Thursday, April 30, 2015

Zenair microlight aircraft flying in Bengaluru.. Experience

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I had flown micro light aircrafts twice in 2014. While I had written in detail about xAir here, I hadn’t written in detail about the Zenair experience, though I wrote a comparison between Zen and X air in this post. Later last year, I heard that Jakkur airfield is closed. Not sure how true that was. This month again I saw some ads floating about the micro light flying, decided to give it a try.
This post shares my experience flying micro light aircraft at Jakkur aerodrome, Bengaluru

I arrived at the Jakkur airfield and met Jagan, who coordinates the flight. Captain Arvind was yet to arrive and first customer was already seated inside the craft.  Soon Capt Arvind arrived they taxied to the runway n eventually took off.
After couple of people my turn came. Last year, aircraft used to taxi till the hanger to drop off the rider and pickup next. This time, some time is saved by stopping the craft at the end of runway and making guests walk till the plane. What this means is reduced time at the controls.

I got in, we taxied towards the end of the runway. I was told about the two peddles that control left and right turn and was asked to keep the plane aligned to the yellow line on the runway. It took some time to get used to the response- how much it will turn for the level of input. When we reached the end of the runway, we took a U turn and Arvind opened the throttle and pulled the control column back to lift the nose up. Within seconds we were in air. I failed to note V1 (Speed at which it won't be possible to abort take off) We didn’t climb too high. It was lower than the height we attained during Hot Air Balloon ride. So I guess we reached a max of 1000-2000 ft  only. Even if engine of this single engine craft fails, we will still be able to glide around and land. As we went up, Arvind asked me to make some turns, adjust the altitude etc, which I did with lots of joy!. Throttle control is still managed by the pilot, we could only make some small turns and increase/decrease pitch. We saw Hebbal lake, Manyata tech park and such landmarks. We communicated with ATC only twice- once to take off and once to land.
Soon the half circle around the Jakkur airfield was over and it was time to descend. We aligned the craft with the runway and slowly came down. Captain ensured that rear wheels touch down first and then the front wheels. We spent just about 4-5 mins in air total. Arvind joked that I can now tell the pilot (during my next commercial flight) that I will fly- something I would love to, but what we did was a simple visual flying. Commercial flying is all instrumental and involves 1000 times more complex navigation, communications and so on, though basic principles remain the same.

In 2014, the sortie was little longer, lasted 30 mins end to end, (Rs 5000) included a sudden dive (induced by Pilot for excitement), we had a much longer trip around the Jakkur airport. But this time, it was shorter ride- dubbed as 15 minutes (Cost Rs 3500), but effectively only 10 minutes from entry to exit, including taxi time. Before you get a hang of it the flight is over. No dive.

Please wait while I process the goPro videos and upload. For now, have added few stills derived from the video.
Flying microlights is a cheap and easy way of fulfilling your dreams of flying. Serious ones can sign up with Agni aviation or other agencies for long term courses that get you the license to fly solo. It can be an ideal gift to your loved ones also. They operate from Jakkur airport every weekend. Similar flights are offered in Mysore airport and in Coorg also in slightly varying aircraft types, duration and rates.

Also see: 10 Adventure activities we can try in Karnataka * Sky diving experience 

Asus Zenfone2: Battery life matters

Asus Zenfone2 has hit the market last week with prices ranging from Rs 12999 to 22999 and is selling like a hot cake. I had attended Zenfone’s pre-launch meet in Chennai earlier this month and had a chance to take a closer look at some of its unique features.

