Sunday, January 22, 2017

Week3- My pick of nice to read travel stories!

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This week's top ten travel posts that I would recommend...

#1. Kangra beyond Dharmashala and McLeodganj
A fairly detailed post with nice photographs about Kangra, Himachal Pradesh by Jitaditya (Travelling Slacker)
Post mentions lots of things to do in Kangra but not the fort. Read my own post on Kangra Fort here

#2 Sarnath Day trip by Shubham
Check this post covering details of Sarnath attractions. Do check other older posts in his blog as well.

#3 Places to visit in Bhuj by Lakshmi Sharath
As usual another detailed post with relevant pictures. Couldn't miss this one. Read it here.

#4 Jallikattu- if I had to pick one post...
This week's talk is incomplete without reference to Jalikattu. The spontaneous people's movement in Chennai and rest of Tamil Nadu did get attention of the world and everyone who had no clue about Jallikattu scrambled to find out more about it. Several bloggers have written about it this week, most supporting the event and few opposing. Of the various posts I read, this post by Padma sounds most comprehensive. Read it here.

#5 Mumbai Spiti valley road trip
Extreme details of 5500 km roadtrip... Everyone's envy, someone's pride. Check it out here.

6. Ayodhya Day trip.
There're millions of posts about Delhi- Agra day trip, but very few posts on Ayodhya. This particular post caught my attention because of that reason. Do read it here.

#7 Stunning photos of Kanha National Park, MP
Divsi's post was listed last week too and this week there's been another stunner from MP's Kanha National Park. Take a look at the beautiful pictures here, one sample below.
Photo by Divyakshi Gupta

#8 Lost cities of the world
This list of Lost cities of the world seems interesting. If history and mythology appeals to you, you may take a look.

#9 Sakaleshpura as seen by Sujatha
Sakaleshpura is at the heart of western ghats and has hundreds of spots to explore. This post by Sujatha covers some of them with relevant pictures and details. Do take a look.

#10. 16 Bihari Cuisine to try
Bihar isn't often considered as a state to explore- like it is with Rajasthan or Kerala or Goa. So this particular post suggesting a list of 16 food items of Bihar caught my attention. Some pictures appear familiar but most names are new to me. Images used in this post are sourced with credit. If you're a foodie you might want to explore more. Read the post here.

Disclaimer: All posts are picked manually after reading. The criteria used is that post should be published in current week and end of the post I should feel that this post was worth my time and relatively better than other posts I read this week. Source: posts I could see in Indiblogger Indivine, ones that came to my attention on facebook and blogs that I regularly read. The time I have for this is limited. It is still possible that there are many other posts which either didn’t come to my attention or I didn’t have time to read them, so this weekly list is not to be considered as ultimate and that rest all are bad. If you had a great post and I didn’t include it, please forgive. I will be focusing mostly on travel related blogs, but if I accidentally come across something interesting, I may include a few from other categories like auto, food, fashion etc, though I won’t be scanning these categories actively. From the selected posts I have used a few lines of text and sometimes a picture too- if concerned bloggers have an objection I will remove them. There is no ranking, listed in the order in which I read the blogs and decided to shortlist. Doesn't mean #1 is best and #10 is least good of the 10.

Next week I will be travelling so this series may have to pause for a while. Will resume in February. Read Week 1 and week 2 picks here. 

Mercedes Benz GLA world tour success celebrations in Chennai

Today I gate crashed uninvited into a Mercedes Benz event in Chennai- this post shares some photos and details. If you're auto/adventure enthusiast this post might be worth your time, else skip to read my travel posts here.

Today morning at about 8 AM, I accidentally saw below event on my timeline, which appeared to be an open invite. With no specific plan for the day and the address being close enough to my home, I decided to visit the Mercedes Benz Showroom and find out more about the adventure tour.

As I entered the campus, I introduced myself to reception staff and said I am here for the GLA celebration event. Her first question was who are you and who invited you. I said no one invited me, I saw the details on FB and decided to walk in and offered to leave if they felt I am not welcome.

