Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Petronas Twin tower experience-Kuala Lumpur

Your visit to Malaysia is officially incomplete unless you climb the Petronas twin towers- Petronas Twin tower is the tallest twin tower the world (other taller structures are single tower). The 88 floors tall twin tower is about 17 years old now (opened in 1999). During my first visit to Malaysia several years ago, I could not go to top, as there was no online system back then and once should try their luck standing in queue before the counter. Particularly on weekend, it was an impossible task, given that only a limited number are allowed in every day.

However, in 2016 I could finally fulfill this wish list item. I had half a day transit enroute to Bali so I could go to Kuala Lumpur town. I found that tickets to Petronas Twin towers can now be bought online (about 85 MYR or Rs 1500 approx) for a specific time slot. My flight was to arrive in KLIA2 at about 6 AM, so I bought a ticket for 9.15 AM slot to go to top of Petronas Twin towers. Had there been a major delay in my flight I would have had to bid goodbye for this ticket money, but thankfully the Air Asia flight was on time and I could reach KL Central by about 7.30 AM by taking KLIA Express. Took the monorail to Bukit Nanas station from where twin towers is walkable.  With still lots of time to spare, walked around the area for a while.

Ticket counter opens at about 9 AM. There was very little crowd this time- just about 10 people, when I entered the basement (concourse area) of the twin tower, where ticket counter and entry point exists. Probably because it was a weekday the crowd was less. Counters opened almost on time. I showed by online booking printout and I was allowed to bypass the queue and proceed to dedicated counter, where my ID proof was checked and I was issued a physical ticket to enter the twin towers. However first batch is at 9 AM while my ticket was for 9.15 AM, so I had to wait for sometime.

Visitors are allowed in a group of about 15 people each, with each group members given a badge of specific colour. We were first taken to 41st level, where a skybridge connects the two towers. Bridge at 41st level is for tourists while bridge one level above is meant for employees. We are told that the bridge has some gap left for free movements- just in case heavy winds try to dislodge it. Visitors are given about 10 minutes here to take some pictures. Below are my pictures- nothing unusual- you would have seen the same pictures from everyone who visited the twin towers.

Next we were taken to 83rd level on another lift. This level has a small area that gives a near 360 degree (I think approx. 300 degree) view of the surrounding.  We get about 15 minutes here.

View of Kuala Lumpur town from Petronas twin towers...

An interactive display here helps you view the twin tower in various angles by positioning the barcode in your ticket against the sensor and rotating.  Good time pass.

Then we were taken down to the basement where we started, forcing an exit through souvenir shop. Though I am glad I ticked off another wish list item, I had to spend lots of money just to reach here from airport, besides the entry ticket. A better option would be to visit it while you’re staying in KL, than make a short transit trip just for this.

Points to note:
Camera is allowed, but camera bag, selfie stick or any other bags are not allowed. Locker room can be utilized at no extra cost to store your stuff.

My other tower experiences: Macau tower skywalk * View from Macau tower * Eureka Skydeck 88, Melbourne *  Empire State Building, NY * View from Marina Bay sands skypark * Victory tower, Berlin *
Nearby attractions: KL bird park * Menara KL *
Read All Malaysia posts *
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Monday, November 28, 2016

Imaginary Travel Horoscope by Zodiac Signs

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You might have read zodiac sign based future predictions published in various newspapers and magazines- if not seriously at least out of curiosity. These often contain generic blurbs of text which can’t be interpreted into anything meaningful and there is no way you can make any practical use of this great Intel. Should those who can see the future and advise us what to do or what not to do are supposed to give some more sensible insights? Below I have drafted an imaginary predictions related to your travel plans, depending on what zodiac sign belongs to you. For fun only. No offense is meant.

1 Aries: You have more rail travel coming up this month than air travel- be sure to select insurance while booking train tickets. High chances of RAC and Waiting list tickets getting confirmed but poor chances of being able to book a tatkal ticket successfully on IRCTC- take screenshot of transaction ID which you may need if money gets debited but no ticket is issued. A chain with lock purchase is highly recommended else you might alight a lot lighter at your destination. For higher probability of getting a handsome/cute guy/girl in adjacent seat, avoid booking tickets during rahu kala…

2 Taurus:  Some unexpected travel may materialize by end of this month. Apply anticipatory leave and keep yourself free. However, any discussion with your colleagues about your impending travel may drastically increase chances of emergency work piling up 2 days before your leave to begin, possibly resulting in you having to forget about the trip.

