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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kailasagiri, Vizag

Vishakapattanam, or Vizag is a coastal city in AP is a scenic destination. Similar to Valparaiso, it has a hill, sea and a city in between, making it highly photogenic.

I've made only one visit to this town so far, back in 2010. Have already blogged about Bora Caves * Life in a Submarine . In this post, sharing few other good snaps I could take during that visit.

We made a short visit to Kailasagiri, a peak on the outskirts of Vizag town. We drove uphill, but one can also take a cable car.


View of Vizag coastal liines
A toy train service is available on top of Kailasagiri. Next time, should go there for sunrise.

My Article in Taranga Kannada Magazine

As stated in an earlier post, below is the image of my article in Taranga, Kannada weekly.

It is about tiger temple in Thailand.

There's no PDF available, so I'm uploading a photo. Click on the image for larger image.
ಈ  ವಾರದ  ತರಂಗದಲ್ಲಿ ನನ್ನದೊಂದು ಲೇಖನ ಬಂದಿದೆ. ಲೇಖನದ ಫೋಟೋ ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಹಾಕಿದ್ದೇನೆ. ನಾಡಿನ ಪ್ರಸಿದ್ದ ಸಂಪಾದಕರಾದ ವಿಶ್ವೇಶ್ವರ ಭಟ್ ಅವರು ನನ್ನ ಬರಹವನ್ನು ಓದಿರುವುದು ನನಗೆ ಖುಷಿ ಕೊಟ್ಟಿದೆ 

An icing on the cake was notable Karnataka journalist and Editor of Kannada Prabha Mr Vishveshwara Bhat tweeting that he has read my article. He replied to my tweet saying he's read it. I feel honored.

My other Kannada articles here, here and here

Monday, September 17, 2012

The current kingfisher experience


For how long will you work if your company stops paying you? How long would you continue in your job if your company’s prospects are on a shaky ground? Can you suppress your disappointments and serve your clients with smile or will you vent your anger on your company’s customers?

I had an opportunity of flying Kingfisher 2 months ago and above thoughts crossed my mind.

I had my share of Kingfisher flights back in the days of its glory. Not too many, but I’ve had few flights in Chennai-Blr, Chennai-Delhi and Chennai Mumbai sectors. Read my earlier post on Kingfisher experience here. I was also part of Kingfisher’s Mysore airport activation (launch of service to and from Mysore) back in 2010, in which airline spent several lakhs.
 vijay-mallyaDSC03579
Past 1 year hasn’t been good for Kingfisher. Rising debts, employee strikes and other issues have now brought the airline to near bankruptcy state and only few flights are operational just to keep the license active. News is that employees are not paid since months. In such a situation, I was booked on a Kingfisher flight to Bengaluru this july. I hoped that there’ll be no cancellations and to my relief, it was on time.

The departure was on time. The 80 seater ATR had about 20+ passengers, about one fourth its capacity. Had the airline managed to operate a small schedule without uncertainties, it could have enjoyed higher load factor. Despite the cheapest ticket, people hesitated to fly Kingfisher due to safety and schedule concerns.

I focused my attention on the service. It was the same service with smile. I had no reason to complain, as the staff never give a clue of their personal agonies. I’ve undergone a similar situation of job uncertainty during Satyam collapse in 2009, (Read Kingfisher vs Satyam) so I can understand what might be going on in their minds-not receiving salaries since months, dried up savings to meet basic expenses and a sympathetic look from peers and relatives. Despite all the worries, they served their passengers (however few) to the best of their abilities and this needs appreciation. Not sure if most of us would do the same if we were in their place.

The food options have dwindled. All they had on offer was veg sandwich (Rs 150). None of the other items on the menu, including tea/coffee were available.

Vijay Mallya’s complaint so far was that Govt is not allowing FDI in airlines. Now that wish has been granted and need to see if Mallya can get an investor on board who can turn around the airline. For every rupee Mallya looses, his debtors loose Rs 14. So it makes a lot of Business sense for Mallya to let the airline die with its debts, start a new airline after sometime under new name. Any normal businessman would do that, but I hope Mallya is different. Not being able to handle Kingfisher airline crisis will be biggest blackspot in Mallya’s career and his credibility, so let us hope Mallya and his to be foreign partner can do some wonders. Wondering who’d be interested in Kingfisher airlines- Will Richard Branson show some interest as he is up for challenges all the time? Richard and Mallya make for a deadly combination. Together they can rename the airline as Virgin-Kingfisher.

Let us hope for the best.

