Travelogue – Andaman – April 2023

Andaman gcmouli travelogue
Swaraj Dweep aka Havelock (Andaman)

We did a 5 day trip to Andaman. Trip planning assistance was done through pickyourtrail.com. The good part about planning your trip with guys like these are that, you get to plan your itinerary more or less by yourself (instead of one of those pre-planned boxed travel agent tour plans). Our requirements were simple. We wanted a relaxed holiday (did not want to keep running around). We wanted to spend some time in a resort with private beach access. The folks at PYT came up with a great plan. Lets dive into it in detail. Most opinions below are strictly mine. Your mileage may vary.

Day 1:

  • Fly from BLR to IXM (Port Blair). Dep 1130AM and arrival 2PM. Super wierd time, and we hate airline food for lunch. So we picked up sandwiches from Starbucks.
  • We had our Port Blair tour coordinator Arshad and a driver waiting at the arrival area with a name placard. (Will give phone number details etc at the end of the post).
  • Arshad gave us the plan for the day, and logistics. He is like a genie kinda guy. Shows up at just the right time and the right locations to help you with next step logistics. Very impressive coordination mechanics.
  • We checked in to Sinclairs Bay View. Great room (renovated recently) with fantastic views.
  • The property is kinda slightly aged and is in need of some sprucing up (exteriors, dining area, common area etc). Food is ok-ok in the restaurant. The staff, however, is amazing levels of warm / friendly / smiling. This made up for a bunch of issues. They are genuine and try to help. (Example – there was a large group of about 80 pax (pharma company sales offsite) during the time we were there. The staff made sure to tell us to come to the restaurant ahead of the usual buffet time, so that, we can avoid the noise/rush when the large group comes). Our package had a breakfast and dinner included in the tariff.
  • After we had freshened up, we headed off to the Cellular Jail. Spent about an hour or so soaking in the history of this place. Despite the crowds, it hits you hard on the kind of lives that the prisoners led here.
  • We had about an hour and half remaining for the sound and light show at the Cellular Jail. We sneaked a quick visit to the Corbyn Cove Beach. We were not impressed at all in this beach. Bunch of water sports. But nothing else.
  • We sped back to the Jail for the sound and light show – which was amazing. Tugs at your heart strings. Definitely emotional seeing the hard ships that some of our freedom fighters went though.
  • Back to our hotel room after this, had dinner and retired.
  • During all this time, we had the phone number of our scorpio driver (Sarfu). Jio phone signal is weak but not completely absent. In most places, we had some weak signal. We were however told that, if there was any situation where we dont have signal, we could just flag down any tourist vehicle driver and ask to call to Arshad or Sarfu, and people would oblige. I found that fascinating.

Day 2:

  • We had a ferry (Makruzz) to catch to Havelock at 8AM. Reporting time at the jetty is an hour before. Arshad had whatsapped the tickets the previous night. Sarfu was at the hotel in the morning. We had packed breakfast from the hotel (butter-cheese sandwiches (tad bit small, which we were a bit disappointed with), a muffin, biscuits, an apple and a banana). When we reached the jetty, we saw that almost everyone in line had a similar packed breakfast paper bag in their hand. The cruise is a large air conditioned catamaran type luxury boat. 90 min journey. Took us close to 2 hours though. You need to do security etc (pass bags through xray etc) at the jetty.
  • On reaching Havelock, we had Basheer (who was our Havelock coordinator) waiting for us on the jetty with a driver (with a name placard). We were whisked to our hotel – Sandyy Wavess. This is one of a half dozen resorts on a stretch of road with an access to the beach.
  • Super cozy rooms. Great pool. Neat access to the beach. Except please do plan with the tides – which can change the scene within a couple of hours. You would see an awesome beach, but in a few hours, the tide receeds significantly and the beach is just not useable. So enquire about this in advance. (And if this is not available, there is no point in booking a beach access resort). We had this issue.
  • The restaurant was a mess. Staff shortage (which I learnt from one of the servers whom we befriended). It was one chef churning out stuff. The food was good though, but would always take anywhere between 60-90 minutes at a minimum (which pissed us off quite a bit!). The food being good was the saviour. Breakfast and dinner was a buffet – so we needn’t had to do the excruciating wait. Our package had a breakfast and dinner included in the tariff.
  • We went to the beach (on the property), relaxed a bit, and then in the evening headed to Radhanagar beach – apparently the 6th most cleanest beaches in Asia. True to this, the beach is an amazing one. Super clean. Fine sand. Great waves. Fantastic sunset.

