Saturday, March 31, 2012

How much electronics do we need in our cars?

10 years ago, having power steering in the car was great thing. People had mastered the art of steering big cars like Ambassador, without any power steering. Power windows and powered mirrors were luxury to be found only in the likes of Merc and BMWs.

Things have changed. Power steering has become so common, most of entry level cars have it by default. People feel it difficult to negotiate if their small cars are not power steered. Power steering is more hydraulic than electronic. But there’s also so much electronics embedded into cars these days. For example:
  • Windows are powered on all windows
  • Mirror adjustment and folding/unfolding is powered by electronics
  • Fuel lit and Boot release is electronic.
  • Even doors are getting hydraulic assistance
  • Seat adjustment is electronic
  • Headlamps are adjusted electronically
  • Door lock is electronic
  • Turn indicator is mounted on mirror
  • Sun roofs and convertibles with retracting roof

While having so much electronics adds a lot to convenience, if you’re a prospective car buyer, be aware that all these add to cost. I have following thoughts on having an overdose of electronics inside your car.

Electronic version is expensive than mechanical ones. So you pay more to a car which has power windows, compared to one with manual windows. But this doesn’t end here. Electronic system tend to fail more often than mechanical ones. Electronic ones are also expensive to repair/replace. Have you noticed your friend who’s car windows don’t roll up completely and he keeps postponing fixing it?

Need to ask oneself if we really need certain fancy features. For example, a simple external rear view mirror is far cheaper to replace than a mirror which is electronically adjustable and can be electronically folded. Mirrors often tend to brush with other vehicles and suffer damage in India. Everytime that happens, you’ll end up spending two times the money replacing such mirrors.

With not much parts left to power, current high end cars from Audi and BMW are getting power doors. You just have to gently push it and system power will open the door fully for you. When did we become so lazy that we can’t even push the door properly?

I am wondering what next- a power lift? Just stand near the car, a lift kind of thing will lift you up and make you sit in the seat?

If you’re buying low end cars, you can skip the top end variant and buy a variant without too much electronics. But on higher end cars, these things come as standard, so no respite.

I strongly recommend buy a variant without lot of electronics. You’ll save money outright and you’ll save money during maintenance. Think.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Amruthapura Amrutesvara temple Tarikere

This post is about a place we couldn't explore.

I'd traveled several times between Shimoga and Bangalore, but wasn't aware of Amrutapura all these days. Amruthapura, a town some 70 kms from Chikmagalur and 50 kms from Shivamogga is a lesser known temple town. It houses an Amruteshwara temple, built in Hoysala style sometime in 11-12th Century.

We managed to reach Amrutesvara temple by sunset, about 6.45PM, but the temple gates close at 6PM. We could only get a glimpse of it from outside. The temple is maintained by ASI (Archeological survey of India) and is open to tourists till 6PM only. Some local people told us that if we go into town, find the Archaka (priest) and request him, he may open the gates for sometime. It was getting dark and eventually we decided to return without exploring the place.

I only have outside photos of the place. Should visit it again some other time. It is just 5-6 kms deviation from Tarikere-Tumkur road (BH Road) and is certainly worth a visit.

How to go to Amruthapura?

Assuming you’re heading towards Amruthapura from Shivamogga or Chikmagalur, slow down after crossing Tarikere. 2-3 kms and you’ll see a small temple of Lord Shani on the right. It is too small to be noticed from distance, so watch out. Immediately after that take the left turn, you need to cross the railway track. Keep driving, turn left at next intersection. Drive straight and you’ll see the temple on your right. Nice fields with Mango and other trees greet you on the way

Nearby: Sanskrit village Mathur * Kalhatti falls * Thyavarekere * Honnemaradu * Mullayana Giri * Seethalayyan Giri

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Buying vs renting car- my calculations

This is continuation of my previous post on Buying vs Renting a car

June 2008 was the first time I ever rented a car on self drive. Took the keys of Skoda Octavia from Carzonrent staff in Chennai and I was all excited about overnight drive to Mysore. Read more about it here.

I maintain an album in my facebook profile, of every car I drove on rentals. In past 4 years, I've rented cars about 20 times.That is about 5 times an year or once in 2.4 months. Each rental has been of duration ranging from 1 day to 5 days, costing between Rs 1500 per day to 4400 per day.

Some of my friends say that I could have bought a car directly, instead of renting one every few months. To evaluate this and see if I would have saved in case I had bought a car instead. I am sharing these calculations and thoughts with you.