Zenfone to has a dozen + unique features, which include 4GB RAM (Zenfone 2 is world’s first smartphone with 4 GB Ram), Pizelmaster camera with low light imaging capabilities, selfie Panorama and other features, dual profile capability (one of the features of ZenUI), en ergonomic, curvy (arc) design which is easy to grip and won’t fall off.
In this post, let us focus on one of the key features of Zenfone 2- its battery life. Most of the smartphones are not so smart when it comes to battery life. They dry out within half a day and we’ll have to scramble for power and wait long time by the socket while the phone charges itself.  Lots of times we fail to make the most of our smartphones as we run out of power and ways to recharge it quickly. But Zenfone 2, on the other hand is much smarter in this aspect. It can charge itself by 60% in about 39 minutes. That is relatively quick. By the time you finish your lunch or a shower or some other short break/activity, your phone can feed itself too. This feature makes this phone an ideal companion for travellers, trekkers and others who spend lots of time outdoors. Asus also has on offer a high capacity power bank. Leave home with a fully charged phone and power bank and it will be possible to manage all day without needing a power socket till night. With some cautious usage, it can be used even for a 2 day trek with overnight camping. Its high resolution, low light capable camera means you don’t have to carry heavy DSLR- makes trekking/travel a lot easier.
You can buy Asus Zenfone2 on flipkart  and stay in touch with brand’s facebook page. Another good thing to note that Asus India head, Peter Chang is very active on social media responding to critics and customers. He keeps sharing latest plans for availability, what colours/variants they are focusing on and so on. He takes feedback from customers directly and factors them during the decision making- this a very good way of engaging customers. During the Chennai pre-launch event, he had very effectively explained phone’s features to the audience- I had the opportunity of capturing his unique facial expressions during that event, of which I made a collage, which he has later shared on his facebook profile. (he was polite enough to ask me on twitter if he can share it)

Edelweiss Tokio Life - CritiCare+ Critical Illness Protection

Critical illness Insurance is something most of us assume we will never need. We are strong, healthy people and why would we ever fall ill? Right?- Wrong!. When we realize the need for insurance cover, it might be little too late.
Our busy and hectic life style takes its toll on our body, without we being aware of it. As we grow older, the accumulated side-effects of an unhealthy lifestyle will start making their mark. While our grandparents lived with reasonable health till 80-100 years, life expectancy is sharply declining for people of current generation. What this means is there’re greater risks of life threatening diseases which may attack us any moment without advance warning or symptoms. That is why it is important to have a critical illness cover. Note that your regular health insurance may not protect you against these critical illnesses, unless you’ve paid extra riders. Some of these treatments could be expensive and can cost you your life time of savings, if you don’t have decent insurance coverage.
With that background, let us take a look at Edelweiss Tokio Life’s  Crticare+ Critical illness coverage plan and understand its benefits.
Edelweiss Tokio Life - CritiCare+ covers following 17 critical illnesses:
Group 1:
  1. Open Chest CABG (stands for Coronary Artery Bypass Graft)
  2. Open Heart Replacement OR Repair of Heart Valves
  3. Major Organ Transplant (Kidney and Heart)
  4. Stroke Resulting in Permanent Symptoms
  5. Aorta Surgery
  6. Kidney Failure Requiring Regular Dialysis
  7. First Heart Attack - of Specified Severity

Group 2:
  1. Permanent Paralysis of Limbs
  2. Major Burns
  3. Total Blindness
  4. Coma of Specified Severity

Group 3:
  1. Aplastic Anaemia
  2. Benign Brain Tumour
  3. Major Organ Transplant (Bone Marrow, Liver, Lung, Pancreas)
  4. Cancer of Specified Severity

Group 4:
  1. Multiple Sclerosis with Persisting Symptoms
  2. Motor Neurone Disease with Permanent Symptoms

