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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Audi India Q7 misuse issue [updated]

My few cents on recent issue involving Audi India and a Q7 owner in Mumbai

It is very common practice in India for dealerships to misuse customer vehicles. I experienced it first hand at Bajaj dealership in Hyderabad (Madhapur area), wherein service centre staff just drove off in a bike that had come for servicing, to get some diesel for the generator. Even in other dealerships, once customer picks a bike for purchase, till it is registered and handed over, it is often used as test drive vehicle. The temptation for service centre staff is much higher, when the bike/car in question is a premium vehicle, which they may never be able to buy for themselves.

News that’s going rounds at present is about an Audi Q7 sleep walking in Mumbai. It’s owner, Vishal Gondal is MD, DisneyUTV Digital whose Q7 was reportedly given for servicing at an Audi authorized service centre in Mumbai West. The owner was alerted by GPS triggered SMS that his vehicle is overspeeding on the streets of Mumbai at midnight. Quick scanning of GPS trail reveals that vehicle is being driven for 100s of kms all around Mumbai all through the night, with a prolonged stop near a popular scrap market, before returning to dealership silently the next morning.

Apparently some service centre personnel took the Q7 out for a joyride- may be to impress his girlfriend or to enjoy the sheer driving pleasure Q7 offers- we don’t know yet. This unauthorized usage, proved by GPS data soon gained momentum on the internet. Vishal Gondal is no ordinary citizen, he has his circle of influence which includes several people from media. Prima facie there was enough truth in Vishal’s claims and the incident was soon giving indications of a PR disaster for Audi India.
Audi local dealership has outright rejected the allegation, and claim vehicle never left their premises. Below are the “Proofs” shown by Audi dealership and counter argument…
·         Entries at the register maintained by security guard of the service centre, which logs when a vehicle came in and was driven out. This is a hand written sheet and obviously the inside person who takes a customer car for joyride will not be foolish enough to make an entry with security and take a gatepass
·         A photograph showing a Q7 console, which indicates a trip meter reading of 10.6kms- this needs more investigation- is it standard practice in audi to take trip meter photographs? Was it taken just for this case? When? After customer complained and before he taking his car back? How to ascertain it is from the same Q7 that belongs to Vishal Gondal (the photo shows an Odo reading of 10600kms- Vishal should tell if he drove his car for only 10k kms since its purchase in 2011? If not, Audi service centre is caught red handed, trying to provide a fake evidence.
·         CCTV footage that shows Q7 is in the service centre- I’ve not seen the footage and Owner Vishan Gondal claims registration number is not visible in the footage. Need to investigate if there were any footage capturing the entrance during non office hours

Audi officials did realize where this was heading to, none other than MD Mr. Michael Perschke did tweet that he’s looking into it. But 3-4 days since the incident broke out, Audi is yet to resolve the matter with the consumer in particular and explain to general public in general as to what’s happened. Dealership continues to reject the claim and a senior audi official has met the customer, we need to wait for the outcome. While the MD is busy with Neha Dhupia in Ahmedabad, hope his team is at work on the matter.

That being background, I’m adding my share of thoughts:

A police complaint could have helped. A city like Mumbai will have hundreds of cctvs in public places- by checking these CCTV footages at the time and location as indicated by GPS, police can confirm if any Audi Q7 passed through these streets at the time. This will be a fool proof evidence to decide who’s speaking the truth- the customer or the service centre. Vishal would have paid over 20 lakhs in tax alone while buying his Q7, so providing some CCTV footage is the minimum law enforcing agencies can do to help the tax payer when he has a situation at hand. Police/people at checkposts, tea stalls, toll booths etc can also tell if they saw a white Audi that night.

Another option would have been to catch them red handed. If I was in Vishal’s place, I would have either driven to the place where the vehicle was can make some video recording to prove that someone else is using it, or driven direct to service centre and demand that they show me my vehicle. But I know it is easy to give this idea after the incident and not everyone are bound or required to think and act in same way.
We don’t know much about the GPS device involved. Was it an external one easy to detach and attach? Is the data accurate? (GPS company issued a statement that data log is accurate, with only other possibility being device being mounted on different vehicle. There is no motive for anyone to falsify GPS data, so prima facie it appears genuine.

