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A Few Good Things

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." – Ibn Battuta

A Few Good Things

Tag: VAK

500,000 Views – Launching the new Website for “A Few Good Things”

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” – Dalai Lama
 
I do it a lot more than once a year. If the travel bug bites you there is no antidote.

My blog is a live example of the power of compounding. When I started in 2010 after attending a training on Digital Marketing it was an exploration. Which rapidly grew to a passion to share a lot of good things. It took nearly 5 years to get to a 100,000 hits and less than 3 years to get to 500,000 hits. And thats when I said its time to upgrade the Blog to a Website.

The website A Few Good Things –  has a clean , simple layout that is based on the Golden Rule of 3

  • All the 170 Blogs are distributed under 3 heads – Travel, Spirituality and Daily Life.
  • The Travel section is further trifurcated to Day Trips, Short Breaks and Longer Breaks.
  • There is an excellent search engine that can help you navigate with ease

This started as a travel blog. I love to travel and document it in detail so that fellow travellers can plan their trips easily.  I hunt for offbeat locations and resorts and help market them through my Blogs that have a viewership of ~ 500 a day.

Over time I have added other interesting entries on Spirituality and Daily Life (Corporate, Personal Finance, Fitness etc). All these are based on my real life experience.

Some of my Blogs feature high on Google search – for Eg if you search for “What is Rudram”  my blog may well be in the top 3 . Tirupathi Travel Tips, Baevu Village, day trips in Bangalore  are also some of the blogs that come in the top 10 in Google Search. Blogs on Valley of Flowers, Soulitude in the Himalayas, Badami – Pattadakal , Tiruchi in 3 days, Vipassana Experience  –  record a high viewership daily benefiting many. The PIO to OCI writeup has helped thousands in Bangalore to visit the FRRO office and get the necessary paperwork done. A Few Good Places which is an exhaustive list of all the places we have been to and those that are in my list – is used extensively before the holidays.

Many resorts have thanked me  – as they have seen a steep jump in bookings rating their property as a must visit – with all the details on how to reach and spend your time there.

The journey continues and I seek your support to continue the compounding effect – help take the 500,000 to 1 Mn and beyond. Do sign up as a follower and please do share the blogs that you found useful with your friends and relatives.

A big thanks to all my well wishers, followers and travel partners and lets pray that a Few Good Things continue to roll out regularly.

 

 

Shhhhh ! Quiet please Parents

We are very fortunate to have an excellent Bharatnatyam teacher in our complex, Mantri Classic. Amrita is a dedicated, passionate teacher. She conducts classes literally gratis and we would not hesitate to pay her 10 times her fees for the value she delivers. Its rare to find someone like her in todays commercial world. She and her friend Neeta had put together a wonderful dance show by the kids (all costs & effort incurred by them) recently.

This is a letter written to the parents who attended the show from the kids who participated.

Dear Parents,

We are disappointed. We put in so much effort, practiced for months , our teachers put in so much effort, time, money for making this event happen –  Do you know that it took us over 3 hours to get dressed for this show ?  and you folks couldn’t sit quietly for 90 minutes !

Normally its you telling us – Stay Quiet ! What happened today – the roles reversed, we felt like coming up on stage and saying – Parents, please be seated and stay quiet till this program is over !

Most of you seem to be bothered only about your children –  when they are on stage you come to the front row and keep clicking snaps and once your daughters show is over you keep walking & talking all over the place . Not Done folks !

Kids as small as 6 years were performing – most of them for the 1st time on stage – this is an art form that requires so much of practise to perfect – we  hoped you would encourage not just your children but everyone who performed. But sadly you disappointed us

You could have at least maintained some discipline when Kittu Sir (Professor Krishnamurthy – our Teachers Teacher) came on stage to talk a few golden words. But that was the time when there was total commotion – guys some respect for a 76 year old man who has spent his entire life for the cause of Bharatnatyam !

And when the show was getting over not one of you came on stage to thank our teachers – look at the Salsa & Kathak teachers who come to our building – they charge Rs 5,000 from every student whenever there is a public performance – they make a profit out of it – our teachers spent time & money and none of you came and even offered a word of thanks to them on stage ! Thats the least you could have done ( or were you busy pushing your  children’s photos on Facebook)

Guys we are very disappointed – you teach us to be disciplined, respect elders , maintain quiet in public places – and here you were walking around , eating Pizza , talking loudly – shouldn’t you practise what you preach ? What standards are you setting by behaving like this.

I just hope that when we have our next program things are different. Please do not disappoint us.

