Thursday, June 29, 2017

Most read, most commented posts-Jan-June 2017

Half of 2017 is almost history. I've written about 125 posts so far on this blog this year. Some of them have been very popular. If you've not been a regular reader of my blog, you might wish to take a look at some of the posts that have been read or commented a lot. This post is a list of such most read and most commented blog posts, along with few of my personal favorites.

Most Read

1 Skoda's buy in 2017, pay in 2018 scheme:
This post is my most read and most commented post this year. (Published in 2017) The ad makes you believe you can simply walk in, drive out and pay in 2018. But the truth is you need to pay 35% downpayment and go through a loan approval process. Read the post to know the true story behind Skoda's scheme

2. Ten ways to manage vegetarian food abroad
Another useful post for vegetarians.

3. New Ford Endeavor 4x4 MT review
The new Ford Endeavor and its comparison with Fortuner- the review was well received by readers. Do check it out.

4. Tata Tigor comparison with Xcent, Dzire etc
Another automobile post- this one was the most read among all the posts. Looks like Tata has managed to touch right cords and generate good traction for their latest Tigor.

5. Japan tourist visa for Indians
This year I've visited Philippines and Japan for the first time. Yet to write about all places in these countries that I have visited. The above post about Japan tourist visa is well received, as many didn't even know that it is extremely easy and cheap to get a Japan tourist visa

6. Tender coconuts around the world
This post in which I compared experience of finding and tasting tender coconuts abroad is very close to my heart.

Most commented (Excluding ones already listed above)
1 Types of opportunities bloggers should avoid

2 Tips to manage time for blogging

3 Play of light through the corridors of Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner

4 Kala Ghoda art festival, Mumbai 

5 My attempt to review beauty products

My personal favorites

Switch by Revv cars-subscription model review

Visiting Dawki, Meghalaya

Travel the world on budget without quitting

Jungle lodges vs Orange county Kabini

Birds spotted around Kabini

Copenhagen after snow

Experiments with Nikon 50mm lens

12 Experiences very unique to Japan

Japan on budget 

Silent Valley National Park, Kerala

Jeepneys of Philippines

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Paramotoring adventure on ECR by

Several months ago I had seen someone experimenting with a motorized sail off ECR. I didn’t know much about it back then, so had ignored it and continued. Sometime in March I saw their ads on the facebook, which promised a ride in the air. Out of curiosity I checked their website and even visited the venue one Saturday afternoon. But I took my camera without memory card and couldn’t take any pictures. After debating for a while if I should really try it or not, finally gave in and decided to try. I have already tried para-gliding in Khamshet,Pune, Para sailing in Pattaya, Thailand, Microlight aircraft flying in Bengaluru, Skydiving in Mysuru, Hot Air Balloonride in Lonavala, Pune. This adds to the list of latest adventures.
The experience:
In this mode of flying which the operator terms Para Motoring, guest sits in front seat, pilot sits in rear seat on the two seater setup with an engine in the back and sails attached to it. A team of 2-3 people form the ground crew, who assist in starting the motor and giving the setup initial push. As the wheels move forward, sail lifts up in the air and soon gets enough power to lift the entire setup up in the air, assuming wind is favorable. Once take off is successful, pilot can control the direction by pulling the strings connected to the sail. The motor on the back assists in forward motion by pushing the air back.

Above: the Para Motoring tricycle
Below: The sails attached to the above setup
Above: Full view of the Engine
Below- some more closeup on the engine

The ride lasted about 10+ minutes, a circle around the beach off ECR and then a controlled landing was done.
Above: A selfie in the sky
Below: View of Ocean

Above & below: riders in the sky
The experience was good but personally I like the paragliding better- no noise of the engine. But there’s no active para gliding operator in Chennai, so this Paramotoring is a good alternative to spend a few minutes in the air. Plus the location- ECR and beach makes for a nice background.

Cost of Paramotoring adventure on ECR, Chennai:
The para motoring experience operated by costs Rs 2500 per person onwards. Larger the group, lesser the per person experience. (If you have a group of 50+ pax then ride is at Rs 1000 per person.

