Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Graffiti in Valparaiso streets

As I said in an earlier posts, Valparaiso looks much like the city in popular gangster game GTA Vice City. Many walls have detailed art work on them, some of them have randomly sprayed paint…

Sharing couple of photos below showcasing the artwork on some city walls…
Wall art-valparaisografitti-valparaiso-2
Below one was clicked in Santiago, near a metro station

Monday, June 27, 2011

Petrol and Diesel prices in Chile [Updated]

Would you like to compare India’s fuel prices with that of Chile? Here’s the answer:

Back in April, 93 Octane Gasoline (petrol) fuel was costing 749 Pesos per litre or about 75 Rs in INR equivalent. That’s little more than what Bangalore people are paying today for a litre of petrol. (But the difference is that its 93 Octane in Chile while we get 88 Octane one as standard and 91 Octane ones with a premium branding (Speed, Power etc) at an increased price.
95 and 97 Octane petrol are also available easily, for a small premium.

I guess D stands for Diesel, priced at 622 pesos or 62 Rs- Now that’s relatively expensive- probably because Govt there doesn’t subsidise one fuel for another.

K stands for Kerosene

Below: Petrobras outlet (Petronas Brazil) in Valparaiso

Fuel costs in Valpraiso were little different, refer image below

While fuel costs are similar/higher than India, cars are fairly cheap there, as tax policy doesn't make expensive cars even more expensive.

Muddenahalli: Sir M Vishveshwaraya's birthplace and museum

Muddenahalli is a small village in Chickballapur district, some 100 kms from Bengaluru. This is an ordinary village, but what is extra ordinary about this village is the fact that one of the greatest engineers, Sir Mokshagundam Vishveshwarayya was born here.

If you’re not aware who he is, Sir MV (ಮೋಕ್ಷಗುಂಡಂ ವಿಶ್ವೇಶ್ವರಯ್ಯ) was diwan of Mysore during Mysore Kingdom and was a visionary engineer who undertook KRS, Linganamakki dam and many other challenging projects, which serve the nation flawlessly even today.

We had visited this place in April 2009 and I hadn’t blogged about it. Today I saw the below documentary about Sir MV and suddenly felt the urge to publish these photographs…

Sir MV’s house is now converted into a Museum and houses some of the rare items belonging to the legendary engineer. Photography is banned inside the building, so no photos for you.
Muddenahalli is very close to Nandi hills… If you’re planning a visit to Nandi hills or to Skandagiri, do plan to visit this place. Not for any entertainment purposes, but a mark of respect for the ace engineer of yester years.
school in muddenahalli vishveshwaraya-museum-muddenahalli
More about Sir M Vishveshwarayya here

View Larger Map
Similar: Sanskrit Village Mattur near Shimoga *

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Turistik Hop-On Hop-Off City tour in Santiago, Chile

turistik-sales-guyTuristik is a leading city tour operator in Santiago. They have a fleet of double deck, partially open (open on the side in top floor) buses that ply on a pre-determined route every 30 minutes. When I went to one of their ticket counters in Santiago (at Mall Parque Arauco), the first bus of the day (at about 9AM) just left. I bought a ticket, roamed around in the mall and waited for the next bus to leave. By about 9.20 it was ready to leave. I was the sole passenger in the entire double-decker bus, along with the driver and a guide.

On your left is an outdoor promotional guy who was walking around at a park (one of the destinations on their route) trying to sell turistik tickets

They operate the fleet, even when there’re no passengers- this is because being a hop on hop off service, tourists may be waiting at subsequent stations to hop on.touristik-city-hopon-hop-off-santiago-chile
Touristik Hop On Hop Off city tour in Santiago De Chile covers about 13 destinations. You can board the bus from any destination. I boarded at Mall Parque Arauco (a shopping complex). Bus had a small TV which was non functional and an automated voice that gives brief description of the next destination, both in English and Spanish.Because of the open air gushing in, the audio wasn’t clear.
And I had a decision to make- I only had one day at my disposal. Should I spend that whole day roaming around the city? or Should I skip some destinations and spend half a day going outside the city? (Touristik offered half day tours to nearby Andes Mountains and few other places). It was a tough decision. Both options had their pros and cons- Visiting Andes Mountain would have given me an opportunity to check out the country side and hills, at an additional cost and having to miss some of the attractions in the city (about half of them on the list). Eventually I decided to cut short the city tour and opt for half day tour to Andes Mountains (details here). No regrets.