Engine immobilizer could have been another idea, but here the driver would have had authentic key.
In all probability, a service centre employee would have taken the car out for a joy ride, probably hand in glove with security guard and few other employees. Service centre management might not be aware of the reality and might be refusing to accept/investigate the matter fearing negative publicity. However, trying to suppress an allegation will have more negative impact. It is better for Audi to conduct a detailed investigation and accept the faults if any.

Below: a file photo of Audi Q7 limo, clicked at US
Years ago Kiruba Shankar had a similar issue with cleartrip. Kiruba had booked the ticket with a name which was not exactly as in his passport. He arrived at the airport with his ticket, only to be told that ticket has been cancelled. Cleartrip had noticed the discrepancy in his name, had cancelled his original ticket and got  anew ticket for him. However, cleartrip missed to inform Kiruba of the error and new ticket. Kiruba’s tweets that he’s not able to fly despite having paid cleartrip caused a PR issue for cleartrip, which offered an unconditional apology, though the customer was partially at fault for giving wrongly spelt name in the first place. Kiruba flew with a freshly bought ticket- this amount was refunded to him and Kiruba was upgraded to business class on his return flight at Cleartrip’s expense and everything ended in positive. Now customer is willingly spreading good words about the portal and cleartrip’s prompt action gave them good positive coverage and increased customer faith. [The Kiruba Incident: read more on this at cleartrip blog]

Audi has a similar opportunity to turn crisis to its advantage. We need to see how this situation reaches its conclusion. Company that provided GPS to Vishal Gondal is also getting good limelight for revealing the theft/misuse. I am sure their sales will increase by leap and bounds after this incident. Audi’s rival BMW has already made a killer move, by giving Vishal Gondal a BMW Mini Cooper S Countrymen for him to try out.

What other security measures we can take for our cars? May be fix a micro cctv camera that captures live feed of drivers' seat and feeds back on internet? Auto forums are abuzz with discussions on this topic-who is right and who is wrong. Hope we'll have answers soon

Disclaimer: All information as available in public domain. I am not a party to this issue and have nothing to loose/gain from the situation. I am just sharing my personal opinion/thoughts. Please use your discretion.
Similar: Audi Q7 Limo at US * Jaguar and Landrover pics * Prado and Land Cruiser Pics

Update: Looks like Audi India and Vishal have settled the matter in private. Nothing much has been made public as to how it is resolved or what happened. I guess Audi managed to win back its customer with some goodies and in exchange requested him not to pursue the matter further, fearing more backlash and getting similar complaints from other customers. I feel it is not fair on Vishal to keep complete silent. Since he used social media to garner support, there's curiosity as to what's happening. Forbes reports that Audi has agreed to replace Gondal's car. But by not owning their mistakes and trying to keep quite, Audi will be raising more questions and concerns among prospective customers. Further, there're claims that Vishal has a stake in Technopurple, the GPS company and all these is a staged incident for publicity. We can only speculate since Vishal and Audi won't reveal anything more. And speculation can do more damage at times

Sunday, November 25, 2012

10 in 1: Quick Movie Reviews

Here're a set of movie reviews- very short ones.


1 Jab Tak Hain Jaan (hindi): Couple of scenes- riding bullet with background of Himalayan mountain ranges is a treat for eyes. Otherwise waste of time, just read the story from somewhere, no need to waste time watching it

2 Oh My God (Hindi): Worth watching. Very valid questions put forward, regarding how temples and other religious institutions mint money, without any concept of refund or service guarantee.

3 Bheemateeradalli (Kannada): Looks like just another masala film. Doesn’t really reveal the struggle of people. Too much dramatization, too much unrealistic filmy stunts/fights have somewhat spoiled the sensitivity . Whoever worked on continuity for this film did a very bad job, I could see continuity issues in many scenes. (Example: Just before interval, a reddish Tata Aria gets replaced by a Chevy Tavera in next scene, for no apparent reason). I feel all the controversy about Ravi Belegere claiming credit and so on are pure publicity stunt.

4 Skyfall (English): No new cars, no fancy gadgets (except for a tracker). I didn’t find anything exciting as such- will pass off as just another bond film. Can be avoided unless you’re a diehard fan of 007.