Day 3:

  • The first half was going to be to Elephanta Island – where all the water activities are organized. Contrary to its name, it is not an island, even though you take a speed boat to it. It is just a remote part of the same Havelock island, which you go by boat.
  • Super well organized again. You can buy tickets before you take the speed boat. You get assigned a speed boat. You got to remember the boat name (ours was Sea Lion 16). The boat waits for you for 3 hours and brings you back. You can also buy tickets at the destination.
  • All guests get a complementary introductory 5 min snorkeling session. Basically a bait tactic to take the free session, and then lured to deeper waters. We wanted to do this towards the end, but we ran out of time and skipped it.
  • Our package had jetski and glass bottomed boat as part of it. The glass bottomed boat ride is awesome. You can see the corals and the coloured fish clearly.
  • We took a few extra rides – Black eye and Standing rides – which are just different kinds of inflatables pulled by a speed boat. (Wife and kid went on this). We also did Sea Walk (a unique experience) and para-sailing.
  • The Sea walk is a beautiful experience. You are taken to a platform away from shore. Ladders go down to the sea bottom from the platform. The area is netted all around (so that large fishes / sharks do not come in).
  • They put a 45 kg pressurized helmet on your head/shoulders and lower you down (climb down the ladder). Each person has a diver assigned and a photographer taking pics. You go down 20-30 feet to the ocean floor. The diver basically moves you around and shows you the corals, the colourful fishes (think nemo type fishes), and sets you up for good pics, which the photographer is busy shooting with a go-pro. This goes on for about 10-15 mins and then you are pulled up. This does momentarily make the ears pop for some folks (it did for me, did not impact my wife).
  • Overall, the organization is wonderful for the kinds of crowds that this place gets.
  • Back at the hotel by around 130PM and we had food (had to wait 90 minutes for it though).
  • We had the evening to ourselves, but we could not resist the urge to head back to the Radhanagar beach again.

Day 4:

  • Time to head back to Port Blair. This time the ferry was Nautica Lite. A very similar luxury boat. Same duration. The timing was slightly later. So we had the luxury of having a good breakfast buffet before the journey.
  • Back in Port Blair, we had planned lunch at Cafe Amaya. This roof top restaurant has continental fare and was recommended by PYT and others as well. The food was good and the view was awesome.
  • We had the evening to ourselves. We did a leisurely walk down to the Flag Point area (this is very close to the Sinclair BayView hotel). A good long walk. We visited this small temple – Alaikadal Ayyanaar. Beautiful temple. We walked down to the first ever tricolour flag that was hoisted by Subash Chandra Bose in 1943. History goes that, when the Japanese evacuated after WW2, they handed the islands to Bose, who was the supreme commander of the Azad Hind Fauj.
  • We walked past the awesome food trucks, and found one which was selling falooda/ice creams. Yumm-max ice creams was had. We skipped the other trucks, because we were not too confident about handling the veg and non-veg food together.
  • We popped into the Ramakrishna Mission for 10-15 minutes and listened to the evening aarthi.
  • Back at the hotel, we had a good dinner and retired.

