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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bananti mari betta, Kanakapura


Kanakapura area has lots of hills that can be explored by trekking. Being so close to Bangalore, it makes an ideal getaway.

Banantimari betta is one such destination. I accidentally spotted the name of this place, not much information exists on the net. I thought of exploring this place during a recent trip, but it didn't work out as planned. We went there, all the way till the foot of the hill. But being mid afternoon of April peak summer, none of the team members were enthusiastic about a trek to the top, so we returned.

If possible, should visit this place one more time, may be early morning and explore it. On top of the hill exists a small temple and offers nice view of Kanakapura town.

While our mission was abandoned incomplete, you might wish to give it a try.
However, the road and background  being scenic, we did click good number of photographs

How to go to Banantimari betta? Reach Kanakapura town, take Ramanagara road. Drive for about 3 kms and there’s a left turn. This turn is easy to miss. If you’ve driven more than 5kms, stop and seek direction.
Once you take the turn, it is one straight road till the foot of the hill. A village exists there. Vehicle needs to be parked here and trek begins. The road is fairly scenic will hills forming the background.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Harish V vs Skoda Auto

Some dealers of reputed automobile companies, often try to make some quick buck by cheating unsuspecting customers. In a recent incident, an Audi customer (Vishal Gondal) found that his Q7 was being taken for a joyride midnight when it was supposed to be at service station in Mumbai. Using his social media influence and aided by car’s GPS data, Vishal managed to cause an uproar and Audi smartly killed the issue, by entering into a truce with the customer, who is believed to have got a new Q7. [Details here]

About 3 months earlier, an Audi R8 caught fire and burnt to ashes on Bandra Worli sea link. Again using its effective PR skills, Audi managed to suppress the issue- no one knows the real cause of the fire yet.

Audi R8 burnt to ashes at Mumbai- image from indiatvnews.com


This time, I read a case of Mr Harish V vs Skoda India, again part of Volkswagen group, which also owns Audi and other brands. I read about this incident on team-bhp forum. Since I’m not eligible to reply to threads there, I am sharing my thoughts on the topic here (for some reasons best known to the moderators, my account is not yet enabled to reply to threads)

Summary of the issue is that Mr Harish V had given his Skoda Octavia to a Skoda dealer in Mumbai and even after 1 year, he is unable to get his car back. Dealer was found to replace genuine spares of the car with fake products to the tune of 4 lakhs and when the customer brought this up, he didn’t get the attention he deserved, from Skoda India. When a local consumer court ordered release of the car, Skoda India went to higher court and got a stay. Skoda even threatened to drag team bhp to court if they allow this matter to be discussed on their forum. I sympathize with Harish for the ordeal he had to fight to (Spend 12 lakhs on a premium car, live without it for 1+ year, fight court battle to get it back, spend money again on transportation and suffer mental agony) To know more, head to team bhp thread here and here.

My thoughts:
How can customers make their voice heard in such cases? If the forum has 40000 members, I recommend its members (and others as well) to do the following
  • Go to nearest Skoda showroom
  • Pretend to be interested in the vehicle, take a test drive and walk out
  • When the sales folks follow up, tell them about how Skoda dealers are replacing genuine parts with fake parts and dragging customers to court if they ask their car back. Tell them that you like the car but hesitate to buy because of these after sales issues

If say 10% of teambhp folks or other consumers in particular do the above, Skoda officials will be bound to take notice of the seriousness of the situation.

Note: Spelling mistake in the post URL is intentional

Also read: Audi R8 V10 * Audi Q7 Limo

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sansad Ratna awards 2013 at IITM

I attended an event at IIT Madras yesterday- named Sansad Ratna. The event was about honoring top performing Members of Parliament, organized by Prime Point Foundation and IITM

I reached the venue few minutes before 9 AM. There was no baggage screening, no metal detector. I took a seat. As the governor was attending the event, few rounds of security checks were done- few people checked the chair to ensure it is strong enough, few checks the steps to be sure that aged governor can use them comfortably. Police dogs did their rounds. Eventually the event began at 9.30 AM with a presentation by Chakshu Roy about parliament of India and the stats of MPs. Apparently his PRS Legislative research provides monitors MP's performance and provides all the stats. More about some of the key facts presented by him in this post.

