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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Best of blog posts- January-June 2016

This post is a compilation of most read and most commented posts from my blog during first half of 2016 (Jan to June). If you have not been regular in reading my posts, you might want to read some of these at least.

Most read posts
10 Years of blogging- SWOT Analysis: Key notes from my 10 years of blogging experience

Axis Bank ATM cash issue : What to do if ATM dispenses less cash- say Rs 100 note instead of 500? My experience on this

Srilanka Trip planning guide- how much would it cost? : Helps you plan your Srilanka trip on a budget

Concerns about Ola Money Ola Money has some built-in issues that is very discouraging or disadvantageous for both drivers and customers. My observations and suggestions

Tata Tiago variant vise on road price in Chennai  This was written once Tata Tiago has been made available in showrooms- useful if you are looking to buy one.

AC purchase experience, My first hand experience analyzing right AC for domestic use and buying one.

PVR Rs 10 tickets I think Chennai is the only city where you can book a movie for Rs 45. Read more details in the post.

TVS XL 4 Stroke mopedA reliable work horse for rural people, TVS XL is now available in 4 stroke 100cc variant that no longer needs 2T oil.

Dr Ambumani Ramadoss pitching for next CM of TN: I shared my notes after attending a promotional event organized by his party. Unfortunately this man or his party couldn't win a single seat in the assembly elections. May be better luck next time?


Most Commented Posts (excluding ones already listed above)

Malaysia Tourist Visa for Indians- Updated process

Opera House, Sydney: One of the most admired landmarks

Why eat Indian food when abroad? Answer to questions everyone ask- why Indians don't try local food and always look for Indian food when visiting abroad?

AirAsia Big Sale hacks - How to make the most of AirAsia sale?

Kerala Houseboats- Photos, pricing and related details

Manly Beach, Sydney

Startup Funding crisis and its impact on bloggers

Personal picks
1. Bag in Bag strategy: How
2. Parrot Rock, Merissa Beach, Srilanka

3. Australia on a budget- FAQs
4. New Australian Parliament in Canberra
5. Budget Airline add-ons- which ones are worth?
6. Instagram tips from a workshop
7. Zoomcar self drive auto experience

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Roadtrip made easy with GoRoadTrip.com

How do you go about planning a roadtrip? Following set of activities are involved in any roadtrip planning and execution...
  • Identify a destination
  • Identify travel date n time
  • Identify where to stay
  • Identify places to visit- Places at destination and on the way, Opening hours, entry fee, what to do there/is it worth visiting and so on
  • Coordinating with friends and family members who might be joining
  • Making bookings where required
  • Execute the trip
  • Share your experience, photos
How do you go about planning and executing above steps? Most of the time we do all the above activities individually- we  research on a destination in google, check reviews in other sites, we check with friends for recommended places to explore or we google it out. Then you need to put things together and plan your trip- when to start, where to where in what mode of transport, what to see, where to eat, sleep and so on.

Each one of us are unique- our preferences on what we want to do at the destination (explore/just relax/take photographs/shop etc) differs, our preference on travel differs (few are fine with driving overnight, others prefer comfortable day time travel and night rest, few wish to stop at every interesting place on the way, while others wish to head to destination straight and so on). Because of this, standard itinerary on a travel website won’t suite us, even our own friends’ or relative’s plan may not work for us, so almost all the time we will have to spend lots of time and effort customizing the roadtrip.

How nice it will be if there is a website/app/product to simplify roadtrip planning and execution?

Welcome GoRoadTrip!

GoRoadTrip.com is a new travel start up that focuses exclusively on road trips- trips to nearby destinations which you would cover by car (or may be bike). GoRoadTrip has built an extensive listing of attractions and things to do/places to visit in all over South India. The website has a powerful engine that can plan the entire trip for you, based on the input given (Destination, time, profile (wildlife/beach/adventure/heritage etc).

Unique features of GoRoadTrip
  1. Lets you decide if you’d like to direct to destination or stop at attractions on the way
  2. You can either customize and manually select options at each step, or let the system recommend
  3. Factors Origin city, time, preferences such as wildlife/beach/heritage etc
  4. Factors time required at each stop as well as travel time
  5. You can save your plan on the site/app, save as PDF, view on map or edit further to fine tune
  6. You can change hotel/restaurant or re-arrange the order etc
Overall, GoRoadTrip is a good product those who wish to have a quick roadtrip but do not have lots of time to research and plan the trip in detail. Instead of researching at multiple places and spending time and effort to draft a plan, you can let GoRoadTrip suggest a plan and then fine tune it further as per your taste and preferences. I am told GoRoadTrip team has personally explored and verified most of the attractions/cities covered by the site- thus be assured information is reasonably accurate and first hand.