5 Anna Bond (Kannada): I liked the concept of moving house. Entertaining for the time and money.

6 Maryada Ramanna (Telugu) – Recently released Sons of Sardar is based on this Telugu movie. Fairly entertaining.

7 Savages (English): Good plot, but I didn't understand why they felt is better to wind up their business and restart somewhere else, instead of going for a partnership. Otherwise good action movie

8. Raaz3 (Hindi): waste of time again. Just read about the plot, don't waste time watching entire movie

9. English Vinglish (Hindi): Good to watch. I liked the last scene when she was about to pickup English newspaper but instead asks for Hindi, deciding not to reveal to her husband that now she's learnt English.

10: Taken 2 (English): Good, but not as good as Taken 1. This time action is more, intelligence or skills became secondary.

Also read: 16 in 1 movie reviews * 3 in 1 Book review *

3-in-1 Book Reviews-The Bankster, Jack Patel & 1 more

In this post I am reviewing 3 books- Bankster and If god was a  Banker, both by Ravi Subramanian plus "Jack Patel's Dubai dreams" by PG Bhasker. I couldn't review these books in detail, hence the summary.

The Bankster by Ravi Subramanian
Ravi Subramanian’s latest flick “Bankster” is another good read. This time I’d read reviews of few other bloggers before I got my copy from flipkart, hence my suspension and curiosity was little less. 

Nevertheless, the 358 page book is easy to read and there’s no junk text to bore audience.

This fiction focuses heavily on money laundering- how tax heavens and fictitious accounts are used to facilitate fund transfers which are not legitimate transactions. Story runs in 3 parallel tracks which eventually link to each other and merge.

Author uses all real life incidents effortlessly in his fiction. Koodankulam nuclear power plant protests, a German national (Sonnteg Reiner Hermann) getting extradited in this connection, Fukushima incident, Chernobyl incident are all used effortlessly by the author in Bankster. Because of this story feels very realistic. There’s no filmy heroism and logic less plots- all these add to credibility of the story.
Current development on nuclear plant is the news on waste disposal- Govt planning to stuff nuclear waste into gold mines of Kolar. Had the novel been delayed by 6 months, probably this also would have been part of the plot. 

Few characters from Ravi’s other novels are re-used (Karan for example)
Bankster will also make a nice movie if converted…

I finished reading this in one sitting overnight. Makes a good read, do give it a try.

Published by Rupa, MRP Rs 250, was available for Rs 179 on flipkart.

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"If God was a banker" - Ravi Subramanian
Similar to his other books, “If God was a banker” also revolves around Banking Industry. While “The Incredible Banker” talked about credit card fraud and “Devil in Pinstripe” was about loan & credit related frauds, “If God was a banker” is more about career progression.

The other two books had little or no adult text, this book has an overdose of the same. So I’d recommend his other two books instead of this one.

If God was a banker is the story of two new joinees, who begin their carrier with a large MNC bank. Under the leadership of same mentor. One Sundeep is aggressive and strives to make it big without any regard for the means, while the other, Swami has high ethical standards. Their path criss-crosses several times as they climb up the banking ladder at high speed.

I liked the ideation around how automobile loans were made easier by the idea of these new folks. Few other incidents are also helpful how fraud happens in banking system and how they are investigated
Storyline, narration and plot is somewhat similar to other books, so I won’t go into details. If you’ve read the other two books (Incredible Banker & Devil in Pinstripes), this one can be avoided.

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Jack Patel's Dubai dreams- PG Bhaskar

PG Bhaskar is the new author I tried. Came across this book online while buying Ravi Subramanian's books. This book is also about Banking industry, but not a suspense/thriller like Ravi's.

"Jack Patel's Dubai dreams" is about Jai Kishan, a Gujarathi born, Chennai raised guy's ambitions to make it big in investments. He gets lucky to land a job in Dubai office of a NY based investment Banking firm. All goes well for couple of years while Jack builds his career, makes money for his clients and makes money for himself too. All hell breaks loose once recession & sub prime crisis explodes, turning millionaires into paupers.

This book also uses real world names- Citi, Lehman Brothers, Bank of America and other names which were at the epicenter of financial crisis in late 2008. Satyam scandal also broke out during the same timeline- I was hoping there'll be some reference to it. But there was none.

Because I read this book along with Ravi's, I can't help but compare the two.

