Friday, February 28, 2014

Skywatch: Sunset near Kolar, Ecosport special

After sunset with BMW, Sunset with Tata Nano Twist, I have one more edition of sunset pictures to share. This time the popular Ford Ecosport in frame. Ecosport has a huge waiting list if you wish to buy one, but thanks to Zoom, you can easily rent one and drive it around. Thankfully unlike other cars in Zoom, ecosport is a near top end variant (Titanium, just one variant below Titanium optional). Will write more about the car during the weekend. For now, do enjoy the sunset pictures, clicked between Bangalore and Kolar.

Note: All are natural shots without any post processing.



Ecosport Petrol review from May 2013 media drive * Sunset at Mullayyanagiri * Gokarna * Sunset at Dandeli *

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Zenair vs Xair microlight flying comparison

One week after flying in x-air (detailed experience account here), I tried another sortie in a different plane and operator- Zenair from Agni aviation, in the same Jakkur airfield). Compared to Xair, Zenair felt more practical and real aircraft. It is bigger, more powerful and gets you a better flying experience.
Looks ultra-light and small, more like a college student’s project
Looks like a proper aircraft from all angles
582 cc, 65hp roof mounted and open Bombardier
Twice powerful engine, housed in the nose
Looks better
Looks basic
Flying experience
Much better-responds swifter and easier to control. Instructor gave better controls and I had a more enriching flying experience.
Takes off and lands much faster
Fine. Pilot did most of the work, I did some basic maneuvering.
Duration of the flight
15 mins (from engine start to shut down, 10 mins in air)
30 mins (from engine start to shut down, 20 mins in air)
Rs 4000 for 15 mins (Rs 267 per min)
Rs 5000 for 30 mins (Rs 167 per min)
Good for
Better flying experience, quick take offs and landing
Longer flight/jolly ride, if you want to enjoy the scenery and not much of flying on your own
Cost of aircraft
23 lakhs+
55 lakhs+
Bangalore Aerosports
Agni Aviation
Other comments
Made of steel rods and fibre/cloths largely
Made of metal, , slightly bigger cabin

Comparing Zenair vs Xair microlight flying
Images: Cockpit
Above: Zenair's cockpit
Below: Xair microlight's cockpit 

 Exterior looks of Zenair vs Xair microlight
Above: Bigger and more aircraft like Zenair
Below: Cheaper and lighter Xair microlight
 All your FAQs related to microlight flying has been clarified here

Social Media tips for politicians

It is election time and almost all political aspirants now have a new medium to tackle and master-the online. While desperate home minister said he wants to curtail social media [Report here], MP aspirants can't afford to ignore social media as a part of their poll campaign. 

For those existing and to be politicians who want to rock online, I have a few tips which can come handy over time.
1 Do not keep party name in your handle/profile URL
Online profile URLs are kind of permanent. Most of the sites won’t let you change your URL. As you aren’t committed to a party for life, keeping your current party name in your handle or url may be a bad idea. When you hop from one party to another (which you’re sure to do even if you don’t want to hint at it right now), it will be a huge effort to change your social media identities and rebuild the fanbase, Keep the profile IDs party neutral and be sure to thank me when you change the party, for this golden advise.
2 Do not set up automatic replies
Lot of plugins/apps exist which allow you to set up automatic replies to your followers. Don’t use them. It can be embarrassing at times. Vodafone used automated standard replies, thinking that will keep the consumers engaged for a while, but now everyone has realized that these tweets are automated and won't take them seriously.
One smart guy even tweeted that he wants to marry Vodafone India owner’s daughter by tomorrow EOD and got a standard automated reply stating “Please share your contact details, we’ll revert to you asap”
Sometimes, it is better to keep quiet than say something stupid. Where possible reply in person.
3 Be careful before abusing/accusing someone online.
What you post online stays there forever. Even if you delete it later, some smart follower might have already taken a screen print. Your opponent of today will be your alliance partner post poll, so be careful not to use exact names or spit too much hatred on someone. It may backfire.
4 Learn to blame auto correct
You are used to saying "Media has mis quoated me", "I never said like that". Such statements can't used on what you post online when things go out of control. However, you can blame the auto correct feature on your smartphone for wrong typos. Learn to use it to your advantages