GoRoadtrip claims to have 75000+ Itineraries from over 27000+ users. If you don’t have any particular destinations in mind, you can simply browse popular itineraries from GoRoadTrip and pickup one. GoRoadtrip.com is a great product for people who are looking for personalized trips instead of standard packages which other websites offers today.

I have spent some quality time on GoRoadTrip and found the concept useful, as it saves time I otherwise have to spend researching a destination. Do check it out- they are strong in South India at present and expanding.
Indian Bloggers

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hong Kong Currency Note observations

Take a close look at these notes and tell me if you see anything unique about them.

In most of the countries worldwide, all currency notes are issued by one regulatory bank- such as RBI in India. However, when I got for Hong Kong Dollars, I noticed names of commercial banks on them. In Hong Kong 3 different banks have been authorized to issue currency notes.
Thus you can see names of Standard Chartered Bank, HSBC and Bank of China on them.

I did learn from Wikipedia that there are few other countries in the world where similar situation exists. (UK seems to be one of them, I’ve not been there yet)

With that, I think it is enough clue which direction I am headed next. Stay tuned for updates

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Kite Flying celebrations at Galle Fort Srilanka

On the evening we visited Galle, there was probably a kite festival. Several individuals were flying kits of various shapes and sizes and the sky was flooded with kites.

I had good time clicking them and sharing the kite pictures from Galle, Srilanka with you in this post

1. This bird shaped Kite is the one I liked the most. Perfectly reflects shape of a bird in flight with wings, body and tail

2. This one represents what? A human? You decide!
 3. A snake shaped kite chasing another

4. And we have more snakes flying, one bears UK flag! 

5. This Triangular kite gets a pinking background during sunset
 
6. And how can we miss the Angry Birds?
 Last one- simple and neat

Similar: Kite flying experience during Mysore Dasara

Melbourne Bolte Bridge and Dockyards

This post shares two photos of Bolte Bridge, Melbourne. These are clicked from the dockyard I am told this bridge is best viewed from the top of Etihad stadium. 

The two towers you see in the middle of the bridge do not serve any structural purpose- they are not physically connected to the bridge and do not provide any support. Reportedly they were added for beautifying the bridge which would otherwise have looked plain and simple. This 17 year old bridge is named after Sir Henry Bolte, former premier of Victoria.

Unfortunately only motored vehicles can go on the 6 lane bridge. Pedestrians and cyclists are not allowed.

Melbourne Star observation wheel is closeby. I couldn't locate the Bolte Bride from Eureka Skydeck

Thursday, June 16, 2016

ZAP: Zoomcar to enter marketplace model!- Good or bad?

Update: Zoomcar seem to have beta launched this service, named ZAP (Zoomcar Associate Program)- FAQs are up on their website. At this point it is not clear what is the revenue share car owners can expect. But hope more details come up soon.

Self Drive rental agency Zoomcar is looking to shift to a marketplace model soon, to grow exponentially and earn profitability faster. (Read original news in ET)
MarketPlace for self-drive cars?
Flipkart started off as selling its own stuff in its early days but soon adapted to a market place model- sellers can list their products on flipkart, customers order on flipkart and product is delivered to customer under the name of flipkart. Flipkart provides the technology, platform, logistics and publicity and takes a cut from sellers on the business given to them. This enables flipkart to have unlimited number of items on its site compared to what it would have managed had it limited to its own products.

AirBnB is providing a market place for accommodations- those who have an extra room can list on AirBnB and when customers book, AirBnB takes a cut for providing the technology, platform and business to property owners who on their own find it very hard to to sell their rooms

Extending the same concept to cars, below is what we can probably expect:
It is not clear if Zoomcar is looking to aggregate small taxi players (ABC Travel n Tours with yellow board taxis)- like how Stay Zilla helps small hotel/homestay operators) or individual private car owners. (like how AirBnB helps those with an extra room). Taxi Drivers have already signed up for Uber/Ola and are minting money- but Zoomcar has added Zoom Chauffeur recently, so anything is possible. For rest of the article, I will assume it is the later. (private car owners will be able to rent their cars via Zoomar)

If you own a car but not using it frequently, you can list it on Zoomcar and set a rental price for it.  Whenever customers are looking for a car, if they like your car, they can book it and use it. From the rental charged, Zoomcar will keep a cut and pay you the rest, while you will be responsible for car’s maintenance, insurance and other well-being.