While Ravi's books ran in couple of parallel tracks, Jack Patel's story runs in single track. While Ravi would cut unnecessary details where possible (Example, if there was a wedding event in the story, Ravi would cover it as briefly as possible, a line or a paragraph), but Jack's story tries to elaborate stuff which reader may not care much. If I am reading the book with financial interest, detailed text on family matters, wedding and so on would take my interest away.(I could be wrong in this- female readers might like this family/wedding angle)

I appreciate PG Bhaskar for writing the book without using a single word of adult text (which Ravi would have glorified further if there's a chance) and indicating such matters in utmost sensitivity.

The 230 page Penguin published, book, priced at  Rs 150 makes a good read to know inside world of private banking and wealth management. But be prepared to read some extra narration here and there.

Author has another book- "Jack is back in Corporate Carnival", which sequels "Jack Patel's Dubai dreams". Should read it next. 

Other book reviews: Fate, Fraud and Friday Wedding *  Topgear magazine * Comical Saga Fate, Fraud and Friday Wedding * She's a jolly good fellow *

Friday, November 23, 2012

Birds feeding each other

I clicked these during my last visit to Horsley Hills. A small enclosure houses some birds and animals there, too small to be called a zoo. 
 Another view
These two birds below were also engaged in similar activity of playing around and feeding each other, but they were so hyperactive that I couldn't get a clear shot of them kissing each other. Managed to click below when they were a bit stationary. Still the photo is not sharp enough due to poor lighting and the fact that they were behind the mesh

Also view: Birds at our village - set 1,  set 2

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Resurgence of Satyam- Zafar Anjum

When I accidentally saw this book on flipkart, it took only few minutes for me to decide on buying it. The book was about Satyam computer’s scandal and recovery, written by an outsider. As  a former employee having experienced the crisis first hand, I was curious to know what information this book has which I wasn’t already aware of and what perspective it would bring to the incident. Flipkart took one full week to deliver the book and got started on it same day. (Paid Rs 300 for flipkart while it was available for Rs 279 on Infibeam- need to be careful next time)

Book does give inputs and details on board level events and key people involved. Their thought process, opinions, some of the key decisions made and the reason for the same and so on. Half of the information covered in the book is in public domain, other half is assembled from personal interviews and author's narration/analysis of the events that unfolded early Jan 2009 till middle of 2012, when the book was published. I learnt many things I didn't know so far. (Shadow board for example)

There’s no mention of Narayana Moorthy’s comment that he’ll not hire anyone from the tainted company
While the book gave some key insights as to what all happened at senior most levels of management during crisis management, some insights I was eager to know were completely missing

I was keen to know more about the logic behind layoffs. As admitted in books, over 10000 people were put under VPP (a softer term for pink slip). While I know what happened in the unit I used to work and in the units where I had friends, I was eager to know how this process was conceived and executed at company level. What criteria was used to select people to be flagged for VPP- only billable/non-billable criteria? Previous performances were considered for those who were on bench at the time of decision making? Were there some business/support units which were completely wiped off. Initially it was supposed to be one off exercise, but there were multiple rounds of VPP (no mention of that in the book). How many in total and what was the rationale for multiple rounds of VPP which ensured sustained uncertainty amongst associates? I didn't get any of this information from the book and hence was disappointed.
left: My Satyam parking sticker- more details 

While book mentions CP's blog, what's not mentioned is the heavily moderated comments section.

Some data on what happened to all those employees who left voluntarily or were let go (VPP)- did they get good jobs elsewhere or did they struggle a lot- some insights around this could have been included.

Book reveals that a MSat PR person gave inside info to the author (told him about the merger announcement one day in advance. Is it ok for PR person to reveal sensitive information to select parties ahead of official announcements? Such information can be used for quick gains on stock markets.

Book also informs that Ramalinga Raju is now leading a normal life in Hyderabad. Not sure what's happened to Maytas infra, Nipuna and Satyam BPO.

A Raju's aid reveals that Ramalinga Raju might be using EMRI collected sensitive patient data to win deals from Pharma companies (personal data about millions of people is a gold mine for pharma companies

The 266 page hard cover book, available for about Rs 300 (MRP 399) is a good read to know how Satyam recovered from the crisis. But it could have been more realistic if it had interviewed more lower level people and  share their experiences/perspectives.