3 Gemini:  Keep close watch on airline sales- your dream destination may be 50% cheaper to reach if you can manage to book on a sale. However, a proper Puja at the hanuman temple nearby is strongly recommended as the tickets will be non-refundable. Be wary of friends and family who will ask you to book cheap tickets for them- they may not pay you in time and worse, will opt out of the trip last minute citing silly excuses.

4 Cancer:  If you have never gone out of the country, your first opportunity may open up this month. Keep the passport ready. If you have already been abroad you may get to fly again, with a possible upgrade to business class. Do go to airport with a big coat that you can hand over to the cabin crew for safe keeping as you enter business class-else your risk being downgraded to economy again. Over-enthusiasm or simple typo mistakes done while booking tickets can cost you dearly.

5 Leo: You will have lots of airline points expiring this month- figure out what to do with them. You will realize that you can’t go anywhere with those points unless you spend another several thousand over and above, but there is no rule that you should mandatorily disclose these things while making facebook post.

6 Virgo: You may have to apply visa for four different countries simultaneously this month, so expect lots of running around. Keep IT returns, photos of various size, shape and background and all other possibly required visa documents ready, to avoid last minute tussle. Make friends with your neighbourhood courier boy and take him to dinner, so that your chances of receiving the passport before entering airport will be lot higher.

7 Libra: Be kind to the PR folks who ask for free stuff with a promise of “long term association”, “great exposure on our channels”, “barter system” etc. One of them might just get you a free ticket! Keep an eye on the deliverable though, as some of them could be impossible to implement- like “live tweeting while diving to pool” or “live video of smooth landing to be posted before take-off”

8 Scorpio: If you are planning a road-trip, recommend overbooking by 200% (if you are going in a 5 seater car, invite at least 10 people to join) as there will be high rate of last minute drop off.  Also recommend communicating pickup time 2 hours before actuals to compensate for delays. Expect traffic cops with speed guns at 124th, 188th and 333rd km. If you have any plans of impressing someone with your driving skills, do it while within city limits, as probability of a break down could be very high further you go away from city.
9 Sagittarius: You will have lots of adventure this month- but most of them are going to be activities such as trying to get your post cancellation refund from hotel booking website, following up with airline customer care for reversal of amount charged to your card without ticket booking transaction going through and withdrawing enough cash required for your trip.

10 Capricorn: That bundles of forex notes that you are preserving, believing that rupee will get devalued further and you can anyway use these notes on a future trip, instead of converting back to INR now and then having to purchase forex again- go covert it now. Inspired by India, many countries around the world are mulling a similar move to demonetize their high value notes.

11 Aquarius: If you have been counting on that long pending onsite travel, be sure not to miss the team outing this month. Three of your colleagues might already be trying to grab the same opportunity. Help your boss with his Christmas holiday planning and you will have higher chances. Offer to take care of his/her dog while they are away and you will have near 100% of work travel. If you still don’t get it, don’t get upset, read this next year and be optimistic.

12 Pisces:  Stay away from salesmen who approach offering useless timeshare memberships or up to 90% off ad campaigns by travel portals. Read fine print carefully to avoid getting ripped off. Your friends may envy you with their travel photos on facebook but any impulsive travel related purchase will result in regrets later. Be sure to read reviews on before purchase decision.

If you’d like to read your future for next 12 months, don’t worry- it is only going to be a reshuffle and rewording of same content…

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Visiting Bahubali (Gomateshwara) at Vindhyagiri, Shravana Belagola

Shravana Belagola was on my wishlist for long, but couldn't manage to visit this place earlier. Shravana Belagola is a small deviation from Hasana-Bengaluru highway but on my previous rides I usually ran out of time to explore this temple town.

Shravana Belagola is located closeto Chennarayapattana town of Hasana district. It is about 150 kms from state capital Bengaluru. The Bahubali (popularly known as Gomateshwara) statue here is one of the most sacred centres for Jain community.

The Bahubali statue is 58 feet tall and is carved out of single stone, making it the tallest monolithic statue of Bahubali. It is said to be the tallest monolithic statue in the world. Built in 981 AD by Chamundaraya. (Second popular Bahubali statue in Karnataka is near Karkala in Udupi district). Shravana Belagola complex consists of two hills- Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri.

The Vidhyagiri hill, the main one (on which Bahubali is erected) itself is about 3300 ft in height. Besides the statue Vidhyagiri also houses a Basadi and temples- namely Odegal Basadi, Siddhara Basadi, Chennana Basadi, Akhanda Bagilu and so on. This surrounding area is called Suttalaya, built/improved continuously during various kings who ruled the land- Hoysala Kings, Mysore Wodeyars and others. Small size status of various Jain Thirthankaras are positioned all around the Gomateshwara statue.