Thanking you

All the Children who Participated in the show

My daughter – Anvitaa 

Invasion of Chota Bheem

Fortunately we have two TV’s at home. This Sunday one was booked by my wife & elder daughter watching a cookery program on TLC followed by a song & dance show. On the other one I was shifting channels between NDTV, CNN IBN, Times Now & KTV – trying to avoid the Ads when my little one (all of 5 years old) put her foot down and said it was Chota Bheem time.

I observed her quietly as she transported herself to Dhaulakpur and the land of Chota Bheem, Chutki, Jaggu & Kalia. For a kid whose attention span is less than 2 minutes – it was amazing to see how this TV serial on Pogo captured her attention for a good 30 min ( that too for a episode which she claimed she has watched many times).

The world of cartoons and comics have changed very fast.  From the time we were kids in the 70’s to when my elder one was an avid cartoon fan (6 years back) to now, its amazing.

We grew up when there was no TV and when it did come with Asiad and DD we were too old for cartoons. So our childhood was full of comics. The masked Phantom from Denkali with Goran and his band of Pygmies in an island surrounded by piranha infested waters was one of the most popular reads. The cave brimming with treasures and adventure after adventure used to keep us captivated in the simple easy to read Indrajal comics.

Then there was Dennis the Menace the innocent little naughty boy and his neighbor uncle Williams.

And of course as we grew older there was Asterix &  Tintin. The only Indian masala was from Amar Chitra Katha and Chandamama – which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Every year during summer vacations our club used to have at least 1 show of Laurel & Hardy  and Charlie Chaplin. The antics of Olly & Stan would make us burst with laughter till our sides ached.

As TV became more prevalent thanks to DD we  got to see Lucy , some Tom & Jerry and a few more english comedies – and of course who can forget captain Spock & Star Wars.

On the books front we were slowly graduating from Enid Blyton , (3 Golliwogs, Noddy, Mr Meddle, Five Find Outers, Malory Towers, St Claires….) , to Alfred Hitchcock ( 3 Investigators), Hardy Boys , Nancy Drew , Archie, JT Edson , Louis L’Amour, Sudden, Agatha Christie , Alistair McLean, Desmond Bagley, Jeffrey Archer and finally graduated to Judith Krantz & Harold Robbins.

As Kids we used to trade comics & books. 1 Tintin = 5 Chandamama’s, 1 Hardy Boy = 3 Archies etc. So we learnt the art of value & positioning very early. New books fresh out of print used to have higher trade value and the day  these books landed at the local library there used to be a big Q to grab them (with some getting thrown out of the window to a friend standing below)

Things changed 10 years back. My elder daughter tastes were very different. Yes Tom & Jerry survived and was still the favorite. But there were new entrants.

Equally famous were the Power Puff Girls and cute little Dora (These were the birthday party themes for many years) and the wise & mature Arthur.

In less than 6 years things have changed. Japanese Doraemon & Chota Bheem hold total sway over the kids today.

And I ask myself – What captivates Chota Bheem to the kids ? He is a rural hero – has a band of followers – is simple and straightforward – its always good Vs evil – the Laddu is his magic potent – the formula works. He has universal appeal  in big cities, small towns and villages. . The simple innocent kids love it. Finally  we have an Indian cartoon that has overthrown Disney – and that is no mean  achievement.

I don’t know who is the creator of Chota Bheem – but  the people behind this deserve a big pat on the back. The brand is growing – you now have Chota Bheem Bags , T Shirts, Mugs , and I hear even branded Laddu’s are expected to come out shortly. The movie was a big hit and with the right investments we could even have a Chota Bheem theme park with his entire gang. That would be our own version of Disneyland. A theme park  set in a lovely village called Dhaulakpur.

As I watch Chota Bheem with my daughter I realize that it is indeed entertaining and a pleasant change from corrupt politicians shouting each other down in a TV debate or the loud & garish dance & song sequence that seems to pop up in every other channel.

I have a new choice. The virality has begun and Chota Bheem has one more member in his fan club.

A tale of two cities ……

I am back from a trip to Kolkata. A trip I made after nearly 2 years. Traveling to Cal (I still prefer calling it that way) is always a welcome change. A tamilian born in Durgapur I have fond memories of this part of the country. As I landed at the Netaji airport – I could sense the similarities with Chennai airport. Both the airports are run by AAI (Both suck and are the amongst the most inefficient in the country). Therein starts this exercise and as I was spending a day in Cal – I could not stop myself from spotting the numerous similarities and some differences between these two lovely cities.

Travel to Kolkata

Lets get started – Cal & Chennai are the only two metro cities which are still loyal to the grand old Ambassador Taxis . Mumbai is still stuck with its Premier Padmini but every other city has moved on to the Fords, Renaults, Maruti …..