Random Updates

ಈ ವಾರದ ತರಂಗ ಸಾಪ್ತಾಹಿಕ ನೋಡಿರಿ ... ನನ್ನದೊಂದು ಲೇಖನ ಇರಬಹುದು 

Watch out for this week’s Taranga. Will be on stands this Wednesday.

Taranga is a popular weekly magazine in Karnataka. One of my articles is likely to be featured in it. Long time since my Kannada articles were published- a snippet in Vijaya Karnataka during Feb 2009 was the last one.

Indigo Contest: My Favorite Travel Story:
In other news, Indigo is running a facebook campaign with tickets worth Rs 15k are up for grabs. If this excites you, check the below link for details

TEDxChennai:
TEDxChennai is after about 2 years. Will be happening this 30th at Chetpet, Chennai. I might be guest blogging the event. More details on tedxchennai.com 

Art for Sale
If you're looking to buy some paintings or artwork, you might wish to check out this collection by Ashok Barman

After 4 months of consecutive international travel (May: US, June, July; Singapore, August: Thailand), September feels dull with no flights to board. However, still cherishing the loads of pics clicked on these trips. Trying to write more for print and read a bit. Let me see

Festival wishes and have a nice day


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Singapore Botanic Gardens Pictures

Not yet done with Singapore related posts. This one is about Singapore's Botanical Garden, one of the main park/gardens here. (Others: Gardens by the Bay * Jurong Bird Park * Labrador Nature Reserve)

Made a quick dash to Singapore's botanical gardens when I had few hours at disposal. Its a huge campus (180+ acres) and couple of hours is not enough to explore. Like any garden, it is large campus of trees, lakes, birds and so on. 

Entry to the garden is free. There's a fee of 1 SGD to enter an inside campus of National Orchid Gardens.

As I walked in, I came across several people who were indulging in their morning walks, laughter clubs, yoga  and so on. I was trying to decide how well I can spend couple of hours that I had- noted the exit I had to take (which is an MRT station which I can take to go to Labrador nature reserve) and realized that I should be able to do a quick circle of walking around botanical park before exiting.

My first turn was into a rainforest. Very tall trees and a small walkway under them...
 Below: People practicing Martial Arts
 

The Band Stand:

Theme gardens, landscaped jogging paths are all aplenty here



Amphitheater- the performance area
Cold House- plants that grow at sub zero temperature are cultivated here
Tried this camera trick of clicking waterfalls with reduced shutter speed to get milky effect. Succeeded to some extent.
Evolution Garden is another interesting part inside. It takes us through the evolution of life.

Botanical garden is a nice place to spend an early morning at. However if you're short of time, you can skip this garden.

(Other Gardens: Gardens by the Bay * Jurong Bird Park * Labrador Nature Reserve)
Read other Singapore related posts here

The Shade Homestay, Munnar

If you search for Homestays in Munnar, The Shade comes on top (at least in top 10). When I was looking for a homestay in Munnar, The Shade was the first one I considered. Also short listed couple of others, but since others didn't have enough rooms for us on the dates we wanted, I booked at "The Shade"
Main reason for booking here was the cost. Rs 1000 per room per day, Rs 300 for extra bed. Unlike some other homestays, this one is not located in the middle of tea plantation or on the edge of a hill. It is just like any other house.

The Shade is 14kms from Munnar town towards Kochi road. There're no sign boards on the way, so have a map ready or take help from locals.

We stayed there for one night. Below is a quick note of what we felt good and not so good.

Good:

  • We'd booked for 6 but had an extra person. He was accommodated without any issues
  • The owner, Santhosh, took us for a small walk in his spice plantation
  • Rooms are good,standard and good value for money
  • Home made food was good. Won't be available in hotels easily
  • The Shade has only 3 rooms, so no risk of large crowds
  • The Shade has been operational for about 4 years

Not so good:

  • We had called ahead and requested the owner to keep the lunch ready, so that we can check in, refresh, have lunch and head out. However, looks like lunch preparation started only after we arrived. We lost some time in the process.
  • One has to negotiate a set of steps to reach the room. May not be convenient for elderly people. (But most of the homestays in hill stations might have this problem due to hilly terrain)
  • Being 14 kms away from town, factor in transportation cost. Be careful during early morning and late evening drives. Visibility will be very low.
  • Its a regular house, so you won't get the experience of a cottage


Overall there're no complaints, but I'd try a different home stay next time

Also read: Woodbriar Bungalows Valparai * Malgudi Days Agumbe *

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sleeping Buddha temple, Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand has an overdose of Buddha temples and statues. They all look similar so after visiting few of them, not many would be interested in visiting other temples. Sleeping Buddha temple is one of the main temples in Bangkok.



