Monday, December 30, 2013

Doi Inthanon-Thailand's highest peak

On our day 1, we rode to Doi Inthanon, highest peak in Thailand. It is at a height of 2565 meters above mean sea level.
Doi Inthanon is at about 120kms from Chiang Mai. Half of it was highway and rest was mountain road. (Obviously). I got some tips from Joshua and others on negotiating curves and enjoyed the uphill ride. As we gained altitude, temperature started to dip and despite our jackets and gloves, it began to get cold. High speed wind added its effect.

But once on top, we got accustomed to temperature and it wasn't really very cold. A thermometer, displayed next to a shop showed 8 degrees. On the top there were supposed to be a few view points, but due to weather we couldn't see anything.

There's an information centre which displays history of the place and information related to fauna, flora in the region.

There's a coffee shop, a restroom and few other shops to meet basic tourist needs.
 An airforce weather antenna at the Doi Inthanon peak
A few kms down the road, Doi Inthanon national park is located. We didn't go inside, but this seemed to be favorite weekend spot for local people. On the downhill ride, learnt using engine braking effectively, to avoid overspeeding at the corners.

More about Doi Inthanon on wikipedia. Read more Ride Thailand posts here 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin City

Reading it in history books is one thing, experiencing it is another.  Recently I had the opportunity of visiting Berlin, Germany and used the opportunity to explore few places of historic importance, including Holocaust Memorial.

Holocaust is a term derived from Holos and Kaustos, together meaning "Burnt as a whole". Close to 6 million Jews were mass murdered by the Nazi Germany during the world war, 70 years ago. Almost two third of Jewish community was wiped out in this execution fuelled by hate. The whole state machinery was used to trace, capture, transport, torture and eventually kill Jews in all possible brutal manners- gas chambers, shooting, and slavery and so on.
Today's generation may not have the real sense of situation to understand how hard the life was, back then in mid 20th century for Jews. While we complain about bad roads, high petrol prices or slow internet, for them surviving another day was greatest reward. Having to see their loved one taken away or killed for no apparent reason can't be explained in words. To know more about these, do watch movies like Schindler's List (1993)
Eventually the war ended, Nazis lost the war and many senior officials who were part of this genocide were caught and punished. However, it is believed that many of them made safe escapes and are living comfortably worldwide.

Back to the memorial, it is located few blocks away from Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin. The memorial consists of 2711 concrete slabs, of various sizes and shapes. Few are very small and others are as high as a tall person. The size of blocks varies over the length and width of the memorial, which is a 4.7 acre campus. Tourists can walk in between these blocks.

There're no markings or names on these blocks. Just the open sky. Holocaust memorial is a reminder of how hard the history can be. It is not a place in-front of which you take pictures of yourself and show off. We left the memorial with silent prayers to those who perished for no fault of theirs.

Most viewed and most commented posts of 2013

Quick recap of most viewed and most commented posts of 2013- Top 20 out of 216 posts published this year. Check it out if you've missed them.

Club Mahindra and Sterling Holidays-2013 price list and season chart
Club Mahindra related posts have been the most successful ones at Apart from the all time popular Review of Club Mahindra timeshare, above post had maximum hits this year, followed by another post on timeshare- Magic Holidays. Magic holidays is the new timeshare operator in town and I tried to figure out if they are any better than Club Mahindra. They were indeed cheaper and had more properties, but fundamental flaws in the model continue to haunt unsuspecting buyers of timeshare

Magic Holidays timeshare- Review 

Zoom cars Self drive rental 
Cars have always fascinated me and this year, a new startup gave whole new dimension to the business of cars. Zoomcars, a Bangalore based self drive rental company has been phenomenal success and in less than an year now they're operational from over a dozen locations renting out close to 50 vehicles. As a startup, Zoom has got lots of attention and appreciation and I have enjoyed their service from the beginning. Incidently zoom has shaken big car rental companies like Avis and Hertz who hitherto used to underestimate and ignore self drive business in India (Read Post #9 on this list)

Ford Ecosport Review
Ecosport has changed Ford's fortune in India. Its booking has been stopped now due to excessive demand and waiting list runs close to 9 months for select variants and colour. Thanks to a media invite, I was one of the first few to test drive the new Ford Ecosport in Goa and my reivews were well appreciated.