After the tea break all waited for the governor to arrive. Once he was in, the Sansad Ratna awards were handed over to select MPs (Member of Parliament)

Below is the list of people who got the award:


  • Sri Anandrao Adsul, Shiv Sena MP from Maharastra (3rd from left in the photo)
  • Shri S S Ramasubbu, Cong MP rom TN (4th from left)
  • Shri Arjun Ram Ram Meghwal, BJP MP from Bikaner, Rajastan- right most in the pic with turban- he has the maximum- 99% attendance and has introduced 20 private member bills, has asked the maximum questions- 386 in parliament
  • Shri Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, BJP MP from Maharastra- 2nd from left- he has introduced maximum no of private member bills- 31- among all MPs. He's also whistle blower of Coal Gate scam.
  • Smt Rama Devi (BJP MP from Sheohar, Bihar- 2nd from right)
  • Dr Jhansi Botcha Lakshmi, Cong MP from AP, first from left
There were few other winners- Supria Sule, Dharmendra Yadav etc, who couldn't make it to the event.

Subsequently there were few speeches, by Srinivasan of Prime Point Foundation, former CEC, T S Krishna Moorthy (spoke about election reforms) and by Prof K Ramamurthy of IIT (gave detailed listing of how IIT is helping in research and innovations).

After the prize ceremony all stood up for National anthem. Then it was announced that Governor will be leaving and audience should remain standing while he leaves. Suddenly organizers remembered to take a photo of MPs with Governor, some confusion prevailed during this.

Below: Awardees with Governor K Rosaiah
After the event, supporters of MPs went to stage to greet them, take photo with them and so on, much to the frustration of organizers. Chelas of local congress MP thronged in large numbers to perform additional felicitations to him and get them-self photographed. One such image below
Above: Local Congress MP's sidekicks competing among themselves to put a shawl around their leader and get themselves photographed. At least a dozen of them used this opportunity to show their faith to their leader, disrupting the event. Organizers had to repeatedly request the supporters to take their seat.

Eventually organizers managed to get the people in control and a panel discussion started. The MC asked a question each to the MPs and asked them to answer in brief, but most of the MPs took their sweet time to deliver a full fledged speech.  Subsequently the audience got a chance to ask questions, but many questions were related to policy matters (interlinking rivers in particular) and few generic requests (front half of the bus should be reserved for ladies and not left half- read my earlier post on this). Some time was spent to translate the speech/question from one language to another. Below are some key points from the debate:

Disruption of parliament was a hot topic- while some audience demanded "No work-No Pay", BJP MP Hansraj Ahir defended the disruptions. His point was that MPs are not contract labors  because they disrupted the house, Govt agreed to form JPC,  set up inquiries on various scams- 2G, CWG, Coal gate and so on. If the opposition had kept quiet, Govt would have suppressed these scams and they would never get the attention they deserved. So the MP defended saying disruption is also required sometimes, to get things done.

MPs also said that they should focus 49% on their constituency issues and 51% on issues of national interest

Interlinking of Rivers/National rivers was another topic that came up and ended in heated arguments. Cong MP tried to take credit for the proposal. BJP MPs claimed that Atalji govt had taken the initiative on this which the next UPA govt ignored. How this national river/interlinking river should be materialized was argued upon a bit.

When asked if a MP should honor its party's whip or should go by what's best for his constituency, Anandrao Adsul said MPs should go with the later, but Hansraj contested, saying that MPs should go by party guideline.

Below: A tree planting gesture

Post lunch, I decided to skip the session and return home. another debate was scheduled.

We have lots of hatred about politics these days. Among all these, there're few who are performing their duties rather well. Good to know that there're few such MPs and we have a system to track their performances.

Note: Ministers were not considered for these prizes.

Namma cycle- cycle rental initiative in Bengaluru

Cycle usage in Indian cities is not taken in right spirit. If you ride into office in a cycle, chances are that security guard will ask you "Are you not paid enough to buy a motorcyle?". Some star hotels won't even allow cyclists inside the campus- Leela Bangalore was an example-guess they changed their mind after public outcry online. Many people never consider having a cycle, which can be used for quick rides in the neighborhood without having to take out their cars and bikes.

