Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dating an Ex (Scorpio Vls)

I recently dated an Ex... It was fun. Before you guys get all wrong signals, I’m just referring to Mahindra Scorpio Vls (Read Review) which I’d driven in 2008. Back then we’d taken it on its maiden voyage, to Wayanad.(Read travelogue) With only 600kms on the odo, we taught it the road manners and tamed it...

If vehicles are not of your interest, feel free to skip this post.

Next year I had spotted it in Ooty [Details here]

Recently rented this SUV again for day. High cost notwithstanding, I couldn’t afford to rent it longer. Also the rules have changed- Hertz (Carzonrent) doesn’t allowone way rental (I can’t rent it in Blr and drop it in Chennai), couldn’t provide me with additional driver (who could drive it back to Blr). They’ve also stopped door delivery and collection- users will have to go to their office in Ulsoor to collect and return it. At a rental of about 4300 per day (almost same as monthly EMI of a hatchback car) I drove it around for a day around Bangalore, just to satisfy my itching fingers which hadn’t had an opportunity to steer a car in about 6 months.
Now 3 years old and 88000 kms on the odo and counting, the Scorpio still has the grunt and enthusiasm it had on day 1. Its on board sensors which warn users that a door is open, couldn’t learn anything in 3 years and still can’t tell which door is open of the 5, nor does it tell “hey, now it is fine” when one of the doors is opened and closed. Everytime it shouts, all doors need to be opened and closed with a thud, just to be sure.
Hertz people (and those who rented this scorpio from them) have treated it well. Except few minor scratches and missing wheel covers, there was no significant damage to the vehicle and was well maintained. We opened the bonnet to take a closer look- the mHawk engine was dusty but never tired. Tyres had good threads, not sure if they were replaced in between. In all the excitement, I didn’t notice the no of kms I drove it, hence can’t tell you its current fuel economy. A rough estimate says it gave about 12kmpl+ (had given about 13+ in its maiden voyage)
May be because of good customers like me (self patting), Carzonrent is buying cars left and right. They’ve placed orders for 90+ Mercedes Benz E class and many more Corolla Altis Diesel. Unfortunately none of them are likely to be available for self drive

Also read: Self drive cars- Complete guide

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia- trip planning updates

Kuala Lumpur trip planning is appearing to be more complex and expensive than I’d initially estimated. As the travel date is nearing and I’m studying more about the destination, what’s coming up is not so encouraging.
This post shares some of the concerns you may wish to factor in, while planning to visit Malaysia.

Scary taxi service: All my reading online hints me that taxis in Kuala lumpur are worse than Chennai auto driver and they’re almost always set to loot unsuspecting tourists, by not using meter, taking longer routes and other tactics. As a tourist and without adequate knowledge of the city, relying on taxis seems to be a dangerous proposition. We should use trains and buses as much as possible, or even walk. Need to be extra cautious about this.

Arrival and Departure: Kuala Lumpur international airport is about 50kms from city centre. And the low cost airlines land at a different low cost terminal, which is visibly next to regular terminal but 20kms by road. We need to use shuttle services to reach main terminal. We need to ensure that we get into buses which charge standard fares and not fall pray to touts who run minivans and charge 30 times more. I’ve been warned.

Getting to hotel from airport terminal- while KL has train and bus services from main terminal, they operate only between 5.30AM to 10PM. Our low cost flight lands us at middle of night and takes off early morning, meaning we can’t use these services and use the taxis, which charge 50% more for night usage. Whatever cost savings achieved from low cost tickets seem to be getting nullified with these factors.

Next question is what to see in the two days we’ll be spending there. Two days might be too little, but we have our limitations. Lot of people said I should plan longer stay, but I had to decide against it because of following reason:

A trip will have two cost components- Fixed cost(airfare, visa cost, airport transportation etc) and per day variable cost (hotel stay, local travel cost, food cost, value of leave taken from work etc). If flight charges are too expensive and consistitue significant % of total cost, increasing trip duration helps bringing down per day expense. Otherwise extending the stay for the sake of it won’t help.

I chose shorter stay because of following reasons-
With every additional day, expense will shoot up for hotel rent, food, etc. I am not sure how good the place (Kuala Lampur city) is,to what extent family members will like it, whether or not we’ll be getting good veg food in Kuala Lumpur and if everything will go as planned. If one or more of these don’t work and trip turns out to be disappointment, I’d rather keep it short. If all goes well, I can plan another trip in future (say to Singapore) and visit Malayasia again for a day or 2 from Singapore. (Malaysia visa is valid for 1 year)
Everyday i spend away from work has a value equivalent to your (and other participants’) daily income. This needs to be factored in while planning vacations. If air tickets are cheaper, I’d do two weekend trips than one long trip of 4 days.