Edelweiss Tokio Life - CritiCare+  is not a term policy. It doesn’t cover death. (No benefits will be paid if you die out of above illness), there is no maturity benefit and there’s no refund or payback if you choose to surrender the policy. But it certainly helps you recover from these deadly diseases, should you ever unfortunately encounter them, without having to empty your bank account.
Edelweiss Tokio Life - CritiCare+ policy holders will get to choose from Single Claim and Multi Claim option. In Single claim option, agreed sum assured will be paid in one shot (assuming person survives for 28 days from confirmed diagnosis) and after that policy is terminated. (For protection against some other illness later or repeat of same illness, you will have to buy a fresh policy)
In Multi Claim option, up to 3 claims are entertained, max one illness from each of the above 4 groups. (If you get both Major Burns and Total blindness, you will have to choose for which of these two you need to claim). On each claim, full sum assured will be paid, no need to pay future premiums and on third claim, policy is terminated. There should be one year gap between two claims. (3 may seem too less, but no human being usually gets multiple of these illness together. That is very unlikely scenario)
Edelweiss Tokio Life - CritiCare+ comes with a 15 day cancellation period, known as ‘Free Look Period’ during which if you choose to cancel, you can opt out of the scheme. (Some expense will be charged)
Edelweiss Tokio Life-Criticare+  can be purchased by individuals between 18 to 65 years of age and term can vary from 5-30 years. Check it out and act before it is too late.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Featured in Autocar and Baggout

Double Bonus today for me.

I am featured in an article on Self Drive in May 2015 edition of AutoCar India, a leading monthly magazine on automobiles. Article introduces the concept of self-drive that is picking up steam in India and its increasing popularity, cost and risk aspects. It compares available self-drive rental agencies such as Zoom, MyLes, Avis and their options and terms. I am quoted as a case study for my decision not to buy a car and manage with self-drive rental cars on need basis. Having a full photo of mine in a national level magazine is very flattering. 

Read this post for total cost of ownership of a car and why rentals make sense. This post compares Zoom vs Carzonrent.

Apart from the self-drive article, Autocar India May edition also has lots of other interesting articles, including a detailed comparison of all MPVs- Ertiga vs Mobilio vs Lodgy vs Aria vs Xylo vs Innova vs Enjoy…, an Intro to upcoming SUVs, crossover comparisons and many more. MRP is Rs 150. Do grab a copy from the store near to you.

Further, two recent independent surveys have listed me as one of the top travel bloggers in India.

This Baggout listing puts me at No 10 of the top "16 socially active travel blogs in India".

Recently I was also featured in this list of "20 Awesome Travel Bloggers to look out for in 2015", by In both the lists, I share the space with usual suspects. I hope I will be able to live up to the expectations and keep providing valuable content to my readers.

Appreciate your support and appreciation.

Interview with founder Yogendra Vasupal

Ever since I first accidentally discovered and booked budget room using Stayzilla (First review here) I haven’t had the need to look elsewhere. My stay in Mahabaleshwar, Kolkata, Yelagiri etc were booked through Stayzilla. As I realized that it is a Chennai based start-up that is growing fast, I approached them for an email interview, to understand the story behind StayZilla and their future plans. StayZilla team was happy to respond and quickly got me answers from the founder, Yogendra Vasupal or Yogi.

I had 10 questions and below are Yogi’s answers to them. I believe these insights will be useful to travellers and others in the travel/hospitality industry, hence sharing them as a post.

Q1: Tell us about the background story of Stayzilla. What prompted a venture in this segment of hotel bookings which is already crowded with other players? Why did you believe StayZilla will be a sure success?

Yogendra Vasupal: I dropped out of college twice. First time I dropped out because I was making money online. Only after I dropped out I realised that college is a good alibi to spend quality time with friends. So I again joined the college and again dropped out in the final year. In the meantime, I was freelancing online, developing small websites, had 15 websites on my own and advertising income was coming. I was also an affiliate in 2002. By the final year at the college, I was earning Rs 1 lakh a month.
But I realised that making money is not equal to creating value. That is when I called up our co-founders Sachit (Singhi) and Rupal (Yogendra). They, being from a business background, were in right from the first five minutes of our conversation.
We looked at various business ideas, models and segments such as books because we were an affiliate. In fact, we also looked at diapers as a category. But we finally settled down with accommodation.
Then we registered our company to bring accommodation service providers like hotels, lodges, guest houses or any other entity willing to provide the same as a short-term rental, online.
Q2: Stayzilla has lots of trust in its customers. We can book by paying only 10% and pay the rest later, while most of the service providers want 100% advance payment. Has this scheme resulted in loss to stayzilla occasionally? (where customers do not pay the rest)

Yogendra Vasupal: No, this has not happened as we ensure payment - typically last step is paying at the hotel before check-in. The feature is now 20% to book.