The reclining Buddha temple or sleeping Buddha temple, known as Wat Pho attracts attention due to its sheer size. As you can see in the images above, the main temple has a gigantic statue of Buddha in sleeping position. The foot has lot of carvings. Temple also includes a set of 108 bowls into which people throw coins.

Entry fee for the temple is 100 baht (INR 190). Temple volunteers observe the tourists and will stop the ladies whom they feel are under dressed. Such lady visitors will be given a piece of cloth to cover themselves.

A bag is given to carry the footwears and a bottle of water is also given complementary.

Temple complex has several other Buddha statues all over.

We were given just 40 minutes to cover this place, while one can spend some more time here.

Also see: Golden Mount * Wat Arun * Golden Buddha temple *  ISKCON Chennai * Chinese temple near River Kwai * Guddattu Vinayaka temple * Amruthapura Amriteshwara temple * Sheebi Narasimha temple * Kaidala chennakeshwara temple * Pataleshwara caves and temple, Pune * Sigandur temple *

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Munnar road trip in an old Scorpio

This is a story of my 1500 km weekend drive in a 7 year old Mahindra Scorpio to Munnar.

Munnar was on my hit list since long. It is a popular hill station in Kerala, close to TN border. Having covered Wayanad, Ooty, Valparai, Yercaud, Kolli hills, Yelarigi and other hill stations, Munnar was kept pending for long. It was about 6 months since my last long drive (Chikmagalur in an Innova) and I freezed in on Munnar for the next drive. A total of 7 people signed up, 4 from Blr and 3 from Chennai- friends and family. Plan was that I’d rent a vehicle in Chennai, drive down to Salem. Bangalore team will arrive in Salem by train and will join us there, we’ll head to Munnar together from Salem. Munnar is 600+ kms from Chennai (little more as we took a slight detour to go into Salem) and the weekend is all we had. So it had to be from Friday night till Monday morning.

My proffered vendor for Self drive vehicles is Avis- though a bit expensive, they have good condition cars and are fairly reliable and have easy process. However, for the dates I wanted, Avis declined the self drive booking request, citing non availability of the vehicle. I then had to fall back on alternate vendors in Chennai. After some scrutiny, zeroed in on Smile cars, mainly because a colleague had rented from them a few times and was happy with the service. Another reason was unlimited kms clause in exchange of extra rentals.

I booked an innova with Smile cars.

On the D-Day, vendor offered to send a Scorpio instead. This kind of replacement is common because vendors won't have full control on when exactly vehicles will return from their previous rentals. But some vendors always try to give not so good vehicles, hoping to use better vehicles for some other lucrative deals. Upon enquiry he said it is a 2008 model, its suspension have been reworked and it is in good condition for long drives. Had taken a brand new Scorpio VLs to Wayanad in 2008 and it was fun. I had no dislike for Scorpios and hence didn’t mind taking the Scorpio instead of Innova. Vehicle was delivered spot on time, but the first look was not really impressive, to say the least. The car was visibly old, with a missing fog lamp, broken sky rack and very old seats and interiors. This was a big disappointment and I had to curse myself for not cross checking enough when offered replacement. At this point, I could have insisted a replacement. Subject to availability, it would have delayed our departure by 2-3 hours or more. I opted to settle for the not so good Scorpio and begin on our Munnar trip. 
In Top gear, Jeremy and his peers occasionally go on special missions- take some age old car and go on some kind of adventure trip-to check how far they can go or how strong they are etc. My situation was something similar, only that I had no crew in Range rover to follow me.

Mirror Mirror, where are you?
This first issue with the vehicle was not having a central rear view mirror. It was broken and the agency never bothered to replace it. I had to rely on two external rear view mirrors for visibility. I added a makeshift mirror to compensate for the missing mirror, It wasn’t perfect, but served the purpose to some extent. Refer image below 
(For our Coorg trip in 2010, Avis gave an Endeavor without its turn indicators working. Indicator is a mandatory equipment, so I had to ditch ford and settle with an Innova)

Sky rack
One of the sky racks of the vehicle had come off. It was very light weight and looked like a cheap after market fix affixed with glue. Notice the solo skyrack in the image below. The other one was put inside the vehicle, which I kept at home before leaving to Munnar

High Beam=Low Beam=little beam
The vehicle was fitted with a mighty looking crash guard at the front. It added to safety for sure. I don’t know to what extent it added to the looks, but this one caused a considerable damage to the lighting. The steel crash guard was positioned very close to head lamps and it was deflecting beams coming out of headlights into all directions, thus compromising on visibility. The illumination was almost same irrespective of high beam or low beam.  However, the light, despite heavy dilution, was just enough for decent cruise.
 