The Gomateshwara statue is covered by the outer walls of the temple complex- because of this, the statue is not visible from a distance. Only once you go inside you will get full picture. Only a glimpse of it visible from top of Chandragiri as well.

Above: Thyagada Kamba. Over 800 inscriptions are intact in Shravana Belagola area.

If you are unable to climb all the way or if you have elders in the group, the service of manual carriers can be availed (Called Doli, costs about Rs 800 per ride-return)

Watch-out for people trying various jugaad ways to get down effortlessly... Like this gentleman who is trying to slide down on the metal rod handrail, without having to use his legs.

Chandragiri is a smaller hill opposite to Vidhyagiri
Below is the view of temple complex in Chandragiri as seen from top of Vidhyagiri (300mm zoom)
In between Chandragiri and Vidhyagiri lies the Shravana Belagola town. The pushkarini or pond lies in the middle but access was closed.

 Some tourist info:
  1. No entry fee to visit Vidhyagiri. Chappal stand charges Rs 5 per pair. Locker facility available for small to medium size bags.
  2. You need to climb up without footwear- wearing socks might help. Merchants will attempt to sell you a pair of cheap socks for Rs 20 or more. At 3.30 PM, the rock was not really hot and I could manage bare foot. Use your discretion.
  3. No food/water sales on top of hills. A public drinking water tap exists, but may run dry sometimes. Carry your water. Tender coconuts are available for reasonable price near the entrance and shoe stand
  4. Shravana Belagola makes an ideal one day trip from Bengaluru. Should you wish to stay basic accommodation options are available in Shravana Belagola.
  5. Entry closes by 5 PM. Need to be back by 6 PM latest.
View of Shravana Belagola town

Map of Shravana Belagola with important attractions
Maha Mastakabhisheka- Every 12 years, the celemony of Maha Mastakabhisheka is performed. This is a ritual involving cleansing the statue and performing Pooja with sugarcane juice, Turmeric, Sandalwood paste, flowers, milk, ghee and other liquids. Next Maha Mastakabhisheka is due on Feb 2018.

If you are returning to Bengaluru from Hasana/Chikmagaluru etc Shravana Belagola is nice deviation.
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Nearby attractions: Shettihalli * Savana Durga * Melukote * Markonalli Dam * Huthridurga * Kokkare Bellur

Friday, November 25, 2016

Recommended 6 day offbeat itinerary for Bali, Indonesia

While I was planning my Bali trip, I troubled many people for inputs- Mahesh Semwal, Suryanarayana Kedlaya, Dhananjaya Moorthy, Nisha Jha, Lakshmi Sharath and many others. They all happily helped with various inputs and suggestions. I had inputs on where to stay, what to see and so on. I am thankful to them for their inputs but it was still a big task to put these inputs together and draft a day-wise itinerary for my Bali visit. Now that I have first hand experience exploring Bali, I am presenting to you an optimized plan which you can use as a base to plan your visit to Bali, Indonesia. This plan focuses more on exploring places of interest around Bali. If you prefer other things- like relaxation, food, water-sports etc, please tweak it accordingly.
There is more to Bali than the beaches and temples in the south. Majority of the tourists seem to misjudge Bali, arrive with poor plans and return without experiencing best of what Bali has to offer. Thanks to this post, you don't have to do the same mistake and make the most of your visit by exploring lesser known spots in Bali.

Hotel Booking Locations:
It is recommended to spend half of your time in North Bali, around Ubud area- as Ubud will be an ideal location to explore most attractions in Northern Bali. I made a mistake and stayed in Kuta-had to travel 30 kms one way, 60 kms /2 hours each day traveling north from Kuta. You can avoid this by staying in Ubud area- save on time, taxi fare. Rest of your stay, spend somewhere down south- Nusa Dua or adjacent areas.

Getting around in Bali
There doesn't seem to be any proper public transportation in Bali- you will have to plan your movements using one of these options. Walking is not really an option as Bali is a vast area.
  1. You can book a bike or can on self drive like I did- more details in this post. This will be the cheapest and most convenient option to get around Bali
  2. Many resorts will have free shuttles from resort to key attractions/airport- check if your hotel/resort provides one and make use of it
  3. Packages that include transportation- Most operators sell tour packages that involve hotel pickup and drop. While it is very convenient, it consumes lots of time as dozens of guests need to be picked up from different hotels. Also not very flexible as operators work on a well defined, standard plan.
  4. Bike Taxi and traditional taxies: Will be expensive if you rent them for whole day/100s of kms- your last option if nothing else works out.
  5. You can also book these VW Jeep Safaris

Assuming you have planned your stay and travel as per above, below is the itinerary I would recommend.