Q3: Unlike airline seats, real time inventory management online is a challenge for hotel bookings. There is some offline work involved with most hotels, before we can be sure that rooms are available and booking. Do you see a solution to this in near future?

Yogendra Vasupal: Supply is ready for tech adoption and will be happy to handle bookings and reservations in a more hassle free way. We want to work with our supply on our mobile app to make this hassle-free and easy for them, so that there is real time inventory management of bookings across channels

Q4: One of the primary thing I look for in hotels in 24 hour check in check out faclity as against fixed 12 noon to 11 AM timings. But most hotels are not keen to provide this facility for better inventory management purposes. I like finding and booking such flexi timing (24 hours from check in time = 1 day) through stayzilla. I wish to know if other customers also demand 24 hour check in check out? Do you influence hotel management to change their policies based on customer demands and feedbacks?

Yogendra Vasupal: We are the hotel's source of information from the demand side and we take inputs from this to them, so, yes. For eg, Pay At Hotel came from market and is now successful feature.

Q5: Zomato does physical verification of restaurants every 3-4 months. Does Stayzilla perform physical verification of the properties listed?

Yogendra Vasupal: Yes, more of a continuous process as opposed to once every quarter or so, since we act on the basis of continuous customer feedback.

Q6: Does Stayzilla got plans to expand into more categories- such as bus/air tickets, taxi, holidays etc so that customers can book end to end or do you plan to stay focused on accommodation? 

Yogendra Vasupal: We do intend to stay focused on stays.

Q7: I still do not see a provision for customers to provide a rating/feedback of hotels they have booked and stayed. Should we be expecting this feature soon?

Yogendra Vasupal: Dont want ratings because it has a bias inbuilt and doesn't make sense until there is a significant critical mass of feedback

Q8: What % of bookings are happening via Mobile App at present? Are you betting big on mobiles likes everyone else?

Yogendra Vasupal: We've gone with a seller focused approach and launched an app for structured stay first. We also have an m-site where we get 30% of our bookings from.

Q9: How big is Stayzilla team now? Are you fully based in Chennai or do you have small teams in other cities (say working on more listings of hotels)

Yogendra Vasupal: We have 460 team members, split between Chennai and Bangalore. We have a marketplace team in other cities that focuses on ramping up our supply on the alternate accommodation side.

Brief Profile: Yogendra Vasupal is the Founder and CEO of and is fondly referred to as Yogi. While Yogi enjoyed a good academic track record, he chose to drop out of engineering midway from the prestigious Anna University, to launch his career at the early age of 19. His early years saw him undertake multiple freelance projects to develop web-based applications and ecommerce portals. 

Concluding remarks: StayZilla doesn’t plan to introduce a review/rating mechanism right away. I thought it will be useful feature, but it appears they waiting for certain volume of bookings, so that an overall fair review/rating can be shown, instead of one or two reviews which could be at extreme. But based on customer’s feedback, they do visit the properties or cross check information provided by hotel/home stay owners to ensure that negative things if any are taken care off. Another good thing to know is that StayZilla wishes to stay focued on Stay and not venture into other departments like tickets, holiday packages etc. Some companies do that as a way to grow, but if done prematurely, it takes focus off primary competency.

Similar: Interview with Aircel's head of CSR *

300+ Gir desi cows at AOL's Goshala

I spent some time playing with the cows at Ashram’s GoShala. Over 300 desi cows are taken care of here.

Cows are separated in different sheds, based on their state of life- Normal cows are sheltered in one roof, cows in advance stages of pregnancy are kept in one shed, cows with small babies are sheltered in a different shed where calves  have enough room to play, cows in breeding period are taken care separately.

