Monday, January 30, 2012

Pond on rock-Kolankal

This post is about a little known place some 40 kms off Udupi.

Kolankal is a a name formed by joining 2 kannada words- Kola (Pond) and Kal (Rock). Essentially it is about a pond located on top of a rock. 

Despite being on a rock, the pond will have water all through the year. A temple is situated adjacent to it, where devotees worship lord Ganesha.

One climbs about 50 steps to reach on top of the rock. The location had many other rocks nearby, most of which have been blasted using dynamite and taken away by quarrying. Only the current rock is left, mainly due to presence of temple
How to go to Kolankal?

Kolankal is not on any tourist map, it is not even on Google map. It is located off Barkur-Haladi road in Udupi district. Reach a town called Bidkalkatte and ask for directions. Worth a visit if you're passing by.

Nearby: Manipal End Point * Kota Shivarama Karantha Memorial * Maravanthe * Malgudi days house, Agumbe *

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pataleshwar cave temple, Jangli Maharaj Road, Pune

Pataleshwar temple is one of the popular places of worship in Pune, located in JM Road (Junglee Maharaj Road). I was there during April 2010.

Pataleshwara temple is a small campus, located slightly below the ground level (Not really a cave like Borra Caves or any other cave temples you might have seen). It houses couple of idols of Rama, Laxman and Sita and other gods, besides the main god, Lord Siva.
Pataleshwar temple is reportedly carved from single rock and dates back to 700-800 AD. Interiors are rather dark. Worth a brief visit if you have half an hour to spare
Nearby: Jangli Maharaj temple.

Also read: Aga khan palace Pune * Shanivar Wada * Wooden sugarcane juice machine *

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gandhi Bazaar Basavanagudi: Then and Now

Gandhi Bazaar is a popular landmark in Basavanagudi, South Bangalore. I frequent here during most of my visits. Gandhi bazaar main road is a busy street housing several popular establishments in the region (Vidhyarthi Bhavan, Roti Ghar etc). Ever since I remember, Gandhi Bazaar is also known for its road side market, selling flowers, vegetables and other stuff. Reportedly these shops have been operational since over 40 years. While hundreds of vendors earned their daily bread by selling their stuff here, these shops would occupy almost half of the road, leaving very little for other vehicles. Couple of underpass constructions nearby (near Basavanagudi police station) has increased load on Gandhi Bazaar main road.

Below are couple of photos I had taken about an year ago in Gandhi Bazaar.

Why am I writing all these? 2 days ago everything changed. Overnight BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike or Greater Bangalore Municipality Corporation) decided to evacuate these shops and clean up the roads. Their overnight swift action made headlines next day. The pictures and news came as a shocker to many, including myself.

Below are some photos of current state of the road, sourced mainly from ThatsKannada.
There're views both supporting and opposing demolition. Some feel these shops were integral part of local community, while others feel it was right move which was long overdue. Some say BBMP action has hurt the livelihood of many vendors, while others ask why not do the same for other markets. Few prominent personalities, including Editor/Writer Ravi Belagare have reportedly decided to fight for the rights of these vendors.
Above image from RB's fan page

Some insist BBMP should have given notice to the vendors and time to vacate, while others say giving notice would only create more trouble as vendors will get stay order or sit infront of the shops preventing authorities from evicting them. Many politicians have talked about relocating these shops but nothing has materialized.

Read more about this topic on ThatsKannada * Surprisingly Churumuri didn't carry any story on this.

Another touching write up (Kannada) can be read here  (extract below)