5 No need to retweet everything your party supremo tweets. 
 No party has issued a whip to that effect yet. So relax. Retweet or share only when it adds value

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

New Tower at ITC Sheraton Park Hotel & Tower,Chennai

I stayed at the newly launched Towers wing of Chennai’s historic 5 star hotel, ITC Sheraton Park hotels & towers. Park Sheraton is one of the oldest 5 star hotels in Chennai, with over 3 decades of history. Formerly known as Adyar Gate Hotel, this property located at the heart of city is also close to the heart of many loyal customers, who have had their life events and major celebrations/decisions taken place here. With the amount of personal touch and attention to details, no wonder 80-85% of the business comes from repeat customers. (That is remarkable given that over half a dozen 5 star hotels have opened shop in Chennai in past few years) .

The New Towers wing is envisioned with a 'Hotel within a Hotel' concept. Towers has 125 rooms open, with work still in progress on the grand presidential suit. This post is a quick review of the rooms and facilities, based on observations and experience during my stay. To understand how Sheraton's personalized service is unique and different from other hotels, check this post

As I walked in, I was given a traditional welcome, with a dhoti and vermilion. No lengthy paperwork to finish, no waiting to know which room. I only had to identify myself and give them an ID proof. I was escorted to the room and briefed about key facilities.

As we walked to the room, the art work on the wall caught my attention. It consisted of hundreds of ants and a few flies places beautifully on the wall.

The room
My room was number 2705. For a moment I wondered if it is on 27th floor. I eventually learnt that it is on 7th floor, Room 05, while 2 refers to tower. (Heritage wing has rooms starting with 1)

Room had a personalized welcome message and looking inviting. It has two parts- the main area or living room with sofa, table and chairs, typically where you would sit and talk with visitors and the bedroom area where your family can relax. Both parts can be separated in a soundproof way and both parts get their own flat screen television with USB and HDMI ports. This setting is highly useful for business executives who otherwise have to hunt for a meeting room to receive their guests.
Above: The king size beds at ITC Sheraton park hotels and towers' suite
Below: Large living room  at ITC Sheraton park hotels and towers' suite
Room has got mood lighting, you can select one of the four options and the light settings will change accordingly (night= no light, read= lights near the writing table, relax and intimate). Both the bedroom and living room get two separate mood light controls

The mini-bar and snacks all were well stocked. Filled with multiple fruits and snacks options. And telephone was handsfree multi functional, yet simple to use because of interactive menu. Wi-fi connectivity is available all around the hotel, for about Rs 600 a day. With same access key I could connect both laptop and mobile, there was no need for two separate access. (Some hotels have one password, one log in policy- have to either get two different password or can connect only one device at a time)
The ward rope includes an iron, ironing table and bathing gown. Bathroom was well stocked with good quality consumables. While regular hotels go for cheapest of soaps and shampoos, could notice the difference in quality and quantity of the items provided.

Two giant windows facilitate huge amount of natural light to flow in. The tower is surrounded with greenery on all sides. Notice the light house and Mylapore Kapaleeshwar temple in below photo 

Guests of ITC Sheraton Park’s tower section get their own bar, restaurant and lounge. The bar has a red ambiance with a dedicated smokers room. The designer candles add to the mood.

The exclusive guest lounge is beautifully designed. Tall designer chandelier hangs down illuminating the lobby in the night, while giant windows allow ample day light to soak in. This one place alone can keep a photographer engaged for a few hours, as it is very picturesque and offers lots of perspectives. The lobby has its own coffee shop and two televisions, one showing news channel and another, kids channel, to keep both business and family audience entertained. Huge metal curtains with rings and other artwork catch your attention quick.

 Below: See the reflection of the vertical chandelier in the glass.