Victoria Memorial Kolkata

Both Cities have a long history. Being major ports they have been key bases for the British & the Dutch. Remnants are still visible in numerous buildings spotting the city. Cal having been the capital of the British beats Chennai hollow on this count – in terms of numbers, size, magnificence….  Yes the Ripon building is impressive but is no comparison for the Victoria.

Chennai Central Railway Station

Chennai Central is an impressive structure, although smaller than Howrah Station –  both have their similiarities with their striking design and bright red color.

Howrah railway station

The Howrah Bridge is an icon of Kolkata and a marvel of engineering (Talking of the Howrah bridge do you know how many nuts & bolts were used to make it – that’s a common quiz question, check out Google). Add to this the second bridge over the Hooghly.

Howrah bridge in kolkata

The Cooum and Adyar bridge is all that Chennai has – while the Cooum is a disgrace the Adyar bridge is just a small bridge over a river that flows for maybe a few months in a year). But Chennai has the Marina Beach. (Some say this is the longest & widest  beach in the whole world. It is nature’s gift to Chennai but sadly not well maintained)

Cooum and Adyar bridge Moving on to education. Both have a culture where education is valued, kids are studious, and they have some of the best schools & colleges the country can boast off.  Many are Jesuit institutions over 100 years old – St Xavier’s, La Martinere, Scottish Church, Don Bosco in Cal and Loyola, Stella Maries, Christians College in Chennai. The BE college at Shibpur and the College of Engineering at Guindy are amongst the oldest in the country. Presidency is a veritable institution and many still prefer Jadavpur to IIT KGB. Chennai boasts of an IIT and Calcutta of an IIM.

Xaviers Kolkata

There was a time when the majority of IIT seats were bagged from Madras & Cal (That has now changed and Hyderabad holds claim to that title now). The highest % of students who crack CA are from the Cal & Chennai CA Institutes. In the 1960’s majority of IAS officers came from these two cities. (That was before reservations, now UP & Bihar hold claim to that record!!) Both cities also contribute significantly to the brain drain – and now for H1B Visas.

Bharatnatyam

Both cities are rich in culture & art.  Chennai the heart of Carnatic music & Bharatnatyam, while Cal is famous for Rabindra Sangeet, Jatra, Baul & Satyajit Ray. Getting seats to the Music Academy or for a program at Rabindra Sadan is equally difficult.

Kanjeewaram silks

While the Kanjeevaram silk rustles in finery and bright colours  the Bengal handloom holds sway with its elegance and class.

Bengal handloom

The Chennai “Mami” & Calcutta “Boudi” hold sway as they majestically stride down T Nagar or Bou Bazar shopping for the finest of gold ornaments. (Both cities love to buy gold and are a key reason for the astronomical increase in gold prices in India.)

Gold in Chennai

The spicy “Jhal Mudi” and “Puchka” beckons at every corner while the “Sundal” (Boiled Chana) at Marina  bags a distant third place. Luchi – Allor Dam , Mochar Chop , Baingan Bhaja and the tasty Hilsa , Rui & Katla ( I am veg – just heard , smelt and seen them)  compare well with the  Ghee Roast, Avial , Sambar of Chennai.

Luchi in Chennai

Both are predominantly rice eaters (Some say that rice adds to the intellectual capacity and wheat to the brawn power – probably that’s the reason most of the folks in the Indian Army are from north of the Narmada and the intellectuals from TN & Bengal)

Rasagolla sweets

The Rosogolla reigns supreme in the land of sweets while the Mysore Pak and Jangri entices you in Chennai. (While I love all sweets – Bengali sweets made of “Chana” are better for health since they  are not fried)

Best hotel in South India

My only grouse in Cal is the difficulty in finding a neat & clean restaurant chain where I can dig into Bengali delicacies. (I always end up at Aheli – but that’s fine dining and pretty expensive). Chennai has Saravana Bhawan at every main street serving delicious treats that are tasty & consistent. When I asked the cab driver to take me to a good sweet shop he took me to Haldirams !!

Business in Cal has been taken over by the Marwari’s (Other than Peerless – every large business is run by Marwari’s – Birla, Abuja’s, Khaitans, even the Lovely Brand underwear are made by enterprising Marwari’s). Sowcarpet in Chennai has its share of Marwari’s & Guajarati’s but the Chettiars control the pulse of business in Chennai.

Jayalalitha Iron lady

Madam Jayalalitha runs the show , while here its Mamata Di. Both are mercurial and have a tendency to be dictatorial. Both have ideologies that they are ready to dump and freely switch between UPA & NDA as per their convenience.