Benefit to customers if ZoomCar becomes a Market Place
  1. More choices. Today the type of vehicles are the ones Zoomcar has purchased and added to its fleet. With Market Place, anyone can add any car to the listing, so your choices are bound to increase
  2. With more cars available, rentals may go down
  3. Opportunity to try expensive/vintage/unique cars if they are added to the fleet
On the downside, reliability may go down. Today I have a fair idea of what models are available on zoomcar fleet, how old they are, which variant they are etc. With Market place, each car may have its own set of problems/issues/limitations which is very hard to know at the time of booking and may cause inconvenience.  (For example cheapest variant of Tiago gets only blower, not AC- you might have taken it for granted that all cars will have AC. Unless you cross check the variant or car owner declares it upfront, there will be disappointments)

Benefits to car owners:
  1. Earn from your car which would otherwise sit idle, costing in maintenance, depreciation and insurance
Factors to remember:
  • Rental cars will have higher maintenance expense, as customers may not care much for the car as they don’t own it. Underbody damages, strain on the engine etc could be high as customers only need to return the car without any visible physical damage and may not care to drive carefully in a way that ensures longer vehicle life. Particularly if you have premium interiors, expensive accessories these can get damaged in the hands of customers and their passengers.
  • Commercial vehicles attract higher tax and insurance. Self-drive cars will need a Yellow on black registration. Interstate fee also need to be paid for such cars. So unless you plan to part with your car for a much longer duration, the process involved may not be convenient/viable. Proper process and legal backing will be required for this marketplace model to cover scenarios such as accidents, usage of car for criminal activities, traffic violations and so on.
  • It remains to be seen what kind of incentives Zoomcar offers to car owners to be part of the market place. For example, Ola and Uber are offering lots of incentives for drivers to finish certain no of rides per day. If Zoomcar is willing to burn investor money and offer huge incentives even when cars aren’t making profit, then many car owners might be happy to make some moolah while the party lasts.
  • Most Indians have emotional attachment to their cars- they won’t let anyone and everyone drive their cars- not even friends and relatives, so letting a stranger rent your car take it to remote places etc has its own risks and drawbacks. Karnataka Government (and many other state governments) have come down heavily on bike taxis, have banned surge pricing etc. It needs to be seen how they will react to this model where private car owners get to list their whiteboard cars for commercial use (may be zoom will facilitate a conversion to yellow on black)
What numbers are we looking at?
Today, a 6 lakh rupee Ford Figo/Swift commands a weekend rental of about Rs 2000 per day (Excluding fuel, including tax). Demands are usually high during weekends. Assuming an average utilization of 15 days a month, a car can earn about 18,000 (Rs 1200*15) (I discounted Rs 600 towards various tax, Zoomcar’s commission, insurance and other handling expenses). This is about 2 lakhs an year. If you’ve bought the car on loan, it will take about 4-5 years to break even (after factoring interest to be paid, regular maintenance etc). Again this is very hypothetical. If car gets utilized more (say 20 Days+) or can command higher rent or if Zoomcar provides additional incentives, then break-even will be much faster. If you already have a car which is lying idle anyway then it is good deal to get it listed on marketplace.
Maruti Ciaz with all doors open
Indian Bloggers 
If Zoomcar Marketplace is to be active tomorrow and you have a car that you’re not using 20 days a month- will you list it on Zoomcar? Why or why not?

Update: Mylescars has launched a similar program,called Angels.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Axis Bank ATM Fraud-You could be next victim!

June 20th 2016 Update:
The issue has been resolved. I have received an email from ICICI bank stating that Axis bank has accepted the error. I don't know how they conducted the investigation or how they plan to prevent this in feature, but since my money is back, they are not bound to explain me all that. I am happy to know that a strong and reliable process exists to handle this kind of disputes.

I consider this dispute resolved, but advise exercising adequate caution while using ATMs - Shrinidhi

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

 I have occasionally heard about ATM frauds- less cash coming out or worse no cash coming out at all. But my faith in banking system was intact as I knew there is a reconciliation mechanism which detects if cash left in ATM is more that what it was supposed to be and could be adjusted against customers who got less money and complained about it. Over past 15 years since I got a ATM card, I have not had any issue with cash withdrawals, so I was indifferent to the pain of people who had issues with ATM cash withdrawal. Yesterday, I ended up on the receiving side for what appears to be a carefully planted fraud by ATM cash loaders of Axis Bank.

