Other operators do have few plans with their own pros and cons. Will be sticking to what I have for the time being.

Aircel has some sort of loyalty program called Aircel Advantage-which is total waste as it gives nothing for free. We only get some discounts based on points accumulated.

Overall Feedback: Just fine.

Also read: Blackberry 8520 review * SMS and Win

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Talakadu excavation near Mysore in Pics

Talakadu is a heritage site off Mysore (abt 50kms), wherein centuries old temples are buried deep under sand. A few temples are excavated and made open to public, few more were in work-in-progress state, when we’d visited it in 2008.

Just sharing some photos of the temples there…Its believed that over 30 temples are buried under sand. Only few are fully excavated and made public.
talakkad-temple1 talakadu-excavation-site 
site-marked-for-excavation temple-structure-talakadu
Roads to Talakadu were pathetic in 2008. Hope its much better now.
honey-bees-talakadu
Another interesting thing we noticed in Talakadu were the friendly honey bees. These bees are believed to attack humans and are known to cause deadly stings, but here, they were flying feely around a tap and wouldn’t mind people coming near the tap to drink water. With little hesitation in the beginning, all of us used tap water, while the bees watched.
Just another reminder that animals, however dangerous,  won’t harm others unless they feel threatened.
 honey-bees
In a recent development, Karnataka Govt has increased all types of tourist fees (entry fee, camera fee, safari fee etc) at bird sanctuaries, reserved forests and other places of tourist interest several times, heavily discouraging people from visiting these places. Entry fee to Ranganatittu Bird Sanctuary is now Rs 150 per person from the earlier fee of Rs 20. Driving your car upto Gopalaswamy betta will cost Rs 500 and so on. I wish these exorbitant fees are rolled back immediately.

Related: Wayanad Travelogue * Ooty * Elephant bathing in K Gudi * Birds of Bheemeshwari * Bharachukki falls *

Longterm Ownership Report: Bajaj Discover 112

Next few posts will contain owners’/customers’ review of few products/services, which I’ve been using for considerable amount of time. Idea is it might be useful to those looking to buy similar brand/product/services.
This post gives an ownership report on my bike Bajaj Discover 112, which is in its 6th year now. This post will be useful/interesting to you if you’re a bike enthusiast or if you’re evaluating Bajaj bikes for purchase. Else feel free to skip this post. [Read Best of 2010 instead]

Brief Review: Overall performance and user experience of Bajaj Discover, bought in Jan 2006, has been good. Considerable amount was spent on its regular servicing and it continues to serve me well.

Why I had bought Discover 112?
5 years ago, the options in 2 wheelers weren’t many. There were Bajaj Pulsars and TVS Fiero in premium market and entry level range consisted of Bajaj’s CT 100 and HH Splendor, with few other similar options from TVS and Yamaha. I didn’t have enough funds for a premium bike, hence settled for Discover 112- a new launch at that time- slightly better than entry level 100cc bikes but not as expensive as 150cc ones. Discover 112 came with alloy wheels (very few had it those days), promised good fuel economy (still remains a promise), front pilot lamps and handle bar balancers. Another reason to go for Bajaj was that it wasn’t spending much on celebrity endorsements.

5 years and close to 30k kms later…

Bike continues to be reliable and road worthy as it was and serves the basis purpose (to commute in city) without any issues. It was used for about 3-4 long rides-
  • Chennai-Bangalore and back
  • Chennai-Pondy & back
  • Chennai-Yelagiri and Back [Details]
  • Hyderabad-Bidar and Back
  • Hyderabad-(a small down 100kms from Hyd) and back
Other than these, the bike was used only for regular city commuting.Bajaj-Discover-112


Maintenance bill: To ensure that it stays fit, considerable money has been spent on its regular maintenance and service. I’ve been servicing it regularly once in 3-4 months, service bill ranging between 600-1200 Rs approx. In past 5 years, it might have undergone 20 regular services. 3 of them resulted in a bill of more than 2000 (once I’d to change the broken silencer, another two times to replace major engine components), approx 5-6 times it did cost more than 1200, otherwise typical service bill ranges between 600-1200 Rs. Clutch and accelerator cables, air filter, spark plugs all were changed as per recommendation or when felt necessary. Considering all the service and repair expense, an average of 10 Rs approx per day is being spent on Bajaj Discover 112. I could have saved some money on this by reducing service frequency (many of my friends service the bikes only when it develops some problems) and postponing spare part replacement (could have managed with worn out parts like break sh oe, tubes etc for some more time before replacing them), nevertheless spent money on this bike in the interest of peace of mind and long term health of the bike. It did break down in middle of the road few times (less than 10 during past 5 years I guess), but has been fairly reliable otherwise. Bike was serviced primarily at Bajaj dealerships, occasionally at Castol Bikezone. One service centre in Kondapur, Hyderabad was the worst, other have been reasonable.
discover-bike-transmissionDiscover-Odometer-reading