Where is the venue?
Venue is about a km before Crocodile bank. Operates usually on Saturday n Sundays afternoon time.

Where to book? Is there a spot registration?
Only online booking. No spot registration option. Book at I hesitated to book initially because there was no option to select a date & time. But after speaking to the number provided there I confirmed availability and then made payment. They did promptly respond with confirmation. Many villagers gathered to watch the flight, with many of them seeking ‘local discounts’ or saying they have a budget of Rs 500 only. Fly2day team had tough time keeping locals/crowd safe distance away and managing their expectation and queries. While we were riding an entire tourist bus stopped, just to see the ride and they left only after watching 2-3 take offs and landing.

Weight limit: There’s a weight limit of 80 kgs or so. If you’re heavier than that, check with operator.

The para motoring seem to be operated by one person assisted by his family members. I am assuming they have all necessary permissions and regulatory clearance for this.

There is no ambulance on standby. If anything goes wrong, victims need to be shipped to hospitals 15-20 kms away. Coming to accidents, I did some thinking on what all can go wrong in this. Below is the list
Motor stops working
Very Low
Motor is not to ensure lift, mainly to control direction and move forward. Even if motor stops, sailing will continue, it should be possible to make a controlled landing
Ropes holding machine and sail break
There’re several ropes. One or two snapping shouldn’t hamper overall strength. It should be possible to make controlled descent. If all ropes break at once, then it will be deadly, but such a possibility is very very remote
Damage to Sail
Damaged sail will not be able to keep the set-up afloat. Depending on how bad the damage is and how high the machine was when damage occurred, pilot will get few seconds to few minutes to bring it down safely.
Other mechanical issues
Assuming equipment is maintained properly, probability of mechanical or structural faults should be almost zero. But if it happens at the wrong time- like metal fatigue breaking the frame or a but/bolt coming lose etc, it can be dangerous. The fall will be immediate and if distance is high or drop is on hard object it can be deadly. This risk applies to all forms of adventure, including hot air balloon, paragliding etc.
The Pilot: Mr Mani Kannan
Our immediate next ride came down crashing within few seconds of take off-probably due to poor lift. Team had to bring back the setup to level field and retry.

Do try this if it interests you. I have some videos, which I will add to my youtube channel soon.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dainthlen Waterfalls, Cheerapunjee, Meghalaya

Dainthlen was the last spot we visited before returning from Cheerapunjee. This wasn't in my original plan but one of the plan I was trying to visit, Nohkalikai was not getting routed properly on Google maps. (map would suggest a right turn where there was none etc). After couple of attempts aborted aborted Nohkalikai and turned towards Dainthlen, because I saw a board about the same next to highway.

Without much expectations, reached the waterfalls. The first look was like this- a mild stream of water flowing, nothing very exciting. But the roaring sound was audible.

As we went closer to the edge, the drop could be seen. A wedding photoshoot was also in progress.

For the best view of Dainthlen, one should cross the river to the other side. This is only possible when water level is low. From the other side, the views are amazing. Check photos below
Above: Closeup photo of Dainthlen falls
Below: View of the falls from a nearby hill
 Walking a bit on the other side got me these views. Totally worth it.

Above: Upstream river
Below: The valley downstream
Dainthlen falls is about 6km deviation from main road, was totally worth it.
Rs 20 parking fee was collected. No restrooms, shops or any other facility available near the falls
An old bridge nearby can be used as nice background for the photos
 Few more pics
 Zoomcar gets a company
Many more posts from North East visit still due. Hope to write about them soon. A new blog for Airline and Air Travel!

Some of you have noticed by now that I have started another blog-

I haven't had much success in launching new things and keep them running. With a full-time job, time I can spend online is very limited. Earlier this year, I made an attempt to regularly publish a list of good travel posts I read- such as this and this one, but couldn't sustain it for long.