Our first two stops were Parroquia de la Inmaculada Concepción and Edificio CEPAL. Don’t ask me what these were… I chose not to get down here- both because I couldn’t see anything special from outside and the guide suggested I can skip these. (Visited so far: 0/13)

Next place on the list was Sheraton Hotel. Saw the hotel from outside and chose to continue with the bus. (Visited so far: 1/13)

Next place was Patio Bellavista which is a centre for art, culture and cuisine-similar to Dakshina Chitra in Chennai or Shilparamam in Hyderabad. I wasn’t sure if this place will be at its best during early morning. Skipped it
Next was the city park. Got down here and explored the park. Details qualify for a separate post.(2/13)

Santiago-Metropolitan ParkNext was Museum of arts. I didn’t get down here, but subsequently while walking to Mercado Central I passed through this building again- had a quick look inside. (3/13)

Next stop is Plaza De Armas- a square where eventually Santiago mayor launched that toy train service that day. More details here. 4/13)

Next stop was Mercado Central. I saw it from the bus only as I had to come back to this place later to board the bus for Andes trip. Read about Mercado Central here (5/13)

Got down at the next stop: Plaza de la Constitución where some sunday celebrations were going on. Details here (6/13)

Other 4 places were Santa Lucía, Providencia, El Golf - Isidora Goyenechea and El Golf - Sanhattan which I had to sacrifice to spend second half of the day visiting Andes mountains
our-driver-and-guide all alone-on-board touristk 
What’s good about Turistik:
  • At 18$, it will be far far cheaper than renting a taxi to travel around in the city.
  • They operate buses even if there’re no customers
  • Explanation in Spanish and English
  • Tickets can be bought onboard or at the counter
What was not that good:
  • The video screen was not functioning
  • Automated voice speaking in both Spanish and English is not that clear, more so when external wind breezes in.
  • When I wanted to prioritize the destinations (so that I can use second half of the day to out of city tour), The flyer wasn’t much useful (our tour guide attempted to help though). Would have been nice if the flyer included some text info about the destination, their significance etc.
  • A half day ticket would have been even better
Other Chile posts * Turistik Chile website

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Former Parliament Building, Colombo SL

I’m not done with my Srilanka posts yet. In this post, sharing photos of some good looking buildings of Colombo…

Former Parliament Building: This building looks majestic and is situated on the sea shore. Bright colours and good architecture.
former-parliament-building-colombo former-parliament-building-colombo-front-view
Colombo National Museum. Nice white building… have taken several inside photos and should qualify for a separate post…
 museum-main-block  colombo-museum-front-view

Read other Srilankan posts here

Monday, June 20, 2011

ICICI Bank Longterm customer feedback

Aug 2012 Update:
Received this headphone as free gift from ICICI credit cards for using it in US earlier this month. Redeemed some points from its partner Payback (earlier iMint) and gifts were delivered super fast. No complaints

Original Post:
We use blogs to vent our anger and complain when something goes wrong. We seldom appreciate when everything goes right. I’ve been a customer of ICICI Bank for over 6 years now and this post shares my feedback, which is largely positive.

I’ve seen many internet users complaining about ICICI Bank, noted that most of them were related to various loans. I’ve not availed any loans from this bank and have used only Savings account and credit card service from them, so my feedback is based on only these 2 services.

Initial 5 years or so mine was a salary account, so not sure if that influenced any preferential treatment, if any.

My only issue was when I was charged some 200 Rs + for not having enough balance and a pre-authorized monthly deduction failed. Bank neither alerted me that funds are not sufficient, nor waited for couple of days for salary to get credited. Couldn’t recover this amount and eventually took extra precautions to prevent such from happening.

All my points were getting redirected to iMint, a venture by ICICI Bank. Had some trouble with iMint cards initially, [Read my detailed review of iMint here], but eventually this was solved and am able to redeem my points in time.
When the Satyam fiasco happened, all banks slashed credit limits of Satyam Employees. ICICI was no different, but after sometime, when Deepak Parekh and other govt appointed board members criticized this move, ICICI Bank did restore the limits to previous amount for those who’d not defaulted.

When ICICI Bank advertized 8am to 8pm banking I was happy, but only to learn that this is applicable to very few branches in each city. This doesn’t apply to the branch near me.

