September 23, 2015

Singapore Journal : Sentosa Island With Universal Studios

Sentosa Island was the most exciting and fun part of our Singapore trip. This island has so many attractions packed into one tiny area that it takes a minimum of 2 days to cover all of them. Some even go to extent of recommending 3 days for these islands. But based on the 2 day pass we had obtained we decided to go for a 2 day tour. A small piece of advise for those planning to visit these attractions is to avoid the weekends like hell. After seeing so many reviews in Tripadvisor we decided to visit in the middle of the week when the crowd and the waiting time would be minimum.  We had booked a 2 day fun pass which includes a full day pass to the Universal studios. This costs 139 $ /head (link), and value for money if planning to spend 2 complete days in here. Else it is better to select individual attractions and pay for those.

After having breakfast at Little India, we caught a train to Harbourfront station. From here one can either walk the distance to Sentosa island or take a monorail to the centre of the island. I would recommend taking the monorail since it saves time and energy. Day 1, we decided to explore universal studios for the entire day and reserved the attractions of Sentosa island for the next day. Universal studios is divided into various sections based on unique themes and each theme is inspired by some movie/s. For adults the most attractive regions are Ancient Egypt, Sci-fi City, Lost world and for the kids its Far-Far Away and Madagascar.


As it is obvious that we loved the first 3 theme areas with the best rides being the Transformers, Battlestar Galactica and Revenge of the mummy. In these rides they have gone miles ahead of the usual 4D experience that we usually get in the Indian theme parks and they give an almost life like experience. The transformers ride has us trying to escape megatron and effects were stunning. Battlestar galactica has 2 duelling roller coasters the first being the human and the other being alien simulating the dog fights between 2 fighter jets. The g-force endured during these rides makes one actually believe that they are in a dogfight. The human coaster even though much faster than the alien counterpart doesnt go upside down unlike the alien, hence we decided to go for the "human" coaster and it was without a doubt , downright awesome. Revenge of the Mummy has an indoor roller coaster running completely in the dark !!!!!.  Each of these rides had waiting times of lesser than 30 mins and we went through the Transformers and Mummy ride twice. Had wanted to go through the Alien version of the Battlestar Galactica ride , but by then the park had closed.

In front of Revenge of The Mummy Ride

Had our lunch in a eatery in Ancient Egypt, wherein one can find the only pure vegetarian items in the menu. Checked out lots of other rides of the park notably the live stage show of the Waterworld enacted by live actors, Rapids Adventure, Lights Camera and Action show and other rides in the kiddies section. Overall a must visit place in Singapore.

Shark Tank

Day two of exploring Sentosa island we went beyond the Universal studios. The fist stop of the day was the S.E.A Aquarium which houses mind numbing number of species that delve in the deep oceans right from the ferocious Sharks to the glowing jelly fishes. The first thing that greets you when you enter this place is the underground glass tunnel right through the shark tank which houses all types of sharks including the bizarre hammer-head shark and easily one is impressed. There are lots of colorful fishes held in smaller tanks and finally in the end is a super huge water tank almost twice the size of the cinema screen holding innumerable number of sea creatures including  giant stingrays and super huge fishes. Following this area is the area of creatures which have made the bottom of the ocean floor as their home such as jelly fishes, octopus, star fishes etc. We spent close to 3 hours exploring this place.

Jelly Fishes

After this we went to trick eye museum where one can take funny pics in front of some painting or installation which almost looks life like. After this we went to Madam Tussauds museum and Images of Singapore LIVE and the later show was one of the few shows/rides wherein we actually felt bored. The other things we tried was trying to ride the Segway, which was fun but difficult to do at the same time, the bit hair-raising para-jump wherein one leaps off a 5 floor building in order to simulate landing from a parachute, tiger sky tower which gives birds eye view of the entire island, luge ride wherein one rides a engine-less kart down a hilly slope, 4D Adventureland which had 3 4D rides including a log ride, ride based on Journey 2 movie and a interactive shooting ride and finally the Combat Skirmish which was super fun and very similiar to paintball fight but instead lazer tags are used and hence completely painless. Two teams were formed with 4 and 3 in each team and surprisingly all of us were Indians :D.

Trick Eye Museum

The day ended with the Wings Of Time show , which includes lights, lazers, projections on mist, fireworks etc and was stunning to say the least. This lasted for close to 15 mins and by then we were tired and done for the day. If one has just a day to explore this island then the recommended place is the without doubt the Universal Studios.