Jaipur Delhi Double decker train experience
There're very few such trains in India- I tried it first between Jaipur and Delhi and later, between Chennai and Bengaluru

Ford Ecosport Key facts

How I braved Anu Aunty and co founded a million dollar company
This is the story of another popular startup- how two youngsters defended every odds to set up their own business which was eventually valued at USD 1 million. This is also a Bangalore based startup dealing with alumni merchandise. This book is a reflection of how our society never encourages entrepreneurship

Top Commentators at
I just thanked my regular commentors and somehow this post has been topping the chart. Not sure if people landed here searching for top cricket commentator or something else

Zoomcar Impact: Hertz wakes up, Avis still sleeping

10 Vista D90 first impressions
Vista D90 was a performance variant of Vista hatchback, from the stable of Tatas. Again I was the first few to drive this car before its launch and we drove all the way to Kodaikanal. Unfortunately this car didn't click in the market and has been discontinued at present, to make way for a refreshed model, code named falcon.

11 Book Review: Dada by Vibhor Tikiya -An interesting book

12 Shahar Palace Hotel, Jaipur - A budget hotel close to Jaipur railway station

13 New Vista D90 review

14 BMW Self Drive Rental in Bangalore - Renting a luxury car was never so simple, again thanks to Zoom cars

15 Ford Figo ZXI review - Figo refresh was launched in 2012, but I drove it only this year.

16 Mahindra Reva e2O review -- Electric car from Reva, turned out to be fairly impractical

17 Sea Shell museum, Mahabalipuram - it is a new attraction in Mahabs

Most commented ones, excluding few from above list
Sunrise at Hebbal

Skydiving experience in India
Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Also see: Best of 2012 * 2013 summary *

Friday, December 27, 2013

Ride Thailand Day 3-Late night deep forest ride experience

I am almost done with my skydiving posts. Now back to our Ride Thailand trip, stories of which are by and large untold. If you're reading this post on any website other than my blog, pls let me know by dropping a comment.

This happened during the day 3 of our ride Thailand trip.. What was supposed to be a 400 km ride turned out to be a 530 kms late night biking expedition, somewhere deep in the jungles of northern Thailand. 
We were heading from Mae Hong Son to the border town of Mae Sot. We had our lunch at Mae Sariang and proceeded further towards our final destination by about 2.30 PM. By now we had covered the legendary 1864 curves in the province on bike and had another 230 kms before we reach our destination for the day.
Above: A temple near the entrance of our lunch town, Mae Sariang. Here we were supposed to change direction to Route 105 from Route 108.

Our post lunch ride started and we cruised across the curvy highway with ease. The scenic ride continued and the clock was ticking. A few signages said this road will take us to Chiang Mai. Which was odd but didn't ring a bell to any of us then.
A small stream, somewhere in northern Thailand, near highway 108
Kawasaki Versys, Next to a brige, on an empty highway, North Thailand
From where we took U turn
After riding for over 60 kms, we pulled over and our pilot and guide, Sumon communicated to us that we need to go back. Enthusiastic bikers that we were, we didn’t whim a bit and followed him back. In this process we covered few hundred more curves and spent another hour or so riding. 

Thus we rode back, all the way to Mae Sariang. (Point B in map below) This implied we have covered 120 kms more and probably another 200 extra curves. 

As you see in the map below, we were supposed to change to Route 105 post lunch at Mae Sariang. However, we wrongly continued on Route 108, which was a mistake. Probably there were few other routes to reach Mae Sot without having to take a detour, but Sumon decided that the best option is to go back and take the right path.

Our support teams were headed on the right direction and they almost reached their destination while we were back to our lunch point. It was evening by then. We fueled up and then started on the right direction this time. We had more than 230 kms to cover.  While Sumon said sorry for guiding us through the wrong path, we had no idea what was awaiting us for rest of the evening.