ಹೂವು, ಹಣ್ಣು, ತರಕಾರಿ, ಪಂಚೆಯುಟ್ಟ ಹಿರಿಯರು, ತಣ್ಣನೆಯ ಮುಂಜಾನೆ, ಲವಲವಿಕೆಯ ಮುಸ್ಸಂಜೆ, ಮಸಾಲೆದೋಸೆ, ಸುಬ್ಬಮ್ಮನ ಅಂಗಡಿಯ ಚಟ್ನಿಪುಡಿ, ಕಾಂಗ್ರೆಸ್ ಕಡ್ಲೆಬೀಜ, ಕನ್ನಡ ಪುಸ್ತಕ ಮತ್ತು ಬಿಸಿಬಿಸಿ ಕಾಫಿ!
 ಇಷ್ಟನ್ನೂ ಒಟ್ಟಾಗಿ ಕರೆದರೆ ಅದು ಗಾಂಧೀಬಜಾರು. ಒಳಗೆ ಕಾಲಿಡುತ್ತಿದ್ದಂತೆ ನಿಮ್ಮನ್ನು ಸ್ವಾಗತಿಸುವುದು ಮಲ್ಲಿಗೆ, ಸೇವಂತಿಗೆ, ಸುಗಂಧರಾಜದ ಪರಿಮಳ. ಜರಿಲಂಗ, ತುಂಬುತೋಳಿನ ರವಕೆ ಹಾಕಿಕೊಂಡು ವ್ಯಾಪಾರಕ್ಕೆ ಕುಳಿತ ಹೊಳಪುಗಣ್ಣಿನ ಬಾಲಿಕೆಯರು. ಬೆಂಗಳೂರಲ್ಲಿ ಋತುಮಾನದ ಬದಲಾವಣೆ ಗೊತ್ತಾಗುವುದೇ ಗಾಂಧೀಬಜಾರಿನಲ್ಲಿ. ಕಾಲಕಾಲಕ್ಕೆ ಮಾವಿನ ಮಿಡಿ, ಅಮಟೇಕಾಯಿ, ಅವರೇಕಾಯಿ, ಕಡ್ಲೇಕಾಯಿ, ಬಗೆಬಗೆಯ ಹೂವು, ವಿಧವಿಧದ ಹಣ್ಣು ಅಲ್ಲಿನ ಮಾರುಕಟ್ಟೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಕಂಗೊಳಿಸಿದರೇನೇ ಅದು ಗಾಂಧಿಬಜಾರು. ಹಬ್ಬಗಳ ಸಡಗರ ಶುರುವಾಗುವುದೂ ಅಲ್ಲಿಯೇ. ತುಳಸೀಗಿಡ, ನೆಲ್ಲಿಕಾಯಿ ಗಿಡ, ಬಾಳೆಕಂಬ, ಮಾವಿನ ಎಲೆ, ಗರಿಕೆಗೆ ಬೇಕು ಗಾಂಧೀಬಜಾರು. ಮನೆಗೆ ಪಂಚೆಯುಟ್ಟ ನೆಂಟರು ಬಂದರೆ ಸ್ಕೂಟರು ಹತ್ತಿ ಗಾಂಧೀಬಜಾರಿಗೆ ಜಾರಿದರೆ ಹಸಿರು ಬಾಳೆಎಲೆ ಎಲ್ಲಾ ಕಾಲದಲ್ಲೂ ಲಭ್ಯ. ಗಾಂಧೀಬಜಾರು ಬೆಂಗಳೂರಿನ ಸರ್ವಋತು ಬಂದರು.

What is your take on the incident?

Even in Chennai authorities have seized several shops in T Nagar last year due to violation of building norms (Supreme court granted 6 weeks relief for Pongal on this)

Book review: "The songbird on my shoulder" by Saaz Aggarwal

The songbird on my shoulder- confessions of an unrepentant Madam is a book by Saaz Aggarwal, featuring several individual incidents and narrations. “The Songbird on my shoulder” is not a fiction, it is more like a published version of a diary or recompilation of individual articles published in various media. (Refer credits section)

Book features several incidents, observations, experiences narrated by the author, dating between 1993 and 2011 (In one of the chapters it even mentions Indira Gandhi in her post emergency days). Incidents take place in and around Mumbai and Pune mainly (where the author is based) and several other countries and cities where author travelled to.

Lot of poems are also included, along with few articles published in newspapers. I have not reviewed any book of this kind earlier, so not sure how to go about this review. I'll focus on what I liked.
If you’re looking for action/thrill/romance this book is not for you. But it is a great read to know the experiences of a lady, who has lot of things to tell- from her travel around the world, from her experiences during various stages of life and so on, it is excellent read to know life from a different perspective.

I liked following chapters in particular the most:
  • Two Amits, a bat, and some sandwiches (about MBA vs Non-MBA)
  • Mother Courage (being step mother)
  • Dave Barry says size matters (this chapter says there’s an institute called KISS in Mangalore-Kasargod Institute of Social Sciences, and other aspects of being fat. I tried to figure out if this institute really exists in Mangalore- doesn't look like it exists. I mean, its not found on google at least)
  • Perils in the press
Each chapter is small enough to few pages and makes a point quickly. There's a fair amount of humor hidden between the lines- you'll appreciate them as you read it. Most of the chapters appear to have been published in various media earlier.