Besides all these, good thing is that Bengaluru city is seeing lots of initiatives to promote use of cycle. Lalbagh got a dedicated cycle stand recently. Tour of Nilgiris starts out of Blr every year and now, a cycle rental initiative, called Namma cycle is operational in the garden city of Bangalore.

Happened to meet Murali H R, the individual behind Namma Cycle- a cycle rental initiative in Bengaluru. Currently it is operational inside IISc. They plan to extend this facility to other campuses in Bengaluru soon.

Above: Namma cycle logo/baner
Below: Murali and Deepak
Namma cycle has about 5 stations inside IISc campus, each manned by a person during specific timings of the day. A user willing to rent a cycle walks to these stations, rents a cycle, returns it at any other station after usage. First 30 mins of usage is free for any pre-registered customer paying a monthly fee (Rs 100) and a nominal fee (Rs 5 for 30 mins) payable for subsequent usage.

During childhood, we used to rent cycles from cycle shops in our village. No registration, no paperwork- I had to tell whose son I am and that would form the guarantee and I could ride out in a cycle. Rent was Rs 1 per hour, some 20 years ago.

Below are the registration process and location map, for Namma cycle initiative.
The initiative is supported by IISc and is gaining popularity among students and visitors. Team is planning to add more cycles to the fleet. 

Above: Cycles in operation- branded yellow
Below: New fleet of cycles- to be added soon


I see some limitations in the current model- though there's fair amount of automation- registration/tracking etc, collecting the cycle and returning it is a manual process, which means someone has to be there physically at the counter to give and take cycle. This adds to cost and limits the hours of operation. Some way of automating this can help keep the counter open all the time and increase utilization. However, in country like India, such automation brings more complications. (dealing with damages, system failures etc) I am sure the team will factor this.

Visit their website for more details.
http://www.nammacycle.in/

Ironically in Bangalore, renting a car is now far reasier than renting a cycle. Hope Namma cycle team would change all that. I wish the team all the success in future.

Related: Tour of Nilgiris *  ICICI Bank cycle banking * Commuting to work by cycle-pros and cons * 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Interesting facts about our MPs and Parliament

I attended the Sansad Ratna award function event today, at IIT Madras Chennai. More about the event in a separate post.

First session of the day was a presentation by PRS Legislative Research. It is a unique company involved in research on MPs and Parliament- tracking their performance in terms of attendance, bills passed, questions raised and so on. Mr Chaksu from PRS India presented some interesting facts about Indian Parliament and its MPs, which I am sharing with you as it is interesting as well as important to know.

1. Most of our MPs are fairly educated. Just about 2-3% have not even cleared class 10 and about 17-18% have cleared matriculation but not beyond that. About 40%+ are graduates, 25%+ are post graduates. This is quite a relief.
 2. Our MPs have about 78% average attendance during parliament sessions

3. When in session, parliament opens at 11 AM. First hour is Question hour- for predefined questions. Only 20 questions taken up per day- they don't have any concept of working overtime if there're more questions- Next 1 hour is ZERO HOUR, for matters of urgency, the next 1 hour is for lunch and rest of the day for government business like passing the laws, debate etc

However, over the years, the no of days parliament is meeting is on the decline, so are the no of questions raised


Below: Mr Chaksu from PRS, who presented above facts
 Similar; My thoughts on election reforms * Singapore tourism interesting facts

Friday, April 19, 2013

Zoom self drive cars Bangalore-Experience and Feedback

Updated Sep 28th, 2013:
Zoom fleet now includes BMW 320d, Scorpio 8 seater, Vento trendline petrol automatic and Mahindra E20. They also have refined the process a lot since inception.


Updated May 15th: Rented a Scorpio again from Zoom. This time the process was relatively better.
 
Updated April 21st: I've received an official email from Zoom's co founder Greg Moran, clarifying on some of the points mentioned here. I've updated the post with his comments under corresponding sections.

--------------- Original Post -------------------------------------

Zoom cars is a relatively new entrant to self drive car business scene in India and with innovative strategies, they’ve already gained good reputation and popularity. This post is my review of their service, as experienced during my recent self drive booking.