Room rents:

Room rents at ITC Sheraton Park Hotels and Towers start from Rs 5000 onward (for the heritage wing) and tower rooms start from Rs 8000 onward. Note that prices are indicative and may vary based on season, room typpe, how early you book, corporate discounts and other factors.

Check hotel's official website , their twitter handle or facebook page for details

ITC Sheraton park hotels and towers is located on TTK road/Chamiers road intersection, in the heart of Chennai city. About 12 kms from airport and very close to key locations like Adyar, T Nagar, Mylapore and Anna Salai

Food and Beverages: A bunch of meeting rooms and even a super specialty board rooms are available for MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) and the campus has about half dozen fine dining facilities. I will write about them separately. [Related: Dakshin celebrate 25th Anniversary]

Other facilities: ITC Sheraton park hotel and tower has all standard amenities- a spa, pool, gym and business centre.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Scenic Kendatti quarry near Kolar, Karnataka

Updated 12 April 2014: Local police have declared this place as Prohibited Area, as the rocks under the water are deemed dangerous and there have been few deaths. General public is no longer allowed to go Kendatti.

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

An hitherto unknown piece of quarry block near Kolar, Karnataka has suddenly become a tourist hotspot.

Few weeks ago, few enthusiastic bikers accidentally discovered this place, a quarry, off Old Madras Road and since then, bikers and travel enthusiasts from Bangalore have been flooding this place, so much so that the annoyed quarry operator is found to be digging deep cuts across the road, to discourage too much public from coming in.

Kendatti is a village near Kolar and the area is rich in rocks. These rocks are quarried out by licensed (hopefully) operators and this particular quarry has retained pristine rainwater and looks very photogenic. The depth is not too much and those who wish to swim, those enjoy pushing their vehicles into the water find it inviting.

Before I say anything more, take a look at the photos yourself.

Above: Bikers having fun at Kendatti quarry
Below: Ecosport at the Kendatti valley

Above: Ford Ecosport from Zoom, close to the waters
Below: View the valley to understand the amount of stone that might have been excavated so far from Kendatti

Above: Ford Ecosport looking majestic midst rocks. Clicked by Sandesh
Below: Another view of Kendatti valley

First few photos that circulated on the net drew even bigger crowds. When we went there Saturday evening, there were a dozen cars and another dozen bikes.

The water is stagnant and is very likely to get contaminated soon over time. Each time a vehicle is driven into the water, oil and other chemicals from the wheels get dissipated into water. As there is no flowing water and water is likely to evaporate, the beauty of the Kendatti quarry is likely to be lost.

Apparently too much visitors is not appreciated by the quarry operator or contractors. They were digging across the approach roads to discourage too much public thronging to their work area. These digs are big enough to discourage small cars from crossing, but can be negotiated easily by SUVs and of course their trucks and bulldozers. Expect the road cuts to be bigger in the days to come- be prepared to walk last few kms in that case.

How to go to Kendatti quarry:
Kendatti is about 40kms from K R Puram. After CCD near Narasapura, take U turn and then first left. After about a km, slight right.

It is NOT a designated tourist spot and no facilities available.

Other nearby places: Antara gange * Avani * Horsley Hills * Ford Ecosport Titanium from Zoomcars

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Xair Bangalore Aerosports microlight flying experience

I was originally scheduled to try the microlight flying in Mysore, but Rahul Gandhi deciding to visit at the same time meant I had to reschedule my plans for his security. The organizers, Bangalore Aerosports Pvt Ltd, arranged a slot at Jakkur Airfield, Bangalore (It was my original preference too, as I'd seen the sky around Mysore airport and preferred to avoid travel to Mysore just for this. 

I reached Jakkur airbase some 45 mins ahead of my allotted time, as I went directly there from Railway station.

While I waited, Captain Vinitha arrived on scheduled time and the staff prepared the xair microlight aircraft for the day's flight. It is an indeed small aircraft with space just enough for two normally sized people to sit. If you're little too tall or big, you might not fit into the craft.