I had made a sub blog for photos- again, couldn't sustain it for long. I also tried to create a facebook group for budget travelers- again didn't have the time and patience to grow it. Growing an online blog/community takes lots of time, patience, effort and sometime shameless self promotion. I haven't been able to do all that. Only this blog has managed to gain some respect, readership and identity online as I have been writing regularly over past 11 years and thanks to you for making it happen.

Then why another blog?
The idea was triggered by a comment by Lakshmi Sharath. This blog- has become a bit generic. Though I am trying to stay focused on travel, can't help posting on other topics such as automobiles, food, lifestyle etc at regular intervals. As part of my travel, I do keep close eye on airline deals, news and developments. It would have been easier to post them also in the same blog, but I felt there is a need for a dedicated blog for airlines and air travel. There're no such blogs in India focused exclusively on this. The regular travel bloggers double up to cover airline and air travel related stories. There is clearly a need and market for a blog exclusive on air travel. Thus one fine morning I decided to try starting a new blog, got the domain and have set it up again on blogger platform.

Over the past few days, I have published 5 posts on this new blog. Together they have managed around 500 page views in their first few days (blogger stats), which is encouraging. I have only done some minimum promotion like posting on FB. I am hoping to keep the momentum going and grow this new blog as well, in parallel to this one. Your support and encouragement will be paramount to make this happen.

What to expect from this new
I am looking to cover all topics that can be of interest and use to air travelers- new destinations, deals/offers, tips and tricks, reviews and other news related to airlines, airports and air travel.

Your immediate benefits if you subscribe and follow
1. Know about new destinations introduced by airlines, probably use it to plan a trip taking advantage of launch fares.
2. If an airline announces a sale (which now they do very often), check if it is really worth spending your time on this sale or it is just superficial
3. More than just a news-Additional insights and analysis
4. First hand reviews and experience account. Learn from others to avoid similar mistakes or make the most of your trip
5. Tips and tricks that can help you save money, time or avoid inconveniences during your travel.

I am aiming to publish minimum 2-3 posts per week, more if possible or if there's a need. So far it has been a good start. Hope to sustain the momentum and grow.

Guest posts welcome. Any support you can offer will be highly appreciated. Any link you can provide, social media shares, subscription and feedback will be of immense value. You can read the intro post here for more details

Dialogue In the dark-experience life without light!

Ever imagined how life will be for those without vision? Is light an absolute must to move, play and eat? How to use your sensory organs other than eyes (sound, smell, feel and taste) to perform everyday life? I had a lifetime experience of these things yesterday. Read on to find more.

Chennai Bloggers Club or CBC is a community of Chennai bloggers. They regularly organize events in collaboration with brands. But I have been missing their events again and again for several months now, because I would have my own out of station travel plans on those weekends. This time luckily I happened to be in town when they announced a lunch event at Dialogue in the dark, Express Avenue in Chennai. Despite being 35kms from my home and overpriced parking fees at Expensive Express Avenue notwithstanding, I opted to be part of this event, and I glad I did.

We didn't have a briefing as to what to expect. Nor did I have time to check the net about the restaurant. The name of the restaurant did hint at darkness, but I thought it could be low light and not complete darkness. I carried my camera bag hoping to try some low light food photography. Made it to the venue on time, and met other bloggers- Kattie, Ranjani, Karthik Murali, Kartik Pasupathy and Selvian. Anand, Relationship Manager for Dialogue in the Dark greeted us. We were told to keep all our stuff in the locker- camera, mobiles, any light emitting substances. We were given a walking stick and a token for veg/non-veg food preferences and let in.

The inside of Dialogue in the Dark is pitch dark. Not low light as I had anticipated.

As the darkness engulfed us, we met Velu inside, our guide. With his instructions, we learnt to walk forward in complete darkness, feeling the wall on one side, using sticks to check availability of space ahead and to ensure we don't hit anything/anyone. Exactly as a blind would do.