Morning coffee

Chennai wakes up at sunrise to Suprabhatam, temple bells and fresh hot filter coffee. Cal wakes up a little later to “Allah O Akbar” ( in many parts) and  the aroma of Darjeeling tea. (Never figured out why Cal has a Coffee House in College Street and not a Tea House).

Both cities have their share of minorities – 20% Muslims in Cal & 20% Christians in Chennai. But thank God they live in harmony and peace.

The intellectuals at Calcutta love their “ Adda” over a cup of hot chai (In earlier times in a mud pot)  with a spicy & tasty “Singhara” (Samosa) and many of the worlds problems are solved in these neighborhood “Addas”.

Darjeeling is an overnight journey from Cal and so is Ooty from Chennai. Two of the finest hill stations in the country, which are sadly well past their prime. Both are similiar in height at 7000 feet.

Both have local trains that keep zipping thru the city from morn to night.  Cal got its metro many decades back, Chennai is working on getting it soon. The Trams in Calcutta are iconic. Chennai is a major auto hub; Cal was also nearly an auto hub, till Didi got into her act in Singur.

Local trains in India

Chennai expands to OMR with high-rise building and world-class amenities; Cal is fast expanding to Rajarghat (which when fully done one day will look like New Calcutta, its already called New Town).

The Iyer Brahmin in Chennai is pure veg , the Brahmin in Cal eats Fish & Chicken & Mutton. The DMK preaches to be an atheist, so do the Communists. DMK Patriarch Karunanidhi’s son is named Stalin and the doctrine of the original Stalin runs deep in some of the venerable institutes of Cal. But Religion runs deep in both cities. Chennai probably has the highest number of temples in a metro while Cal celebrates Durga Puja, Kali Puja, and many others … with pomp & joy

Special on Durga Pooja

The prince of Behala is waiting to be  a kingmaker (Hopefully when Jagmohan uncle comes back as the BCCI President) while Chennai adopts Dhoni , Kolkatta has adopted Gambhir.

The “Kalkatta Pan” is world famous while Chennai has its “Madras Eye” (Red Eye infection).

President Venkatraman one of the finest the country has seen  came from Madras and now Pranabda from Calcutta will probably match him.

The Statesman founded in 1875 and The Hindu founded in 1878 were the leading news papers from Cal & Chennai – both are a class apart with great editorial and error free english.

I could go on and on – but then I am going to lose my reader. So Lets stop.

Whenever I travel to Chennai or Cal I come back with a feeling of “ when is my next trip”. I remember the title song of a Bengali serial we used to watch in DD many years back in Durgapur when we were kids  “ Aajob Shahar, Premer Shahor, Bichitra Nagar, Ei Kolkata” however when I travel to Mumbai or Delhi its always “ when can I get out of this city” .

Which leaves me wondering – when we have two cities with so much of culture, tradition, intelligentsia… whys is Delhi the political capital & crumbling Mumbai the financial capital. Is there hope, will we see a change in fortune and will Cal & Chennai come back soon as the top 2 cities of this country and the world at large ?

Please do share your thoughts.

Losing Weight when you are 40+ : Part 2

A quick summary of what we  discussed in Part – 1 of the blog.  1. Set Goals  2. Join a good Gym 3. Get a good Trainer 4. Try a variety of activities  (Not just running on treadmill) 5. Be Regular – 6 days a week 7. Be patient and finally 8. The Importance of Diet – and how it could contribute as much as 50% in your weight loss program. Given the importance of the last point this section is dedicated to diet and finally  a few  importantly things that you need to be careful about.

The Stomach is like a balloon. The more you eat the more it bloats up. With festivals like Onam round the corner – take care , your body does not need even a fraction of this sumptuous spread from a nutrition point.

Losing weight

Thanks to our eating habits, lifestyle and maybe our genes the Indian mans  belly  (and women’s butt)  are world beaters. You just have to walk into a water park to see the amazing shapes and sizes – they are all big, bigger, massive chunks of flesh. With so many important organs and miles of intestine inside your abdominal cavity – spare a thought before you dump it with food like in a  dustbin.

Reduce belly

The body just needs food that is equal to both your palms put together. So the importance when it comes to diet is Quantity & Quality. Less Quantity and the right Quality.

Step 1 : Have light meals at regular intervals. A good breakfast (Body digests faster in the morning) , a mid day snack (An Apple, a few nuts , some sprouts etc ) + Green Tea , a very light lunch (Subway sandwich OR 2 Rotis + Subji + Dal, OR  a small serving of Pasta ), Green Tea + a light snack 2 hrs before workout, something high in protein after a busy workout ( 2 – 3 egg whites) and  a very light dinner (Soup + Salad + Upma etc) two hours before sleep.