Bare minimum: Being first generation Scorpio, we could see that the vehicle lacked several features now deemed standard. Notice the image. There’s no power window, No power mirrors, no internal adjustment of mirror positioning, no cup holders in the door- it’s all back to basics

Vehicle had an overdose of speakers all around, but the music system had no USB. No line in, no blue tooth. We had no CDs and we couldn’t catch any FM station signals. Thus playing songs out of mobile phones was our entertainment during the drive. The side facing seats in last row meant no back support.

Scorpio is a legendary SUV but this particular one had its own issues, which were uncovered over the course of our trip. We left Chennai by about 8PM and headed towards Salem on GST road. Some 330 kms of highway driving was ahead of me. Coupled with night time and rains, I managed a decent speed of 80kmph, with occasional cruise of 100-110kmph to reach Salem by 2.30AM. There was a slight water seepage problem around the A/C vents- not sure if it is rain water seeping in or A/C malfunctioning.  The scorpio had an older 2.6 litre CRDe engine which had lesser power output and pickup compared to today’s 2.2 mHawk engines. Nevertheless, engine was running very well, despite its age.  Engine never gave up- during uphill drives, overtaking or on highways. No complaints on that department, though I could have enjoyed a slightly better pickup. (The older Ford Endeavor which we'd taken to Kolli hills had a poor engine which refused to go beyond 120 kmph)

As we started our uphill drive to Munnar, the horn stopped working. I started wondering if I had to repeat the mirror exercise here, attaching an external horn and blowing it by hand. Driving uphill without a horn meant I had to be extremely cautious of oncoming traffic. I managed by tailing other vehicles. Once in Munnar we got the horn fixed- loose connection or something.
Day 2 early morning, I had a fear that engine might not start. In cold weather conditions, old engines fail to start at times. (We were stranded at Horsley Hills once with an Indica). But to my delight, Scorpio didn’t have any starting trouble and roared to life with just one twist of ignition key.

Insurance? What insurance?
Once back in Chennai, I checked the papers of the vehicle and realized that its insurance had expired on 30th august, 1 week earlier. If there was a check, I would have ended up paying a fine.

For the 1500 km trip, Scorpio drank Rs 5800 worth of diesel- approx 129 litres. Discounting a litre or two still left in the tank, it averages at around 12 kmpl overall. (The 2008 Scorpio Vls had given me about 13kmpl back in 2008).

Managed to get a small discount from the rental agency upon complaining about poor state of the vehicle.

Disclaimer: This is not a criticism of Mahindra Scorpio. it is a great breed, just that this particular vehicle wasn't maintained well by its owners. I am just sharing my experience of driving this vehicle during our road trip. Over years Mahindra has enhanced scoprio considerably and current day version has lot more power, better looks and features.

Also read: 
Ford Endeavor 2.5 XLT (2nd Generation) * Wayanad in Scorpio * Tata Aria * Innova vs Xylo (2009) *

More about Munnar trip in subsequent posts

Friday, September 07, 2012

Skywatch Friday-Sunrise at Alamparai

I wanted to reach Alamparai by sunrise, but being 100 kms from Chennai, it meant starting from home at 3 or 3.30 AM. Couldn't manage that on previous trips. During a recent trip we left by 4AM and reached there by about 6.30AM. Little late, but I still managed to get some good sunrise pictures.


 


 Related: Sunset at Ottinene * Sunset at Colombo * Valparaiso Chile, Beach area pics *

Monday, September 03, 2012

Security vulnerability in presidential car

President of India gets to travel in heavily protected Mercedes Benz - S 600 Guard Pullman. The 12 crore limo has several security features such as
  • Ability to run 30kms (@80kmph) with total loss of air pressure in typres
  • Ability to withstand bullet fires, grenades
  • Self sealing fuel tanks etc.
It certainly looks like a safe vehicle to be in. But it seems to have a vulnerability, which could be life threatening in wrong situations.
Its engine, a v12 bi turbo needs oxygen to run. So what? that is normal for any cars- you may ask

I was watching the below video- it is about a major tunnel fire which happened in 1999 in the world’s longest Mont Blanc tunnel which connects France and Italy. In this incident, a Volvo truck catches fire in the middle of the tunnel and soon, smoke engulfs entire tunnel, killing 38 people who were blinded by the smoke and poisonous cyanide gas. These people who died were in various vehicles behind the truck that caught fire. Many of them tried escaping by trying to turn their cars around and go back, but their engines died, as there was no oxygen left inside the tunnel.