13th June, 6.50 PM: On my way home, I stopped by at Axis Bank ATM in Medavakkam, Chennai. (Photo below, taken next day morning). I used my ICICI Bank issued Debit card to withdraw Rs 10000 (I wanted more as I had to buy Forex for my next trip, but ATM imposed a limit of Rs 10000). Transaction seemed to go through and cash came out. ATMs dispel all 500 Rs notes together and all 100 Rs notes together- they are never randomly mixed. As I counted, I noticed one Rs 100 note in between 18 other 500 Rs notes and 5 Rs 100 notes. This adds up only to Rs 9600 and NOT the Rs 10000 I had wanted. Clearly the cash loaders planted a Rs 100 note in Rs 500 tray (and pocketed the balance).
The Villain of my story- Culprit ATM than gave Rs 100 note instead of Rs 500
ATM had no security guard, No transactions slip came out (most ATMs will be out of paper). Though I detected the shortfall in ATM itself, there was no mechanism to raise a concern. Branch is also not nearby and it was not branch open hours to visit. Thus I had to leave the ATM and head home, hoping that our banking industry will have some mechanism to address this kind of concerns.

I put a tweet to Axis Bank, who promptly replied with customer care email and asked me to send details. I sent all the details and an hour later, I promptly got a reply from Axis bank stating that I should take up the issue with card issuing bank, which is ICICI in this case. It was Axis Bank's ATM and their cash loaders, so clearly Axis Bank has its side of investigation to do. 
Next I logged into my ICICI bank account to log a complaint. When I went to relevant section, it asked for all details, including ATM ID and transaction number. Since no transaction slip came out, I didn’t have those details. I checked SMS and email alert sent by ICICI Bank immediately after withdrawal. Unfortunately the email and SMS alert also had no details of ATM, Transaction ID. It only stated NFS/CASH WDL/13-06-16. How hard it is to include this vital information in the email alert?
Email Alert doesn't have transaction ID and ATM ID required to file complaint
If you have said NO for transaction slip or there was no paper to print it, then you can't file complaint online
I tried to log a complaint anyway with a dummy number, but got a strange message stating below. But it was not true- my account was debited Rs 10000 and there is no credit back of Rs 400 difference.

I asked ICICI bank twitter handle for an Email ID to which I can send the details. They never cared to reply on time, but replied later next day.

I called ICICI bank phone banking and have logged a complaint. Below is what the phone banking officer said.
Sir, since you’re a privileged customer of ICICI Bank, we will refund the disputed amount within 1 working day. However, after the investigation is complete, if it is decided that transaction was successful without any fault, this Rs 400 will be taken back from your account

So at this moment, I have an assurance that ICICI Bank will investigate this issue, but final outcome is still uncertain. I have urged phone banking office to note that I got a Rs 100 note in between other Rs 500 notes. Hopefully they will factor this and investigate accordingly, not just do a customary check of no of notes dispensed as per machine stats and conclude everything is fine. I will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, some lessons learnt and FAQs that can help you to avoid being in same situation

Why this happened?
Either due to negligence or with a deliberate attempt to pocket some money, cash loaders have put Rs 100 note in Rs 500 tray, making the ATM machine believe it is dispensing Rs 500 while in reality it gave only Rs 100

Will I be safe if I don’t use AXIS Bank ATM?
Not necessarily. Cash loading is outsourced to private agencies. Same agency might be serving several banks. If some cash loader has mastered the art of cheating ATMs, they can try it on any ATM.

What precautions we can take to avoid being scammed at the ATMs?
-          Where possible use online/credit/debit cards/cheque instead of cash payment. Those are way easier to track and rectify.
-          Use ATM of the bank which issued the card, as much as possible. Half the headache is eliminated
-          If you are withdrawing small amount, withdraw in multiples of 100- like Rs 400 at a time. Probability of someone loading Rs 10 note in Rs 100 tray of the ATM machine is near zero, so you will be safe.
-          If you are withdrawing huge amount, it might be safer to visit the branch and withdraw instead of ATM. If not possible, take out your phone, make a video of the entire process, and count the cash on video as soon as it comes out. If it is less, then you have good evidence. At the minimum you will have viral video for your youtube account. If all’s fine you can delete the video.
-          If you forgot to make video and got less cash, show it immediately to the CCTV camera in the ATM and express your frustration. Will sever as proof later.
-          Never say No to the transaction slip.
-          ATMs next to a branch are relatively safer as there will always be someone to approach/complain in case of issues

What to do if ATM dispensed less cash? (or more)
Report to Card issuing bank through internet banking or phone banking. They will investigate the matter.