Most of us do the exact opposite – we hardly have time for breakfast as we rush to office and we have a very heavy dinner with dessert late at night when the body metabolic activities are the lowest.

Step 2 : Take help from a dietician for a few months. 

You need to customize a diet from the food that you regularly eat every day. Following a crash diet , protein shake diet or only fruit diet is not sustainable. Every indian food can be eaten in moderation at the right time. The word moderation is key – Green Tea is good – but 6 cups a day is not. Nuts are good – but again mix it in variety in limited quantities. The body needs a large variety of carbohydrates , proteins , minerals etc – which can only come from a wide variety of food.  Sadly the way food is grown , transported, cooked and stored  today – it loses most of its nutrition and you have no choice but to take some nutritional supplements (Especially when you are a vegetarian,  its true that horses & elephants are vegetarians – but they eat in enormous quantity fresh food from the jungles packed with nutrients). Its good to be a vegetarian (humans were meant to be ) but in todays world you need help with supplements –  thats the reason  you need the services of a dietician who can customise a schedule for you.

Dietery Supplement

I would suggest the following – 1 Becosule , 1 Neurobin , 1 Cal Mag D daily and a sachet of granules to supplement Vitamin D every Sunday. (but again check with a doctor or your dietician, also be careful that the supplements do not come from any Baba’s ashram – they may be laced with steroids). You need 80 grams of protein every day – our normal diet does not have that, if you are doing regular exercises,  all that I talked about in Part – 1 ,  you need to have have 4 – 6 egg whites every day. (1 Egg White has 4 grams of protein) . The muscles need the protein.

Cut your Carbs. I have cut my rice intake by 80 %. When I eat rice its red rice. And the vegetables are boiled with less oil.

Diet foods

Best diet foods

Step 3 : Fill yourself with fresh food 

Salads & fruits. Most people think that salads are just cucumber, carrots & tomatoes. But there is a lot more than that ( Your next birthday or Anniversary gift to your wife could be a great Salad Book) .

Fresh vegetable salads

Try some partially cooked salads – they taste great and help create a variety. Some salad  ideas – Sprout Salad, Banana Flower Salad , Betroot salad, Pumpkin Salad (White & Golden)

veg foods for diet

And eat a lot of  fruits. Here again be careful of the fleshy fruits which help you gain weight. Mangoes, Chickoos, Bananas are Ok immediately before or after a workout  but a lot of  Apple, Pomegranate , Papaya , Guava, All the colored fruits (Berries, Plums ) , Pineapple etc. at breakfast and for short snacks are highly recommended.

Step 4 : Drink lots of water 

You can start and your day with a glass of lukewarm warm water with 1/2 a lemon . Keep drinking through the day , at least 8 – 10 glasses . (Avoid fruit juices as they have only sugar and are less on fibre & nutrients and definitely stay away from carbonated drinks). Even when you are gymming keep drinking water preferable with some lemon squeezed in it. Initially when you cut your food quantity you will feel hungry – fill your stomach with water after a light meal. There are myths associated with drinking water when eating food – but they continue to be myths.

Step 5 : Nuts & Seeds are healthy 

Again take in moderation because many of them can be very fatty. Avoid roasted nuts with salt.

Diet chart

Step 6 : Sweets & Oily food. 

Lets face it we are not Yogis & cannot stay without eating Puri, Aloo Parathas, Sweets …. Don’t ban them from your diet. Restrict their frequency to once a month or once a fortnight. Always try and eat such food items in the morning rather than at night. Eat them at home rather than outside – the oil at home is healthier. Talking of oil stick to Olive Oil.

Step 7 : Some More Important Points 

Must Do 

1. Substitute white bread with whole wheat  Bread and Maida with Whole Wheat flour.

2. Switch to skimmed milk.

3. Minimal Oil, Butter, Cheese usage.

4. Reduce Sugar consumption to 2-3 teaspoon a day.

5. Have maximum of 2-3 cups of Coffee or Tea a day ( Never start your day with Coffee or Tea on an empty stomach)

6. Restrict vegetables like Aloo(Potato) , Carrots and Matar (Peas).

7. For non-vegetarians-opt for chicken breast, fish and egg whites.Red meat, Organ meats ( liver, brain, kidney) should  be  restricted. Go for grilled, baked, barbecued, boiled, roasted and tandoori options always.