Now its about 4 years since Ramalinga Raju's confession. He's roaming free, Satyam stocks are back to a not so bad level, Mahindra Satyam has cleared most of its liabilities, has fully recovered and is growing fast with its ally tech mahindra. A few Satyamites who'd left have rejoined Satyam, others have gone for good with their memories. Sad to know Satyam's identity will be lost after new name for combined entity is announced. Those who dubbed Satyam incident as India's Enron, those who humiliated Satyam employees, those who spread untrue rumors haven't bothered to apologize or correct their statements.

Long live Satyam.

Author of this book writes at http://dreamink.blogspot.in/ 

My other posts on Satyam: Satyam, 1 year later * Satyam vs Kingfisher *

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Campus placement delayed? 10 things to do

Campus placements at engineering colleges by IT companies are very low at present. Those who got placed last year are also being asked to join late. Overall the job situation is not very encouraging. Those who joined engineering 3-4 years ago expecting a nice placement at top IT Companies are now in a tension as to what their future will be. Here’re some tips and alternatives to keep oneself engaged, if the dream job doesn't come knocking.

1 Develop something on your own- a mobile app, or a website or anything creative/useful which you can proudly talk about and show to others. This will up your confidence level, get you lots of visibility and might even make good money. You’ll enjoy evey minute spent on this and will never get bored.

2 Work at startups: Pay may not be great, but experience gained will be priceless. There’re several startups already operational and more spinning up. Join the one which suits your interest and passion. If you like what you’re doing, there’s no working. On any day working in a startup is much much better than sitting on bench in an IT company. If your startup makes it big, you’ll definitely have your share of fame and money. With a formal offer, you may not be allowed to take employment in other rival companies, but no one will usually question if you join a start up. Entry and exit also will be easy in startups without long notice periods or paperwork.

3 Enhance soft skills: Despite good technical skills, people get rejected due to poor command over languages, not being able to communicate effectively and lacking other soft skills. If you feel you’re suffering from lack of adequate soft skills, use the time to get it fixed. If your English is poor, read and write a lot. If you can’t speak/communicate, join clubs like toastmasters or form your own groups, converse in English and gain confidence.

4 Get job in relevant industry. A software employee also needs to have good knowledge on the industry for which he/she develops software. If you intend to work in Banking domain, you should know as much as about how banks function, as much you should know how to code in Java. Without knowing how your work will be used by the end user (say customer or staff of a bank), you’ll not be able to build effective solutions. Industry experience doesn’t come for free. Joining as interns or taking up jobs in relevant industries will make your case easy when you apply for software jobs later.

5 Work on your network: Lot of jobs happen through referrals. Join clubs or groups of your interest- photography club, trekking club, bike club, toastmasters club etc. These groups will have considerable number of IT employees in them. Once you get to know them, chances are high that they’ll refer you when there’s appropriate opening in their companies. Please note that joining these clubs will not get you a job and joining with sole intention of getting a job will also backfire. Participate in relevant events to meet like minded people

6 Work on additional certifications: Couple of additional certifications can make all the difference while being shortlisted for a job. It helps you utilize time effectively, indicates that you don’t waste time unnecessarily and gives you an edge in peer group.

7. Work at your family business: If your family or relatives have a business- may be a small shop or a large enterprise, spend time there, learn tricks of the trade. Experience gained there, first hand, helps understand buyer behavior, labor management, profit and loss and so on. A 6 month experience running a medium size grocery shop is much better than 1 year experience at an IT company, half of which spent on bench and other half doing some mundane training or some primitive task.

8. Travel: If you have some savings or if you can get some funds, travel around. Explore the country. Once on job, you’ll have to almost beg for leaves and getting long leaves (say 2 weeks or more) will be near impossible unless you’ve major event (marriage, pregnancy etc). So if you’re fond of traveling, travel as much you can before joining a day job. If reading and writing also interests you, then there’s more you can do.

9. Do NOT bug your contacts: Many people get frustrated after few months of waiting and start torturing their contacts (placement officers, representative of company which hired them or their friends in the company). Please understand that if your on-boarding is getting delayed, such decisions are taken at much senior levels and your immediate contacts like friends, placement officers etc won’t have much control over it.  Being in touch is fine but too many follow ups will annoy them. Understand their limitations.