The staff were polite enough not to kick me out, gave me a bottle of water and asked me to wait. I took out my camera and took a series of photos of the cars outside and inside. Few good ones below.

There was one GL and One GLA class SUV outside with all the stickers. Understandably these were two of the cars that were part of the Great Overland Adventure expedition that covered 5 continents, and 25 countries.

I killed about an hour clicking photos and reading newspaper. I was hoping for some action to begin- like someone would come to stage-particularly the drivers who were part of this- and share their experiences etc. But nothing of that sort happened. More people started arriving- Mercedes's customers, prospects and other invitees. I asked the reception lady what is the plan. She said the visitors will be taken for a short ride in the SUVs parked outside followed by lunch. Nothing more. Drive/ride would have been great, but I have anyway driven them during LuxeDrive and during zoomcar rentals. Being an uninvited visitor I wasn't sure how long I should wait or if I will be considered for a ride/drive. Of course I won't be a priority over other invited guests. So at about 12 noon I left to check out the Skoda Buy now pay in 2018 deal.

Expeditions like this are complex, fun and have lots to learn from. A little detailed session would have been great. But I am no party to make lots of demands on this. My only take home is an opportunity to take a closer look at the beasts that have conquered the world.

Similar: Mercedes Benz Luxe Drive Chennai * My review of GLA class (diesel) * A Class 180 CDI review *  A Class photoshoot *  GLA Class Photoshoot * Drive a Mercedes Benz without robbing a bank

Skoda's Buy Now, Pay in 2018 EMI Holiday scheme explained!

Remember the Skoda ad in which the guy who goes out to buy some fruits returns home with a Skoda rapid (and still manages to buy fruits as well)? This was thanks to Skoda's scheme of Buy in 2016 and pay in 2017. I couldn't check out the details last year (Skoda have only 1 showroom for whole of Chennai- even Mercedes has more showrooms).

Watch the ad below before proceeding further

This year the offer is back, on all Skoda cars, including Rapid, Octavia and Superb.
So I decided to check out. I was super excited at the prospect of stepping out of my home with just about Rs 150 (to buy some fruits) and drive home in a new Skoda car, without having to worry about the money for an year!

Below is my experience at the Skoda showroom. The conversation has been edited for dramatization purposes.
Location: Gurudev Motors, Skoda Showroom, Anna Salai, Chennai.

The Salesman: Welcome sir.

Me: Thanks. I am looking to drive home in a Skoda car now and pay next year!

The Salesman: Have you decided on the Model and variant sir? (That sounded very optimistic!)

Me: No- I will take whichever one readily available to be driven home.

The Salesman: There're some formalities sir.

Me: Fine, as long as it can be completed before showroom closes. I have Rs 150 in my pocket- I can afford to spend Rs 50 as I still need to buy some fruits- which are very expensive these days.

The salesman: Excuse me sir? (Puzzled look)

Me; You've not seen the Rapid Ad in which guy goes out to buy fruits but returns with a Rapid? I can show it on youtube right now, if you can ensure that I get to drive home in a Skoda today

The salesman: It doesn't work that way sir!

Me: (Genuinely surprised): Then how does it work?

The salesman: You need to apply for loan, once approved you need to pay 35% down payment and rest you can pay from 2018 onwards!

Me: I have enough money to buy some fruits- can I get the loan sanctioned right now?

The salesman: No sir- you have to give your ID and address proof, income proof etc and then the bank will decide if you're eligible for a loan. Once approved you also need to pay 35% as down payment.

Me: Hmm, the cheapest variant of Rapid costs 10 lakhs on road. You think the guy in the ad was carrying 3.5 lakhs when he stepped out to buy fruits (Fruits are expensive, but not really that expensive!)? Do people carry salary slip and IT returns while going to buy fruits?

The salesman: I don't know sir. If you can come tomorrow bank representative will be here- you can liaison with him.

Me: But how will I take the fruits home tonight- you're suggesting me to take an auto or cab now? How did the guy in ad got his loan approved so fast?