No complaints on the credit card front either. Always paid my dues in time and never paid a single rupee in interest but they still haven’t charged me anything for causing loss of revenue by not defaulting… J They did charge me some good amount for using the credit card abroad. It proved to be little more expensive (compared to paying in cash after factoring currency conversion cost)

Luckily there was no occasion when I had to call their customer care for some sort of assistance. Used only mail facility offered in internet banking. Mails get prompt response. No complaints on that one.

Tried using their international debit card abroad to withdraw money, but after the ATM warned me that I’ll be charged about 250 Rs, I promptly took out the card, went to forex counter instead.

HDFC Charges Rs 100 per year for ATM Card, Rs 500 per year for debit card for non salary SB Accounts. ICICI doesn’t charge such fees as far as I know.

Overall having a trouble free experience with ICICI Bank as SB Account and Credit card customer. Refer other reviews if you want feedback on loans and other services.

Related: ICICI Bank Cycle banking * Recruitment frauds- Job aspirants beware * iMint * SBI accepts me as Customer * ICICI Cashback- your chances of winning * Aircel long term customer feedback * HSBC tries cheap tricks *

Dec 2011 update: ICICI stores statements online for 4 years only. When I wanted older statements, ICICI provided it in about 2 week's time

Saturday, June 18, 2011

AirAsia's Cheap tickets to Malaysia

After our first trip to Srilanka which was of just 2 days duration, I had plans to make another trip to SL by end of this year. But had to drop this plan because things have changed- Spicejet is no more offering promotional fares of Rs 4008 return tickets to Colombo (now it costs 5.5k) and flight timings also have changed-from early morning to mid-day, meaning lot of day time will be spent in travel, instead of site seeing. A ferry service has also started last week from Tuticorin to Colombo. Added it to wishlist.

Suddenly I noticed Air Asia is offering discounted rates to fly between Chennai and Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Displayed fares were Rs 2008 one way + taxes.

Tempted by ultra low fare ads issued by Air Asia, I’ve planned a quick 2 days trip to Kaula Lumpur later this year. Air Asia’s advertised fares are extremely tempting, but the total cost ads up to about 1.5-2 times the advertised fare when you attempt a booking.

Malaysia-petronas-twin-tower file photo
Here’s a quick run through of my ticket booking exercise:

From Chennai to Kuala Lumpur and back, Air Asia’s advertised fare in Rs 3500 One way. But when I tried booking, it showed two options- a regular fare of Rs 3948 and a promo fare of Rs 2008.

Fair enough, I selected Rs 2008 and proceeded… (for the sake of saving 2000 rupees, I had to sacrifice half a day of the vacation-instead of taking Saturday morning flight which would have given me half a day at the destination, I booked a less popular Saturday evening flight, which reaches Sunday morning)

I was shown a total return fare of Rs 6000 (Rs 2008 is base fare one way + various surcharges and fees)

If I had to select regular fare of Rs 3948 and return fare of Rs 2008, total would have been Rs 8140

I thought Rs 6000 is fair enough. It is still half of what anyone else would charge (Air India express and Jet charge about 12k for a return ticket to Kuala Lumpur )

Next I had to declare if I want to checkin any baggage, at extra cost… Rs 550 for under 15kgs, Rs 750 for 25 kgs, one way. I chose to skip this, thinking for a 2 day trip I should manage with a cabin bag.

Next I had an option to select seats-You can select your preferred seat, at an extra cost of Rs 450 per seat… else you’ll be allotted seats at the time of boarding, based on availability… I chose to gave up on this, as I could save Rs 900 on round trip

Next was meals preference- opted for veg meal at Rs 173

If you want convenience kit, Rs 350 extra (not sure what all it includes, guess tissue paper and such stuff)

Next was to select if I want shuttle in Kuala Lumpur… I didn’t select this- will decide on the ground if it is needed. I guess they’ll ask us to walk till the terminal instead of taking us in a bus…

AirAsia charges Rs 120 per ticket for paying through credit card… totally it costed about 13.5k for 2 people with meals (and no checkin bag or shuttle or anything else),which was still about 40% cheaper than what regular airlines would have charged. If I'd selected seats, opted for checkin bag & convenience kit, it would have added another 2400 Rs per person for return ticket, making the cost difference between Air Asia and full service airline to about 25%.

When I tried booking 3rd ticket, the Rs 2008 promo fares had gone and I had to book at regular price of Rs 3948 & taxes. Have to work on Visa part next. Haven’t made specific plans as to what to do there in Kaula lampur for 2 days- initial plan is to book a budget hotel and check out the city using some city tour services. Any recommendation welcome.With about 7k per person spent on airfare, aiming to cover other expenses- visa, hotel, site seeing in another 7k per person, so that trip should cost not more than 14k per person.