Self drive rentals in India is not a happy scene. Established players like Avis, Hertz, Autoriders etc continue to reduce their self drive fleet and focus more on corporate customers. They don’t find giving out cars to individuals lucrative enough. There’re many private players who rent out regular white board cars. Both have their pros and cons. My previous articles on self drive: Kannada article in Vijaya Next * Self drive in India
I came to know about Zoomcar.in recently. [I don't own a car and keep an eye open for nice cars that I can rent]. Unlike other car rental agencies with a traditional website which hardly had any functionality, Zoom car website was very informative and interactive. It had actual photos of the car, showed its current location on map, showed its availability by the hour and so on. This, coupled with the options of new cars at low rentals, prompted me to try them out- rent a car and go somewhere, even if I had no particular travel plan as such. [We went to Kokkare Bellur and other places around Bangalore]

Unlike any other agency in India, Zoom car offers rentals by hour and also pays for fuel (Conditions apply). There’s a per km charge once you exceed pre-defined limit. This works out very well for short trips, but be sure to do your calculations before long trips. [Per km diesel cost will be Rs 3 for Figo assuming 16kmpl]

Zoom car Bangalore- current self drive rentals
Vehicle: Ford Figo ZXi (2013): 7 brand new Figos are there in their fleet: Rs 199 per hour or Rs 1999 per day. Rs 8 per km after initial 200 kms, fuel expenses reimbursed
Vehicle: Mahindra Scorpio LX (2013): 3 cars: Rs 249 per hour or Rs 2499 per day. Rs 12 per km after initial 200 kms, fuel expenses reimbursed

Other than Zoom, no other agencies in India pays for fuel. They (all companies other than Zoom) give full tank and expect us to return full tank. Few of them unlimited KM offer if rented for 3 days or more and usually enforce a per day usage limit of 150-350kms beyond which a per km charge is levied.
2 Zoom Figo Zxi s at their pickup point
Good things about Zoomcars
1. A very responsive, functional and interactive web page
2. Equally brilliant app for mobile devices
3. Rent by hours- All other players rent out for one day minimum, while with Zoom, you can rent a car for couple of hours- when you need it for a quick visit or airport pickup or other short term activities
4. Latest cars. Though the options are limited to Figo and Scorpio, cars are pretty new
5. Very responsive customer care. On a Sunday morning when I called them, they attended the call and also called back promptly at times

My experience with Zoom cars self drive experience

Booking self drive car in Bangalore with Zoom cars: Booking was smooth. Except that the website was not accepting non-Karnataka addresses for billing. Customer care asked me to enter a tentative address in Bangalore, since their site is not yet integrated with payment gateway.

Update: Zoom Official Response: This should hopefully be fully in place within the very near future. We understand that this is a minor nuisance in this interim period.  At least this workaround was effective.  On the payment gateway front, we expect it will be completed in the next 10 days (we had a slight regulatory delay, but now it's all squared away).  

There was no cancellation fee and I could modify the booking as needed. 
Update: Zoom Official Response: Full fee will be charged if cancelled within 24 hours

However, the modification couldn't be done online- the site didn't allow me to extend the booking saying I can do so only after my booking commenced. This meant I either had to cancel the booking and make fresh booking OR take delivery of the car and then request an extension OR call customer care to extend.
Update: Zoom Official Response: This will be taken care soon (extending the booking online)

Taking delivery of the car: The location shown on map and actual locations were some 3-4kms apart. I didn't know the short cut that connects Malleshwaram to Brigate gateway Rajaji Nagar. I went to Orion Mall first- no one there knew about Zoom cars. After couple of phone calls, I took an exit near Brigade school and reached Zoom car pickup point which was a small counter near the compound. Anyway, this is a one off experience. Now I know how to go there easily.

Update: Zoom Official Response: we've actually since fixed this bug.  The issue was that the 3 new Figos that we had added that week we're entered with a latitude/longitude error (address was correct, but map was showing a different location).  This has since been remedied.  Apologies for the inconvenience here. 

Paper work was minimal- no swiping credit card to block the amount, so giving physical documents for security, no cheques. Sign one paper and you're ready to zoom off.