I did a rough calculation. I've spent about 1.1 lakh rupees over these 20 rentals (about 42 days, averaging 2.7k per day or about Rs 5600 per rental.) Fuel cost extra.

Was I stupid in spending 1.1 lakh on rental? Should I have used it as down payment and purchased a car instead?
I feel I was right in not buying a car. Following points are supportive of this:
1. Of the above 20 trips, about half of them were done with friends. Rental expense was shared among friends, so my share was usually one fourth to one sixth of the amount. If it was an owned car, I couldn't have asked for rental share. Only half of these were done with family where I had to pay entire share.
2. I got to try wide range of vehicles. No way I could have afforded to buy an Endeavor or Innova
3. I saved on insurance and maintenance. If I had purchased a 6 lakh car, I would have been spending about 15k per year on insurance and another 10-20k on servicing. This amount alone adds up to 1 lakh in 4 years
4. I saved on unnecessary driving. I could take a train to Bangalore and rent a car from there. If I had owned one, I had to drive it till Blr and back, another 3k worth fuel and toll wasted, along with a night's sleep
5. If I had bought a car at 6 lakhs 4 years ago, I would have spent about 9 lakhs by now (1.5 lakhs in interest, 1.5 lakhs in insurance, repair, maintenance) and car would have had a resale value of 4.5 lakhs
6. I could rent bigger vehicles and carry 6-8 people. Not possible in a small car
7. Not owning a car has its own advantages- I needn't worry about parking space wherever I go, I needn't suffer the temptation of taking the car out even for simple task like vegetable purchase, I don't have to keep worrying about someone damaging the car, I don't have to drive people around. I don't have to worry about my car getting outdated, looking at newer models on road. Using my bike saves me lot of fuel, time.

What do you think? I am being stupid? Should I plan to buy one instead?

Related: Self drive rentals in India * Wayanad in Scorpio * Etios Review * Zoom Bangalore self drive review * Read this before buying an SUV * SUV purchase- Financial calculations * Chennai-Mysore in Skoda * BMW 320d *

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tiger closeup photos: Thyavarekoppa, Shimoga

This post has received close to 100 votes in Indiblogger... thanks to all. (My other post to cross 100 votes is this one)
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Hadn't seen tigers and lions up close since sometime. Visit of Bannerghatta National park and Vandaloor Zoo Chennai were the previous encounters.

Had a chance to see them again.

Thyavarekoppa Tiger and Lion safari is a place 12 kms from Shivamogga town. It is famous in the locality for its tiger and lion safari. Due to summer time, most of the trees had shed leaves and the campus was looking very dry and dull. Animals were lazing around, probably cursing tourists who disturb their habitat on the weekend.

Thyavarekere tiger and lion safari has good amount of entry fee- Rs 30 per adult, Rs 20 for still camera, Rs 50 extra per person for Safari, Rs 300 for foreign nationals and Rs 250 for video camera. (Taking video camera is a total waste, as the animals here hardly make any movements)

Managed to zoom in and take some close up photos of the tigers and lions. Sharing some photos of tigers here. (Lions and others in a separate post). There're about 10 of these in the campus. They are often exchanged between nearby zoos.

It is a tough task to focus right- camera often focuses on the mesh grill, ignoring the animal behind. While clicking from a moving vehicle, through a tiny hole, needs to be lucky to get clear shot.

I had been there some 5 years ago. Made made a album of those photos and had published in this post. Now Google has bought and killed it. So that (and many other early posts of mine which had album is now defunct. Anyways, that is a different task.

Also read: Tiger Temple in Bangkok * Tiger temple, Thailand- accusations & answers 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mahatma Gandhi park, Chikmagalur

Each town would have a few parks and the coffee town of Chikmagalur is no different. While I was searching online for places to visit around Chikmagalur, I landed upon MG Park.

We went there post lunch. It was located outside city limits on Tarikere road. March isn't the best time to visit the place, as most of the trees had shed leaves. Still the park had its charm. Nothing great about the place, but has a few facilities worth mentioning.
Above: Adjacent to the park is Chikmagalur District Central Prison.A glimpse of the prison campus
Below: A dome shaped structure at the centre of the park
Below: Flowers and trees
Below: A platform made on tree, which has unique shape
Ratnagiri Express: A toy train. Charge Rs 10, takes you around the park twice. Minimum 10 people should be there for a trip.
A small waterbody and hills in the backdrop
 Mahathma Gandhi park is worth a short visit.

Park has a small entry fee.