Map below for your quick reference. Point A is Mae Hong Son from where we started, B is Mae Sariang where we had lunch, C is a point on Route 108 till where we headed wrongly and then took a U turn, Point D was our destination for the day, Burmese Border town of Mae Sot. B to C was the 60 kms one way wrong stretch we covered.

Notice how close the highway is t Burma border, between Mae Sariang and Mae Sot.

Now that we were on the right direction, the idea was to cruise and try make up for the lost time and distance. But few kms into the ride, we could see the sun settling down. Myself and Niranjan couldn't resist stopping for a moment, to click few snaps.

We continued riding. It was getting dark and tiresome. The road was largely deserted and fairly wide. Suddenly the road conditions changed. The smooth roads turned rocky and dusty. Now it feels like India- we told ourselves. We had to slow down heavily and ride with caution. We kept riding keeping adequate distance between bikes, so that dust gets some time to settle down. We were still a 100 kms away from the destination and road showed no signs of improvement.

We were riding since 8 AM in the morning without too many breaks and our legs started demanding some rest. We were riding in a team and it is not a good thing to hold up entire team just because you want some rest. So most of us kept going. One of the expert and professional biker in our team, Joshua crasto sensed the mood, rode up to the pilot and suggested a break. We pulled over to relax for a while. That's where I took some of the below snaps.

We were somewhere deep inside the forest, very close to border. No other vehicle in sight and no idea if forest has wild animals. Were there any naxal or militant equivalents? No idea. But there was no reason to fear. We stretched our legs, exhausted whatever little water and snacks we had and got ready to continue our ride. A truck driver came in from opposite direction and Sumon exchanged a few pleasantries with the driver and learnt about the road condition ahead.

As we surged ahead, road condition improved intermittently but turning bad before we could feel relaxed. Once we had to negotiate a large group of buffaloes as well- had one been careless, it was too late for a ride to spot them in a turn in pitch darkness, but Sumon, who was leading, cautioned everyone whenever we had obstacles around.

20-30 kms before destination, we took another break. I lied down flat on the road itself. It is where I took the below photo, which came out very well to everyone's satisfaction. Few good memories like this made the ride worth, however long and tiresome it was. 

 As we rode to the resort at Mae Sot, Mr Buddhani waved us in, signalling successful completion of a ride which was longest in our trip for a day. It was about 10 PM. We quickly had our dinner and went to bed, calling it a day.

Related: Northern Thailand hotel reviews * Biking in Thailand- FAQs

Earthwatch Friday! View earth from sky

Skywatch Friday involves uploading photos of the sky, often taken from the ground. Here in this post, I am posting photos of earth, taken from sky. Clicking using a goPro during my recent skydiving session.

I had seen ground from above- from window seat of an airplane, but that view was never this beautiful. It is probably the mix of being at right height and right camera....

Enjoy the photos. To read about skydiving experience, check this post, for FAQs, click here

For more skywatch photos, check skyley

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Skydiving in India-Safety, Cost, Procedure-FAQs

Below are some of the questions I've been answering to people since my skydiving photos have gone online. Compiling them here for quick reference of my readers.

Also check other posts- My skydiving experience * Skydiving- Is it expensive? * Watch my video of tandem jump *

1. Where exactly did this happen?
Skydiving is happening in India itself. South india as well (not Madhya Pradesh, not somewhere in North India), in our Karnataka’s cultural capital of Mysore.

Mysore is 150kms from state capital Bengaluru. There's one spicejet flight from Chennai to Mysore, else Mysore is well connected by road and rail

2. I didn't know it is happening so close
True. They have a very limited marketing budget, so the awareness has been low so far

3. From what height did you jump?
10000 feet from ground level (tandem). Static will be from 5000 feet

4. How much does skydiving in India cost?
Tandem jump costs Rs 27500 + Rs 4000 for video
Static or Solo jump costs Rs 15500 + Rs 500 for video
In case of groups you might get 10% discount.
Above are weekend rates. Expect some discount on weekdays.

5. Is it safe to do skydiving in India?
Many feel adventure sports is not safe in India. I request not to be pre-occupied with such beliefs and give things a fair evaluation.