Day 5:

  • Originally we did not have anything planned, but in the last minute, we had asked Arshad if there was something we had missed and could cover in a few hours. Our flight back to BLR was only at 230PM.
  • We realized we had not seen Ross Island (Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep – NSCB Dweep). This was the summer retreat for the British officers.
  • The place is in ruins with tree roots growing eerily over the ruined walls. But one can imagine, how grand it would have been during those times.
  • The tourism board has done a good job of putting concrete paths through these ruins all the way to the light house (and the lone sailor man statue) at the edge of the island ; and golf carts (for a fee) to ferry people around. This was super useful, given the scorching sun.
  • The island has quite a few deer (saw many) and peacocks (did not get to see any). The golf card driver said that, the British had brought these deer to this island for food (venison). When the British left, there were about 15 deer, and now there are about 500 of them.
  • Headed back to the hotel in a couple of hours. Had an early lunch. Headed to the airport. And back in Bangalore for peak hour traffic at 530PM 🙂

Notes:

  1. The Andamans is super super hot in April. You can get dehydrated / zapped very easily. Wear shades and a hat. Put on sunscreen. Keep drinking water all the time. Interesting tidbit – you will only get 2 lt water bottles in most shops. An elderly shopkeeper lady explained why to us – people drink 1 lt bottle in one go and throw the bottles all over. 2 lt bottles however last for some time, and have a handle on top of the bottle.
  2. Both the islands are super clean. Clean roads, pedestrian pathways. No plastic bottles (in the sea or on land). No junk. Was so heartening to see.
  3. Arshad Port Blair coordinator number – +91 99332 74036
  4. The coordination among these organizers is impressive and you should not have to worry too much at all.
  5. Airtel and BSNL have good signal strength across the islands, I am told. I had Jio and we had coverage in about 50% of the areas.
  6. Take adequate cash when you head there. ATMs are available but do not risk it. Given spotty network connectivity, do not rely on UPI. Especially in Elephanta Islands / Havelock.
  7. PB resorts do not have beach access. Some have good views. We realized that this might not necessarily be that big a deal, for some folks.
  8. Ask about the tides and when the beaches are usable.
  9. Don’t miss the Havelock water rides.

Pictures in the twitter thread below:

Badrinath Dehradun Trip – Oct 2018

Flights:

  • Bangalore – Dehradun: Saturday afternoon. Indigo 6E 911. Leaves BLR around 1PM and reaches DED around 4PM.
  • The return flight for the same leg was way too expensive (Close to Dussehra dates). Hence did DED – DEL (Air India (AI 9610) at around 7AM. A 40 minute flight to DEL.
  • Terminal change. And DEL – BLR by Indigo (6E 2423) at around 1PM.
  • Booked these flights pretty early – about a month in advance  – got decent rates.
Beautiful picturesque Dehradun Airport
Dehradun Airport – Two is a crowd 🙂

Ground transport:

  • The best way to do pilgrimage in this part of the world –  is to take the services of a local cab person.
  • I had gotten the contacts of Mr. Prem from Twitter (@mohithkrishna). Mohith had done a couple of trips with him.
  • Mr. Prem is from Rishikesh, has a well maintained Ertiga, and has been doing these trips in around the Char Dham for the last 22 years!. There is no online booking etc. You call him up. He writes down in his diary.
  • You communicate/remind/confirm using Whatsapp. Since he had seen my DP and I his, on Whatsapp, it was super easy for him to locate us. 

Prem-ji can be reached at — 98971 83145 / 94124 09127

Accommodation:

  • All accommodation was booked with Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd (GMVNL) – through their online portal – gmvnl.in.  Horrible user interface, but hey – online booking + payment works.
  • Note: If you want to book for one night – say Check-in on Oct 5th noon and check out Oct 6th morning – choose Oct 5th and Oct 5th as From and To dates. 😉
  • You will get email confirmations.
  • GMVN is never fancy. Spacious basic bedrooms and relatively clean bathrooms. Government organisation. Best locations guaranteed though. Be prepared for warm good staff but with extreme Government inefficiencies though.
  • Day1 (Saturday night) – Ganga Resort Rishikesh – Newly opened. Very good rooms. Facing the Ganga. Superb views. 
Room with a view – Ganga Resort – Rishikesh
  • Day2 (Sunday night) – Devlok – Badrinath. Closest feasible to the temple – which is still a good km from the temple, through a pretty steep slopey road. But brilliant locations. 360 degree peak views from outside the rooms. 
Neelkanth peak taken at 5AM from near our room.
GMVN Devlok Badrinath
  • Day3 and Day4 (Monday/Tuesday night) – GMVN Rishilok – They have nice rooms and cottages. Fairly central in Rishikesh city. 
(Not my picture. Google images)

Itinerary:

 Day1 (Saturday): 

  • Dehradun airport is closer to Rishikesh airport than Dehradun city. So plan accordingly. Prem-ji met us at the airport and it is about a 40 minute drive of really good paved road to Rishikesh. Reached Ganga resort within an hour. Checked in comfortably. Freshened up. 
  • Left around 5ish to Paramarth Niketan for Gangaji Aarti. Have seen this before and it is one of the best in Rishikesh (second being at Triveni Ghat). 
Paramarth Niketan seen from the ferry
Ganga-ji in all her glory
Lakshman Jhoola beautifully lit up
  • Dinner was at Chotiwala – right next door. Have eaten here. Lots of hype. The food is normal, but clean/consistent. 
  • Night stay at Ganga Resort, Rishikesh.

Day 2 (Sunday):

  • Prem-ji had made it very clear. 12 hours to Badrinath from Rishikesh. So if we start at 430AM, we reach at 430PM. The later we leave, the later we reach Badrinath, and it would suck if we reach late. 
  • We left at 430AM 🙂
  • Brilliant views of the Garhwal Himalayas from the get go. And horrible roads from the beginning as well. 
And it dawns over the Himalayas.
Most of the road is like this. :-0

Dev Prayag – The first of the 5 Prayags that we would encounter on the way and back. Prayag means the confluence of 2 or more rivers. The Ganga river system gets built in these 5 Prayags. At Dev Prayag, The Alaknanda and Bhagirathi join to form what is formally known as Ganga, henceforth. 

Click to see larger size. You can see the steps to bathe in the Prayag.
  • Lunch was had at Srinagar – a sleepy hamlet past Dev Prayag. Brilliant parathas (or perhaps we were just super hungry). 
Super good food at Srinagar.

As we trudge uphill, the Alaknanda is still a fairly large river, meandering, cutting across the Garhwal Himalayas. As you will see in the full post below, the Alaknanda will follow us for most of the journey uphill.