8. Restrict animal foods, foods high in proteins like paneer,pulses and daals for dinner.

Nice To Do

1. Make it a point to have one glass of warm water  with ½ lemon after every meal and one in the morning.

2. Add melons- Musk melons, Cucumber, Watermelon to your diet

3. Have 100% pure fruits and vegetable juices or coconut water as beverage substitutes.

4. Have at least one cup of Green Tea everyday

5. Wash vegetables before cutting them, not after cutting.

Avoidable 

1. Avoid Fasting or Feasting. Don’t starve. Don’t overeat.

2. Avoid Late dinners and skipping breakfasts.

3. Avoid Fried Foods and bakery products- Samosa, Burger, Pakoras etc.

4. Avoid Sweets and Confectionery.

5. Avoid Fruit juices (like mazaa and fruity), Ice creams and Milk Shakes.

6. Avoid eating sour things like Sambhar/Kadhi in the night.  Avoid too much of salt in the night. They both cause water retention.

7. Avoid being empty stomach for long durations.

8. Avoid Liquor

Step 7 : Read the book ” Dont’ lose your mind  – Lose your weight” by Rujuta Diwekar.  This is a simple practical book that tells you what is the best way to lose your weight (The author is the lady who helped Kareena Kapoor get to size Zero)

Lose your weight

And finally a few points of precaution

1. Take it easy step by step – don’t overdo anything. Whether its exercise or diet – the body will slowly respond. (Thats why crash diets and military regimens at the gym fail). The idea is to enjoy what you are doing – see the results and sustain it as a way of life.

2. Before & after exercise stretch – your knees and joins and muscles need the stretching to avoid injuries.

3. Be careful of excessive cardio.  Running when you are overweight can hurt your knees. DO NOT run on concrete surface.  Cardio exercise have minimal effect beyond 15 min ( + 5 min cool down)

4. Which is why a good mix of Yoga helps. Best done in the morning , Yoga is a great way to de-stress and strengthen your muscles. As you enter the world of trainers and classes you will hear the word ” Core” a lot.  Basically a lot of what you do is controlled by your muscles around the stomach & abdomen. Yoga helps you strengthen your Core. Also using your body weight is the best way of exercising Vs external weights. Yoga is a good companion to regular gymming.

5. Pre workout – If you are working out after having breakfast and lunch then take a gap of atleast 1 hour till you start with the workout. Post a strenuous workout eat something rich in proteins ( Boiled egg whites-2/buttermilk-200 ml/low fat curd/yogurt-1 med bowl/skimmed milk-150 ml/roasted chana-50-75 gms)

6. Take a days rest every week. This is a must. And join a good Spa. There will be a lot of aches & pains as you start on this journey and a fortnightly massage will feel like bliss.

Best spa

Jet Airways – I Love You – I hate You !

Dear Mr Naresh Goyal ;

I have been a loyal Jet Airways customer for the last twenty years. Damania, East West , Deccan, KF have come & gone but Jet Airways has survived.

When it started we were proud of Jet – here was an Indian airline that was world class. I remember a presentation from Shombit Sengupta (Brand Consultant who designed the Wipro Rainbow Flower) which talked about how service differentiated brands – SQ , Jet & IA used the same Boeing & Airbus planes but the quality of service made them ordinary , Great & Spectacular. (Jet was rated Great). Managers at cost conscious companies like Wipro took exception approvals to travel by Jet. You set a new threshold in airline hospitality in India.

Flights were almost always on time , food was great , service was great , planes were neat , lots of variety in the inflight TV shows and movies and leg space was decent . And then like any other business in India Jet started cutting corners.

Lucky for you – Jet still commands a premium and holds on to  loyal customers , but thats because there is no competition today. Lets look at a few things that have changed in the years which makes me sometimes love and many a time hate your airlines.

1. Food is now served in less than 10% of the flights. 9W 2291 is the 7 AM Bangalore – Delhi flight. You wake up at 4 to reach the airport by 6 and land at Delhi at 945. There are many such flights. There is no breakfast served. Can you fix this – when you are rushing in the morning trying to beat the mad Q at the counter & the security there is no time to buy anything at the airport And the paid snacks you serve inflight are a recipe for ill health. Even when you serve food – the quantity , quality , packaging is sub standard. No comparison to what you used to serve in the past. There is no Mint , No ketchup. 

The air hostess glares at you if you even ask for a second bottle of water. A far cry from what you used to serve earlier. Can you try and get some of the old charm back – pls look at your menu – avoid the oily snacks, look at early morning flights where you need to provide breakfast. And please ask your air hostess to be a little more polite.

2. The mad Rush for 10C & 10D  – As a platinum card holder I set an alarm 48 hrs ahead of the flight to book 10C  or 10D.  Those are the only seats ( In addition to 10A , 10F and the emergency Reclining Aisles) where you can manage to sit without your legs getting crushed. I Hope you don’t start charging a premium for these seats – a part of your legs actually travel in Business Class – and these seats get booked within minutes of the online web check in getting started.