There’s a small risk in everything. Kakini team uses equipment’s and procedures at par with world standards. They’re in this business for more than 2 years and there haven’t been any casualties so far. The instructors are well trained and there’re enough training and safety measures in place for possible mishaps. A fitness certificate is mandated before the dive. I am a normal person- not very athletic and I survived the jump as well as enjoyed every moment. As per my personal observation and experience, it is safe. Honestly there’re higher chances of dying in a road accident than in air. Will it be safe never to come out of home fearing accidents on the road?

Bigger skydiving companies will have bigger planes which can take more people and reach the higher altitude faster.
[Updated 30 Jan 2014: There's been a tragic incident in Salem, as a 24 yr old Bangalore based women died while doing a AFF. She and others were diving in a camp organized by Indian Skydiving and Parachute Association and was reportedly allowed an AFF after a 3000 ft static jump. More details on the tragedy yet to emerge- was it a mechanical failure or inadequate training Times of India news]

6. Did you feel dizzy/nervous while jumping?
No. I trusted my instructor and followed in instructions. Rest was smooth. I was very much alive and enjoying every moment of fall. But note that there have been instances where participants blacked out- either out of panic or because of not being strong mentally/physically. In such cases, instructor would ensure that student lands safely.

7. Why tandem is two times expensive than static?
In static, plane goes up till 5000 ft, while the height is 10k ft for tandem. This means more fuel and time to go up.
In tandem a more expensive parachute which can hold both instructor and student is used
Tandem lets you enjoy a free fall, which is not available in static jump.

But the advantages in static is that you'll be alone and will have more responsibilities to perform, to ensure safe landing. I am planning to a solo jump next.

8. Can everyone jump or is there any restrictions?
A fitness certificate is required and there's a weight limit. One should be 16 years or older. Static jumpers should also attend a training session and qualify in written test.  As long as you qualify on above 3, you are good to go. You don't have to be athletic or anything. Basic fitness to ensure that you won't suffer from blackout or other health problems is required.

9. Who is organizing these dives?
An enterprise called Kakini.

10. What if the parachute doesn't get deployed?
Well, in that case, a full refund will be offered. I am joking. Parachute has a reserve canopy which can be used in case of primary deployment fails. In case of tandem, your instructor will take care of these, while for static, jumpers will be trained to handle such emergency.

11. What is their website where I can know more about Skydiving in India?

12. Can we take guests while we jump?
Yes, but advance permission will be required. Be sure to go there on time (before 8.30 AM).

13. How many days should I spare if I want to jump?
Static jump takes 2 days- Day 1 traing, day 2 jump. Tandem is a single day activity. So one weekend is adequate to jump. Add travel time from your city to Mysore

Disclaimer: Above information is based on what I've observed and experienced and doesn't reflect official stand/reply of Kakini enterprises, who organize these skydives. Information are subject to change over time. In case of discrepancy or otherwise, please cross check with organizers.
Also check other posts- My skydiving experience * Skydiving- Is it expensive? *

Year end update: 2013

Another year has gone by, without me achieving anything significant in life.

This post is a quick look back at the year that was 2013..

Traveled less this year, compared to 2012, but it is ok. 2 International trips and about half dozen domestic trips averaged one trip every 2 month. It added 3 more countries to the list of countries I've been to (10 so far, excluding transit countries and countries seen across the border), but majority of my wishlist locations are still unexplored.

Jan: Kodaikanal, Delhi, Jaipur
March: Kabini
May: Goa
June: Around Bangalore
August: Mysore, Denmark, Germany, Sweden
November: Pondy, Talakona, Horsley Hills
December: Thailand, Mysore

I tried Skydiving this year-jumped off from 10000 ft and landed safely after 35 seconds of freefall. This constitutes the biggest adventure so far in my life. [View photos and details of my skydiving experience here]

Riding across Thailand in superbikes for 7 days, 2000kms is another adventure I had a chance to experience this year.

Driving around in BMW, rollercoaster and other rides in Tivoli Gardens may constitute as few other adventures.