10. Form an online group and stay in touch- create a group for all freshers who’ve been hired by a company that year. Staying in touch with other recruits helps getting faster and reliable updates. However, do mind what you write there. Do not use bad language.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

13 tips for safe night driving

Night driving on Indian roads is not easy. There're many challenges including no road dividers, oncoming traffic using high beams, vehicles without any tail lamps/reflectors and so on. I've had my share of night driving and in this post, wish to share some tips and suggestions if you're driving in night.

1. Know your route: Before the journey, study the maps, read about road conditions and note down names of key cities and turning points. Driving will be safe and convenient if you know where to turn, what town to expect next. You'll also know that you've missed a turn. On the other hand, if you're driving on a road you've not driven before, half of your attention will be on road signs thinking if you're on the right way. Because it is dark and not many people to guide you, your anxiety can take the focus off driving and result in accidents. If you're confident/comfortable about the road you're driving on, half the battle is won.

2. Have a navigator if possible: If you have a partner who is not keen on sleeping as you drive, it is of great advantage. He/she can focus on maps, turns and other supplementary aspect, while you can focus on driving.

3. Take a road which has median/road divider. If you have an option, chose a road that has a median, so that there's safe gap between you and on coming traffic. Also trees/barricades on the median will reduce the impact of high beam. Example: Between ECR and GST road, I'd prefer GST for night driving.

4. Memorize the road ahead: Many a times high beam of oncoming traffic blinds us and we see nothing. On such situations, safest option is to slow down/come to a halt. However, before the oncoming vehicle blinded you, you'd have seen the road for few hundred meters. If you're confident enough, learn to memorize how the road will be for next few hundred meters. If the road is in your memory, you can drive for few seconds safely. Reflectors on the road will also aid in this. Once on coming traffic passes, assess rest of the road and proceed.

5. Take initiative and change to low beam. We often complain about other drivers not dimming the light and blinding us. How many times do we shift from high beam to low beam? Take the initiative, shift to low beam. This might remind the other driver that he too needs to do the same. Even otherwise, at least one of the driver not getting blind is safer than both drivers getting blinded momentarily.

6. Have a pilot vehicle. Tailing another vehicle (with safe gap) is a best way for night driving. if you find another car which is being driven comfortably, tail that car and you'll know how the road is turning, if there're any speed breakers etc. However, getting right pilot is tricky and you need luck. If you tail a slow moving vehicle you'll take forever to reach your destination. If you tail a very fast moving vehicle, you'll have to drive at a speed beyond your comfort zone and this can be risky.

7. Listen to your body: if you're tired/sleepy etc, your body will given out indications. Pullover and take some rest. Do not force yourself to drive under the compulsion of getting late etc. If not fully alert, judgment abilities dip significantly and may result in accidents. Drinking water/tea, washing face etc will help you refresh a bit. Singing loudly, or having a person to talk to etc reduces boredom and helps you drive safe.

Centre of the road will usually have reflectors. If the tyres go over them, you'll experience slight shaking (thud-thud sound). If this happens, it is an indication that you're not driving in a single lane. Take rest and regain focus.

Modern vehicles have features to detect drowsiness of the driver and alert him for a coffee break.

8. Expect surprises: Not all vehicles will have tail lamps. If you're passing through villages, expect to have cyclists, bullock carts, tractors etc on the road- these vehicles may not have any reflectors/tail lamps and you won't notice them during turns or during low beams till it is very late. Same is true about pot holes and speed breakers. You should always be able to stop within the visible distance you have ahead of you.

9. Observe on coming traffic. If head lights of oncoming vehicles is leaning towards left, then the road is turning left. If they're leaning towards right, then it might be a right turn. if you sense a sudden slowness at some point, then it could be a speed breaker/barricade/bad road. If there're headlights side by side, then it is a overtaking situation

10. Overtaking vigil: Overtaking in night needs extra caution. You should assess relative speed of two vehicles, visibility of road ahead, possibility of turns by vehicle ahead of you, oncoming traffic and obstacles like broken down vehicles etc. An over confident overtaking will confuse multiple drivers. Also be vary of aggressive drivers who won't give way that easily.

11. Do not use cruise control at night. Your vehicle may have cruise control, but do not use it at night. If you've to manually press the accelerator, at least you'll have some action and alertness. If you lift the leg, vehicle will slow down/stop. If set to cruise control, you're more likely to fall asleep as there's no much action expected from your body. Avoid cruise control at night. Similarly it is better to drive in manual mode than automatic transmission, as it gives some action to your body parts and help you stay active.