Nearby: Seethalayyana Giri * Baba Budan Giri * Mullayana giri * 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Yagachi dam-Hasana Chikmagalur road

Post No 800 on

Yagachi dam is a place for quick stopover, located between Hasana and Chikmagalur.
Do not have nothing much to write about this place-It has a not so well maintained garden with few flowers and a nice walkway downstream.

Sharing few pictures for your reference

 Nearby: Shettihalli Church *Marconahalli Dam * Mullayyana Giri * Hoysala Village Resort *

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Honnemaralu island near Talaguppa, Sagar

Honne maralu is a nice some 25kms off Sagara, near Talaguppa, on the way to Jog falls.
The name appears to be formed using two kannada words- Honnu (Gold) and Maralu(Sand). Often spelt has honnemaradu.
Honne mardu is much better place to explore than Jog falls (except few months of the year when Jog falls will be flowing full). However Honnemaradu is much less promoted and is often ignored by tourists visiting this area.
What is there in Honne maralu?
Honne maradu is a catchment area for Linganamakki dam (River Sharavati) and has water all around, with an island in between. I read on internet that sand here gets golden colour during sunset. However during our visit we hardly spotted any sand there. Not sure if everyone is referring to the tiny rocks and red soil.
Water levels vary depending on what time of the year you visit. Island is accessible by foot when water levels are low.

We couldn’t go there for sunset. We reached there during sunrise time. I read that there’re few organizations arranging adventure sports around this area. We didn’t spot any-may be because we went there very early or we took a different entrance
How to go to Honnemaralu?
Get to Sagar/Thalaguppa from Blr/Shimoga or other towns in Karnataka. From Talaguppa, drive towards jog falls for about 2-3 kms (you’ll cross a lake on your left, called Gowri Kere). Take left at a junction which points towards  Kargal. Couple of kms further, you need to take another left. The sign boards which mention the name Honnemaradu are in Kannada and is at a highly deteriorated state, so you may miss it. There’re two other turns you need to take (both left) at intersections. Last 8 kms have bad roads. Drivable with ordinary cars, but MPV/SUV preferred.

As said earlier, Honnemaradu is heavily underpromoted. It doesn’t get a mention on any of the tourist location display boards set up by Karnataka Tourism, there’re absolutely no signboard on main road mentioning Honemardu, there’s no facilities (road, food etc) near Honemaradu. But then, places like this is best left untouched. Too much attention will flood this place with plastics, visitors will be charged entry fee, parking fee, camera fee and so on
We only explored one part of Honnemaralu. It is a vast location. If we'd driven few kms further or trekked around, may be there's something better to see. This place deserves another visit.
Adventure activities near Honnemaralu:
Internet literature says some adventure activities are being organized near Honnemaradu. We didn't see any sign board on that nor any one doing adventure activities. May be we had to drive further or it was too early for adventure activities to start.

What are the other nearby places close to Honnemaradu?
Jog Falls (25kms), Keladi, Ikkeri, Holebagilu, Nagara Fort * Thyavareker tiger-lion safari * Sakrebailu * Gajanur Dam * Shivappa Naik Palace, Shimoga * Mathur *

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Seethalayyana giri matt,Chikmagalur

Seethalayyana giri is a stop over point on the way to Mullayana giri in Chikmagalur district.
We were there last October in an Aria. But that time, it was getting dark and we’d to return without getting to spend much time. The drive till top was fun, so I wanted to drive there again.

Recently we went to Mullayanagiri and Seethalayyan giri again.
This post is about Seethalayyanagiri, which has a viewpoint and a matt. It is a very small place and worth a 10 minutes break while returning from Mullayanagiri..
We found couple temple carts- one with stone wheels, other with wooden wheels. They were recently painted and appeared bringht. Few photos of the place for your reference.

Tried some colour effects with my 5100

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A tribute to women

I don’t believe in having one particular day to celebrate something. But then, we need an excuse to celebrate certain things, lest we’ll forget completely.

I don't often write on these days either. But this time using this opportunity to publish few photos of women I’d clicked. Nothing stylish in these pics. But they do represent reality

Lady in this picture lives near our ancestral village. She is the friend of our grandmother. Her name is Mooka. Don’t ask me what it means. Few years back when we met her, we connected her to our grandmother via phone and she was all excited to talk to her friend.

Let me click it:
Clicked recently in front of Arobindo ashram, Pondy. This lady tries her hand clicking a photo, using her son’s (assumed) DSLR

She carrying a pot and in front of me the pot fell down and broke into pieces- Originally published in this post

Helping them turn independent
Sometime in 2010, I invested about 10k via Rangde to help 6 rural women turn entrepreneurs, by funding a part of their business. 4 of them have fully repaid their debts now, while I had to incur losses in case of two others, (due to debacle in Andhra Pradesh after micro finance related suicides)- more details here here and here
My clicks of some influential women:

Waheeda Rehman: Clicked during a Rangde event in Chennai
Finally, an old photo of a loved one

Why can't we claim LTA on these?