The seats are jammed – there is no leg space. Jet can probably win the award among all airlines globally for the maximum rows in a plane. If you are 6 foot 3 and you do not get the few seats mentioned earlier you are in deep trouble. Especially when on a  flight from Bangalore to Delhi which is almost the length of an International flight.
With so many rows – you are still full and yet you supposedly make a loss . I am surprised , more of that later.  Suggestion – can you at least make a few rows at the front  Economy Premier with some additional leg space for your platinum customers

3. Platinum Benefits – The platinum card has a lot of benefits. Special counter to check in , excess baggage , Priority Baggage , web check in 48 hrs in advance. Its great – I pity the people who stand in a  Q for 1 hr to check in ( At BIAL in the morning I wonder why you cannot add more staff to the empty counters). But then some of the benefits of the past are no longer there

a) Getting an upgrade is almost impossible ( 5 years back Platinum car holders got an upgrade if seats were free) – you now need to book in advance for an upgrade against points / Vouchers. Even with a voucher you can rarely get an upgrade at the airport counter.

b) Encashing Points is a nightmare. Even if you book 4 – 5 months in advance you will rarely get more than 1 – 2 tickets on miles. (Fortunately I know a few nice people at Jet Bangalore who manage to get me confirmations on my miles wait listed tickets  – but the Privilege centre always says NO). The process is painful – your website rarely works ( for web check in , for booking miles …. you need to Fix the website)

c) The Citibank Jet airways card is gone.

4. Lounges 

Lounges like this were designed many years back – but soon closed down .

Today most airports have no Jet Lounges. The Plaza Lounge at Delhi is so cramped that there is no place to sit. The one at BBY (G Floor) was closed.  Even the International lounge at Mumbai for Business Class travelers is disappointing.

5. Quality of Air Hostess – There was a time when the job of an air hostess was comparable to that of a model. They were a class in style, graciousness & looks. I guess they were well paid too. What we have today is a bunch of brash, rude, don’t care attitude people with no sense of customer service. ( Maybe they are overworked and underpaid – with no options like us customers)

In a cramped row your leg does jut out at times and many a time the strolley has banged me – but not even a hastily uttered Sorry. Most flights have no newspapers ( the inflight magazine is thicker but 70% ads)  , the AC does not come up  till the plane starts, nobody cleans the restroom  and even if there is a little bit of shakiness in the flight tea is not served ( while the staff keep walking up & down) .

6. Why a loss ? 

I am surprised at why you run at a loss. Your flights are full , your rates are not cheap. Even on Miles tickets you charge us for Tax ( Don’t recollect any international airlines doing that). If Indigo and Spice Jet ( This quarter) can run a t a profit why does Jet run at a loss. Is your purchase of Sahara weighing you down ? You are too shrewd a businessman to run an airline on Charity.

7. Business Class International is Great 

The standards of the past are still maintained in the International sector. You have the best seats and the best food. Which is the reason many of us travel Bangalore to Mumbai to travel to London by Jet. (A request can you please start a Bangalore – Heathrow, or Bangalore Brussels Connection). I understand that your international sector is very profitable – and you command a premium over most airlines. Just shows that there are people who are ready to pay a premium for service. Can you emulate the same in the Indian sector – at least have one full service flight in the key sectors which standards of service of the past.

8. Your Baggage arrival is the best

At BIAL by the time you land and reach the baggage carousel your luggage is there ( If you are priority tagged) its not bad in Mumbai , but Delhi still takes its own time. Great job here – compared to most airlines you guys are the best here.

9. You still have some amazing staff

While the class of the past is missing you still have many amazing people. I recollect  recent case in london Heathrow. I had changed my return dates and the travel agent had not reconfirmed the fresh dates. At the airport I was informed that my tickets to Mumbai – Blr were cancelled and Business Class was full. I was stranded. Fortunately the staff were kind enough to accommodate me on an alternate flight Via Delhi – don’t think any other airline would have done this.

Last week I wanted to book tickets against mile to Goa – 4 months in advance. As usual the Privilege call centre could manage only 1 confirmed ticket – thanks to two wonderful  ladies at Bangalore I managed to get all my 4 family tickets confirmed in less than 15 minutes of talking to them.

In conclusion – all I have to say is , I Love you and I hate You at times. But unfortunately today I have no choice. You are at an enviable position – you can get away with whatever you want – you can grow your business and make profits with unhappy customers , or you can treat a certain class of your customers who are ready to pay for service and recreate the magic of the past.