Keeping expectations very low and making this short and experimental trip to Malaysia. If all goes well, can plan more such visits whenever AirAsia offers promotional fares. Thankfully AirAsia is not charging extra for seatbelts, emergency door, oxygen mask etc

Petronas Twintowers: Photo by Partho

Similar: Srilankan Trip: Purpose, FAQ, Digest * Chile Posts digest *

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chandragiri Fort, Kasaragod

This fort is not to be mistaken with the Chandragiri fort near Tirupati, AP

November last year, I was heading home in a Mangalore bound train via Kerala. Early in the morning I learnt from twitter that Karnataka BJP has enforced day long bandh in Karnataka on the day, which meant I was likely to be stranded in railway station.

Made on-the-fly decision to get down at Bekal Fort, spend some time there and then go to Mangalore by evening. There was no stop at Bekal fort station,so had to get down at Kasargod, then took a bus to Bekal. I was also informed of a place called Chandragiri fort nearby, but couldn’t get clear directions from few people from whom I sought help. While returning from Bekal I suddenly spotted a signboard which said Chandragiri Fort  1km and got out of the bus in a split second decision.

Walked about a km and I was in Chandragiri fort. Nothing unique about this fort- just has an entrance, walls, a sort of well and a watch tower. Nothing more. Area inside the fort campus is also small, probably as large as a cricket ground. No buildings or vegetation inside other than grass.

another-viewview-of-river-sea-from-chandragiri fort kerala
The view from the fort is pretty good-river and ocean are visible.
Not much of historic information was available. A security guard like person came to me and asked me to sign in the visitor register.
well-inside-chandragiri-fort-kasaragod    chandragiri-fort-watchtower
If you’re heading to Bekal, spending little more time to visit this Chandragiri fort will be worth it. On its own there’s no point going all the way to see this place.

Nearby: Bekal Fort pics * Madhugiri Fort, Tumkur *Mattur near Shimoga *

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Royal Enfield plans Multifuel Bike & other news

You read about my RE factory visit in the earlier post. This post shares some news and updates related to Royal Enfield, which I got to know during the visit.

Royal Enfield is doing R&D on a multi fuel bike- This bike will be able to run on any fuel (about 10 possible fuels are identified, such as petrol, diesel, kerosene, bio diesel and so on). The engine will have the ability to handle any of these fuels and a combination thereof, and run as smoothly as ever. This bike may take minimum 2 more years before it hits the road. Once it happens (assuming it happens), if petrol is not affordable, you can fuel up your bullet with aviation fuel or kerosene or something else.

Traditionally from what we’ve learnt in schools petrol and diesel engines have different designs. It remains to be seen how RE’s multi fuel bike works. As of now, fingers crossed.

Current waiting period for Royal Enfield bikes is about 8 to 10 months. Existing factory in Tiruvottiyur is having an annual capacity of 25000 bikes (but reportedly produces 50000 bikes though multiple shifts). Royal Enfield is planning for a second factory with capacity of 75000 bikes an year. New factory will be within 200 kms of current factory (as all its suppliers are located here)

Besides catering to Indian market, Royal Enfield gets good business from export markets and Indian army. Several variants of the bikes being made in the factory will not be seen on Indian roads, as they’re made exclusively for foreign markets. Some colours used on Army bikes are not to be used for civilian bikes, as per govt regulations.
Modern bullets give fairly decent fuel economy of 50kmpl+ All thanks to technological advances.
Because of emission norms some of the previous engine designs had to be abandoned, as they no longer meet new emission norms.

Oxygen sensors in engines detect low oxygen levels (say when you go to Ladakh) and facilitate higher oxygen intake to ensure smooth running.
  red-royal-enfield500 blue-bullet-classic500 
All through the year Royal Enfield keeps conducting biking events all over India, where Royal Enfield users meetup and celebrate. Rider Mania, Himalayan Odessy are few such events. Almost every city as a bullet owners club, who get active support from Royal Enfield.

Royal Enfield is about to implement a supply chain management solution, which can track parts which go to various bikes. If your bike gives problem w.r.t to particular component, it will be possible to track the component as to who made it, when it was installed, why it failed and so on. Giving bike chassis number is mandatory while buying spares, this is to prevent black market selling

Royal Enfield has no plans of entering mass market with any 150-200 cc bikes. They would remain focused on 350cc and above segment. Several variants of Bullet and Thunderbird are being tested,details will be in public when time comes…
Just like factory visits, Royal Enfield also conducts workshops for mechanics and engineers who wish to specialize in Royal Enfield bike servicing.