The car: The car was clean, brand new with only 660kms on the odo. I was given all documents and briefed about the car. Fairly professional. Car had a proximity sensor which was good value add. It also had a GPS device, which was frequently screaming out that it is running on trial version of the software. I couldn't effectively use it. Click here to read the review of Ford Figo ZXi.

The return: I had booked till 4 PM, got it extended till 8PM. At 2PM, we were done with whatever we had planned to visit. I called Zoom customer care from Kanakapura to ask if there's any penalty if I return early. I was told there's no penalty. Eventually I returned to Bangalore and reached Brigade Gateway by 4.10 PM. The counter was empty, (I guess because they weren't expecting any customer). I called the customer care and the fleet guys arrived in about 10 mins. But my invoice was for till 8 PM. I am fine with that since nothing extra was charged for excess kms.

Invoicing: Could have been better.I returned the car on Sunday 4.30 PM  and 24 hours since then I don’t have a clue how much they’d charge me. There’s a daily and hourly rent, per km charge, charges for damage if any etc. Monday afternoon I called their customer care to ask when can I expect the invoice. The staff said they are not aware of a timeline for this and offered to take a request if I need invoice urgently. I got my invoice on Tuesday evening. Invoice didn’t have a breakup of the total amount- daily rent, hourly rent, per km charge, charges for damages if any etc. This break up would have helped identifying if there’s any discrepancy.
 
The invoice had a link and I had to click on it to make payment. I made the payment next morning. As a customer I lose nothing if invoicing is delayed, but the business may suffer because not all customers will be that prompt. All businesses expect some payment in advance or block the amount on credit card to be safe. I was expecting something similar from Zoom. Otherwise customers may delay payments and Zoom team will have to spend lot of energy chasing people for money. I learn that Zoom is in the process of integrating payment gateway within the website, so above might be an interim arrangement, considering Zoom is only few months old. Also to be noted that Zoom might become vulnerable to anti social elements- rowdies taking the car out, using for illegal activities, not returning on time and threatening fleet guys if questioned. A person faced same situation in Chennai, sold off his self drive cars and returned to US. I hope zoom takes necessary precautions and performs well.

Other feedbacks and comments
  • I made couple of comments at their blog, they’re not approved even after a week. I guess they’re not focusing much on blogs now. Another idea to improve the blogs will be to seek photos and travel experience from their customers- this will ensure steady source of fresh, personal contents and photos for the blog. Such customers can be given some discount for future booking.
  • Update: Zoom Official Response: Our blog is being revamped and will be active soom
  • Website doesn’t seem to remember user credentials properly. Despite asking the system to remember my details, I had to enter user name, password repeatedly to use the website
  • I feel Zoom could have introduced some variations while buying new cars- All 7 Figos are ZXis and All 3 Scorpios are LX. Now I do understand that having same model makes it easy and cheap to maintain, but I am sure customers will enjoy having more options at their disposal. If I am to buy 10 cars, I would have bought different cars and different models. Couple of Figo titaniums, which have airbag and other additional features- if added- could have excited some customers who wouldn’t mind paying a few rupees more in rental for these extra features. Scorpio automatic would have been useful to those not familiar with manual transmission. Basic variant- Figo EXi can save some money. One ford Classic and One Fiesta would have given more choice to people. But again, this is my personal preference. I am sure Zoom people had their own rationale for choosing the cars they’ve chosen. I read they’d soon seek funding to introduce more cars to the fleet and I am eagerly waiting.
  • Need to have a better pickup/delivery place. The current pickup place behind Brigade Gateway/Orion Mall near Rajaji nagar is a small counter and some open space. May not be convenient during rains. Zoom should consider moving to a better place where customers can sit and wait for sometime if required, have some space to park their bikes may be and other amenities. Of course, this will cost money and may take time. I am only suggesting this as future action, not demanding it immediately.
  • Website has US server timings. Will be good if it can show Indian time for bookings made etc
  • Update: Zoom Official Response: This will be taken care soon 
  • Return date calendar can be automated to show days after pickup date. I.e. if I select 10 july as pickup date, return date calendar popup can have all days upto 10th July disabled and show July 2013 by default.
  • I feel instead of paying for fuel, better to give cash discount and let customer pay for fuel. This is because, in current model a user has no motive to save fuel by driving economically. He may use full AC when not necessary, might drive at speeds that may not give optimal efficiency and so on. 
Also read: An article on Zoom by yourstory.in
Monkey jumping off Zoom Figo
Will I rent from Zoomcar again? Yes, definitely. Have booked the Scorpio next for a day.