Most of the cows are Gir breed from Gujarath. They love being petted and scrubbed. Lovingly lick you and chew you if you go closer. I went inside the den and none of them got upset by my intrusion.
A white horse, named Raja is also part of the Goshala, but he seems very restless all the time, probably due to lack of female companion. He would try to bite and chew our hands most of the time when we try to pet him.

Goshala’s care taker, Mr Naveen told us the importance of desi cows. Below are some points, as stated by him.
-          No of cows has a direct relationship with ground water level.
-          Indian Desi cows are being slaughtered for their leather. Hyderabad has India's biggest slaugther house. You may be vegetarian or not eating beef. But as long as you fancy buying leather products, cows will continue to get killed. Stop buying leather shoes, bags etc.
-          Hybrid or Jersi cows are not good. Their milk is also not good
-          Countries like Brazil and Argentina are realizing importance of Indian breed of cows. Soon our desi cows will reach extinction and we might have to import from them.
-          Today’s children do not know cows give milk. Some of them believe cows give milk packets.
-          Even parents and villagers fail to distinguish between a Gir cow and bull

He said that GoShala is severely short of support staff- several years ago they began with 30 cows and 7 staff, even today there’re only 7 staff even though count has gone up to 300 cows. Names of each cow is pinned to its ear- you can read that and call it by its name.

About 90 litres of milk is extracted from these cows each time (they are milked twice- morning and evening). Be informed that most of the Gir cows won’t give milk unless they get comfortable with their care taker.
Those who visit GoShala can pet the cows, drink natural buttermilk (subject to availability) and spend some quality time with the friendly animals. I visited GoShala twice during my 2 day stay- it was a nice experience spending some time in the company of these cows.

AOL has two Goshalas at present- in Karnataka and Gujarath.Below is a short video I made
Similar: AWPT Pet care centre * Animal Rescue Centre, Saligrama * Kambala- the buffalo race * Accommodation options at AOL Bengaluru campus 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Big Rock Moto Park Dirt biking adventure near Kolar-Part 2

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers
This is part 2 of the dirt biking session experience at Big Rock Motopark, Kolar. Read part 1 here 

The track we rode was probably 500 meters in total length. Josh showed us how to ride for first few laps and then he stood by the side, observed us and gave tips. We were getting used to the bike, learning to stand up, cut corners… Remembering to keep the arms in right position was a challenge, as we would subconsciously shift to conventional position. Also being in right gear is tricky- bikes have lots of torque and will ride without complaint even if we’re not in best gear for that speed. Couple of gears up or down, they will ride without problem. But for best impact- particularly during sharp corners, it is important to be in right gear. With heavy boots, locating and changing gears took some time to get used to.  After spending about 15 minutes on the track, we pulled over, had a short break and then headed out.

Next activity was a trip in the woods. We headed out into the forest area on our bikes. The ride lasted for about an hour. In the woods we did some challenges, such as riding down a steep slope and climbing up rapidly, negotiating muddy spots or tricky turns etc.  Some of the designated off-road spots were filled with water and couldn’t be used. The forest is pretty huge, mostly rocky. Few villagers greeted us and looked on as we rode by. Some obstacles were very tricky- few did fall down in their attempt to cross it. The mistakes as I observed were mostly changing decisions mid-way. While clearing an obstacle it is very important to have a clear idea on the line and technique how one should be clearing it and as much as possible we should stick to it. Hesitating half way through or changing decision/approach will create confusion to you and also to the bike. One of the participant was little short and was finding it difficult to manage tricky negotiations. I managed to clear all obstacles without falling down. Honda 230F dirt bike was indeed good at its job- it had original Pirelli off road tyres and with lots of pulling power, it could climb steep slopes with ease while maintaining superb grip during sharp negotiations. I am told the entire estate is about 45-50 acres wide. We rode around and eventually arrived back at the track.