Day 0: Arrive, Travel to Ubud and Check-in
  • Arrive at Bali
  • Reach your hotel in Ubud (25-30 kms from Airport)
  • If you have some time explore Ubud market area, Palace etc, else relax
  • Dinner at hotel/Bridges Bali Restaurant in Ubud
Day 1: Git Git waterfalls and Jatiluwih Rice Terrace
  • Leave early and head north to experience Git Git waterfalls, a multi stage, almost zero crowd waterfalls in the deep interiors of Northern Bali
  • On your way back, take a deviation towards Tamblingan Lake to enjoy pristine views and for some local food with a view.
  • Experience Jatiluwih Rice Terrace and its long trail- you can walk/ride in between this beautiful rice terrace or just sip a coffee at a cafe overlooking the rice terrace.
Return to Ubud. This will be about 150 kms round trip.[Google map link here] Depending on what time you started and how much time you've spent, if you have some time and energy left you can explore the below, else back to hotel and relax
Day 2; Mount Batur and Water Palace
You can either avail one of the organized tour for Mount Batur sunrise trek (Prior booking is needed, pick-up from Ubud at about 3.30-4 AM usually, cost around 65 USD per person) or plan to explore Mount Batur and nearby areas on your own. Below plan assumes the later.
  • Leave early and reach Mount Batur. Hire a guide and trek to top or enjoy bath in one of the hot springs.
  • Head to Besakih temple (I skipped it- read my experience here)
  • Visit Tirta Ganga and Water Palace (Taman Ujung), a scenic campus worth exploring
  • Now you will be very close to Virgin Beach and Blue Lagoon beach which can be explored on your way back to Ubud.
  • Subject to time and interest, stop by at Tegenungan Waterfalls
This concludes your Day 2, with about 200 kms in total. Google maps link here

Day 3: Ubud miscellaneous and Check out
You need to check out today- either check out post breakfast and head out, or leave early, come back by Check out time
  • Tegalalang Rice Terrace (beware of donation counters here)
  • Pura Tirta Empul - A popular temple, take a dip here.
  • Sacred Monkey temple (if interested and if not covered previously)
  • Goa Gajah (Can be skipped- not a must visit)
  • Ubud Palace (if not previously explored)
  • Back to hotel (This will be about 40 km ride, should be done in 3-4 hours)
Collect your bag and head to South Bali, let us say Nusa Dua Area. I would recommend Grand Nikko Bali hotel or Grand Whizz in Nusa Dua area- you can book it through

Rest of the evening relax at Grand Nikko or explore the Nusa Dua beach

Day 04: Beaches and temples in South Bali
Time to explore Southern most part of Bali.. [Map link here] My detailed post comparing various beaches in Bali could be of further help.
  • Begin with the Pandwa Beach, which has statues of Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva etc carved in the rock.
  • Head to Green Bowl beach next- need to climb down 200+ steps and then climb back up- refresh yourself before heading to the beach
  • Next stop should be the popular Uluwatu Temple
  • Explore the Blue Point beach, famous among surfers
  • Visit Dreamland beach few kms away (optional)
  • If interested, head to Garuda Wishnu Cultural park- it has an entry fee of 100000 IDR per person and open till 10 PM. A good place to relax and refresh
  • Dinner at Indian Dhabha Restaurant, Back to hotel, rest
Day 05: Shopping and Tanha Lot
Return flight tomorrow- Sad thing no? Spend this day exploring Kuta and Sanoor areas and the popular Tanha Lot. You may either shift to your 3rd Hotel say in Kuta area (will be very close to Airport) or continue the stay at Nusa Dua.

Depending on your interest, try shopping in Kuta area, or a massage or try some adventure sports such as surfing or other water sports, try a Safari in VW open top jeeps simply relax by the pool at your hotel. A visit to the national monument and I AM BALI Interactive Art Museum will be a good experience.
Map link here
A visit to Tanha Lot during sunset time is highly recommended.
Spend your night at Hard Rock Cafe in Kuta

Day 06: Buffer Day and Time for return flight
If your flight is in the evening, you will have half a day to explore anything pending in your wishlist. If it is in the morning, then head to airport.

Bali has numerous beaches and temples- only a small portion is covered in this itinerary. But most of the important attractions are covered.. Do your research and customize as deemed necessary.

Hope this itinerary was useful to you. Enjoy your trip.
Similar: Singapore 5 Day itinerary * Everything you can do at Maldives- complete list
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