With only 48 hours to spare, my plan is this- 
On day 1, cover Petronas Twin tower, KLCC, Aquaria, Bukit nanas Forest Reserve, KL tower and China town in the evening.

Getting to observation bridge of Petronas Twin tower seems to be a game of luck. There’s no online or advance booking. Limited number of tickets are issued everyday morning on first come first serve basis. Being there as early as 7.30AM might ensure that you get a ticket.

On Day 2, planning to take 1 day trip to a nearby destination- may be Cameron Highlands or Genting Islands or Batu caves. Will have to decide on this. Lot of places are closed on Monday, so need to be careful to cover Monday closed destinations on Sunday itself, if we wish to see them.

Let us see how it goes. Going with reduced expectations.

Related: Malaysia visa rules * Chile posts digest * Srilanka posts digest *

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pyramid valley, kanakapura road, Bangalore

After a not so good trip around Chunchi falls, Sangama etc, we were returning to Bangalore, we stopped to explore Pyramid valley, as recommended by Ravi, who was in tern inspired by photos shared by HP Nadig earlier.

Pyramid Valley is a recently constructed meditation facility off Kanakapura road. Star attraction of this place is a pyramid shaped meditation centre.

No photographs were allowed inside, hence only exterior photos for you. Once inside, you’ll see a large platform where people sit and meditate. Centre of the pyramid has a raised structure with stairs, on reaching top of which you’re required to meditate for 20-30 mins. This elevated point, right being the epicenter of pyramid, is believed to have high energy.

At the ground level there’s a briefing centre wherein an elderly person briefs visitors on the benefits of meditation. “You should meditate for a duration according to your age- if you’re 30 yrs old, you should meditate for 30 minutes” he said, adding that meditation will help in lot of ways- for a kid he said “you can come first in class, score 80%+ in class” etc if he mediates. I had a temptation to ask what will happen if all students in class meditate and do not study… who will come plus…

Anyways meditation might have its own benefits, more so for people who believe in it.

The campus is good. Has a few accommodation units- not sure of the rates. Also spotted some thai like buildings in the campus.

Luckily everything is free in the facility (parking, entry, toilets and lunch) Hope it remains that way.

Sri Sri Ravishankar’s art of living centre is also nearby, so these 2 can make an ideal one day outing from Bangalore if you’re into spirituality and meditation

Nearby: Huthridurga Hill * ATV Ride off kanakapura road * Mandhara giri * Savanadurga * Trimoorthy temple *

Malaysia visa application process and rules

Malaysia had VISA on Arrival for Indian tourists till August 2010, but probably due to misuse or abuse of the system, the VOA facility for Indians have been withdrawn. Indians need prior visa before visiting Malaysia

Just sharing Malaysia visa application process, based on personal experience, for the benefit of prospective tourists.

Applying for Malaysian visa is a fairly simple process (compared to US and some other countries). You download the application  form, fill it up, affix photo, get a DD for Rs 750, go to Malaysian Embassy by 9AM, stand in line, submit your passport and documents, collect your slip and come back…

Go back after 3 days and collect your passport with visa stamped

Documents Required:
·         Passport, valid for 6 months minimum
·         2 passport sized photos with white background, not very particular about size, regular ones (30mm by 40mm) would do
·         Demand Draft, drawn in favor of “The Consulate General of Malaysia, Chennai”, for Rs 750, drawn on at few select banks, including State Bank of India, RBS and few others (you may call the embassy to know other banks, I forgot). Don’t go with a DD of any bank not specified by the embassy
·         Filled application form, can be downloaded online or even the embassy staff will give you one on the spot. It is a fairly simple form with 2 pages, asks your basic details and purpose of travel-should be easier to fill
·         Valid Return ticket

We had taken few other documents like Hotel booking receipt, bank statement, credit card copy etc. These were not asked for.

There’s no online application or appointment taking. Just go early to the consulate (open for applicants from 9 am to 10.30AM), stand in line if there’re others waiting. Sign, walk in, handover your documents, collect an acknowledgement slip and go home.

Acknowledgement slip will have the date on which you can collect the passport. If you’d applied in a group, it’s enough if one person goes to collect the passports.

It takes about 3 business days to get the visa- I think this time frame is mainly to encash the DD.

Visa is valid for 1 year, multiple entry and one month per entry.

If there’s no Malaysian consulate in your city, then you may have to travel to nearest metro or rely on a travel agent. I didn’t have the need for this, hence not sure.

In Chennai the consulate is located in Cenotaph Road, Alwarpet. There’re no signboard outside the building and it is difficult to identify the building. Take help from locals or ask security guards and they’ll  point you to right building.