Alaknanda – somewhere between Srinagar and Rudraprayag
  • We skipped Rudraprayag darshan on the way to Badrinath, because that part of the road is a one-way. Prem-ji promised us that we will get a good darshan on the way back. 
  • Next Prayag up was Karnaprayag – where the Pindari Ganga (from the Pindari Glacier) merges with the Alaknanda
Karna Prayag – Pindari Ganga merges with the Alaknanda
  • Next Prayag was Nand Prayag ,where the Nandakini merges with the Alaknanda. Not that great a viewpoint, but you can see the two different rivers merging. 
Nand Prayag – Nandakini merges with the Alaknanda
  • You can spot Chamoli and Bageshwar on the way. These are district headquarters. You can recognize these names from the time when there was the massive flash floods in 2012 – the one which affected Kedarnath. 
Chamoli and Bageshwar
  • Lunch at Pipalkoti. Decent place. Nothing fancy. Stick to Dal and Roti. Do not go fancy in any of these places.
  • Note: If you are from the South and are used to well cooked mashed rice, do not order rice items. Rice is usually cooked very rare here. Almost undercooked. My son had a bit of a minor stomach upset because of this. 
  • The Alaknanda looks reduced in size hereabouts, but you can see the force and the rapids. 
Rapids on Alaknanda
  • As we rise higher and higher, the mountain views are spectacular. 
Beautiful mountainscapes – nearing Joshimath.
  • Next major stop – Joshimath. This is one of the Sankara Maths that Adi Sankaracharya established (in fact, the first one). We visited the Narasimha temple here. This is one of the 108 Divya Desams as sung by ThirumangaiAlwar (where it is refered to as Tiruppirudi). 
Narasimha temple – Joshimath
  • And the highest of the 5 Prayags – Vishnu Prayag – where the Dhauli Ganga merges with the Alaknanda.
VishnuPrayag – Dhauli Ganga merges with the Alaknanda
  • And as we near Badrinath, we start seeing the first snow peaks. 
First snow peaks as we near Badrinath
  • We reached bang on time at 430PM. New found respect for Prem-ji for his estimation skills. But then 21 years – what can you expect. Checked in to Devlok. And then had a darshan of Badri Narayan-ji. 
  • October is almost the end of the season for Badrinath. The temple closes for winter by Diwali (November first week). There was barely any crowd in the temple. 
  • But then, it was cold. Verrryy cold. It was sub-10 degrees celsius in the evening. Dipped down to -3 deg celsius in the night and early morning. Be very prepared with warm clothes. Gloves. Caps. At least two layers of sweaters. 
  • Dinner was at Devlok. Basic roti + dal stuff.

Day 3 (Monday):  After an eventful Day 2, and a great darshan of Badri Vishal, Day 3 was the trudge back to Rishikesh. 

  • Had toast and tea at Devlok – which is the only thing that was available at 730AM. Yep. The same 12 hour rule applies for the return journey too. But then, you are closer to home (Rishikesh) and descended most of the mountains by the time the sun sets.
  • On the way back, we stopped by the Shankar Mutt at Joshimath. There is a cave temple where Thotakacharya (first disciple of Adi Sankara) had meditated. There is also the Spatika Linga that Adi Sankara had installed for the Mutt. Very calm and serene place. 
Shankara Mutt – Joshimath
  • Lunch again was at Pipalkoti. 
  • Prem-ji stopped at various places on the way for quick snacks (samosa etc) and tea.  
  • As promised, Rudraprayag darshan was had on the way back. This is where the river Mandakini merges with Alaknanda. 
Rudra Prayag – Mandakini merges with Alaknanda
  • Night stay at Rishilok, Rishikesh.

Day 4 (Tuesday): We had done Hardwar Rishikesh a couple of times before (when I used to live in Noida long ago). So, this time, we decided to explore Dehradun and surrounding places. We were in for a treat. 

  • Sahasradhara – Sulphur springs (not hot). A small cable car ride and a park for kids. We went up for the view. Cross the small river, and there is a cave with a Shiva Linga, where Dronacharya is supposed to have meditated. Nothing spectacular – except for the Drona cave.
Sahasradhara – near Dehradun.
  • Lunch was at Anandam. Pure veg restaurant. Chats and combo meals were awesome. 
  • Tapkeswar Mahadev temple – this was a golden find. Beautiful Shiva temple. Couple of cave temples too. One of these caves is where Aswathama (Drona’s son) was supposed to have been born. The small Tamasa river flows by serenely. We took a nice break here. Dipped our feet in the river and just enjoyed the beauty. 
Tapkeswar Mandir – Tamasa River
  • Last stop in the Dehradun sight seeing was the Mindrolling Buddhist Monastery. Another golden find. Wow. Brilliant. If you did not tell anyone, folks might be led to believe you went to Thailand or somewhere in SE Asia. 🙂
Mindrolling Buddhist Monastery
Stupa at the Mindrolling Monastery
Prayer wheel at the Mindrolling Monastery
  • Headed back to Rishikesh by around 7ish. Did a quick trip to the Triveni Ghat for one last Ganga-ji darshan. The great river flowing swiftly into the night is something that needs to be experienced.
  • Then on to Rishilok, Rishikesh, in time for dinner / Night stay.