Zoom also planning to introduce Mahindra e20, BMW 3 series, X1 and other models soon.

Also watch out for their weekday offer.

You may also wish to read my articles on why renting a car is better than buying * Read this before buying an SUV * SUV purchase- Financial calculations * Chennai-Mysore in Skoda

If you're registering at their website http://www.zoomcar.in please use the referral code X9PDcd

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ashok Kheni ad- the unlisted lines

Ashok Kheni has given a full page Ad, stating that his (or of his party, Karnataka Makkala Paksha) vision is to build nice roads allover Karnataka… 
What the Ad doesn’t list are as follows
  • There’ll be a toll both every 25kms collecting several rupees per km. People can cruise for 20 minutes and then wait in queue to pay toll for another 20 minutes
  • Cycles, bullock karts will be banned on these roads and even bikes will be tolled, so that toll expense will be much more than fuel expense.
  • Toll money collected will be used to buy an IPL team or host Hollywood cricket league similar to KPL or CCL
  • All land within couple of km radius from the highway will be grabbed and used for real estate

Book Review: Tantra by Adi

Tantra by Adi is a fiction about vampires and guardians. Before reading this book, my knowledge about Vampires was near zero.  The movie series- Twilight, Twilight Saga etc were on same concept, but I’d not liked such movies and hardly watched them properly. When I got the book “Tantra by Adi”  from Blogadda for review and once I started reading it, the story seemed to assume that readers know what vampires are.  I had to first refresh my understanding of vampires. Vampires are the evil forces, capable of jumping from building to building, they survive on blood

Once that was cleared, rest of the book makes good read. Core of the story revolves around Anu, who was a guardian (guardians are the people who fight against the vampires) in New York and had chosen to return to India, because the vampire who killed her friend was traced to New Delhi. But Anu’s parents and her aunt are not aware of her inhuman responsibilities and are focused on getting her married.
Anu gets some local help, gets to kill one vampire who used to abduct kids and kill them. She also realizes local guardians have made truce with vampires, they don’t update all relevant data to the computers and the scene overall is not very encouraging. The book is all about how she goes on to take the evil vampires, save the city of Delhi and takes her revenge. While doing so she comes across a Tantri named Saneka (one does crazy practices that includes sacrificing people to control supernatural forces- like vamachara. Kerala is believed to have many such practitioners). Without knowing fully about her enemies, Anu gets into fight with Saneka and his assistants, almost getting killed- Saneka could burn a tree, cause a toofan with a simple hand move, which Anu couldn't counter. Lots of mythological concepts- sadhana etc also get covered during the course of the story.

In the course of story there're many twists and turns, including the enemy- Saneka offering to be the Guru for Anu and teach her Tantra

I couldn't understand the action "shifted" and "deshifted" used during fightsx- looked like a mechanism to recover from injury or defend against an attack. Also I am wondering how Anu managed to get her close combat weapons past authorities. (Book admits she couldn't bring her sniper rifle from NY)
The plot is good. If you have some inclination towards the concept of vampires, you’ll like this book. Even otherwise, the story is interesting from a detective angle- how the plot unveils and Anu traces the culprits.

Summary:
Title: Tantra by Adi
Author: Adi
Publisher: Apeejay Stya Publishing
MRP: 195 (Rs 144 on flipkart)
Genre- fiction
No of pages: 334, Paperback
Book's website: www.tantrabyadi.com 

There're more books in this series. If you're interested, explore author's facebook page for clues and details

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Other book reviews: F?@k knowsRIP * Anything for you Ma'am * How I braved Anu Aunty

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Magic holidays timeshare cost & review

10 days ago, I saw a series of print ads by Magic Holidays related to timeshare concept. Their concept and scheme looked like an exact replica of Club Mahindra. Out of curiosity, visited their website, which hardly answered any of my questions, as it had generic glorified info. I registered on their website to know more. After full 3 days I got a call from them and 2 days later, a sales rep met me. I was expecting him to carry a laptop and show me the videos etc, but he came with a file folder, which had some brochures and Xerox copies of the sales materials like rate cards etc.