As we stepped further one after another in complete darkness, we felt Bamboo sticks on the side, we were given objects to feel and recognize. A violently shaking bridge was the next experience- had to cross a mini bridge in complete darkness feeling the rails, balancing ourselves. We felt few sculptures by touch and feel, we tried to recognize birds purely from the sound they make, tried to identify spices through smell. All these in total darkness, without seeing who or what is around us.

Next activity was cricket. One by one we were led into the net, given a bat and had to hit the ball. The bat is swiped at ground level and the ball has metal inside that makes sound as it rolls. By sensing the sound of incoming ball we had to hit it. No idea where it went but Velu would sense where it hit and would announce the runs we made. There is no six possible as the batting is in 2 dimension at ground level. No height aspect. Apparently this is how world blind cricket tournament is held and India has been consistently winning- we were told.

Next was Jewelry feeling: There were different types of jewelry kept on the table. Anand helped us identify each of them, purely by their feel. I could recognize that they are not real jewelry, as it didn't feel like real metal. I could also recognize a rudraksh, few earrings and other items by their feel. The jewelry part went little longer than necessary I felt, but may be the girls felt the same about cricket.

All these activities assured us that we don't always need light. Other sensory organs are equally capable and if used correctly can help us go about in day to day life. At many point we had to depend on person ahead of us for navigation. May be a good team building activity as well.

Eating lunch in darkness: 
Feeling jewelry, swiping the bat in dark, smelling spices all are fine- but can you eat your lunch in total darkness? I was thinking at least for lunch there will be some minimum lighting, I was wrong again. We were guided to our seats and the lunch was served in tiffin boxes, again in total darkness. We had to feel our plate, lunch boxes, open the boxes and consume the content in total darkness. Within seconds all of us got started like professionals. By knowing relative position of box 1 that had rice and box 2 that had curry, I could transfer the curry to rice box, mix it and eat.

Some of us were thinking may be the staff who are guiding us are wearing night vision/infra red glasses so that they can see what's going on and guide us. Only in the end we were told that many of the employees inside are visually challenged. Our respect for the restaurant increased many folds.
The Price: The walk (which consists of all the activities till Jewelry feeling) costs Rs 250+ taxes, Lunch costs Rs 350+ taxes. The restaurant is located in top floor of Express Avenue Mall.

After experiencing this, you will be lot more considerate about visually challenged persons. When power gets disconnected for a while in the night, we struggle to cope up- but there are many who have overcome their visual challenge and leading normal life. If you have some guests visiting, bring them to Dialogue in the Dark for a surprise experience. I am sure they will love it.

Additional Info:
Opening hours:11 AM to 10 PM, call them on 044-2846-4870 for reservations
Dialogue in the Dark restaurant is also available in Hyderabad and Raipur. Check their website for more details;

What else? 
May be one activity they can add is to fill water bottles. The sound of filling changes as the bottle fills up. Knowing when the bottle is almost full and then closing the tap can be a good activity.

Disclaimer: I didn't pay for this experience. Was invited by the restaurant and Chennai Bloggers Club to try and share my experience. Thanks to them for the opportunity.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Latest Flipkart Shopping Misadventure-replacement and refund denied

Of late I have reduced my shopping at Flipkart, as their rates are almost always higher than that of their rival Amazon. But few weeks ago, in one bad moment I decided to purchase an item and this post shares a series of incidents that followed, totally wasting my precious time and peace of mind.
Glitters Pistol Shaped Jet-Flame Gun Mauser Cigarette lighter sold by Singhvi Industries

Accidentally I saw this Product on Flipkart. It was a cigarette lighter but what attracted me was its gun shape. I don't smoke but still decided to have it, purely because of the gun feeling it offered. I checked its price on Amazon as well. On Amazon it was cheaper but delivery charge was higher, making it a few rupees cheaper overall on Flipkart. Thus decided to order the same on Flipkart- my big mistake.

The "Glitters Pistol Shaped Jet Flame Gun" arrived as per the scheduled time but that's where the promptness ended. It was a shoddy packaging with no instruction leaflet or anything. When I opened the package and pulled trigger, no flame would come out. It only triggers a spark. It was supposed to release flame but the unit was defective or damaged in transit.