Type 1: ATM dispensed less no of notes: If there is a counting problem and ATM dispensed say 9 notes instead of 10, bank will find out that there is one extra note in the cash tray. They can map it to the dispute you’ve raised and can give you the refund.

Type 2: Rs 100 note coming out in between Rs 500- I am not sure how this can be tracked and rectified. As far as I know, ATM machines can count the notes, but don’t think they measure the dimension or read a note to ensure it is what it is supposed to be. If ATM Cash loader has deliberately loaded a piece of paper or lesser denomination note, machine doesn’t have a mechanism to identify and remove them. In my case ATM thought it is dispensing Rs 500 note and counted total accordingly, while in reality loader had placed Rs 100 note instead of Rs 500, making me poorer by Rs 400. Need to see if how this can be tracked and resolved. ATMs may have CCTV but will it focus on cash loading process (to check if one has put Rs 100 note instead of 500)- I am not sure.

With this experience, I am going to be way more careful with cash withdrawals from now on.

What Banks can do to avoid this?
Unless this is an accidental mistake, my guess is cash loading guy is trying to pocket some extra cash. He is probably counting on 3 things-
1) Customers fail to count the cash
2) If they count and find the amount less, they may not have time to raise a complaint
3) Even if they raise a complaint, bank officials will NOT be able to prove the fraud and trace it back to him.
Notice Rs 100 note in between the Rs 500 notes
Whoever he is, he’s not been lucky on first two part, but last thing is not in my control. Will the Axis Bank officials pursue this seriously? Will they check all other ATMs loaded by same person to check if has tried similar trick elsewhere? Or will they claim nothing is at fault?

We should know in a few days. If Bank authorities have no way to identify that Rs 100 note went out from Rs 500 tray in the automated teller machine, they might reject my claim and the staff who loaded the tray would feel invincible and will try it more often at more ATMs, cheating more people of their money and shaking the foundation of banking system- Trust.

Even if it is an accidental mistake, it is not acceptable. Banking transactions should never rely on luck and should be 100% fool proof.
  • It should be relatively easier to add sensors in ATM machine that can check note dimensions before dispensing. If any note is smaller or larger than the designated note, such notes should not be dispensed.
  • Cash loading process should be captured clearly in CCTV to detect any malpractice (such as replacing a Rs 500 note with Rs 100)
  • Perform random audit of cash loaded and if any foul play is detected imprison the loader and fire the cash loading agency
15th June 2016 Updates:
1. More than 1000 people have read this post within 24 hours of its posting and it is honored with Top Post of the day at Indiblogger
Indian Bloggers
2. Got one call from ICICI team acknowledging my complaint and telling me the same thing that was told earlier "They will credit the disputed amount but if the complaint is found invalid after investigation it will be reversed"

3. Rs 400 has been credited to my account as promised. Now I need to wait till completion of their investigation to know if I will have it permanently or it will be taken back

4. ICICI's Google Plus account has commented on this post promising quick action.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Travel Planning simplified with TraveLibro

TraveLibro is a promising new travel start-up in India. I have been active on this platform for past few months and this post summarizes my findings about TraveLibro.

What’s unique about TraveLibro?
While we have popular players covering various specific aspect of travel-such as reviews, flight booking, hotel booking and so on, there hasn’t been one stop shop that covers the entire travel experience- from planning your trip, booking flight and stay, experiencing the travel and then finally sharing your experience. TraveLibro attempts to bridge this gap, by bringing together travel enthusiasts who are keen to travel, globetrotters who have already been to several places around the world and service providers (flight, hotel etc) on one single platform.

To begin with, someone thinking about travel can browse through a huge collection of already published itineraries. These itineraries are from editors of TraveLibro as well as the personal experience of the travelers and way more reliable than commercial itineraries that can be seen on other travel sites. Itineraries help one to explore a destination (TraveLibro has a collection of 3000+ itineraries spanning 1200 cities from 80+ countries) and firm up one’s mind on how their travel is going to look like.

Then comes the planning phase, where one can create a plan for themselves in 3 easy steps- select the countries  and cities, place to stay, where to eat and what to do and so on. This clear breakup avoids confusion later. Well planned is half done!

Once your plan is done, next step is execution. TraveLibro has tie up with skyscanner to give you flight booking and car hires. TraveLibro has its own listing of home stays and hotel booking option will be live soon. Local sightseeing/tour operators are also on board TraveLibro, so that you can book your trip till the last mile.