September 17, 2015

Singapore Journal : Marina Bay Sands

In order to celebrate our first anniversary we decided to go for a weeklong trip to Singapore and Malaysia. Thanks for booking very early prior to the travel dates, we got a very good deal on the flight tickets. This was a self planned and executed trip and according to my rough estimates the cost of self planning resulted in close to 40% saving when compared to similiar package tours offered by the popular tour operators such as makemytrip etc. We had planned for 4 days in Singapore and 3 days in Malaysia with a customized itinerary based on our interests.

Supertree Groove @ Gardens By the Bay
We took an overnight Airasia flight from Bangalore to Kuala Lumpur and took a connecting flight from KL to Singapore. Landed in Singapore close to noon and took a metro service to a station closest to our hotel in Little India. One general piece of advice for everyone planning to go to Singapore is that , everything is damn expensive. A km ride from the metro station to our hotel room costed us close of 250 rupees (converted to INR). Therefore carefully select things and places you want to visit instead of visiting a place irrespective of your interest. Further Singapore is well connected by metro trains so it is advisable to use them extensively like we did.

Marina Bay Sands From The Gardens
According to me Singapore is the only country in South Asia which can be termed as developed. Developed in terms of not just the great infrastructure or the the service provided , but also the attitude of the local population to work for the greater good of the country rather than their individual selfish motives. So you would expect lot of young and healthy Singaporeans standing in public transports irrespective of whether seats are available or not, so that when someone who is actually in need of them can directly occupy those and for the fact that they take instantaneous feedback right from the immigration process to the person who cleans the toilet, so as to provide flawless service.

Gardens By The Bay From the Skydeck Of MBS
 Landed up at our Hotel 81 situated in Little India, checked into our 10X10 windowless room at a cost for which one can easily afford a 4 or 5 star room in India. However we got a 50% cashback for our room rents, hence making it much more easier thing to digest. The room eventhough was small was neat and clean and perfect for a couple who would be utilizing it just for resting in the night. Further if one is looking for access to good vegetarian food in Singapore then Little India is the place to be with options like Ananda Bhavan, Woodlands, Komala Bhavan etc. Little India is the hub of the Tamil population who had been brought by the British in the heyday.  After resting in the room a bit we left to check-out places situated around the Marina Bay Sands or the Bay area or the downtown area.

Singapore Downtown Area From MBS Skydeck
Took a metro to this place and at first we explored the Gardens By the Bay. It can be described as a modern garden with a generous servings of the sound and light effects especially in the night. We strolled around the garden for much of the afternoon , exploring the most notable icon of these gardens, the Supertree Grooves which look stunning especially in the night. There are some indoor flower gardens which we didnt explore because of the mindnumbing entry fee and also for the fact that we would be visiting the much older and better graded Botanic Gardens much later in the trip.

Ongoing preparation for Singapore Night Grand Prix
When it was close to sunset we decided to go to the skydeck of the stunning Marina Bay Sands hotel. The skydeck is actually situated in the part which is projected and hanging outside the 3 main buildings holding the ship shaped platform. Incidentally Marina Bay Sands is the second most expensive building in the world with a construction cost of close to 6 Billion USD. With a 23$ entry fee the view from the top was stunning. Birds eye view of the entire downtown area is something which shouldnt be missed. We were able to see the downtown area against the setting sun and stayed long to view the brightly lit downtown area with countless number of skyscrapers. From the top we caught the 7.45 show of the Garden Rhapsody where the Super Grooves are lit up brightly and synced with some lively music. At 8pm we caught another light show, the Wonderfull show filled with lazer lights, projection on mist and so on. Even this was stunning.

With the Symbol of Singapore: The Merlion
After the show we came down the building and walked by the banks of the reservoir which is a pleasure to do so in the evening. Preparations were going on for the Singapore Night Grand Prix wherein F1 cars would racing through the streets of Singapore. Our walk finally ended at Merlion statue, the symbol of Singapore with a couple of mandatory pics clicked with it in the background. We again caught the 9.30 slot of Wonderfull show but now with a different perspective of the Marina Bay Sands in its backdrop. Even then it was stunning. With the quality of the infrastructure provided in order to attract the masses we can only assume their emphasis on tourism. After this we caught train from the nearest station and thus ended our first day in Singapore.