"The Songbird on my shoulder" is priced at INR 300 and published by black-and-white foundation.

Other book reviews: Fate, Fraud and Friday Wedding *  Topgear magazine * Comical Saga Fate, Fraud and Friday Wedding * I am Number 4 * It happened in India * Raga Chintamani * 2 States by Chetan Bhagat* Not a penny more, not a penny less * Zero percentile -Neeraj Chibba* Colours of life by Ravi Sidula * The 3 mistakes of my life by CB * Bala Takes the Plunge-Melvin Durai * The Incredible Banker * She's a jolly good fellow * A Calendar too crowded

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chile Random photos

Some more photos from Chile...

Found these cars hung like these by the roadside. Not sure what are they upto- are they drying them in sun or are they just show pieces or something else...
Keyboard in Chile. Spot some differences in the keys compared to ours. Took some time to get used to the   misplaced special characters
 Road repair. Clean, efficient, hygienic
 Road side art work for sale...
 Power sockets. Need to carry an adapter next time. Hotel staff are helpful in lending one

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sodexo meal coupons: Good bad and Ugly

Lot of photo sharing in past few posts, time for some serious text. This post shares some thoughts on Sodexo meals coupon, which many retailers have stopped accepting

Why Sodexo?
Because of govt policy which allows tax exemption on money spent on food during working hours (Upto Rs 50 per meal), concept of meals coupons came into being. (Employee takes these coupons instead of cash, amount spent on these coupons, subject to max 3000 per month, is exempted from income tax. Depending on which tax bracket you fall, you may save upto 10-20 or 30% of this amount per month. Most of the IT companies give coupons worth Rs 2200 per month (assuming 22 working days and 2 meals per day), which effectively save about Rs 660 in tax, assuming employee is in 30% bracket.

The Sodexo network and coupon lifecycle:
Instead of giving cash to employees, company pays the amount to Sodexho (Say Rs 2200 per employee). Sodexo prints coupons for this amount and gives to employees. Employee takes these coupons to stores/restaurants which accept them, uses these as currency instead of cash. If he was to get cash he would have got only Rs 1600, now he can buy upto  Rs 2200. Shopkeepers later redeem these coupons from Sodexo for cash.

Above lifecycle seems simple and straight forward, but below are some tricky catches in the mechanism:

Free Money for Sodexo: From the day Sodexo gets cash from companies and till the date they reimburse the amount to shopkeepers, Sodexo will have this entire amount, without paying any interest. This duration can be as long as 12 months at times. The amount of cash Sodexo gets at its disposal because of this scheme, from lakhs of employees from thousands of companies runs to billions of dollars and thus Sodexo will be one biggest beneficiary in this whole mechanism, as against employees, which was the original intention

Unclaimed and Expired/Damaged coupons: All coupons come with an expiry date. If not used by then or if lost or damaged, employee effectively looses on that amount. The cumbersome mechanism to get a new coupon issued for this amount is best left untouched and in all these cases, Sodexo gets to keep the entire money. (Clever right). I am sure at least 5-10% of the coupons issues will expire/get lost/get damaged.

Are you really saving by using Sodexo? Prima facie answer might be yes, but consider these:
·         Because you want to use Sodexo you drive to a far away supermarket instead of next street kirana store- you’re spending more time and fuel driving there
·         You spend lot of time in the queue at supermarket, because everyone wants to pay by Sodexo and it takes time counting these coupons
·         You buy stuff you don’t really need, just because you can use Sodexo OR because coupons are expiring and you need to use them somehow.
·         Shops don’t return change when you pay by higher denomination coupon. Thus you lose couple of rupees here and there
·         Some shops charge extra to accept Sodexo- 2-5%. You still don’t mind because you think your tax saving is higher than that.
·         Some coupons might get lost/damaged and you don’t want to go through the process of getting new ones
·         You may not always be in 30% tax bracket. If you’re in 10-20% bracket, all above factors make it much more sensible to pay by cash

Why Sodexo coupons are not digitized?
Given the technological advances, it would make much more sense for everyone involved (except may be for Sodexo) to issue a debit card like card which can be swiped to use Sodexo. I believe Sodexo corporation doesn’t favor this initiative because of following:
·         With Electronic cards, processing becomes faster. Which means Sodexo will have to reimburse money to shopkeepers much faster (no excuse of time required for collecting and processing these coupons manually)
·         With electronic cards, employees will have more control on their Sodexo currency. Chances of loss/expiry will be less
·         With electronic cards, Sodexo loses its status as alternate currency. At present, an employee can sell the coupon to others OR use it at local shop and local shopkeeper uses it at supermarket or a shopkeeper gives back a lower denomination Sodexo meal pass as change. All these will stop once coupons get digital
·         Electronic form allows employees to pay exact amount, without having forgo change.