I listened patiently while he completed his generic sweet talk about his company and then asked him following specific questions:
1. Do you sell property to non members? If a member is not getting rooms but non members are able to book in open market, what should members do?
Answer by Sales Manager: (He didn’t give a commitment that they don’t give out property to non members) “That’s very unlikely scenario as our primary focus is our members. If members want to book at short notice they can call us. We’ve a MRD team which has access to certain VIP rooms in all resorts- with CEO’s approval we can give those rooms to members if there’s a genuine reason”

2. Do you have any upper cap on how many members you plan to sign up? (if # of members is > #of weeks * # of rooms # # of resorts, there’s bound to be shortage)
Sales Manager: Compared to others, we have very less membership base. For past 2 years we’ve not been marketing at all and were growing by referrals. Only now we’ve launched an ad campaign. We’ve only 2000+ members as of now, with 17+ properties and 21 more soon coming up. We’ll never face shortage of rooms. If you can’t get a room even after giving multiple date and location choices, call us, we (our MRD team) will help (Note: again, there’s nothing in writing to indicate what process will be followed if above mentioned situation, which is always a theoretical possibility-occurs)

3. What if I give 3 dates, locations and make my request more than 30 days in advance and still fail to get a room?
Sales manager again reinstated the MRD team, VIP rooms and special arrangements. Again this was superficial promise, there was nothing written in writing to cover this possibility.
The sales guy also showed Club Mahindra and Sterling rate cards, season chart and made following claims: 
  • Magic Holiday rates are 30-40% cheaper than Club Mahindra Holidays, ASF is also proportionately cheaper
  • Magic holiday doesn’t have a purple season
  • Magic Holiday is just 3 years into the business, already has 30+ properties and 20+ lined up, while CM and others, despite being in business for many years, don’t have as many rooms/properties as Magic
  • CM and Sterling need 30 days notice for booking, Magic needs 15 days
  • Selling your membership week is legal with Magic. Suppose if you get a booking of 1 week in Goa and then wish to sell it to a colleague, Magic would charge Rs 1000 for this and all liabilities will be borne by your colleague who uses the property. In CM, actual member will be liable
  • Magic holidays resorts are closer to city while others have their resorts far away.
  • Magic Holidays allows you to advance your next year’s days to this year.
  • Minimum booking is 1 night whereas it is 2 nights with others
Below is the actual chart shown be sales person, highlighting the differences

Note: Above are the claims made by sales rep, presented here as info. I’ve not personally verified these claims. Please use your discretion and cross check.

Just like CM, Magic also offers complimentary holiday, free gifts, meal vouchers, cash discount and so on. There is a weekend clause- your 7 days a year can contain only 1 weekend. You can't take 3 vacations of 2 days each, all during weekend.

Magic Timeshare Holidays current membership cost/tariff/pricelist
Below is the photo of Xerox copy he gave me. Click to enlarge. Membership rate varies from 1.6 lakhs to 7.8 lakhs ( For 7*25= 175 nights) + annual fee of 5k to 11k)
(Club Mahindra rates start from 2.5 lakhs and goes all the way up to 12.5 lakhs for Red 2BR (16+ for Purple season) + ASF ranging from 10k to 22k per year- More details here)

Below: A chart which explains No of days conversion between season (i.e. if you buy a studio blue season, you can still book a 2BR in red season, but for 1 night only, as against 7 nights in a studio apartment in blue season

Your travel, food, site seeing expenses extra. In a recent presentation by Singapore tourism board, they said Indians spend 40% of the travel budget on accommodation, 21% on shopping, rest on food, travel etc. In case of domestic holidays, majority expense will be on reaching the destination-(flight mostly, if you’re in other part of the country). So having a good timeshare membership but not having budget travel options can make our travel budget go out of control.

Should you buy such timeshare membership? By calculating the per day expense, it doesn’t make sense spending so much money now, hoping to save in future. ASF would increase in line with inflation. Very difficult to predict how our life will be over next 25 years. Having your money locked in with one time share company limits your options during a holiday. Many a time a Rs 1000/day home-stay can offer much better experience that Rs 7000 a day resort.