The salesman: Sorry Sir. Adhu Avankita dhan saar kekunu (Need to ask them only!)

So that is the end of the story for me. Where did they mention about 35% down payment in the ad?

Anyway, the catch here is this-On a 10 lakh rupee car, if you're paying 3.5 lakh upfront, the loan you're asking is technically for 6.5 lakhs. The EMI you might have paid over 5 years is apportioned to last 4 years. Instead of paying Rs 16000 for 5 years (60 months), you will pay Rs 20000 for 48 months (year 2-5), first year declared as EMI holiday.  There will be a processing fee of Rs 5-6k. All these cleverly packaged to suggest that no need to pay anything in first year!

Skoda Rapid on road price in Chennai varies from 9.9 lakhs to 14.2 lakhs for petrol and from 11.3 to 15.7 lakhs for diesel. Maintenance packages, Drive assure elite and accessories extra. Meanwhile, Tata Hexa is 15 to 21 lakhs on road approx.

Similar: My experience complaining to regulatory on Honda Mobilio Ad * Audi Bullet scheme explained * How to beat January Car price hike ghost * Buying vs Renting a car

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Narendra Bhawan Bikaner-Salient features!

Narendra Bhawan was the residence of Maharaja Narendra Singh of Bikaner. This residence is now converted into a boutique hotel and is partially open to public. I was fortunate enough to be one of the first few to visit this property, on invitation from its owners to experience the campus first hand. In this post, I am detailing the uniqueness of Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner. Unlike the other commercial hotel chains I have experienced, the owners of Suryagarh & Narendra Bhawan have put in lots of thoughts behind every item in the property. There's lots of efforts gone into selecting the right set of artifacts, most of which are custom made, lots of effort made to retain original thoughts and feelings of the place now run as a hotel and every small item in the campus has a reason why it is there and attention to detail and strive for perfection from the management is appreciable.

Particularly in Narendra Bhawan, which was a former royal home, lots of thoughts have gone into ensure guests get an experience as close as possible to the life and times of the Maharajas who used to live here. Much of this credit goes to Karan Sign, MD of the group. He has an exquisite taste and lots of artefacts and experiences that you see in Suryagarh or Narendra Bhawan has been the result of his personal thought process, effort and selection. We learnt about these during our property tour and casual conversation. I have made an attempt in this post to explain them to you. Sometimes photos and words will not do the justice- you need to personally experience it to feel it.

Let us take a look at some of the unique elements of Narendra Bhawan:
1. Horse leg shaped sitting bench. At first look, this looks like any other bench, but pay little closer attention and you can see the legs resemble that of a horse. It looks as if the bench is galloping like a race horse.
2. The personal logo of Narendra Singh- What you see in below photograph is the personal logo of Raja Narendra Singh. Narendra Bhawan management got an artist to recreate it at various strategic places- such as the cup boards placed in the corridor, the welcome box in the rooms etc. It feels as if your stay is indeed endorsed by the king himself.
3. Red Piano- This red Piano at the end of the corridor is eye catching. It is fully functional- with my bare minimum harmonium knowledge I played a few lines on it. Didn’t see many guests using it, so ther e is no rush or waiting to play Piano- if you are into music, you will be able to try this while staying at Narendra Bhawan.

4. Private Dining area: The restaurant has a portion isolated as private dining area, rich with metal chairs, mirrors and chandeliers.

5. Queen’s Tea Party area: The corner opposite the Private Dining area is designed to suit a place where queen would have seated her guests and have tea with them
6. The judge’s chairs: A fine collection of four judge’s chairs makes for aristocratic seating in the restaurant.
7. Go Shala: The management is reportedly planning to set-up a small Go Shala (cow shed) in the campus with a few local breed cows. This goes well with India

8. The vintage cars: The Morris Mini vintage car and the Willys Jeeps at the entrance instantly take you back 50 years to the era how the people then used to travel.