Govt regulations allow a certain amount from salary income to be excluded from taxable income, if it is spent on travel. This is known as LTA (Leave Travel Allowance)

This comes with lot of terms and conditions.

LTC can be claimed only on bus/train/air tickets. It doesn’t cover stay, international travel and many other recreational activities.

Following activities which I occasionally do are not eligible for LTA

A cruise in a ship
An overnight cruise to high seas (example, in AMET Cruises) costs about 5k per person per day. A family trip comes to 20k plus. But this is not allowed under LTA
Related: Amet Cruises Cochin * Chennai 

An international trip
An Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok is cheaper than a spicejet flight to Delhi. From Chennai going abroad is cheaper than going to the Himalays for a vacation. However, overseas flight tickets are not eligible for LTA

A self drive car rental
If I rent it with driver and pay per km, it is eligible for LTA. However, if I rent the same car under self drive mode, paying few thousands as rent per day and fuel extra, it is not eligible for LTA

A trekking expedition:
Many organizations arrange trekking expeditions- near Himalayas or otherwise. Typically these treks cost about 10k onwards+ travel expense from your city till starting point of city. Amount spent on trekking can’t be claimed under LTA

Why can't I claim LTA on above? Why not? Your thoughts please

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Diesel car dilemma- buy or wait?

Post Budget Update: There was no Diesel car specific tax in 2012 Union Budget...But car prices are set to increase by 2-4% as existing taxes have been increased and even tax on steel is increased

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Ever since the Govt of India's planned move of introducing an additional tax on diesel cars, in order to discourage usage of subsidized fuel, prospective car buyers are seen advancing their purchase decisions, so as to buy ahead of budget and save the extra taxes.

Should you hurry and buy a diesel car now? What happens if extra duty on diesel cars are introduced? What are the options? Here's my take on it.

Why Govt is mulling a diesel tax?
Govt has put lot of taxes on petrol and now petrol is close to 2 times as expensive as diesel. Naturally this has fueled the usage of another fuel- diesel. Earlier diesel was used predominantly by trucks and buses. Diesel cars were very few. The huge price difference has fueled demand for diesel cars, so almost every car maker has introduced diesel option in all segments- small car, sedan, SUV and so on. Thus diesel consumption has shot up, increasing govt burden on subsidy. To compensate this, Govt plans to levy an up front amount on diesel cars.

We don't know how determined the govt is on this, but car makers are making hay when sun shines, as usual. Scaring prospects that prices will shoot up after budget, dealers are taking as much booking as possible. As a result, February sales numbers have been very encouraging.

Will diesel tax be levied really?
We don't know. Unless some one like Nira Radia gives us some inside info, our only source of confirmation will be when the budget is presented.

How much will be the additional tax for diesel cars?
Yet to be known. But the guesses going around put it at 10% of vehicle cost. That would mean an additional spend of anything between 40k to 2 lakhs or more (since most of the cars priced between 4 lakhs to 20 lakhs)

What Car makers can do if such a levy is imposed?
So far, car makers have been charging a premium on diesel cars. Though difference in production cost of a diesel car vs petrol is not huge, diesel variants are sold at a premium. This is because number of diesel units were less compared to petrol (so per car cost is higher) and car manufacturers have decided to make higher profits off diesel units, since consumers wouldn't mind paying premium.

Now that diesel is selling at par (or more) compared to petrol, it is time to shed that premium pricing. High volume means less per unit cost. Also diesel units get sold without much marketing and sales effort. Because of these factors, car makers can afford to absorb a part of this tax.

Some car makers rely heavily on diesel. Mahindra & Mahindra's portfolio is full of diesel, excluding few variants of Verito. Similarly Tata motors also has a strong diesel line up. These two power houses might lobby against the diesel tax. Other manufacturers are likely to join hands, since they also stand to lose and long term capital investments in diesel might suffer a set back.

Set back for sales, if any are only likely to be temporary.

What can you as consumer do if diesel tax is introduced?
Option 1: Wait for sometime, to see if Govt succumbs to pressure and does a full or partial rollback

Option 2: See if you can delay the car purchase decision by an year or two. Car is a depreciating asset. Savings on insurance, maintenance, depreciation cost etc will make up for the extra thousands.