Disclaimer: All information as experienced by the blogger at the time of application. Visa rules may change over time and granting or denying the visa is at sole discretion of embassy staff. Above stated is only an ideal scenario and may not always be true.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Be kind to Bus drivers

Whenever an accident happens involving Bus and pedestrian/two wheeler, bus driver is always booked for rash driving and pedestrian/two wheeler driver (if they survive!) are often let free. In this post I urge you to understand the difficulties of a bus driver and give the big vehicle some respect and consideration on the road.

No bus driver goes to depo in the morning thinking “Let me crush a bike today”. Accidents do happen and we need to assess what went wrong. Most of the time, knowing how pedestrians and bikers behave, I don’t think drivers are always to blame.

Driver seat
bus being a big vehicle, needs to space while negotiating turns. But two wheeler riders often squeeze their bikes in whatever space available, making the turn near impossible for the driver. If the driver waits for one bike to pass, another bike will take its place, so he is forced to negotiate the turn/move whenever he gets the chance.

Pedestrians are supposed to follow certain rules- cross the road only at Zeebra crossing, use foot over bridge, not to jump over medians etc. But many of us do not follow these rules and we cross the road in between the traffic, risking ourselves, in the interest of saving some time and efforts. In other countries people cross only at designated places- drivers can slowdown at these intersections and drive freely on rest of the distance.

We may have some urgency, but so do bus drivers. He is ferrying 60+ people, whose combined urgency should be greater than the bikers. Bus driversneed to complete the trip within the stipulated time and can’t afford to wait as every small vehicle tries to take priority. Drivers are also under constant stress of hectic schedules, low pay, increasing traffics, poorly maintained buses…

We’ve developed this bad habit of thrashing the driver and damaging the bus soon after an accident. This public attitude and tendency forces drivers to flee for his life after an accident, even if he is confident it was not his fault. No one will be willing to listen to his story at the accident spot and once he flees, it is easy for police to book him under various sections. We never thank a driver for dropping us safely every day. What right do we have to beat him up if hisbus hits a bike by mistake?

There has to be some space between two vehicles for safe riding, but in bumper to bumper traffic, this space is getting to near zero and even a minor move can result in hitting someone left, right, front or back. Other road users are equally responsible for maintaining this safe distance.

Below picture tells you the difference in size of a Venture Minivan and Volvo Multiaxle bus (B9R)
There are some rogue bus drivers around, who do rash driving, but I suggest we don’t generalize this into whole community of bus drivers.

Private bus drivers in Coastal Karnataka are under even greater stress, as the time gap between two buses on a route is very less and if they delay, they might get overtaken by next bus and subsequently will lose passengers and revenue at subsequent bus stops.

Next time you see a big bus  on your way and get a temptation to squeeze around, do give it a consideration in your own safety.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Adieu Valparaiso-Last day pics

On my last day at Chile, by leaving Valparaiso for airport, my driver stopped on a hilltop which gave me excellent views of the city. You might remember the view I’d clicked from a hilltop near the port. This point is on the other end of town. valparaiso-hilltop-view valparaiso-hilltop-view 2
hilltop-view 3
The previous day a small plane had made an emergency landing on a hill near Valparaiso and this was the talk of the town. While returning back, my cab driver showed me the plane which had crash landed. Couldn’t get clear view due to wire mesh.
sail-boats-at-a-distance crashlanded-aircraft
My driver told me that 25 degree centigrade was the max he has ever felt all his life time… he showed me a wine processing centre, a church and a factory by the country side as we drove to Santiago
a wine-processing-centre monster-truck tunnel-entrance a countryside-factory

Also see: Chile Posts Digest * Malaysian Posts Digest Srilanka Posts Digest*

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Spiderman can’t work in Chile too

Long back I’d published this post, stating spiderman can’t work in India,because he would get stuck in between the web of electric and telephonic cables hung around every other poll in our cities.

Recently when I posted this post about Graffiti in the walls of Valparaiso, Chile, Sankara and Sandeep were quick to note the presence of excess wires in the photo.

I’ve few more photos of messy wires in Chile, though this was spotted only in and around port area. The Vina Del Mar and other upmarket areas were pretty neat.

Below one was near the main square near Valparaiso port
loose-cables-in-valparaiso-port area
Below one was noticed while getting down from a hilltop near the port
Below was a building near the port…
Wall art-valparaiso
Wires blocking the view of port from hilltop
Messy wires in front of a white building, which I’m told is naval headquarters
Below two photos do not really support above post, but sharing them as they have telephone or electric cables in them…
cables-valparaiso hill-top-view
Also note that I’ve updated petrol prices in Chile post with  fuel costs in Valparaiso