Day 5:

  • Flight was at 7AM. So rise up early morning. Pack up and head to the Dehradun airport. Bid Good bye to Prem-ji. Settle payment. It is amazing how he operates completely out of trust. No advance payments. I had paid a couple of times for Diesel during the trip, and he reduced that amount, collected the balance amount and done.
  • Brief transit at Delhi airport – where we had some food. And then back to Bangalore in the 1PM flight. 
  • Reached Bangalore by 4ish. End of a brilliant trip. 

History/Context for trip: My mother has been wanting to go to Badrinath for quite a long while. Both my father and mother had (and still have) heart ailments and had been advised not to do any sort of trekking or high altitude gimmickry. Badrinath is the only one of the four Char Dham shrines, which does not require you to do any trekking/walking. You can drive all the way up to Badrinath.

We decided to do it as comfortably as feasible ~ given that the parents are in the later part of their sixties. I tweet stormed most of what is there above, but blogging it here for posterity and for a one-stop-notes place. 

Wayanad-Kozhikode roadtrip – May 2017

Started off early at 6:15AM on a Thursday morning. Route plan was Bangalore – Nice Road – Mysore Road – Ramanagara. Breakfast at Kamat Lokaruchi. Took roughly an hour (usual time) to get there.

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The route from Ramanagar is – Mysore Bypass – Nanjangud – Gundlpet. At Gundlpet, you fork off towards Wayanad/Sultan Battery (the other road goes towards Ooty). After a few miles from Gundlpet, you get into forest territory. Awesome road and scenery all around.

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Super roads all the way. Took another half hour to get Windflower Resorts. Reached around 1:30PM – right in time for lunch.

If you went all the way to Vythiri town, you went too far. There is a town just before it called Chandel Junction. At Chandel, look out for Canara Bank and SBI ATM on the left, and a road that goes down hill right opposite it. The corner is also an auto stand. Easy to miss. You go down the road, or what is called a road for 3.5km. Horrible horrible driveway. Apparently they have not repaired the road because it is under some court stay order.

The resort is just fantastic. Isolated. But beautiful. We had booked a villa with a private jacuzzi. Totally enjoyed the room and the resort. Some pictures of the resort below.

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We went to Pookode lake one of the days, and totally not worth it. Super crowded small (compared to Ooty/Yercaud) lake. There is also a view point on the Kozhikode road that is pretty darned good. But we had to run off quickly. Too many rowdy monkeys demanding stuff from the tourists.

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There is one other place near by, called Banasura Dam. It is the second largest earthen dam in Asia (largest in India). You can do a speed boat ride (super awesome – my son loved it!) and just get some awesome views of the dam and the Kabini river.

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We stayed there Thursday and Friday. We were planning to leave Saturday back to Bangalore. But we realized that Kozhikode was just 2 hours away. And the beach beckoned. So we made a flash decision. Was able to snag a room in a beach resort in Kappad beach, which is 20 km from Kozhikode. The resort (Renai Kappad Beach resort) is separated from the beach by just a small road. We did Banasura on Saturday morning, on the way to Kozhikode. Reached Koppad beach by lunch time.

Evening was spent on the beach. Super time was had.

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Back to Bangalore on Sunday morning. Had breakfast in Kozhikode. It is a long ride back to Bangalore. Almost 10 hours including breaks. Lunch was at Gundlpet. There are a couple of decent restaurants just outside of the town. Reached home around 6PM.

 

Affiliate Programs in Travel

img src: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1133475

This idea just came fleetingly to me today morning. Large ecommerce companies like Amazon and Flipkart have affiliate programs. You become an affiliate, and the platform lets you create a special URL to advertise products on their platform. You make a sale, and based on the product, and current ‘schemes’, you earn a % of the revenue. This is almost like a micro-store-front.