Cars & Bikes: 
Vista D90 (sadly this model is being discontinued in less than an year), Ford Ecosport, Chevy Enjoy, BMW 320d, Volkswagen Vento and Polo, Swift VDi, Scorpio, Figo, Reva E2O, Safari are some of the cars I drove this year, not to mention Kawasaki Versys and Honda CB500X

All automobile related posts can be read here

Not many though. An indiblogger meet, few press meets, Ford Ecosport Media drive are some of the events I attended this year. Had to turn down a few invites due to work schedule.

Had satisfactory number of articles in print this year, most of them being in kannada and few mentions in print media.  Read full list here

Others: 2 surveys listed my blog as one of the top travel blogs in India: and But there are many other such lists in which I am not included, so I shouldn't be rejoicing too much.

Read lots of books this year- half of them purchased while rest received complementary for review purpose. View the reviews here

Thanks for being with me throughout the year, encouraging me with comments, likes and so on. Appreciate your support and I wish you a happy and prosperous 2014

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Skydiving experience and photos at Mysore, India

When I signed up for skydiving, I did face lots of criticism. I was told it is waste of money (not really- read this post), I was told it is not safe in India. But deep inside I knew that I had to give it a try and held on to my plan.

I reached Mysore airport slightly ahead of time on Sunday, my schedule date for skydive. The Kakini enterprises (organizers of skydive) staff were yet to come. After few minutes of waiting, the staff arrived with their equipment and we cleared security checks. I was told my dive will be at 11AM. I was given a red suit to wear and I put it on and observed others rehearsing, getting ready and so on. Other than me there were two other enthusiasts who had come for static jump and 3 more army staff who had come for different jumps, paying out of their own pocket and during their leave. (I was under the impression that army staff may have skydiving as a part of their job description or optional facilities in their units to practice if they wish, but I was mistaken).

Kakini enterprises now own their own plane, a small Cessna 172 plane, which was supposed to be a seater. The plane was customized for skydiving by removing one of the doors and providing adequate support on the wheels and wings to facilitate exit of divers. 3 of the 4 seats were removed to make room for jumpers and their equipment. As first few jumpers went up, we observed that Cessna is a TVS XL 50 equivalent of motorcycles- it takes forever to climb. Eventually the jumpers got off and we on ground saw them sailing downwards. Soon, I would be up there doing the same

Me, all decked up for the dive
Mysore airport has its lone flight of the day at about 10.30. A spicejet bombardier flies in from Chennai and flies back to Chennai. We observed that there were good no of passengers- probably 30-40 in number, good enough for a profitable flight. I was reminded of my previous visit to Mysore airport- during Kingfisher activation. There’re no proper refueling facilities in Chennai, so plane carries enough fuel to go back. Skydiving staff need to coordinate with ATC while the spicejet is around.

After each jump the deployed parachute needs to be folded back in and this process takes several minutes. There’re different chutes (aka Canopy) for static and tandem (because tandem one should be able to support more weight)

I had a few guests, whose entry got delayed as the check in of spicejet passengers were in progress. Eventually, after few hours of wait, they got in before my jump.

Time went by and it was 12 noon and my turn was yet to come. In between, my instructor, Rajan briefed me on the procedure. As I was doing tandem, I didn’t have much to do, except following little instructions he gives. This is easier than static jump, which requires half day training and a written test, because in static the jumper controls the canopy and lands himself.

Eventually my turn came, the last one for the day before they packed up. Myself, my instructor Rajan, another instructor Ales who would capture my videos and the pilot boarded the Cessna. I was given one quick rehearsal on exit procedure, pilot (Captain Harshit) took permission from ATC and the plane started moving.
Inside the Cessna, during take off
Our XL50 sorry Cessna 172 took close to 30 minutes to climb. It slowly circled Mysore airport thrice as it gained altitude. I enjoyed the view of airport and land behind, while we waited for the right altitude. I noticed a difference between altitude shown in plane’s altimeter and the one my instructor. When I questioned, I was told that plane’s altimeter gives height w.r.t mean sea level (which is higher) compared to wrist altimeter which was reset to zero on ground. The aircraft also makes insane noise, more audible because one of the door is cut off. It is not possible to make decent conversation on board. As we went up temperature dropped, but being midday, it was not too cold.
Cessna 172 instrument cluster
Thankfully I was allowed to wear my spectacles, as we had another eye gear on top of it. Otherwise most of the time I will be asked to remove the specs (like when I took the ride at Tivoli Gardens) which means reduced vision.