The plane in which I was supposed to fly and fly myself for sometime was resting in its hanger in company of two bigger charter planes. Ground staff literally pushed the xair microlight plane out of the hanger. Axir light aircraft is fitted with a Bombardier 582cc engine on its roof and runs on regular automotive fuel. It has a range of about 300-350kms and has visual rating only (One can fly it only in day time and when there is clear visibility. Commercial aircrafts will have instrument rating which means they can fly in dark or in clouds)

Captain Vinitha briefed me about the controls- the throttle lever is located at the left of our seat, rudder controls located at the foot and a control column in the centre. Xair had bare minimum instruments, including an airspeed indicator, an altimeter, a level indicator and few more. A set of radio equipment helped communication with the tower. Aircrafts need to rely on nearest air traffic control to keep them safe in the sky. ATC ensures each plane is safe distance apart.
We seated ourselves in the seats and seat belt was put on. I put on the headgear which ensured near 100% noise isolation. Can't hear a thing. Now we need permission to start.

‘Victor Tango Uniform Victor Victor to tower, request permission to taxi’- Captain Vinitha spoke into the microphone. There was no response. (VT-UVV was the tail number given to our craft, they are pronounced with international phonetics)
‘Victor Tango Uniform Victor Victor to tower, request permission to taxi’ – request was repeated.
No response.
Capt Vinitha checked something on her smartphone- I am not sure what, but my guess is she checked whatapp status of the guy in the tower, to check if was recently online or probably still asleep!
Few seconds later, we tried again
‘Victor Tango Uniform Victor Victor to tower, request permission to taxi’.
We got a reply this time, a very brief one, which was affirmative.
The tiny aircraft was set in motion, powered by its bombardier 582 cc engine mounted on the roof. The direction has to be controlled using rudder movements and we reached the beginning of airstrip. Now we need permission to take off.

‘Victor Tango Uniform Victor Victor to tower, request permission to take off’.

Permission was granted.

Captain pushed the throttle bar to gain velocity and the engine revved harder. Few seconds late we were up in the air. Slowly the craft gained altitude and the airstrip, elevated express way, buildings around became smaller. We went to a height of 1000 ft only,  too low compared to 10000 ft we’d gone in Cessna during skydiving. Scene below was nice- showed lots of green space and a lake. Wasn't too exciting, but good for an experience.
I was asked to make some basic moves, like gaining/reducing altitude, tilting left or right. It was difficult to talk to each other up in the air. Huge engine noise, wind and the thick noise insulation headphones were making it difficult to talk. If you ever buy one of these planes
I followed the instructions and flew for sometime. Captain would correct me if I ever over steer or try to be too adventurous. I would have enjoyed more if I was given 100% control, including communication with tower and liberty to decide speed, direction and altitude. But I can understand their apprehensions- it may not be safe to let a first timer take full control. For those who are serious, one year training course can be taken up at the cost of few lakhs, end of which you can get proper license.

It is very common in US to rent a plane just like we rent a car and go cross country trips. Unfortunately such options don't exist in India.

After about 20 mins in the air, we began our descend. I wanted to know how to ensure that nose is up and rear wheels touch down first. I couldn't get clear answer to this. It sounded like it doesn't matter much in a microlight which wheel touches down first- front or rear, given the tiny size, low speed, weight and other factors. But basics of flying would hold good for microlight as well- ensure rear wheels touch down first while landing. 

Also I noticed that landing a microlight is little tricky. Wheels didn't seem to have any brakes and there was no reverse thrust. Braking was done purely using reducing engine power, ailerons and rudder control. There no simple formula like apply the brakes and it will stop. If not trained enough, there is a risk of overshooting runway. Eventually we taxied back to the hanger.

I was expecting a certificate but there was none. Had some light refreshment and left for my next task- to pick up the Nano Twist.

Read microlight flying FAQs here .
Update: I flew the zenair mirolight as well. Read about X-air vs Zenair comparison