August 21, 2015

Jazz One : Shivanasamudra and Talakad

Took my Jazz on its first long spin to Shivanasamudra and Talakad. Having visited these regions way back in 2009, it was a trip down memory lanes. Was accompanied by my wife and my parents on this day trip, but unfortunately the falls were still not in their full glory, thanks to deficit monsoons this year. There are 2 routes to this area from Bangalore , one via Kanakpura (NH 209) and the other one via Maddur (SH 17). Both these routes have their own pros and cons. The route via Kanakpura is a good 2 lane road with minimal traffic but one doesn't have access to good eateries like those available in Mysore road. Hence it was decided to take Maddur route in the morning and while returning take the Kanakpura route in order to avoid the Sunday evening Mysore-Bangalore maddening traffic rush.

Selfie @ Barachukki
The morning drive was good till Maddur, within which we had our breakfast and packed our lunch. After Maddur the route to Malavalli is kinda ok with a lot of construction activity and road widening going on. At Malavalli we joined the Kanakpura National highway and after this it was a smooth drive. Normally at many instances a person who doesnt know a local language would face some difficulties in navigating through an area, but in my case it was the exact opposite !!!!. At one place we say a huge kannada board showing a left turn towards "Shimsha (shortform of Shivanasamudra)" and without thinking much we took the left turn and within no time we were lost :P. This route was actually the access road to the "Shimsha" Hydroelectric plant (the oldest in Asia !!!) and not towards "Shimsha" falls. Hence after riding through a lot of deserted and restricted roads (but scenic :) ) we finally managed to join the main road to the falls without any untoward incident.

The first falls one encounters from Bangalore is the Gaganchukki falls. In this particular falls one just gets a bird eyes view of the falls and nothing else. From Gaganchukki falls we came back to the main road and after travelling 10-15 kms on this picture-some road running along the river Cauvery, we took a left towards Barachukki falls which is synonymous with the "fun" falls since its in here one can get down to water. Initially we had a coracle ride wherein one is taken till the mouth of the falls and gets lightly drenched with the suspended water particles in the air. But the major disappointment was that they have cordoned off the area where one can directly walk to base of the falls and get drenched. That was one of the highlights of our previous trip, but still anyhow we still managed to play in the water and had a good time.

From Barachukki falls our next destination was Talakad. For this one has to come back to the main road (NH209) and then take a left which is clearly marked by the tourism department. Overall the roads everywhere were great and not a pain point unlike the experience the previous time around. We parked our car by the riverside and were approached by a guide who said that he would guide us to all the temple attractions of the place. This guided tour was very good, recommended and lasted for an hour or so. The guide clearly demarcated the facts from fiction and this impressed me the most since many guides elsewhere try to "masalafy" their stories in order to attract more customers.  The pancha linga temples are Pathaleshwara, Maruleshwara, Arkeshwara , Vaidyanatheshwara and Mallikarjuna temple.

After the interesting guided tour it was time to travel back to Bangalore. There was another direct route from Talakad to Malavalli instead of taking the route we had taken earlier in the day to visit the falls. The drive back was eventless and the Kanakpura road even though was a 2 lane was great to drive in. Finally reached home at around 8.30 pm. Overall a great first drive experience on our new Honda Jazz.

Nandi Statue : Observe the torso in shape of a bulls face
Total Travelled Distance >  310 kms.

August 20, 2015

How To Buy A Car ????

Finally I got my very own car !!!!. This blog is primarily a description of my experience in short-listing and buying a car.  The first thing any prospective buyer must decide on is the budget one is willing to spend on a car. Remember that buying a car is not an investment and based on ones need , the budget should be set. Once that is done the next step is to list out the cars which comes within that budget and something which is intuitively pleasing to the owner. In that aspect I had narrowed down to 3 cars. Hyundai Elite i20, Volkswagen Polo and Honda Jazz. Frankly speaking earlier I had shortlisted only i20 and Polo, since during this initial process Jazz was yet to be released in the market. But having seen the great reviews in the abroad market decided to postpone my decision till July 8th when the car was to be launched in India. Hence on the release day and after the test drive Jazz just swooped down and vanquished all its opponents !!!!.

Apart from the below process of shortlisting a car, another factor which steered my decision towards buying the Jazz is that Elite i20 off late has become very common and even after buying my Jazz, I have never come face to face with another Jazz (apart from test drive cars) on the road making it unique and exclusive, atleast for the time being.

Another major aspect which went against elite i20 is that in the mid variant dual airbags are not present , and for me the safety is one of the top priorities. The other determinant which went against i20 was the huge waiting period for the car delivery, apparently 3 whole months (Jazz was delivered to me in 1 week :P). On the other side the factors which went against Polo was the cost of maintenance and spare parts. Hence Jazz emerged the winner , even-though it might not be an undisputed winner in any of the individual evaluation criteria, it was a winner overall, when all these criteria are put together. In summary it was the jack-of-all-trades :P.