The indicator glasses have broken, while the bulb and casing is perfectly working. But Bajaj doesn’t send the glass cover alone as spare and I’ll have to buy the whole unit at about Rs 150, so have postponed this repair.


Tyres and Tubes: With close to 30k kms on the odo, both tyres still have good threading left on them. I believe they should last another 10k kms before wanting a replacement. Front wheel still has original tube with a few patches, while rear wheel tube had to be replaced several times due to multiple punctures.

Fuel economy is nothing close to Bajaj’s claim of 100kmpl… Has been consistent around 60-65kmpl when last checked.

Above: Me & My bike- somewhere on top of a small hill, some 100kms off Hyderabad, 2007


What’s not good? Won’t go faster than 85kmph. No major complaints.

Will I sell this and buy new one? By sticking to 5 year old  entry level bike, I do miss the experience of faster bikes and fancy features like disc brakes, LED, LCD etc, but the answer is No. It’ll probably fetch a value of 20k, I’ve to buy a new one I’ll have to pump in another 30k. Don’t think that is necessary as this bike is serving my everyday requirements just fine.

Would I recommend this bike to others? Not really sure. There’re so many other options today in the market, so won't recommend anything.

As I've not upgraded to a car, this continues to be my primary mode of transport. Did some long rides in it earlier, but of late, I'm using rented cars for long drives, so bike is used for city ride only. With a newly bought cycle, aiming to reduce its usage further.

Related:  Yelagiri Bike Ride * Honda Unicorn 2007 Review *  

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Buying new car vs renting car (Updated)

Buying a car is dream of many Indian middleclass families. Earlier people used to buy cars as they near their middle age. At present many individuals buy cars within few years of getting a job-thanks to higher income levels and easy access to car finance.

It’s too easy and tempting to buy a car- with upto 100% finance, so many options to chose from and peer pressure, people are buying cars in greater numbers than ever.

No doubt a car provides comfort and is deemed essential to ascertain your well being to the society.
But then, the harsh truth is that a car is a depreciating asset or a financial liability. It never increases in value and needs lot of expenditure. Buying a car is the easy part. It really hurts the wallet while paying all new set of expenses- overpriced petrol, parking fee, toll fee, tax, insurance and so on. Of course, at certain stage in life one will be earning enough money not to worry about these petty expenses, but for a new middle class car buyer who bought it on loan, maintaining a car is a complicated affair.

Can one avoid/postpone buying a car? It’s essential to have a vehicle to be able to commute from one point to another. Without a car, other options will be to use public transport or use rented car/taxi. Which will be more sensible?

I’ve been postponing my temptation to buy a car and always managed with rented cars. In this post, a quick comparison as to which is more economical in long run- renting a car on need basis or buying a car on a loan. Both have their merits and demerits…

Case 1: Buying a car on loan
Let us assume one is buying a new car priced at 6.5lakh with Rs 1.5 lakhs down payment and Rs 5 lakhs  as loan amount, of 4 years duration. In this case, monthly EMI will be about 13k

Advantages of owning a car:

  • A car at your disposal all the time- easy to go out with friends, family etc
  • Certain car related expenses might be reimbursed by the company, if one is eligible
  • Convenient and safer than a two wheeler for regular commute
  • Better peer recognition
  • Cheaper to travel to other states-Commercial vehicles need to pay permit fee while entering other states-this is big pain and will be in several hundred to few thousand rupees
  • End of 4 years, you’ll be OWNING your car (it’s another story that the car will be worth less than one third of what you spent on it (Original Cost + interest on loan + insurance, tax, repairs etc-discussed later)
If you need a quote on car loans, check here.