5 minutes to go…
I moved into position, while my instructor, Rajan sir came behind me and locked myself to him. The other instructor, Ales made space for our exit, by almost hanging on to the wings…
I could see the land deep below and told myself that it will be an easy jump. I reminded myself that all I need to do was to just trust my instructor and not panic or do anything stupid.

2 minutes to go
Go pros and cameras were turned on, we inched out of the aircraft slowly, with my right leg out first, right hand next and then positioning myself under the instructor. Next few moment I was hanging off my instructor, my legs folded and my hands close to my chest, away from the aircraft wing support.
Slowly getting ourselves out of the aircraft
Moments after we disconnected from the plane and began free fall
Next thing I know is we were in free fall. I stopped thinking, held my breath and enjoyed the fall. Gravity defying 35 seconds of drop vertically down, from 10000 ft to 5000 ft. In between we managed a small stunt as well-extending our arms to hold a formation with my secondary instructor. In fact I was few seconds late in stretching my arms, else probably we could have had more fun.
The free fall has begun
Doing a formation in the air
Then the canopy was deployed and our decent slowed down heavily. Now we were floating around in a relaxed mode and my instructor thought me basic maneuver of the parachute- how to steer it left, right etc. We did some circling and slowly touched down at the designated spot.
After that I was left with an even more difficult task- to explain everyone how it felt. It felt thrilling, exhilarating and certainly a thing to be experienced once a lifetime. I am now more confident about myself, to try more adventurous activities in life. I was given a log book and a T shirt. Unfortunately I lost the T shirt somewhere in the airport. (Sad)
Mysore airport runway, as seen from 5000 ft
I was told the photos and videos would take some time. We left mysore airport with lots of memories. I am happy one of the items in my list is ticked off, but still many more pending (Scuba diving, balloon ride to name a few). Hopefully in the future…

Now that I am done with tandem, thinking of doing a static jump next.

Watch video below

Disclaimer: I didn’t click the images in this post. They were taken using a go pro by a fellow instructor who jumped with us. But since I have paid for the shoot, I can claim to own the photos.

Read my skydiving experience article in Kannada * Watch video * Top 10 Adventure activities you can try in Karnataka

Dinner Experience at KhumKhantoke Restaurant, ChiangMai

Khum Khantoke is a restaurant of different kind. We had our Day 1 lunch and dinner here. I had been to few Kamat Restaurants in Karnataka where artists perform while people enjoy their food. Khum Khantoke takes the dining experience to all new level.

When we went there for lunch in the afternoon, it looked fairly ordinary, yet another restaurant. But by evening, the place had transformed into an action packed entertainment centre. The food was to be had on the ground, with bed turned seats and food platter arrangement. Refer images. As we took our seats, a series of entertainment shows were performed- not one, not two but many. Depicting local tradition, welcome dances, scenes from Ramayana, war dancing with drums (which used to signify declaration of war), Tee dance, stunt shows like working with swords, tribal dances and so on.

The 3 ladies at the entrance- besides looking good, they are also good at specific tasks- playing musical instrument, cutting watermelon in designer shapes or making flower garlands.

 Above and Below- Tee Dance
 Announcements are made in Thai and English

 Dinner seating at Khum Khantoke restaurant
 Entertaining guests...
 Entrance of Khum Khantoke in the day time
Overall having dinner here is like visiting a mini fair. On the food front, it serves traditional north Thailand food. On our request a set of vegetarian items were served. Tender coconut available on request.

Guests are given an option of buying a souvenir at 100 baht (Photo of 2 girls dressed in Thai posing behind you) Khum Khantoke is located on Nang Pakrung road. Show happens between 7 and 9 PM every day. Better to go with prior reservation, as people stay back or eat their meals slowly enjoying all the show. More details on Khumkhantoke at their website and facebook page

 They do have another ritual, of letting lamps float away in the sky. Will write about it separately.