Enfield is also working with vendors to launch a series of signature accessories- jackets, toolkit and other stuff needed by the riders.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Royal Enfield Bullet factory visit

Visiting Royal Enfield Factory in Tiruvottiyur in Chennai was on my wishlist for considerable time. They do allow visitors on Saturdays (Costs Rs 600, includes a Royal Enfield T shirt) We’d planned a visit couple of times earlier, but for various reasons it didn’t materialize.
enfield-bullet-robo  another early variant of Royal Enfield
Last week when Srini alerted me about a tweetup happening there, I opted in. Subsequently last Saturday me and few other twitter users who opted in were given a brief overview of the 60 years old Royal Enfield (aka Bullet) factory…
an early variant of Royal Enfield bike
This post shares some photos taken during the factory visit and some related information.tweeps
I was at their reception some 30 minutes ahead of schedule, killed time reading the books and magazines at the reception. What caught our attention was two dolls made up from Royal Enfield bike parts, image below. Also in the racks was a book which outlines Royal Enfield history and tradition. Couple of photos of early Royal Enfield bikes are interesting to watch…
500-cc-re-engine royal-enfield-logo 
We met Pravin, who handles most of Royal Enfield’s media activities. After a brief intro we were taken inside the factory. Visitors are allowed to photograph in only select areas, so that none of the confidential information (intellectual property of RE) related to Royal Enfield bikes get into public  domain.

We walked through an area where reworking was being done (If the bikes fail to satisfy the engineers during various tests, they are sent back to this section for fine tuning). Next to it was the engine assembly area. In that small area, an engine block which is nothing but a piece of metal gets lot of components into it, through the trained hands of Royal Enfield engineers and gets converted into a powerful 350 or 500 cc engine which makes the heart of a powerful bike passionately known as Bullet.
royal-enfield-trademark 350cc-royal-enfield-engines
We had a quick walkthrough inside the Engine assembly area, where workers were adding various components to the engine block and at the end of it a completed engine would come out, which were allowed to click. Because the assembly process is not fully automated and engineers manually add and configure parts, each engine gets a distinctive beat.
The engine which comes out of this assembly area is tested on a dummy chassis by Royal Enfield supervisors. They fill petrol into it, fire it up, run it at various acceleration levels and listen to the engine beat. By listening to the engine noise (beat),  they detect any malfunctioning or shortcoming. After they’re satisfied with the engine, they would attach a green sticker on it and pass it on for further assembly.

Other sections we visited was painting section. Most important aspect in this section was hand painting of signature stripes. This work is done by two brothers, who work in shifts and hand paint the golden stripes on bullet’s fuel tank and other parts. Mr Jai Kumar in the pics below- it was nice watching him paint the tank...
 hand-painted-golden-stripe one of the two legendary painting brothers

Adjacent to paint section is a section where metal parts are chemically treated. These treatments ensure that the parts survive in toughest weathers and last for decades. Have a look at the gold plated mud guards- it is only for a few seconds it stays that way- turns back to chrome in next dip into a chemical chamber…
Finally we were taken to final assembly area, where engines are mounted on the frame, wheels, silencer, seat and other components are attached here. End of this line a complete bike rolls out on its wheels.
We’re not done yet. Once completely assembled, the bikes are tested on a stationary rotor at all speeds. Here engineers ride the bike till its top speed, without moving an inch in reality. Helps them identify any unusual noise or beat. Final phase is the road test, where bikes are ridden on a test track, to ensure that its clutch, brakes, suspension and everything else works to perfection in real life scenarios (sharp turns, speed breakers etc)

Finally the bike is sent to dispatch section, where remaining petrol and engine oil is drained out, bikes is wrapped in thermocol and shipped to the showroom near you…

There’re some bullet models which you can see only in the factory and not on roads, as they are made either exclusively for Army or Export market..
Overall it was a great time spent there in the factory, learning more about the legendary bike that everyone admires. Some key information about Royal Enfield factory and its bikes will be shared in next post.

You can follow Royal Enfield on twitter, facebook or their blog...

Related: Bajaj Discover long term ownership report * Yelagiri Bike trip * New Honda Unicorn Review (2007) * Commuting to work by Cycle- pros and cons * Satyam Computers Bike Parking Sticker *