Disadvantages:
  • Additional cash outflow in terms of fuel, service, parking and toll fee
  • New models hit the road every few months-You might soon get bored with your old car
  • You're adding to already congested roads and pollution
  • Possible dents, scratches, breakdowns etc to cause more spending over time
  • Temptation to use the car when it’s not really needed
  • If you're transferred often, getting NOC and using your car in another state is big pain.
  • Driving Solo to office in a car that can seat 5 people, is such a waste of road space, fuel
  • More time to reach office, compared to two wheeler
  • Even when the car is not used, there'll be regular cash outflow in terms of insurance, EMI etc
  • Additional cash outflow if you employ a driver
  • End of 4 years, you’d have paid Rs 1.5 lakh as interest alone. Total spend on car will be about 9 lakhs (Original cost 6.5 lakh+1.5lakh loan interest+1lakh other expenses (annual insurance, any repairs etc)), but the car will be worth just about 3-4 lakhs in second hand market, about one third of what you spent on it total. If you plan to sell it off and  buy a new car, you’ll effectively lose 6 lakhs on your car
Case 2: Renting a car (on self drive or with driver)
Assuming one would need a car only for weekend long drives and one goes out say 1 or 2 weekends a month, 2-4 day rental would cost about 4-8k (rental only) for a mid size car. The amount would vary depending on number of days, type of car and other factors-let us assume a monthly spend of 10k on rental, keeping in mind inflation, city taxi rentals for local commute etc (Chauffer driven car would be billed differently, on a per km basis)

Read more about Self Drive cars in India

Advantages:
  • Huge savings on the money which would have been spent as down payment (1.5 lakhs)
    Interest on this 1.5lakh
  • Flexibility to chose a car as per need (small car, sedan, SUV etc)
  • Flexibility to do part journey in train/flight and rent a car in destination city
  • No worry about maintenance, tax, insurance etc
  • If touring with friends, rental cost can be shared. Not possible in an owned car (This doesn’t matter when touring with family)
  • No worry about depreciation, car lying unused in garage etc
  • End of 4 years, you’ll not be owning any car as in case 1 but you’d have spent about 6 lakhs on rental amount and you’ll have about 2 lakhs in cash (the down payment amount+ interest)
Disadvantage:

  • Advance planning is needed and vehicle needs to be booked in advance
  • Can’t customize the car as per one’s taste
  • Uncertainty: Sometimes booked vehicle may not be available and alternate arrangements may not be made-spoiling your plans
  • Additional documentation & inconvenience- need to go to rental agency and collect it/return it every time
  • Car rental services aren't that good in tier 2 cities. Not an ideal option in smaller towns
  • The car you need may not always be available
  • Rental agencies often keep base variants and may not have safety and entertainment features available in top end variants.
  • Will have to complete the trip within stipulated time. Delay may result in additional rent. 
  • Any damage to vehicle can cost you heavily
  • May not be ideal for small trips/short usage
  • During peak seasons you may not get a car or rental amount can be much higher
Summarily, in a owned car scenario, you’d have spent 9 lakhs total (down payment, EMIs and maintenance) and will be left with a car whose value is 3 lakhs (Effective spend: 6 lakhs) whereas in a rented car, you’ll spend 6 lakhs in rentals and will have 2 lakhs cash, meaning effective spend: 4 lakhs (Note: Only cost of car is considered. Operating expense-fuel etc will be separate in both cases)

Above is a hypothetical situation. Actual numbers will vary depending on over a dozen factors, such as:
  • Assumption here is that car will be used mainly for weekend long drives-may not be the case with everyone, all the time
  • Resale value of your 4 yr old car could be higher if it is an in-demand model, well maintained and has run lesser no of kms
  • Though new cars available for Rs 2 lakh onwards, car priced at around 6.5 lakh is considered for this illustration, expecting to be robust for long drives
  • Even car owners will have to spend on rented cars when they in far away cities
  • Factors like Loan amount, duration, rental days, type etc will have an impact on actual spend
  • Comfort, convenience and prestige factor associated with owning a car can’t be evaluated in terms of money. For example, if you’re using your luxury car to impress your prospective clients and get more business, or have lot of family time in car while dropping kids to school and spouse to office, then it’s certainly worth it
  • After 4 years (end of loan term) the calculations are favorable to car owner as he needn't pay EMI and pays only for car maintenance.
Author’s perspective only. Individual expectations and preferences may vary.


Similar posts: 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 challenge * Toyota Fortuner trapped in Mud * Diesel dilemma11 things you don't get in BMW 320d * BMW 320 photoshoot *

April 2012 Update: Read another post on this topic- My calculations