TraveLibro App comes handy while you are on the move- to check your next item in the plan, to post updates and to share your experience. If you are travelling together with a friend, they can be tagged too (if they are also on TraveLibro)

Once back, you can upload your photos, share your experience and your profile will keep yourself and your friends updated about your travel details. On platforms like facebook or twitter, the updates you make are eventually lost in a sea of thousands of other updates- it is hard to group your updates together and preserve it nice. TraveLibro makes it all lot easier, by facilitating end to end travel related activities.

TraveLibro is a 2 year old startup started by Monish Shah and has already got critical acclaim from various sites tracking start-ups- Read about their coverage on Travhq and Techstory.in  The number of partners and itineraries are growing every single day. The team has a good vision on how their product would help the travel community and are working hard to take it there.

When I am headed to a new destination, I religiously refer itineraries posted by others for that city. It helps me fine tune my own itinerary- by including anything I might have missed or by excluding attractions not recommended by others. On my TraveLibro Profile, I have already posted by several of my recent trip itineraries. Australia, Srilanka, Singapore, Lithuania, Helsinki and more. While I break down a trip into smaller topics and cover one at a time in my blog post, if you are looking to know my overall itinerary, then this will help you.
TraveLibro also helps in booking your flights, hotels, homestays etc and much more. Do check out TraveLibro website or download the app

Why I don’t prefer privatization of Chennai airport!

Chennai is one of the four mega cities in India along with Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. But Chennai’s airport is nowhere close to that of Mumbai or Delhi in terms of grandeur, façade and interiors. Main reason is that Delhi and Mumbai airports are upgraded and managed by profit oriented private companies (GMR, GVK and the likes) while Chennai and several other smaller airports are maintained by Govt Run AAI (Airport Authority of India).

Following are the concerns with Chennai Airport
-          Glass panels are known to collapse once in a while, reflecting on poor quality of materials and construction [Read news]
-          Monkeys, crows and pigeons sneak into the terminal once a while and may cause nuisance
-          Toilets are sometimes inadequate or not well maintained.
-          Checked in bags take forever to appear on conveyor belts
-          There is neither any beautiful façade on the outside of Chennai airport nor it has got great interiors inside. Building is pretty basic- not many spots to click that Instagram friendly selfie.

But following are the good things about Chennai airport
-          Free drinking water is available (you can carry an empty bottle and fill up, no need to buy 1 litre bottle for 3 times the MRP
-          It is inside the city and you can reach airport for 30 Rs or less thanks to public transportation
-          Airport fees are less- which enables budget airlines to offer cheap tickets. One can fly out of Chennai to Australia, Japan and rest of Asia for one third the price of a full service airline. You may get to book domestic flights to nearby cities at a price cheaper than AC bus tickets.

I have seen many individuals, including Kiruba Shankar suggest on FB/twitter that Chennai airport should be privatized and made at par with Delhi/Mumbai.

General belief is that Govt agencies are good for nothing and if privatized we can get better facilities and an airport which is worthy of Instagram pictures. However, I beg to differ. I do not prefer privatization of Chennai airport, for one simple reason that it will make flying out of Chennai much more expensive. Let me elaborate

1 Privatization increases ticket fares significantly
Profit hungry private players will charge more from the airlines- landing fee, gate fee, aerobridge fee, user development fee- all of these will have to be eventually borne by us, the customers who buy tickets. I have seen beautiful airports worldwide. There is no way Chennai can be another Changi or JFK or Dubai. At best it can match Mumbai and Delhi. I prefer to fly out of the airport cheap than feel pride in its beautiful building after paying more for my tickets.

For many who fly at someone else’s expense (office/invitees etc), increased ticket prices may not matter much. But when I book tickets with my own money, every hundred rupee counts. I don’t care about beautiful front façade of the airport as long as I can fly out cheap.