Option 3: Do a cost benefit analysis to see if it still makes sense to go for diesel. For example, if you'd to pay a diesel tax of Rs 80,000, it means about 1900 litres of diesel at today's price or about 25k kms assuming an average of 13 kmpl. To travel 25,000 kms in a petrol car, you'd spend  INR 1.4 lakhs at today's price. Effectively you'd need to drive for about 30k kms to make up for the extra amount. Of course this is an illustration and you can work out the feasibility with real numbers when you buy.

Option 4: See if you can lease a car instead of buying. Merc and BMW offer their cars on lease, instead of outright ownership. This concept has some benefits- see if that fits you. Unfortunately lease option is not viable for cheaper cars in India. I was discussing with a Tata Motors officials on this- He said that while Tata motors had a lease like option ready to roll out, it was withdrawn due to risk factors- recovering money in case of damage to car, chances of customers eloping with car at the end of lease period etc

Option 5: Curse the government, cough up the extra amount and drive as usual (Guess this is what most of us would do eventually). Drive more and burn more diesel to break even faster or to take revenge on government :)

What happens if the Govt doesn't impose any tax?

  • Those who bought a diesel car in a hurry may regret their hurried purchase and will miss out on a chance to show off how smart they were, to buy one before new rules came in
  • Car makers will continue as if nothing has happened. They'll probably save this diesel tax ghost for next year
  • Demand for diesel cars and diesel fuel will continue to rise
What alternate options Govt has instead of diesel tax?
Differential pricing for fuel doesn't look feasible in India. Below two can be tried
  • Promote CNG in more cities
  • Promote hybrid and electric vehicles
Questions to be answered
  • Will it be applicable to commercial vehicles also? (Taxi registration- yellow board) What mistake they've done? They've been using diesel all along. Any increase will be eventually passed on to common man who hires these commercial vehicles
  • Is it applicable to second hand vehicle also?
  • By charging extra upfront, isn't the government sending a message: "Pay this amount and drive as much as you want."?
  • Instead of doing all this circus to reduce consumption of diesel, why not make petrol more affordable?
  • Since the diesel tax amount is being collected to fund subsidy, should this amount be exempted from income tax (like section 80C donation) ?

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Nrityagrama & Taj Kuteera, Hesaragatta, Bengaluru

As I was searching for places to visit around Tumkur, I came across Nrityagram. Since there was nothing specific to do on a Saturday, I decided to check out Nrityagrama. What I thought to be a half day trip, ended up consuming almost whole day, due to poor public transport to this area

What is Nrityagrama?
Nrityagrama is a dance school- it runs a residential program, wherein students stay in the campus and learn various forms of traditional dance.

What is there?
The campus has an old beetle car, few damaged buildings, cottages where students stay, some landscaping, gardening, an amphitheatre and  a place where dance practice is held. Visitors are allowed to view pupils practicing dance. When we went there, they were practicing an Odissi dance. Photography is not allowed in the practice area.

We went inside, paid entry fee, we were given a brief intro by the staff (She said students join for 4 year residential program after a tough selection process). We spent some time observing dance practice, then went for a walk in the campus. Few photos below

How is the campus?
I found that the campus isn't that well maintained. Nothing exciting as such. Certainly not worth the long journey,unless one has lot of interest in classical dance. Overall the campus appeared unattended and rustic.

What else is there?
There's a Taj Kuteeram hotel next to Nrityagrama. It is an expensive hotel with room rents starting Rs 3500+ taxes onwards. I guess VIPs who visit Nrityagram or Adarsh Film institute nearby are its primary customers. A cup of tea costs Rs 80. However this hotel has much better landscaping than Nrityagrama

On the way to Nrityagrama there're few film institutes, a dried up waterbody and a big poultry institute

Where is it located?
Nrityagrama is located some 30 kms from heart of Bengaluru (i.e. from Kempedowda bus terminal or City Railway station). One should take Tumkur road, turn right towards Hesaraghatta near Peenya. From Hesaraghatta, Nrityagrama is another 6 kms or so. City buses are available till Hesaraghatta-bus frequency is less- may be one in every 30-60 minutes. From Hesaragatta auto is the best option to reach Nrityagrama

Is the entry free?
No. There's an entry fee of Rs 50 per person. Visitor timings are from 10 AM to 2 PM

Is it worth going?
No, unless otherwise
a. You're very passionate about classical dance and wish to observe others learning and may be get your questions clarified
b. You're passing via Tumkur road, have couple of hours to spare and there's nothing better to do

More details here