Why shopkeepers are complaining?
Sodexo takes a cut from the coupons and pays a reduced amount to shopkeepers. If shopkeepers submit coupon for Rs 100, they get Rs 97 from Sodexo, after about 20-25 days of submitting the coupons. It is same with credit and debit cards, where banks take a small cut from the amount before paying merchants. (But the difference is, for credit and debit cards, most of the transaction is electronic, except for submitting charge slips). For shops like large restaurants having 20-30% margin, this 2-3% transaction charge doesn’t matter. But for other shops working on wafer thin margin, this cut and reimbursement time makes it an unprofitable mode of payment. Further, the news is that Sodexo is trying to increase the charge from 3% to 7% and increase processing time. The only reason shops accepted Sodexo was because their competitors was doing so and not accepting meant losing customers. When Sodexo strong arm tactics was unbearable, supermarkets teamed up and decided to stop accepting, so as to force Sodexo to revert to earlier norms.

Time it takes to count the coupons, possibility of fake/damaged coupons and administrative headache associated with it are other reasons why shops hesitate to accept Sodexo. Migrating to a smart card based system is the best solution to all stakeholders, except for Sodexo

Can we do without Sodexo?
Meals vouchers were supposed to be used inside the company campus, but they’re being used everywhere, for food and non food items, defying the original intent. Any tax paying individual is guaranteed to spend Rs 2200+ per month on meals and food items, so it will be good to all parties if Governments realize this and simply increase standard deduction by corresponding amount, saving all the headache for employees, companies, shops. Only company suffering from such a decision will be Sodexo, so it is very likely to exercise its influence to resist any efforts of eliminating Sodexo as a middle man. Even if Sodexo is to exist, employees should consider the actual savings after factoring in the points mentioned earlier. Since most companies have cafeteria, it should be easy for companies to issue coupons which are valid only at company cafeteria, thereby serving the true intent of the scheme.

Also read: iMint Cards (now Payback)* An Analysis of MLM * SpeakAsia *

Colombo National Museum, Srilanka

Last year, this time, I was planning my first trip outside India, to Srilanka, triggered by an ultra cheap spicejet fare of Rs 4008 for the return trip.(Sadly spicejet has discontinued that low fare and convenient timing, else I had plans of one more visit) While many of the Srilankan trip photos and text have already been shared [read them here], few have missed out. No travel for me in Jan 2012, so recollecting old trips and publishing few pending topics.

In this post, sharing pictures clicked at Srilankan National Museum in Colombo.
National Museum Colombo is the largest in the country and is maintained by the government. National Museum is located in a nice white building complex in the heart of city. Only a part of it housed artifacts and was open to tourists.
 After watching foreign tourists paying an exorbitant amount at tourist destinations in India (At Tajmahal foreign nationals pay about 700 Rs while Indians pay Rs 60), it was our turn to pay the higher amount. Being foreign nationals in SL, we paid 500 Srilankan Rupees each ( about INR 200), several times what localities had to pay (2016 Update: Now Entry fee is 600 LKR)

 The Museum was built in 1877. Besides the regular items you would find in any museum (historical stones, swords, weapons, dress materials, photos etc) a huge whale skeleton was added attraction

 Interiors of the building

There were no hotels around, thankfully museum had a canteen which served decent food. By the time we went most of it was over though.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cave Exploration at Antaragande, near Kolar, Karnataka

This was sometime in 2008. We had gone to Anataragange in Kolar on a day long cave exploration trip. Never managaed to write about it, so here're the pics.

Below: Jaw of some animal, found in caves...
 Couple of team members after negotiating a climb
 Group photo
 We negotiated this section with our back pressed to one rock and moving sidewords. Looking down was scary as it was very deep.

Lending a helping hand
 Pranesh from Mars Advetures
 Another steep climb

 A board giving tourist information
 A small statue in the garden- presumably to scare animals

 Pranesh briefing the team before start
View of Kolar town
Below: A boy secretly drinking alcohol
Also read: Yana caves