Oyo Airport

img src: https://www.flickr.com/photos/derekskey/7656182704

It has been a while since I wrote a product feature post. A friend and me were having a conversation about the accommodation industry near airports. The Delhi airport has a neat strip of Airport hotels at the AeroCity area – mostly standard chain hotels such as Ibis, Lemon Tree etc. This is not quite true of all metros. Chennai has a couple, but mostly high end. Mumbai is slightly better, but the others just do not cut it. Bangalore has very few.

When it comes to Tier 1 cities, there are at least options in the city, but when it comes to Tier 2 towns, the need for a standardized hotel near the airport is much more. These are places, where the business traveller needs to fly in, stay, finish his work, and fly out, quickly – sometimes the same day.

So, I envisioned a chain like Oyo starting a vertical called Oyo airport. Let me attempt to list down the specific features that such a property should have.

  1. Proximity to the airport. This should be extremely close to the airport. It should be close enough that, at the end of the day, the traveller, having checked out of the Oyo Airport, should be a few minutes away from the airport.
  2. Shuttles to the airport. This is paramount. It should be a brain dead simple thing that the traveller should not even think about. When booking an airport oyo, the traveller should have an affordance to enter his incoming flight number (and outgoing, if he has already a return ticket). Technology should enable the concierge at the airport hotel to send the details of the cab/shuttle/van to the traveller. The same affordance stands for his return trip back to the airport.
  3. Flexible check-in times. People fly in at all kinds of hours. The check-in policy should be 24 hours.
  4. Flexible stay durations. There should be options to be able to book a room for half a day or other intervals. There are many a time, when the traveller would be arriving at a very late night flight. He needs a few hours shut-eye, and a shower, and he would be off for his work. The traveller might not return to his room at all. So why pay for 24 hours.
  5. International flights. Most international flights have long layovers. So the same point as the previous should hold good. Check-in at 11PM and checkout at 4AM. Why would I have to pay for 24 hours. Technology should also be able to help in allocating ground floor rooms for these travellers, so as to not disturb other guests. Room accessibility should also be taken care of, since these travellers would be travelling with large suit cases and bags.
  6. Food. Considering the uniqueness of timings of this kind of a hotel, there should be available a 24 hour cafe – serving light eats at all times, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner at specific times.
  7. Concierge cab services. Given that, folks are flying in, and mostly for business, these travellers would most likely need cab bookings done. An integration with a service like Ola b2b services, to be able to make cab bookings in advance.
  8. Oyo Airport vertical should ideally be in the premium segment, given the fact that, most people staying here are flying in, which is a higher spend demographic.
  9. Tie-ups could be made with airlines for check-in kiosks in the lobby as well.
  10. Tie-ups with flight+hotel deals with LCCs such as Indigo and Spice, could result in very high intent customers, leading to win-win for the airline and the hotel.

Ooty Road-trip Oct 2 weekend 2015

General trip notes:
  • Mostly the roads were good – except for a short stretch from Mysore to Nanjangud – where there is road widening that is happening. Once this is finished, the road should be fully done.
  • I took the Masinagudi route to/from Ooty – this is the 36 hairpin bend short route. The road in this stretch is also awesome.
  • The road inside the Bandipur sanctuary has been freshly laid and is really good.
  • On our way to Ooty, we passed by the Bandipur area around 6PM. Looks like this is a great time to spot animals. Spotted hordes of bison, deer, and peacock.
  • On our way back, the traffic was horrendous. All of Bangalore was returning from the long weekend.
  • Do not miss the wood fired pizza at Nahar Side walk cafe. Their multi-cuisine restaurant – Chandan – is also pretty good. Both are pure vegetarian.
  • The Sterling Elk Hill property has undergone massive renovation and looks super posh inside. They are adding more rooms as well.
  • On the way back, if you want to fill gas, there is a bunk, right at the beginning of the Mysore road (from Ooty).
  • If you want to avoid the maddening crowds of Ooty, and want a relaxing drive, drive down the road towards Kundha/Upper Bhavani. The Emerald lake is just an awesome vista point.
  • If you want to have lunch in Mysore, but do not want to go into the city, there is a Kamat Madhuvan, just near the Mysore bypass.

 

Nandi Hills

Last weekend, my sister, brother-in-law and their kid visited Bangalore, and we used this as an excuse to visit Nandi Hills (which we had never visited so far in the seven years we have lived in Bangalore!).