The very next day I initiated a replacement request. I was expecting a replacement to happen but no one called me on the planned day. When I checked online, I realized that replacement order has been cancelled. Surprised, I sought an explanation. I was told that there's been some error and a fresh replacement order has been raised. The second replacement order was also cancelled after few days.

The order management screen is in a complete mess, with multiple rows some showing item as returned, some showing order is placed, many showing it is cancelled.

The emails from Flipkart are another joke. It happily declares order is cancelled, doesn't explain why and what next and dares to ask how likely I am likely to recommend flipkart. There's no support email to reply to.
I feel the seller- Singvi Industries Delhi, seem to be pulling tricks to deny replacement and trick the system. I get an SMS at 7.36 PM that replacement is packed, at 8.57 PM I get another sms courier partner couldn't reach me. The truth is there's no way they can deliver it from Delhi to Chennai within 1 hour and there's no calls made to reach me or try delivery next day morning.
Flipkart Social Media team called me multiple times, but they seem to be empowered only to do some sweet talk which only wasted my time and didn't provide the required solution yet- which is processing the refund. They don't seem to be empowered to offer a refund or such sensible solution. While I appreciate their prompt response/call, it is not helping me a bit as they are unable to resolve the core issue- I need faulty product replaced or refunded.

Flipkart twitter team gives a series of generic replies, sometimes almost instantly (bot?) but can never give a specific response to my concern- like "we will process your refund" or "sorry you're on your own, we can't refund"
Flipkart customer care is now inaccessible except for complicated IVR menu which can't solve any unusual situation. No way you can speak to a human. You should be lucky to have the call me option enabled- most of the time it is disabled. I got this option first few times but then afterwords finding the call me option consistently disabled, even at mid night
This drama has been going on for more than a week now and I don't see any resolution in sight. 3 of my emails sent via website are not responded to. So far I have wasted several precious hours trying to resolve this with various teams at Flipkart, but no luck yet. I am not planning to spend more time on this follow up. Looks like I have to take a 1109 Rs loss and if that is so this will be my final order on Flipkart. I can use it as Gas Stove lighter, toy gun or probably try to get it fixed myself.

On investigating further- just now while writing this post, I found a possible reason on Amazon- On Amazon website it says unit will be shipped without gas due to shipping regulations. No such note/description is available on Flipkart website. May be this is the reason why no flame is coming out, but if that is so, flipkart/seller should declare it upfront and guide buyers where to get the refill.
Last year Roohi Bhatnagar had a major dispute with Flipkart as they bought expensive furniture only to get inferior quality product delivered
I've only shared my experience. Use your discretion. If they can't handle a Rs 1100 item replacement/refund issue, how can I trust them for 50-70k items like DSLR camera?

Unable to make any profit even after decades of operation, I think some of these companies are resorting to cut cost at wrong places.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Seetharkundu viewpoint and Pothundi Dam, Nelliyampathy, Kerala

Couple of weekends earlier, after spending a day on Silent Valley National Park, I diverted to Nelliyampathy area on our way back to Coimbatore. Map showed Nelliyampatti had a view point, a reserve forest and a dam enroute. Perambikulam could have been another alternate but I hadn't done much research on that- may be for next trip.

Pothundi Dam was enroute so stopped there for a while. It was to open at 8 AM and we had reached few mins earlier, so had to wait for a while. The Dam is small and simple, didn't have much water early June. A garden next to it is well maintained.

Someone got a great catch...

Next we headed to Seetharkundu view point- the drive was cool and scenic. Got a bit of tea estates enroute as well

Seetharkundu is located inside a private campus but open to public. Check the photos below.

Above: Monkey man
Below: Real monkeys

A factory shop that sells tea powder and other products is available near the parking lot. Hot tea can be had here. Restroom facility is also available.

On our way back we spotted these langurs on the road, in large groups.

Few waterfalls also exist on the way 
In summary if you have half a day to spare when around Palakkad you can consider this destination.