The steps one must follow when buying a car (This is not 100% original, I read other blogs too before buying a car :P )

1. Decide on Total Budget
2. Device whether petrol or diesel. Rule of thumb is if driving more than 1500 km/month go for diesel.
3. Shortlisting the final consideration list.
4. Test drive the cars
5. Create a quantitative table with parameters and weightage given according to ones preference.
6. Winner of this table is the BEST CAR FOR YOU.

Below is the sample weightage chart I had created for my choice.

Jazz SV  Polo Comfortline Elite i20 Sports
Looks exterior (25) 20 16 22
Looks interior (5) 4 4 4
Safety (15) 15 15 11
Price + ownership cost (15) 12 12 13
Waiting period (5) 5 4 2
Power/Performance (10) 7 6 7
Mileage (5) 5 3 5
Ease of handling (10) 9 8 9
Interior space/headroom/rear legroom etc (10) 10 7 8
Total 87/100 75/100 81/100

Once the car has been selected these are the follow up steps:

1. Pay a token advance and book the car.
2. Do a pre-delivery-inspection of the car, once a car has been allocated to you by the showroom. Bcoz once the car has been registered in your name there is pretty much nothing which can be done to undo it.
3. Simultaneously process the loan if planning to apply. Banks now provide loans for upto 85% of onroad price or 100% of ex-showroom price. 
4. Once loan is processed the paperwork from the showroom will be completed and you are good to take delivery of the car. 
5. You would receive the registration smart card in mail within 40 days of registration.

This entire process right from the budget allocation till the car delivery took around 1.5 months and went like a breeze for us thanks to the showroom guys. 

July 28, 2015

The Run Of Raramuri Tribe !!!!!!

"Raramuri !!!!" . This is one event where I got attracted to the very unique name and the finishers medal rather than the actual course. Even though this event is in its seventh edition I came to know about it quite recently from fellow runners. Raramuri refers to a tribe in North America who are renowed for their long distance running ability especially over mountains, canyons and so on. Hence inspired with the same spirit of long distance running, this event was organized on an overcast July morning (18th July), on a track which mimicks traversing through the hills and canyons which an actual member of the raramuri tribe would have endured.

That is how u look when u are eating banana and
suddenly a photographer clicks ur image :P
In this event I was all set to run my second half marathon that too after a huge gap of 3 years. The last half marathon I had participated was for KTM in the year 2012. And surprisingly both KTM and Raramuri runs are considered to be the toughest marathons in the vicinity of Bangalore.  Rough track with lots of stones and the sun had made KTM a worthy adversary, but on the other hand steep climbs and drops has made Raramuri to be in the same league of tough trails.

The run started at sharp 5.30 in the morning which was a big boon for all the runners since by the time the sun was out, most of the participants had completed their race. There were close to 500 odd half marathon participants, 50 odd full marathon participants and 200 odd 10k participants. With an initial warmup session near KSIT college , Kanakpura road we were let into the track which initially follows the pipeline road, which comprises of huge drops and climbs unlike any other topography one would find in the vicinity of Bangalore. Hence within the first 8 kms itself, I was huffing and panting and taking breaks, which would not have been the case if the trail was through flat terrain.

With Finishers Medals
After the initial 10k which follows the pipeline road, we where let into the BSK 6th stage main road which goes through the Turahalli forest, one of the green lungs of Southern Bangalore. The initial part of the race was like a lot of unceasing concentratic waves whereas the later part of the run was like a single big wave of going down and coming up. With all these elevation variations, my knee started to complain near the 14km mark and after that point it was just pushing towards the finish line enduring the pain. Since even the organizers were well aware of the difficulty level, they had provided well stocked watering stations every 1.6km and this did help a lot of runners and at the end of the day there was no major untoward incident. Even the race director was out there on the field providing medical aid to the runners !!!!.

I completed my run with a time of 2 hrs 18 mins 4 secs and surprisingly this was 14 secs quicker than my KTM timing !!!!. I presume I could have shaved close to 10 mins of that time if my knee was not giving any trouble. Overall a race which was satisfying, well organized and fun to complete.

Elevation Profile

Official Stats

Half Marathon
Finished- 02:18:04
Bib: 228

Overall 132/270
Male     122/239

Start            5:32:21 AM
5K               6:00:46 AM  (00:28:26, 5:42 min/km)
14.5K          7:02:08 AM  (01:29:48, 6:12 min/km)
Finish          7:50:24 AM  (02:18:04, 6:33 min/km)

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