Large OTAs such as goibibo and yatra have b2b platforms, which they open up to travel agents. They also have APIs which third party platforms can consume and create their own booking interfaces. But these are complicated interfaces. Only a serious large player can invest in these. For instance, in the case of goibibo b2b interface, the travel agent would need to create a “wallet” like interface within goibibo, deposit a certain large amount (depends on the client – but mostly a few lakhs to begin with). Transactions that happen through the travel agent interface (or API) would consume money from the wallet (after deducting the % commission due to the travel agent).

The other class of “agent consumers” are of course, the travel agents who pose as individuals (create regular goibibo accounts) and book through these accounts. These are smaller operators, and tend to do all kinds of circus tricks such as referring their own accounts, playing with the go-cash between the accounts etc. And the OTAs hate these guys. Incentives are given, assuming, these are individual accounts, but they are not.

My question is – why haven’t the OTAs yet brought in the affiliate model for selling flight tickets and hotel rooms yet? This would have two major advantages:

  1. Bring in the above latter set of small scale travel agents to formalize on their transactions. Since they are not a separate class of consumers (affiliate partners), incentives to these guys can be controlled and distinguished from the other individual consumers.
  2. Bring in a whole new set of consumers, multiple thousand micro-store-fronts, who are not really booking tickets, but proliferating links to your deals with their affiliate codes on them, so that they can earn their commission.

The OTAs keep talking about how the online travel agent market has just touched the tip of the iceberg, and how there is a significant majority of our populace who have not even been exposed. This might be one of the ways, by which the net can be widened.

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.

December trip to Chikmagalur

Well, it has been a long time since I blogged (super busy at work is the excuse this time), and what better than a travelogue to pump up things around here. 

Technically, the destination is not Chikmagalur per se, it is a coffee estate resort called “The Eagle Eye Holiday Home” about 42 km from Chikmagalur town, on the Malandur Road (for those in the know of all things Western Ghats!).