9 The royal artifacts; A set of accessories and artefacts from the royal family are on display at strategic places

11. The table top and other interesting artifacts : I find them interesting 
12. Books: Karan Singh says he likes the books to be in a slightly disorganized manner with some dust on them, much to the dislike of the housekeeping staff. So the books near the reception are often found in a slightly misplaced manner, not neatly stacked- that is how they will be if one uses them regularly to read. 
13. Silk Texture Samples: Bikaner falls on the silk route, where ancient traders used to cross during their inter-continental trade expeditions, carrying valuables from one part of the world to another and selling them for profit. In memory of this, the lobby of Narendra Bhawan has two sets of silk textures displayed at both corners.

14. Mahavir Swami Miniature art gallery- Coming up soon, an art gallery with custom made miniature art exhibits from renowned miniature artists in Bikaner, Mahavir Swami

15. The art work in the corridor:

Another post reviewing my stay in Narendra Bhawan will be written separately... Meanwhile do not miss to check the beautiful photos of the corridors playing with morning light at Narendra Bhawan

The good and bad drinking water- Simple litmus test!

An interesting post I spotted on FB recently- We believe bottled water is pure and good for health- apparently some of them are not. River water seems to have its natural advantages over commercial water- requested author if this can be published as a blog post. Published here with permission... (If some of you think I sourced this article purely because of mention of coconut in it, you're mistaken.) Over to Amrita Kaushik to explain her findings- Shrinidhi Hande

A quick test on drinking water!

Human body (read blood) is naturally at a slight alkaline ph level, (~7.35 PH, while 7 is the neutral level and alkalinity increases as the level increases). Our body works hard to keep it at that level. Researchers have shown that diseases cannot survive in the natural state of human body which is the alkaline state but they thrive in an acidic environment. That happens because ph level in blood determines its oxygen carrying capacity (acidic blood means low oxygen and alkaline means higher oxygen) and ample oxygen supply at cellular level cures all diseases.

There are many ways to achieve ample oxygen supply - aerobics, deep breathing, yoga, breathing exercises from yoga etc. With respect to eating habits, its advised to eat and drink more of alkaline food than acidic food. Examples of alkaline foods and drinks are - raw green veggies, ghee, sprouts, ginger tea, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, watermelon, vegetable juices etc. Examples of acidic foods and drinks are - alcohol, all meats, refined foods, grains, sugar, salt, sugary drinks etc. Its important to keep your acidic food intake to a minimal to ensure healthy oxygen supply to your organs and cells.

Now what about the water we drink, that should be neutral PH right? Well, that's hardly the case and its important to know the PH of your regular source of water. I did this quick Sunday afternoon litmus test on various brands and options of water. A short of summary of my test follows along with the picture I took indicating the PH levels of different waters I tested so you know which waters to avoid -

Good water: Kaveri water from tap, Qua, Perrier, Evian, Kinley 
Neutral: RO treated borewell water (Bangalore)
Not so good water: Aquafina, Bisleri, Himalayan
The curious case: Coconut water was the most acidic of all but like lemon water or juice it has alkaline effect on your body when fully metabolised so have this as much as you like for its alkaline effect and cure-all property.
Disclaimer:- The results are limited to PH level test and further limited to the specific water bottle the author bought during her test in Bengaluru and may or may not apply to all batches of these brands in all parts of the country.

By Amrita Kaushik

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Play of light through the Corridors of Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner

I clicked below photos during my stay at Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner. My original thought was to use them in the blog post in which I would be reviewing the hotel. But then, as I started processing these pictures and took a closer look, I felt they deserve a post on their own.

As we had a short break between various other activities on the agenda, I accidentally spotted this scene on the 3rd and fourth floor corridors at about 10.30 AM and immediately got down to clicking. Enjoyed taking each of these pictures and working on them a bit later. Without typing much, let me do the photos do the talking. I hope you like them too.

Depth of field...
Few more clicks that plays with light
Standby for more photos and posts on Narendra Bhawan

Similar: Suryagarh through my lens * Laxinivas palace photos
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