I also advise not listening to soothing music while driving at night. It might put you to sleep more easily.

12. Check if your driver had enough rest. If you're traveling in a rented vehicle, before the journey have a casual conversation with him, find out for how busy he was before this trip. If he'd been driving continuously for past few days, then he's not received enough rest and there's a big risk in this. During peak season drivers are forced to work without rest- at times this can have fatal consequences. If he's not got enough rest, either try to get a replacement driver or ask him to sleep for few hours before the trip begins.
13. Drive with windows down slightly. This is recommended for one particular reason- driving with windows open- may be partially, will help you assess situation outside. If a pleasant air suddenly becomes dusty, then it is an indication of bad roads ahead. May be there's a diversion, may be road is muddy/bad. Open window also makes you more alert to outside events- horns, animal sounds, other vehicles screeching to halt etc. When you drive with all windows closed, you'll be oblivious to the developments outside and will have very less reaction time.

Wishing you safe journey.

Also read: Safe driving tips from DSFL * Ford Driving Skills for Life * Fuel saving tips from first gear *

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

2011 Mahindra Xylo E4 review

I’d done a short test drive of Mahindra Xylo during its early days (review here), however didn’t have a chance to take it out for long drive. That changed recently as I rented it for 3 days and drove over 1200 kms (Chennai-Chittoor-Kadapa-Gandikota-Belum Caves-Kadapa-Horsley Hills-Talakona-Tirupati-Chennai). Below is the quick review of the popular vehicle from Mahindra stable.
Luckily this time I got  a decent vehicle (read about my first gen Scorpio experience couple of months ago, if you’ve not read it yet). It had all critical components in place (no issue with rear view mirror, head lamps or insurance)

What I drove was a Xylo E4, the middle variant and not the fully loaded E8. E4 has same mEagle 110PS engine, had wheel cover, power windows, keyhole illumination, couple of courtesy lamps, follow me home head lamps and other basic amenities, but misses alloy wheels, reverse sensors, DDAS, ABS and other features found on E6 or E8. Even without those luxuries, E4 was quite good enough as a package- we didn’t seriously miss any of the equipment during our road trip.

The Xylo we drove had logged 44k kms and was 15 months old. It is operated by a travel company and not an individual, so expected to have been driven by different people with different driving styles and not much of personal care and attention. The poor maintenance, coupled with not so good quality of plastic and craftsmanship was evident at couple of places- the holder which houses door lock release knob came off on one of the doors, a bulb that provided lighting for rear number plate was hanging loose, door speakers stopped working at times and would work again after a tight slap (of the door) etc.
Poor maintenance was also audible on the suspension. Once loaded with 7 people and their baggage, Xylo was very expressive and made groaning noises while clearing speed breakers or potholes. We could hear the suspension letting out its displeasure of not getting its lubricants on time and having to negotiate bad roads with 7 people on top of it. Bit of oiling would have given lot of comfort to the rugged vehicle.

Mahindra Xylo E4- Space & Comfort
Xylo is far more spacious than Scorpio. Fellow travelers (almost all of them were with me during the Munnar trip 2 months ago in a 2005 Scorpio) found Xylo far more comfortable to sit, than the Scorpio. In fact “Happy Legs” is the USP of Xylo on which we can have full flat bed experience. So space was generous on all 3 rows and 7 people managed without any issues, baggage included.  Luggage space is minimal, but multiple ordinary backpacks could be stored without much of an issue (expect we had to be careful while opening the door, lest they fell off). E4 also gets additional AC vents, height adjustable headrest and front facing last row seats, all contribute to passenger comfort.
Mahindra Xylo E4-Drive & handling
Xylo drives well. Xylo handled bad roads around Talakona and other places without any hesitation (remember there were 7 people on board). Touched 120kmph max (couldn’t go further due to non availability of straight roads). Gear shift is not as smooth as Innova and needs some muscle action, particularly for 1st, 5th and reverse gears. Steering is not feather touch and needs some effort, which is manageable (You can rotate ford Endeavour’s steering with one or two fingers, can’t do that on Xylo)
Saturday evening suddenly headlamp wasn’t switching on when I started the xylo. For a moment I froze, thinking at the prospect of having to drive without headlamps. However switched off the vehicle and switched it on again (Ravi’s suggestion), headlamps came back to life. It didn’t give any trouble thereafter. There were no stupid bumper guards like that Scorpio, hence visibility was good.
Mahindra Xylo E4 Fuel Efficiency (Mileage)
We drove about 1200 kms over all and had to fill in diesel worth Rs 5500. At an approximate avg price of 51 Rs /litre (Diesel price was 50.25 per litre in Chennai, 50.05 in Kadapa, 51.8 at some other place and so on)  that’s 107 litres. I am sure some 5+ litres were still in the vehicle when I returned it. So nett mileage is approximately 12kmpl, which is at par with ARAI certified 11.8kmpl. (note that we had 7 people on board for about 800kms and AC was used for about half the time)
Overall Xylo is a well packaged and aggressively priced people mover. It doesn’t have the greatest power/pickup/top speed to boast about, but when it comes to going out on a road trip with family/friends, Xylo will be much better choice compared to sedans which have low ground clearance and less space. If no of Xylo taxis on road are any indication, mileage and maintenance is surely not a concern. The 2012 model of Xylo also comes in an E9 variant, which has Scorpio’s 120PS engine. Low spec D2 and D4 variants are also available, mainly for taxi segment with intention of competing with Tata Sumo.