We started early – around 7:00Am from Koramangala. We took the usual route to the airport that most cabbies take: Viveknagar -> Mother Theresa Road -> Residency Road -> MG Road -> Golf course -> Mekhri circle.

As per plan, we took a slight detour off at RT Nagar and had breakfast at the Vasudev Adigas – at 730AM.

Left Adigas around 830AM and took to Bellary Road. Road is just awesome. Beautifully paved 6 lane road. Pleasure to drive. But do beware of cops who stand with radar speed detectors and can book you (apparently happens very regularly).

After a while, you will see a board to Nandi hills heading left. You will also see a restaurant complex of sorts in that junction. Do take that road even if your GPS does not say so. My MapMyIndia GPS asked me to go straight on and take the next left. The road quality is super bad in the second route.

The Ghat section is a pretty intensive ghat section – not too long, but quite a few hair pin bends. Honk at every turn – because it looks like this ghat section is a favourite for bikers to show off their speed biking skills (especially given that, it is a favourite romantic spot for couples).

Once you reach the top of the hill, there are parking areas. The one at the very top apparently gets filled up very quickly and overflows to the lower level, which is where we parked. This is an area under a larger number of trees and some weird tree house type structures with little or no flooring.

Interesting observation: 5 of the 10 cars that were parked there were zoomcars.

This parking area is just super windy and chill. Do make sure you take a jacket.

You climb up to the actual Nandi hills area via a little walkway and a few steps.

You have a large Shiva temple which looks pretty old. And a Kalyani (temple tank) inside it. This tank is fed by fresh water springs all year long. It is believed that this tank (and its springs) is where three rivers originate – Palaar, Pennaar, and Arkavathi.

There are some neatly maintained gardens and pathways nearby, where you can take a stroll. The two 5 year olds played a bit of football for a while.

There is a Nandini ice cream parlour, where we all had ice creams. There is also a small cafe (small eats like idli, dosa, tea, and coffee are available), where all had tea/coffee.

Warning: There are a large number of monkeys. Even if they see you having something resembling food, they will come and grab from your hand. In fact, if you do even so much as to sit on some of the park benches, they think, you are going to eat, and approach you.

The monkeys scared the living daylights out of us, and we left in about an hour. Over the course of the half hour, we saw monkeys snatching chips packets from small kids, snatching ice-cream bars from older people’s hands, and such.

We left from there around 11am and back in the city by around 1:15pm.

Overall observations:

  • Nice views from the top
  • It is a good picnic spot – but without food.
  • Beware of monkeys
  • We missed an old temple at the base of the hills – with two 5 year olds, this is how much we could cover.
  • It is a place that you can visit once – nothing more to do multiple visits – would be boring.

Pictures:

 
Nandi - @ Nandi Hills
Vista from Nandi Hills
Temple/fort on top of Nandi Hills
Steps - Nandi Hills

Personalized Hotel Rooms ?

There were serviced apartments that started popping up in cities like Bangalore a few years back. These were good alternatives to expensive full service hotels. A lot of frequent IT travelers liked these service apartments, because they were really good quality rooms, and they were inexpensive because they were no-frills. No service. Mostly no restaurants attached. This fit their bill perfectly.

But there was a problem. These service apartments were unorganized. You could only book them by calling them by phone. Some of them had a website, but most did not. Discoverability was a problem. This is being solved by a slew of new start-ups like OyoRooms, Ziproom, and stayzilla.

Now, allow me to add one more level of complexity into this problem – which could be a potential area where start-ups can spring up.

personalizedrooms

Personalized rooms. Seasoned business travelers love service apartments because of their no-frills approach, and are the ones who are fueling the reservation of these rooms through the new startups. But that does not mean to say that these travelers would not mind some personalization.Let me list a couple of immediate ideas that come to mind:

  1. Toiletries – For those who follow me on twitter, you would notice that this is a big peeve of mine. I am not a big business traveler, but I get irritated every time I am put through the “you-cannot-carry-toiletries-in-cabin-baggage’. This is the biggest bummer that happened after 9/11 in the US (which naturally percolated internationally). I would love to not carry toiletries at all during international travel. And you might ask – hey most hotels give you soap and some of them give you paste. I would want my brands to be there – cinthol/dettol soap + vicco tooth paste + fresh new brush + gillete mach3 razor+blade (disposable is fine) + nivea after shave gel. Now, if this is an add-on package to any of the room booking start-ups, I would glad plonk money on it.
  2. Travel – What if I can book a day cab or a cab for airport/station pickup or whatever need I have, while booking the room. Would that not be awesome? Sure, again, you might ask me, I could always use Uber/Ola/whatever to get the cabs on demand. But when I am on a business trip, I would like everything to be perfectly planned. I may sound pompous here – but I want my car waiting for me every time I want it. I would not want to be fiddling with my phone and getting a “No cars in your vicinity” message and getting stressed about it. Sure, the hotel could very well book an uber/ola on my behalf – I dont care, but I want it to be waiting for me.
  3. Food – What if the hotel can offer me a fixed simple veg meal when I return back to my room at 8:30PM. A simple Mast Kalandar HP2 would be perfectly fine. But I would not want to be the one ordering it on the way back to my hotel, and giving directions, picking it up, paying, and all of that. It would be so much value for money for me to just get into the hotel, my food is waiting ‘hot’ in the reception, for me to take to my room, and have it in peace. Sure, the hotel can tie up with swiggy, mastkalandar, urbanspoon, whatever. They can even ask me where I want the food from. But again, sounding as pompous as I can, I want the food waiting for me, when I get to my room, after a tiring day. Hey they can get fancy too – they can save my preferences, and just confirm if I would like to order the same as last time. I know a lot of travelers do that. You could get fancier, by enabling the service apartment reception to call you once just to confirm if you would be needing dinner (what if – you suddenly get pulled into a client dinner type situation); or perhaps a push notification on your phone. A lot of stuff can be done in this area.

Well, enough dreaming for now. Got to get to my boring day job. 🙂

Mysore Trip Travelogue (Jan 2014)

I am a bit late in updating this here. We did a road trip after a long while. With the wife’s neck pain (well, the other pain – not me!), we have been mostly traveling by train and not really done any vacationing for a bit now. So we wanted to do something where we could go somewhere nearby and also somewhere where we can just go and ‘vegetate’ and relax.

Windflower Resorts

I had heard about this resort chain a while ago, and have heard that this is a great place. And there was a deal going on for their 3 days 2 nights package. The only catch here was that, you need to pay upfront the whole money. And there were cancellation penalties etc. But we had heard enough good things about the place that we decided to take the risk.

The time

We planned the trip right after New Years. We wanted quiet relaxation. So we had planned Jan 2/3/4. Nice and cool for Mysore. Mysore can get pretty hot in the summers.

The Onward Journey

The road is pretty good in terms of quality. From Koramangala, we started earlly around 530AM. Our intention was to head towards Hosur Road and take the Electronic City Ramp into the NICE road. Unfortunately because of the dark, we missed the entry ramp. We did realize this quickly though. So there was a bit of a delay here – about 20 minutes. But once on the NICE road, it was a breeze until Mysore Road exit. Worth the Rs.90 toll. The Mysore road exit takes you just past Kengeri. I was like Wow. That is sweet. No BSK. No Mysore Road junction. No Metro work progress. And No Kengeri. The rest of the journey is characterized by continuous random successions of these three incidents:

  • large speed bumps (good quality ones, but large)
  • small towns – 6-7 of them, in quick succession and all going through the town.
  • two-wheelers whenever you neared a town, which was everywhere.

So, basically, you would go dodging two wheelers to clearing a town to slowly inching up to a 100 kmph, and then you would site a bump, and slow down and back to dodging two wheelers ! This was how the journey was all through from Kengeri to entering Mysore.

Kamat Loka Ruchi was breakfast stop at 7AM. Steaming hot dosa/idlis/puris. It was not too crowded at 7AM. It can get pretty crowded as the day progresses.

Back on the road, we were on the outskirts of Mysore around 9ish. Our check-in time to the resort was 12 Noon. So we had decided to head to the zoo. This was planned. And so, I had already purchased entry tickets, parking permit, and the electric buggy tickets – all online. This was the nearest I came to Planning Nirvana. What more can you ask for. No standing in the ticket line after driving for 3 hours. The site advises you to take two copies print out of the tickets. When you enter, you show the two copies. One of them gets taken away and they stamp up the tickets for you on the other one.

We headed straight for the buggy ride. This is super convenient, especially if you are travelling with a kid. We have had bad experiences in Hyderabad Zoo, where my kid basically flat out refused to move unless carried – in the middle of the zoo, and we had to lug him everywhere. The buggy ride is a one hour guided tour of the zoo. The driver stops at all the main attractions so that you can get out, see the animals, take photos etc.