2 Many international Budget airlines do not fly out of Delhi/Mumbai, but do so from Chennai
Air Asia, Scoot and many such super cheap budget airlines fly out of Chennai today but not Delhi or Mumbai. Reason- cheaper airport fees in Chennai vs exorbitant fees in Delhi/Mumbai. Privatization implies immediate increase in airport fees, which will be passed on entirely to flying public. Each ticket will now be expensive by a few thousand rupees. If the airport fees are too much, budget airlines like Air Asia won’t be able to keep their ticket fares low and flying out of Chennai might not give them any cost leverage that can be passed on to customers. If an airport is expensive to operate, budget airlines will eventually pack off, shifting to some other airport nearby- may be Madurai, Vizag etc. Today thanks to airlines like Air Asia I am able to fly long distance to Australia, Japan, Bali etc at a cost one third of what full service airlines charge. Many of friends in Mumbai and Delhi often complain that they are unable to take advantage of these budget airlines, as Air Asia doesn’t fly out of Mumbai/Delhi. What is the point in having a flashy airport if you can’t fly out it cheap? If Air Asia packs off from Chennai after privatization, we will have to spend extra time/money to reach Madurai/Vijayawada/Vizag/Kochi or other nearby airports. At the minimum, be assured that ticket price will shoot up by a few thousand rupees.

3 Ever increasing cost of airport transfer.
Today I can reach Chennai airport for less than Rs 30- using public transportation (bus + train). If a new airport is to be built somewhere else far away, the cost of reaching airport can be as much as that of a short haul flight. Ask people of Bengaluru. Privatization will also result in increased parking fees, so taxi out of airport will cost more.

4 Privatization is no guarantee of high quality service/experience
Take example of toll roads. Toll roads are supposed to give us well maintained roads, congestion free vehicle movement, help save time and fuel. Is that really happening? No
-          Time you save on the highway is lost waiting in line at the toll booth
-          OMR toll road in Chennai gets flooded with one hour of rainfall and service road is either not yet ready in most areas or is poorly maintained.
-          NH4 between Chennai and Ranipet has lots of uneven patches, pot holes- poorly maintained and never repaired over years. Same is true between Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri. So quality may not be maintained
-          There is no relaxation on top speed on toll roads. Even if road is empty, even if it is perfectly safe to cruise at 120 kmph, you still need to stick to 80kmph or risk getting fined by traffic police. Because toll roads are probably only place where one get to go beyond 80, traffic police will wait here only with their speed guns. I would challenge them to make city roads drivable at 80kmph+ first and then try to catch speeding vehicles there.

Thus, what is the point of toll roads if there’re so many issues? I am better off with a decently maintained toll free road.

So you may be happy to pay more for better services and style, but I prefer to fly cheap with basic facilities.

By this post I don’t mean to say that falling glass panes in Chennai airport is justified, nor the poorly managed toilets. Of course we need basic safety, security and hygiene standards maintained. For this AAI should be made more accountable and efficient, than making the entire airport private. If Govt is to offload all its responsibilities to private players one by one, shouldn’t the tax I pay go down by proportionate amount?

Once operational, private operators will be keen to recover their investment asap and make more profit from flying public. They may not have any inclination to lower the fees or provide more services. In order to protect their commercial interests, they may take several counter measures (discouraging public transport to get more from taxi business, discontinuing free drinking water to make people buy bottle water and so on) all of which will directly affect your pocket.  
What is your take? Do you prefer to fly out of a great looking airport with better facilities at higher fare or do you prefer an airport with minimum standard services that enables cheaper flying? Let us debate.

Crores and Crores of tax payers money have already been dumped into Chennai airport and there are some expansion plans in place for Chennai Airport (Read news here and here). Let us see how it takes shape.

Similar: Best places to stay inside Changi Airport * Changi Challenge * Weekend destinations from Chennai  * 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Highly Recommended GoPro mounts and accessories

So you've just bought a GoPro and wondering what kind of accessories you will need? This post is just for you. I've given a brief detailing of various popular mounts available and their purpose. Depending on your need and usage you can pickup a few of these.

I bought my GoPro via GoPro.com 2 years ago. [My Original Experience here] as it wasn't available in India except for few amazon sellers reselling illegally. Recently Reliance Digital is reportedly appointed as re-seller and Sterio Vision was also appointed as distributor an year ago [Details]

Photos from Flipkart Indiblogger Outdoors meet Feb 2016 where lots of action cameras were put to test.

If you've not bought your GoPro/Action camera yet, do read this post before buying. GoPro FAQs are covered here.