What I mean is this: If your vehicle is stuck in a tunnel (or any other confined space) and if there’s fire/smoke, your engine is likely to stall due to lack of oxygen. Irrespective of it’s a Tata Nano or 12 crore Merc Limousine, all vehicles are susceptible to this.

Can president's vehicle survive such a situation?

For ordinary people this is very low probability. But for presidential car, this can be potential threat. What if someone smokes the car and makes its engine stall? Security agencies and the maker of the car, Mercedes Benz should quickly look into this and ensure that car driver can switch to an internal supply of oxygen in such situations.

Another school of thought is this:
Even american president's car doesn't have this feature. After all how many calamities can one prepare for? Can presidential car fly or float in case of a landslide or flash flood? With such risks being remote, should we really make an issue out of it?

I do not intend to spread fear, but just sharing my concern. To be alive we need to be lucky all the time. To be successful, terrorists need to be lucky just once. Because of this, even remote possibilities should be taken seriously and fixed immediately.
Prevention is better than cure.

Image from indiatvnews.com

Also read: Surviving skills from movies * Surviving elephant attacks

Airtel Ad promoting piracy?

Airtel is currently running a TVC, which says “Jo mera hain voh tera hain, Jo tera hain who mera!” (whatever is mine is yours, whatever is yours is mine). Essentially this is about content sharing using Airtel internet. 

Encouraging mutual content sharing is like supporting piracy right? Airtel doesn't say share copyrighted contents, but most of the content shared on internet today shares original creator’s copyright. Mp3, photos, movies and many other contents which could have generated some revenue to its owner are copied just like that. When I buy a digital content, I might own it for the purpose of my own use, but I'm not supposed to share it with others.
No doubt the ad is creative and innovative. Do you agree Airtel Ad promotes piracy?

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Bridge across river Kwai

Bridge across River Kwai could have been yet another ordinary bridge in Thailand country side, but a movie in its name has made it immortal and made it a hugely popular tourist destination.

River Kwai flows in Thailand, at about 100 kms from Burma (now Mayanmar) border (the distance from Burma varies at different places). During world war 2, Japanese forces were in control of the area. To carry military supplies necessary to fight in Burma border, it was essential to build a bridge across river Kwai. History has it that prisoner of war (POW) were made to work on building the bridge. It is said that over 13000 people died while constructing this brige/railway track. The 1957 movie uses this plot and projects how British POW engineers helped correct the mistake done by Japanese engineers (who'd selected wrong place to build the bridge). Sensing its military significance, allied forced bombed it during the war and the bridge was reconstructed after war. But the irony is that the movie was actually shot in Srilanka and not Thailand.

River Kwai is locally known as Khwae Noi River. Images below show the photos of the bridge, which we visited during our Thailand trip. The rectangular spans in the centre were post war replacement, while semi circular spams are original.
Because of the movie, this place draws lots of tourists. Boat ride is offered from a nearby place (600 baht per person for boat ride), a war museum has collections from world war times. 

A Chinese style temple exists on the other side of the river. Lots of floating restaurants cater to visiting tourists


 A toy train is operated on the railway track. Ticket costs 300 baht onwards. Schedule below.
Its a good experience visiting historical places. But the plight of forced labors who died building this structure needs a silent salute. In our day to day work, we criticize our employer, clients, colleagues over petty issues ranging from not so good food in canteen to not being happy about the hike. Not long ago, millions of people had to be lucky just to survive for a day. We don't have any idea how challenging life can be, because we're used to having all luxuries at our disposal.

There's no fee to visit this site. We also visited the hellfire pass. More about that in a separate post.

ISKCON temple Chennai: Pooja timings

ISKCON Chennai has been operational since sometime. We visited it recently
It is located off ECR (after Neelankarai, before ECR link road). Take turn near Malgudi restaurant. Locating this turn could be difficult during darkness.

The main idols of Radha and Krishna
The main hall
The idols will be covered up most of the time, except during Pooja. Note the Puja timings below and plan your visit accordingly. Volunteers read out sections from Bhagavad Gita and explain its meaning.

 Above: temple design is nice and worth taking close look.

 If you have money to spare, there're several donation options
 There're huge number of beautiful paintings depicting lord Krishna's life events.
Visitors will also be given a Rudraksha with 108 beads to meditate with. (utter following phrase 108 times:)
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

Temple campus has free drinking water, prasadam and chappal stand. Guest house and other facilities are being built