Below: list of properties as claimed by Magic Holidays
However, if you’re already sold on the concept of timeshare, have decided to buy a membership and trying to decide between Sterling, CM, Magic, then you can give magic some serious considerations. No one can certify a product/service better than an existing customer, so find an existing magic holidays timeshare member, take his feedback before deciding.

Only 2 of Magic Holidays resorts are gold crown certified- Allepy and one more

I'm yet to get some clarity on their cancellation policy and few other follow up questions. Expect some updates to this post little later

Also read: Club Mahindra membership review

Monday, April 15, 2013

River Kaveri at Bheemeshwari- then and now

End of July 2010, we'd been to Bheemeshwari. The nature was so green and beautiful, thanks to recent rains.

We went to the same spot again, in 2013 Mid April and am showing you the difference to the surrounding, due to scarcity of water. The entire belt had dried up and looks very bad.

The difference in two images would help us understand the importance of water and rains.

Below: All green forests and river Kaveri, July 2010
Same spot, April 2013, peak summer
Green forests as long as you can see- July 2010
The dried up hills, April 2013


Birds at Kokkare Bellur, Karnataka

I wanted to try out Zoomcar self drive rentals and was looking for a destination to visit around Bangalore. Having already seen most of the places and being April which is peak summer, there weren’t too many choices. Our first thought was to go to Sakaleshpura, but after some deliberations, we dropped the plan, as the place is best explored post monsoon.

I’d not been to Kokkare Bellur and thought it is the right opportunity to explore this place. Couple of people including Lakshmi Sharath confirmed that April is not the bad time to visit so we planned a half day trip to Kokkare Bellur and other nearby places. 
We left very early on Sunday morning and reached Kokkare Bellur by 6AM. On the way, we had to clear several checkposts, set up by election commission to search for black money. Kokkare Belluru is 12 kms off Bangalore Mysore highway- after Chennapattana and before Maddur. Slow down after Chennapatna, watchout for a left turn near a village before Maddur. If you’ve reached Maddur, you’ve missed the turn.
Road leading to Kokkare Bellur is good. It passes by a reservoir, which was all dried up. We entered the village, drove around a bit, saw some birds on tree tops, went little further which kind of looked like village has ended. We spoke to a little boy who told us that there’s not much to see in the direction we were headed and asked us to go back and explore. We asked if he could join us and show us around, he said “my house is here”. We offered to drop him back, he wasn’t interested. We decided to turn back and explore on our own and he asked for a pen and notebook. As we didn’t have it, we gave him 10 Rs.
Turning back, we stopped nearby a water tank. Couple of trees around had lots of pelicans. I climbed the steps of water tank to take better picture. Below are some good pictures of birds at Kokkare Bellur I could click.



Below: A little girl holding on to her goats.
Subsequently we drove around a bit, but didn’t spot any more birds. If we’d walked on foot in the interiors of the village and not just on the road, we would have found more birds may be. On the way spotted lots of black headed ibis feasting in a field.
Next stop was near a bridge over Shimsa river. The river was all dried up, with few drops of water here and there. Spotted kingfishers, but they were too far even for 300mm lens for a decent pick. Couple of mynahs posed well for the photo. 

Lots of white herons and few cormorants were concentrated on a small area, which probably had water and food they wanted.

Also found this cute black bird which had the shape of a sparrow, with some bluish inserts.
 
Few other birds like kites were spotted, but couldn’t manage decent photo of them.
In terms of Bird concentration, Kokkare bellur wasn’t close to Vedanthangallur near Chennai or Ranganatittu near Mysore. But the beauty here is the open space and not a confined campus where you’d find birds and go back. Depending on your luck, your willingness to explore you may find none to many birds in the village. Villagers are fond  of these visiting birds and they feed and take care of them in every possible way. This man-bird relationship makes Kokkare bellur unique. Do take a diversion from Mysore road and explore this village next time

Below image is the closeup of river bed- indicates how dried up it is


Also see: Birds on a powerline * birds near Bheemshwari *  Birds at our village- Set 2 * Birds at Singapore * Birds at our village