Most of the photos clicked by Shande

Go to top * Scorpio mHawk Vls review * Maruti A-Star Review * Wayanad Trip in a Scorpio *Chennai-Mysore in Skoda Octavia * Fiat Linea Review Xylo vs Innova 2009 * Tata Aria 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Belum caves, Andhra Pradesh

We visited Belum caves in AP last weekend. Belum caves written on hill top and a large Buddha statue helps you locate Belum caves from a distance.
Compared to Bora caves off Vizag, Belum caves is lengthy and narrow.  It is said to be second largest cave in India with a length of 3.5 kms. Only half of which is open to tourists.

An artificial fountain is set up inside, lots if lighting and air vents to pump in fresh air are set up to make Belum caves tourist friendly.
Guides are available for rent. When asked “how much do you charge”, one guy said “your satisfaction is important sir, whatever you give is fine”. It is difficult to accept such terms as these folks are likely to argue for300-500 Rs if we give them 50-100 Rs. Anyways we didn’t hire a guide, partly because he could speak in Telugu only, partly because we were aware of basic history of Belum cave and could manage without elaborated details.

Unlike Bora caves, water seepage was near zero in Belam caves. Carvings on the wall were nice to observe. Some creative folks have compared these formations to real life objects and have named them “Banyan Tree”, “Thousand hoods”, “Musical Chamber” etc
Entry fee is Rs 40 per person. Nothing extra was charged for cameras.
No accommodation available near Belum caves. Water and some refreshments are available- Anantapur, Guntakal and Kadapa are nearest major cities (Belum caves is about 100 kms from these cities We stayed at kadapa and went to Belum after exploring Gandikota)

Timings: 10.30 AM to 5.30 PM

Gandikota Fort and Gorge, AP

Gandikota is dubbed as India’s Grand Canyon. You’ve to see it to believe it. Some 100kms from Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh, Gandikota has river pennar flowing through a deep valley and view from top is very inspiring. I was sketching to visit this place since an year or so and it recently materialized. We drove to AP in a Mahindra Xylo E4. With overnight halt in Kadapa, we reached Gandikota at about 9.30AM.

We were welcomed by a large fort, through which we could drive through. Local people reside inside the fort campus and a small road allows us to drive inside. We drove in as long as the road allowed us.

We were clueless how to explore the place. One stranger, who was from ASI, guided us in right direction. He also asked an assistant to open a lock and allowed us to go to the roof top of one of the buildings (the mosque)

The view of Gandikota gorge was majestic. Most of the photos I'd seen had little or no water. If water was plenty, Gandikota could be another Hogenakkal.
It is possible to walk/trek all the way till the foot of the river. The river was near empty, but due to recent rains, there was some greenery and traces of water. It also looked like someone have just driven an SUV across- look at the wheel markings
 The valley is not visible unless we go near.
APTDC runs a hotel here, where you can stay and have food. But pre-order required. We ordered lunch there and proceeded to explore Gandikota. 

How to go to Gandikota?

Kadapa is the nearest town, well connected by bus and train. From Kadapa, rent a vehicle. Other nearby places: Belum caves, Reservoirs (many of them)