 Here we took another break, rode around the track for another 15 mins. This time we were more comfortable with the bikes, I could feel the front and rear part of the bike behaving in two different ways while turning and we could cling ourselves to the front part and cut corners more efficiently.  Out of track and field, I enjoyed the field ride most.

At this point Santosh went out and got us lunch in his car. We had our last 15 minute session on the track. Josh rode on the other half of the track, which we were told is meant for advance courses. While Josh could jump over a ramp and stay in the air for a few seconds, most of us couldn’t manage that kind of expertise. By about 1 PM we were done and headed back to farm house for lunch.
We were not taken till the Big Rock. When asked if we will be riding on top of it, Santosh said it is risky and is only for advanced users.

So half a day experience (from 8 AM to 1PM) costs Rs 6000. For another Rs 4000, we could ride till 4PM. I didn’t find that deal tempting enough, so opted out. Others were keen but it rained post lunch. Santosh said it is not recommended to ride soon after rain, as rocks will be slippery and soil will be loose and won’t provide enough grip. So we all left the campus by about 1.30-2PM. I got a ride till Kolar in the VW Toureg!
So in retrospect, below are some things you should keep in mind while visiting BigRock Moto-park
1.       CS Santosh’s availability cannot be guaranteed. As he keeps traveling, it will be a bonus if he is around. Even if he is around, most of the teaching is likely to be done by Josh and others
2.       If you’re too small or too big, check with them if they have the gears of your size
3.       Big Rock Moto park has only 6 bikes, so they can't take large groups at this point. There're plans to expand
4.      All riders go together. So it is not possible to take good photo/video if you're one of the rider. Taking a friend along might help in the track, but again you will be alone in the woods.
5.      Some of the bigger challenges and climbing the rock are 'Out of Scope' for basic learners.

For Rs 6000, below are some other adventures you can try.
1.       Rent a BMW 320d or Merc GLA, Class or a Harley Davidson Superlow/Street 750 for a day and drive around in these mean machines
2.       Two sessions of paragliding (10 mins each)
3.       Four sessions of white water rafting in Kali/Badra river
4.       Go karting/Polaris off road ATV rides- multiple sessions
5.       Overnight stay in some Jungle Lodge resort
6.      Two sessions of Microlight aircraft flying 

But if you’re die-hard fan of biking and looking for biking adventure, there’re not many alternatives to try dirt biking. They aren’t available on rent as well. Last month when in Pune, I saw a banner on Mumbai-Pune expressway about a Dirt Bike venue in Lonavala- I couldn’t explore much. Down south there aren’t much alternatives, so if you’re keen do check out Big Rock.

Overall it was a nice experience. I liked the off road part a lot. We learnt that not just biking enthusiasts, rally aspirants come to this place for learning advanced tricks, bike companies visit here to test their bikes and so on. Santhosh has some plans to expand, add more tracks and all. Best wishes to him and his team.

Please wait while I process the videos of this experience.

Also read: 10 adventures you can try in Karnataka

Accommodation options at Art of Living's Bengaluru campus

Art of Living campus has wide range of accommodation to suit different budget and comfort levels. This post introduces to some of those options that I could check out during my stay in AOL campus last weekend.

1 Dormitories (Shared rooms)
These are the most basic accommodations in AOL campus- offered to participants of various programs like Happiness Program, AMP (Advance Meditation Program) etc. Men and women stay in separate rooms- each room has 3 beds shared with others. Towel, toiletries etc to be brought by guests. Rooms have fans only (adequate for the local weather). These are many in number.

The combination lock, which opens when rotated to specific numbers in specific direction is a good idea. This eliminates need for carrying a key (and the inconvenience of not having one when needed). Each member of the room just has to remember the combination.

I stayed in one of these rooms. Do remember to carry your towel, soap and other essentials. Do carry a water bottles, there're many outlets all around the campus that serve drinking water for free.