Below table lists 15 different GoPro accessories, their purpose and approx cost.
#
Item
Used for
Approx Price
Things to remember
1
Head Mount
Positioned on the forehead for hands free shooting
Rs 350
May not be convenient if you've to wear a helmet too.
2
Helmet Mount
For use on a helmet, ideal for bikers, para-gliders etc
Rs 700

3
Selfie Stick

Rs 300-600
No brainier. Opt for a strong one. Cheapest ones will fail soon n risk your camera too
4
3 Way Mount
Similar to selfie stick but instead of extending in length, this one can be tilted in different angles
Rs 1400
Comes with a tripod, can be used instead of selfie stick. Bit delicate and relatively expensive
5
Suction Mount
Holds on to a flat surface like windshield
Rs 300-Rs 3000
Price varies by diameter (larger the diameter or radius, higher the holding power)

Sometimes can fail unexpectedly. If mounted outside a car, one should keep an eye
6
Handlebar Mount
Can be fixed on bike handlebars, boat rails or other pipe like objects
Rs 600
Ideal for bikers
7
Extra Battery and Charger

Rs 3000

If used continuously, GoPro battery will die in couple of hours. With two batteries and heavily rationed usage (switching off when not needed etc) I am able to manage from morning to evening
8
Chest Mount
(Body Strap)
Takes video at chest level
Rs 500
to 3000
Ideal when head/hand or other mounts are not viable
9
Wrist Mount
Mount on your wrist, operate/rotate with other hand
Rs 400
Good if your hands are free to position and click
10
Adhesive mount

Comes with box
Very minimal usage-a few come standard with the box. Moderate reliability and very little re-usability
11
Gorilla tripod
Useful for hanging from random stuff.
Rs 400 to 4000
Won’t be stable on a moving car/bike
12
Dog collar Mount
A customized version of chest & head mount for use on pet animals
Rs 4000
To get a dog's perspective
13
Surf Board mount
Can be clipped to the edge of surf boards
Rs 1750

14
Floating Mount
Helps GoPro float in water-useful for water adventures Useful during snorkeling, swimming and other water activities
Rs 400
Take care to ensure that it stays connected,while using in running waters

Check online and buy here
15
Gimbal
Stabilizes shakes and ensures smooth video by stabilizing movement on 3 axis
Rs 2000-20000
Can be very expensive but useful if you're into lots of video shooting
16
Misc- Drone
Mic etc
Drone for Areial view
Mic for extra sound capture
1 lakh approx
Drones are illegal in India as of now
Note: Price is indicative, taken from Amazon.in at the time of drafting this post- may vary depending on brand, selling site, offers, time and so on.

Combo deals are often offered clubbing 3 or more of above items- go for it if you need all items included in the combo.

Few mounts explained in little detail
1. Head Mount: I've used this extensively. 
Check some sample videos- JetSki ride in Goa * Auto Driving in Chennai

2. Selfie Stick & 3 Way mount
Most common mount for regular tourists. Below shot during hot air balloon ride is clicked using 3 Way mount (though not visible in the pic). Longer sticks will give more wider perspective.
3. Joby Action Clamp GoPro stand that I had picked up in Singapore earlier this year- Can be fitted to bikes, edges etc. Check a sample video here.
4. Suction Mount
I have a cheap one bought online- which works but not 100% reliable. I use it very occasionally during car drivers, to mount the camera on the windshield. If the surface is not clean and flat, within minute the grip may fail and camera may fall off. There are many expensive models, which might be more capable. Strength is often decided by surface area of the suction cup. Holders with 3 different legs with suction cups are also available.

Check my Youtube channel for more videos

What kind of accessories do I need?
This largely depends on what you intend to do with your GoPro. To make it simple, I have drawn 3 typical profiles- see where you best fit in
Profile
Description
Typical Needs
Accessories to buy
Regular tourist with occasional mild adventures
Visits places of tourist interests, occasionally indulges in mild activities like boat rides, para sailing etc
1 Selfie
2 Wide Angle pic of attraction
3 Hands free capture during activities
4 Short videos
Selfie Stick/3 Way mount
Head Mount
Extra Batteries and charger
Road Tripper
Often goes on long rides or drives with other bikers or friends
1 Capture the journey and nature
2 Extra battery life for multi day trips
3 Camera should not fall off
High Quality Suction Mount
Handlebar Mount
Extra batteries, Charger and power bank
Extreme Adventure Sports
Skydiving, Surfing, Racing and such extreme sports/adventure activities
1 Need to shoot the adventure action from different perspectives

2 Need to get it right first time, second try may not be viable
Buy additional cameras for shooting the action from multiple perspectives

Head/Helmet Mount
Chest Mount
And more mounts specific to adventure sport you indulge.
Do you find this post useful? Do comment and share. Ankita Sinha has a slightly different perspective in her post- which you may wish to check out.
Indian Bloggers
Related: GoPro Mount warranty claim experience * Action Camera Battle- GoPro vs Sony vs Polaroid *