  • Friday evening – Left Bangalore at 3:05PM – had to pick up the kiddo from school.
  • Route from Koramangala:
    • Koramangala -> Madiwala (through whatever short cut that pleases you)
    • Madiwala -> Hosur Road (you will get hosed in traffic whatever you do)
    • Exit on to NICE road (It was 4PM by now)
    • Surprised (in a bad way) to see so much traffic on NICE road. Had never seen so much traffic on this road before. Trucker traffic mostly.
    • Head past Bannerghatta Road, Kanakapura Road, Mysore Road, Magadi Road and exit out of Tumkur Road
    • Pay Rs.20 toll for a road that does not feel like a toll road
    • Left at Nelamangala towards Hassan (It was 5PM by now)
    • Nelamangala to Hassan is a fantastic road. (Read: you can touch 130kmph at multiple points) – four lane highway with divider
    • Hassan to Chikmagalur is a two lane highway with no divider
    • In winter, when it got dark very quickly, our speed kicked several notches lower past Hassan.
    • Was 8PM by the time we reached Chikmagalur
  • Checked in to Planters Court in Chikmagalur
    • This is a simple medium cost hotel if you just want to plonk for the night, which was what we did.
  • Left early in the morning (7AM) and started driving towards Eagle Eye Resorts
    • The road from Chikmagalur to Eagle Eye is just awesome.
    • Highly advisable not to do in the night though. Absolutely no markers, or sign boards anywhere. It is just coffee plantations everywhere and nothing else.
    • It takes a good 1 hour 20 minutes to reach.
    • The last 1.5-2km is a mud-road that leads into the estate.
  • The resort itself:
    • Beautiful place in the middle of a coffee estate
    • Apparently started off as a homestay, but now gradually moving to a full scale resort
    • The place is permanently full. So book in advance.
    • There are a few types of rooms
      • We stayed in a villa – which is just a plain large bedroom with an equally large bathroom, and a fantastic sit-out with a view.
      • There are waterfall villas, with a simulated water fall inside the room, which is turned on for a few hours a day
      • There are glass house with pool rooms. These have a large glass facade wall with a view from the beds, and a small pool in the sit-out
      • There are other types of small cottages as well.
    • There are no TVs in the rooms, nor is there room service.
      • The manager lady explained to me that this was very intentional, because, as an eco resort, they want their guests to experience the outdoors. If there is a TV or room service, people rarely get out of their room.
      • The dining area is a fair distance apart from each of the rooms. Beautiful view from the dining area too.
      • Simple buffer breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The tariff is all inclusive.
    • The resort arranges a nice 3km (round trip) trek to a peak inside the estate. It is a moderately intensive trek, but the there of us (including my 7 y/o) was able to do it.
    • The Bhadra National Game Reserve is about 21km away (about 45 minutes drive). We drove down there. The park rangers take you on a park safari. We saw some small game (peacocks, wild boar, langoors, stag, and spotted deer).
    • About 10km away from the resort is a small temple (Markandeya temple) on the banks of the River Bhadra. Very scenic spot.
  • Overall the resort is so serene and full of outdoor activities, that the 2.5 days that we spent over there, flew by at a perfectly acceptable pace. It was neither too fast, nor too slow. One of those holidays that you walk away from, thinking that it was very well spent.
  • If you are one of those, who corrupt your coffee with chicory, then you can buy some powder in the resort itself, but if you are like me, who likes their coffee “pure”, skip it.
  • We drove down to Chikmagalur on Monday morning, right after breakfast. Stop by Panduranga Coffee Works on MG Road in Chikmagalur, if you want some awesome coffee. I bought some roasted beans for our coffee machine at office, and some powder for home. Pure Arabica. Hmmmm.
  • Came back at a good clip back to Bangalore. Chikmagalur to Nelamangala (about 4 hours). Stopped for lunch at Kamat at Chennarayapatna (abbreviated as C.R.Patna everywhere). There is also an A2b right opposite, if that is your taste – but you would need to do a long round about and a U turn if you want to get there).
  • And *sigh*, of course, got stuck in traffic on Hosur Road. Spent almost an hour and a half on that same road.

 

 

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

Sringeri July 2015

 

  • Weekend trip
  • Onward: Talaguppa express (16227) from Majestic (SBC) – Pf 9 – AC coaches get added at Bangalore – in the front – next to engine. Reaches Shimoga town (SMET) at around 4:50AM.
  • We had booked a taxi from Sringeri – You can call Sudhakar at +91 94487 23382 if you want to book. Good guy. Understands Kannada and Tamil (potentially English and Hindi too, I did not try). Cost (at the time of this writing) is Rs.2250 for pick-up.
  • For staying at Mutt rooms, check in main reception (the driver will take you there).
  • Lunch and dinner were had at the Mutt. For breakfast and evening tiffin, we frequented Hotel Maruti. This has been there for the last 20 years (second generation family that I am seeing that is running it). Restricted menu items, but guaranteed not to affect your stomach.
  • We did a Hornadu visit from Sringeri and back. Takes 2 hours to get there and 2 hours back. And about an hour for darshan. We took the same cab. Rs.2250 (almost same distance).
  • Return was also using the same cab (Rs. 2250). Though the train is at 10:30PM, we were advised to leave around 6PM so that we can come to Shimoga around 8PM. Dinner places are open (and relatively less crowded at this time). We had dinner at the Mathura Paradise. Decent vegetarian North Indian food.
  • Return train is Talaguppa-Bangalore express (16228). Comes in at Pf 2. Comes in mostly bang on time. AC coaches come coupled. Train stops only for about 5 minutes.
  • Arrives in Bangalore at an unearthly hour at 4:25AM (apparently some times even earlier).

 

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. 🙂