2 Basava Gardens
Basava Gardens are independent houses with 2-3 bed rooms and all standard facilities including AC, often offered to corporates who come here for various CSR initiatives or Corporate programs

3 Meera Vanam
Meera Vanam rooms are offered to people who come for treatment at Panchakarma ayurvedic health centre. There are standard rooms and a few suit rooms (37 in total).  Meera Bhavan is designed in Kerala style.

4 Panchakarma Spa Villa
Ultra-modern and super luxurious stay for those who can afford it. Read more about Spa Villa in a separate post here

5 Cottages near Gurukul-
These are offered to families, particularly those who visit with elderly members of the family. There’re just 3 of these and these are suitable for large families. From the balcony you can see the lake and lots of birds. It is located adjacent to Gurukul campus.

6 Sumeru Realty: 
This is an apartment complex next to AOL Kitchen. Devotees who wish to stay closer to Ashram can buy an apartment in this complex.
7 Then there’re staff quarters, hostels for students and other facilities for volunteers and support staff.

Bookings are facilitated based on various parameters- such as purpose of visit. You can not simply walk in and say you wish to check-in.

In terms of food, there's a main kitchen that serves close to 12000-15000 people a day. Kitchen has got separate section for staff and international guests. International guests get same food as regulars, but a non spicy version of Sambar/Dal is provided for them, besides a table n chair to sit (Others sit on the floor). Everyone, including international guests wash their plates themselves. Onion and garlic are not used in AOL Kitchen.
 Information about acidic and alkaline food at AOL's Kitchen
Above: Top view of AOL Kitchen in Kanakapura..
Below: Closer view of giant solar panels

Panchakarma Ayurvedic centre gets its own kitchen, which serves special purpose dietary/healthy food catering to health needs of patients visiting Panchakarma for ayurvedic treatment.

For the regular visitors, food can also be bought at the restaurant near the entrance, called Cafe Vishala. Cafe Vishala has a sweets counter that sells sweets made of jaggery, honey and other ingenious elements than commercially used sweeteners. 

If you can’t stay in Ashram then nearest accommodations are about 10kms away near Banashankari area.

Also check: Vishalakshi Mantap

Monday, April 27, 2015

Offroad Dirt biking experience at CS Santosh’s Bigrock: Experience and details- Part 1

I heard about Big Rock Dirt Biking adventure near Kolar and was keen to try it out. It is a facility owned by CS Santosh, bike rally champion who successfully completed death defying Dakar rally recently. 

At Big Rock Motopark, visitors (Bike enthusiasts and rally aspirants) can learn some tips and tricks of dirt biking and get some hands on experience with imported bikes and safety gear. 
With Sports Biking legend, CS Santhosh
Awards won by CS Santhosh
When I tried to reach BigRock team it wasn’t a smooth experience- the numbers listed on their facebook page either won’t work or no one receives the call. After sending some messages eventually got a reply asking me to connect with Josh.  After some conversations we blocked a time for a Saturday morning. I understand later that Big rock is not run like a full time commercial venture, like with someone to man the call centre, someone doing sales and marketing etc. They are getting business mostly by referral and interested people themselves calling up to fix a slot. They operate only on weekends and that too when there’re some confirmed participants. Staff usually come from Bengaluru, so if you casually drive in there may not be anyone. You might have to be little patient when working with them to coordinate date and time.
CS Santhosh

Big Rock motosport campus is some 13 kms from Kolar town (about 75kms from Bengaluru). Public transportation is available, but you need to be patient. I got down from Chennai-Blr train at Bangarpet station at 3.45 AM in the morning. Kolar is about 17 kms from here. I wasn’t sure if I would get a bus- didn’t want to hire auto for that long. Kept walking for couple of kms and someone told me first bus is at 5AM. I waited at a roadside bus stand for about an hour- tried hitching a ride couple of times signalling trucks and few other vehicles, but that didn’t work out. They didn’t stop. Few share autos were operating, but they won’t go to Kolar. At 4.45 AM I got a bus that goes to Kolar. Reached Kolar at about 5.20, I learnt that first bus to Shapur (where Bigrock is located) will start at 6.30 AM. I called Josh to check if he can pick me up- he said he can, if I can come till the highway and he would arrive by 7.15 AM. I had my breakfast at a hotel opposite Kolar bus stand, wandered around for a while (I saw many posters paying tribute to DK Ravi) and came back to bus stand by 6.20.