We found the mysore zoo to be one of the most clean and interesting zoos that we had visited. Wow. So many giraffes. Hippos. Rhinos. Cheetahs. Elephants. Yep. I was as excited as my 4 year old son.

zoo1  zoo2 zoo3

zoo4 zoo5 zoo6

zoo7

It was still only 1030AM. We tried requesting to check-in into the resort – which is pretty close to the zoo. Unfortunately they did not have any early check-outs and the reception person said, they could get us in only at Noon. So we asked if there were anything else that we could see nearby. And we were informed about Karanji park

karanji1

Unfortunately we did not take too many pictures here. Go here for some pictures.

Karanji park is basically a large lake, and a small lake front park. The lake is pretty big, and there is a boating facility. So we did that. And the park is a childrens park, which is very nicely maintained. So my kid had a blast for about an hour there.

We then returned back to the resort (which is about 5 min drive from Karanji park). And we were shown to our rooms.

The resort and the rooms

We loved the resort. Nice resortish feel when you get in itself. A large open open to air reception. Life size chess. A long artificial water body with artificial palms and coconut trees on both sides to give it a tropical feel. There are two rows of suites/rooms on both sides of the water body. The premium studios have a water front facing facade.There are a dozen ducks that keep wandering here and there – this provided quite a bit of amusement for my son. The screeching parakeet in the reception area is another attraction.

There is a small sit out and deck chairs facing the water. The rooms are well appointed. NIce wooden flooring. Big four poster bed. Wooden paneling. Nice luxury bathrooms.

resort8 resort6 resort7

resort5 resort4 resort3

resort2

The restaurant and the food

There is a central restaurant which you can walk to for food. The deal that I got gave me Rs. 1500 of resort credits that you could use, including food. Breakfast is free. Stick to the south Indian breakfast. The North Indian breakfast was terrible.

The regular a’la carte food (both in restaurant and room-service) was very good. The only drawback being it took forever for the food to come. It was so bad that after the second day, we ordered the starter from the room half hour earlier and then went in, so that we wouldnt need to wait. It was really that bad.Food quality was good though. And I would venture to say that, compared to some of the Bangalore restaurants, food is cheaper too. Stuff like hot/warm milk is available for room service 24 hours – this is info for families taking kids with them.

Mysore

We did not want to travel too much. The second day, at the insistence of my son, who was in no mood to relax, we had to head out somewhere. So we went to the “Mall of Mysore”, a mall which had opened very recently. This is pretty close to the resort. Very typical mall. Nothing spectacular to see here. The next day, again, we had to head out, and this time we headed into town to the Cauvery Emporium, and bought our mandatory purchase of wooden key chains and agarbathi holder !

cauvery

Return

Return was an uneventful journey. We left around 10ish. Check out is 11AM. We had a hearty breakfast at the resort itself. So by the time we hit Ramanagara (Kamat Loka Ruchi) at 12 Noon, we were just about hungry. Had sumptuous North Karnataka Jollada Roti meal. We were back home by just before 5PM. And this was because of traffic closer home.

Good trip on the whole. Relaxing for the most part. Highly recommend Windflower. They are a tad bit expensive – so keep a look out for their deals on their website. They have deals like spring deal, winter deal, summer deal etc. I have heard good things about their other resorts in Bandipur, Coorg, Pondicherry, and Wayanad. Hope to visit them some time later.

Hope this travelogue has been useful to you. If you have any questions, ask them in the comments, I will try to answer them as best as I can.

Mantralaya Visit

Quick trip summary:

  • Left Bangalore Friday night by SBC – Nanded Express. Leaves Bangalore City at 1045PM and supposed to reach Mantralayam Road (MALM) at 8:00AM. Reached an hour late. Apparently this is normal.
  • You will get some breakfast at Adoni. Don’t miss it. There is a good Railway refreshment stall in the MALM station itself. So in case you are blazing hungry (like we were), you can get some food right after you get down. (Recommended: Puri Subzi).
  • Took a wide body auto to Mantralayam town. We were quoted Rs. 20 per person if we were ok to split among ourselves, but Rs. 100 if we wanted a separate auto for ourselves. We took the latter option. We were an family of 4 (plus one 3 year old). The distance is around 17km. The route is here. The road quality is mostly back breaking, with stretches of good road thrown in. Takes about 45 minutes.
  • We had booked ourselves in Hotel Sriniketanam Lodge. The hotel is very average. But it is the closest to the matha. We were not going to stay the night (we took the night train back). So we were OK with booking an average room. Rates for a Regular Double Bed room (non-ac) is Rs. 250 per day. They have 2/3/4 bedded rooms and also delux and AC rooms. You can book the room online here -> http://www.sreeniketanam.com/
  • Once we checked-in, we went straight to the Tungabhadra river. We did not bathe there. The force of the water was pretty harsh. We just sprinkled water on our head (loop-hole in shashtras to avoid river bathing :)).
  • After Tungabhadra “snaana”, we went to the the Moola Brindavana (where Guru Raghavendra Swamy took Jeeva Samadhi). This is the main point to visit inside the matha. We went on Ekadasi day (We didnt know until we got to the prasadam counter!!). The advantage was that, there was very very less crowd (there are no special sevas performed on this day). The disadvantage is that, they dont even have prasad, since it is Ekadasi. (I love the Parimala Prasadam that they distribute – It is a delicious pink colored milk cake). Ofcourse the other disadvantage is, there is no ambari seva (performed by an elephant) and rathothsava (three chariots are drawn around the Brindavana – gold, silver, and navaratna). The rathotsava is indeed a pretty sight as well. But we took it on the bright side, we had several darshans of the moola brindavana. It was practically empty.
  • Then we went to the Panchamukhi Anjaneya temple. This is about 19 km. Route is here. And yes, the road is defenitely back breaking. The road is slightly better on the AP side than the KA side, and the auto-driver will ensure he comments on that :). You need to book an auto to get there, and make sure you book such that, he waits there and brings you back. The temple is in the middle of nowhere. So very difficult to get transport back to Mantralaya. The temple is in Karnataka. So you need to cross the border from AP to KA to get there. The auto guys need to get down and give some “some-thing some-thing” to the border check-post guy. 🙁 You also cross the majestic Tungabhadra river on the way. The water was in full force after the recent rains. Rate for separate auto for us was Rs 400. You can get one on the main road.
  • Lunch was at Udupi Krishna Bhavan – the only decent place there – on the main road. The tables are clean. The food is decent. Dont mind the dirty on the floor. There are big boards all around the restaurant saying – “self service. worker problem. please cooperate”. Pretty bold statement to make.
  • Went back to the room for a bit of rest. Evening 5:00ish, had tea at Krishna Bhavan, and went ‘general’ tourist shopping on the main road.
  • 6:00PM, we went back to the Brindavana for one more darshana.
  • Around 7:30ish, had dinner at Krishna Bhavan.
  • We had asked the Sriniketanam front office guy to get an auto for us at 9:00PM to get to the station. Auto was waiting at 9:00PM. Rate was Rs. 150 since it was night time.
  • Back at the station by 9:45PM.
  • We took the Udyan express back to Bangalore. Scheduled departure time at MALM at 10:20PM.
  • Scheduled arrival at Bangalore Cantt was 8:05. Reached at 9:10AM. This train is a horrible
  • We went back to the room for a little bit of a shut-eye.
mant1
Sunset at Brindavana Arch, Manthralaya.

 

Vegetarian’s Survival Guide to World Cuisine Eating

Whether you are traveling the world (on leisure or business), or are being adventurous and trying out an international cuisine restaurant in India, this article helps you eat without worries.

An excerpt:

Asian

The relative absence of dairy makes it easy to eat vegan at an Asian restaurant. Order steamed vegetables, stir-fried tofu, lo mein, brown rice or any other meatless offering at a Chinese place. Go for miso soup and a vegetable sushi roll if you’re eating a Japanese meal. Thai, Vietnamese and Korean restaurants usually offer multiple vegetarian options on their menus as well.

Strict vegans: Always ask to make sure your meal won’t contain any fish sauce or stock.

Barbecue

Although it seems like this category would be the toughest one of all, it’s probably the simplest—just go for the side dishes! Build a “sampler platter” of sides like grilled corn or asparagus (hold the butter), a dinner roll or two, steamed broccoli, a baked sweet potato with cinnamon sugar, or even steak fries.

Strict vegans: Ask whether your veggies can be cooked on a separate grill or otherwise apart from where the meat is cooked.

Breakfast & Brunch

Whether you find yourself at a Denny’s or at a fancy-schmancy brunch spot, there are lots of options when it comes to breakfast food. Fresh fruit, oatmeal, hash browns with ketchup, granola, bagels and toast with jam are a few great ones.

Strict vegans: Request that your oatmeal be prepared with water instead of milk, and always remind your server you don’t want butter on your toast.

The other cuisines covered are Indian, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Pizza.

Read the article at menuism here.

(via lifehacker)