The Shapur going bus came on time and left on time and it dropped me off at about 7 AM near Holali cross. From here I followed Google maps and it was tricky. Map didn’t show any road till the campus. After sometime I realized I am not heading anywhere by road, so I switched to Google’s satellite mode, figured out the right direction and started walking towards Big Rock as shown on map. Apparently there is a road to Big Rock, but not listed clearly on Google map. I entered a Poultry farm next to Big rock campus and then reached Big Rock. (Note: The noise coming from the thousands of young chicks at the Poultry farm is audible from a mile away. A simpler way to guide yourself to Big Rock moto park campus will be to listen to this chirping sound and move towards it).

As I entered Big Rock campus, Josh was yet to arrive. I was originally told CS Santosh may not be around, but only previous day I got a hint that he might join. I saw him coming out of the farm house and greeted him. I asked him about Dakar rally and his rely was “There’s enough written about it”- implying he didn’t plan to elaborate much. Other than that with my limited knowledge of motorsports I had some basic conversation with him. He was excited about the news that Motorsport is now officially recognized as a Sporting event by the government. Asked him “Won’t you be able to offer this experience at a cheaper rate by using cheaper bikes like Hero Impulse”. Santhosh’s response was very clear- Hero Impulse can’t give the experience that is offered by what he had- Honda 230Fs. It is either best or nothing. Don’t settle for a compromised experience. There were around 6 Honda CRF 230Fs and a KTM and one more that Santosh used for Himalayan ride.

By now Josh arrived, with another 3 enthusiasts from Chennai (they came in impressive VW Toureg). We were given riding gears- jersey, big boots, knee pads, helmet, goggles, chest shield, gloves etc.  I didn’t have a proper way to mount my GoPro-head-mount won’t fit with helmet and googles and I didn’t carry proper holders for a helmet mount (They had few helmets with mounts on it, I didn’t have the clipper). So my thoughts of making good videos flopped. I did take some footage by wrapping the camera on my shoulder, but had trouble getting the alignment right. I have some footage in inclined angles, will see what I can recover from that and will try to make  a short video of our experience.

We had breakfast, put on our gear and rode to  nearby track for first session. With all the safety gear on, it feels a bit heavy. Your legs won’t feel the brake or gear level, as the boots are super thick. But on the positive side, it allows us to truly indulge in riding, without any fear of injury. All vital body parts are adequately protected against any fall, so that is very safe.
Me decked up fully for dirt biking session...
As we entered the track, Josh gave us safety briefing. He showed us how to sit, how to enter a corner, how to hold the handle-bar etc. All these are very different from how we ride a conventional bike. We sit closer to the tank- almost on top of it, we hold handlebars in a top down way, not the regular way, toes firmly on the footrest. We should decide on our speed and gear before entering a corner, enter smooth and exit fast. Some videos and literature on internet, published 9 months ago when the park opened, said that CS Santhosh himself will be training the visitors. I was expecting Santosh to come in and give us some tips or share his experience etc. But that didn’t happen. Josh did all the training and led the session. Joshua Pramod is his full name and is was equally good. He has won 14 various championships himself and Santosh trusts him fully. 
We did some warm up exercises to relax our muscles. I feel this could have been done before putting all the safety gears on. But probably they have a reason to do it with the gears on- we’ll know if we’re not able to move any of the body parts freely. 

With the exercise done, we hit the short test track, filled with few ramps and turns. I will continue this topic in a separate post as Part 2. Read Part 2 here.