Thank You

A Loyal Platinum customer of 20 Years

Palace on Wheels – Great way to see Rajasthan

Palace on Wheels is a luxury train  operated by Indian Railways and Rajasthan Tourism. Its been around for 30 years. The trip is organized with precision and every activity happens punctually on the dot. We took a trip on this fabulous train between April 4 & April 12, 2012. Information here will be of help to future tourists.

What is the duration of the trip ? 

The journey starts on Wed evening at 4.30 PM and finishes the next Wed morning at 7.30 AM. Its a 7 night journey. And the itinerary consists of Jaipur – Ranthambore – Chiitorgarh , Udaipur, Jaisalmer , Jodhpur , Bharatpur & Agra.

Where do you spend the night ? 

Nights are spent on the Train. The days are used for sightseeing. On certain days we cover 2 cities – Ranathambore & Chittorgarh was covered in 1 day and so was Bharatpur & Agra.

What are the facilities in the Train ?

The Train is designed like a hotel. Each coach consists of 4 cabins – each cabin has two single beds ( few cabins also have a additional berth) – and an attached bath with western style toilet, shower , wash basin. There is limited storage space in the cabin (one small cupboard). The Coach also has a common lounge area. It has wall to wall carpets including the vestibule areas. Cabins have channel music.

Each Coach has two attendants – who are available 24 by 7. They keep the place spotlessly clean , change linen , serve you snacks , tea coffee and breakfast in the morning. They also collect laundry twice a week and return it within 24 hrs. These guys always have a smile on their face and their service is truly exceptional.

What are the other facilities on the train ? 

They have two dining rooms ( where they serve a 5 course elaborate meal) , a Bar ,  and even a Spa. The quality of food and service is exceptional. The bar is a little pricey ( One drink can cost Rs 750) – so is the Spa (A foot massage can put you back by Rs 2500)


Is there TV in the Train ? 

Yes – in the Bar. Not in every coach. During the journey you don’t miss the TV – and you realize that its good family bonding not to have a TV

How many people on each Train – and how many Indians ? 

Our Train had 108 people – only 12 Indians ( We were only the Indian Citizens). Most people are elderly 50 +  as this is mainly a visit attractions tour – not an action holiday.

How did they organize the day tours ? 

At each station they had organized excellent AC buses. In total 4 buses. The 108 people were split into 4 groups. Bus rides were short – no longer than 20 – 25 minutes.

 The coaches are excellent and provide unlimited water bottles from coolers. The buses are safe and you can leave your bags and misc items inside without worry. Ditto with the coach – there is no need to lock anything , you can be rest assured of safety.

Even on a sunny day ( we visited in the 1st week of April and temperatures in Jaisalmer were over 40 Degrees Centigrade) the tour guides plan the travel in a manner that you don’t spend more than 10 minutes in the heat. Rest of the time is within the forts , palaces , museums – or by the side of cool lakes & gardens.

Are the tours rushed and is there a deadline on time ? 

No they are not – there is enough time to see all the places at leisure. The organizers take care of getting access thru special entrances , all the tickets are purchased before hand – so no Q’s.

Where is lunch provided ? 

Most days lunch is in some fort , palace or a luxury 5 star hotel. You can relax for nearly 90 mins over a peaceful lunch with a fabulous spread.

All meals have a good mix of Continental and Indian dishes ( N Indian – don’t expect Sambar, Rasam & Curd Rice on this trip)

What is served for breakfast ? 

Breakfast is served in the coach – Lounge area by the attendants. Mainly Toast , Omlette , Bhurji,  Cereal , Masala tea , Coffee , Fruits – however on two days they serve Parathas & Idli.

What are the sights covered ? Which are the most impressive ones? 

They cover all the major sights. Mainly palaces , Forts , Museums , Gardens. In terms of activity there is a Elephant ride in Amber Fort at Jaipur, Camel Rides in Jaisalmer , Van / Rickshaw rides in Ranathambore & Bharatpur, boat rides at Udaipur. They cover all the important and not so important sites.

 

At Chittorgarh you can see the light & sound show and at Jaisalmer they organize a cultural evening with dance and live programs and dinner in a 5 star hotel.

Do you get to see Tigers at Ranathambore – what time do the tours normally start in the morning ?  

We were not lucky – as usual all we saw were deers , birds , an Alligator. You can see over 50 species of birds at Bharatpur. The tour in Bharatpur is on a rickshaw – and the driver is your guide.  The jungle trips start at 6.15 AM – most other days the trips start by 8.30 – 9 AM. So you need to be up by 6 finish breakfast – bath ….. – since most tourists were foreigners this worked fine , and we being early risers this suited us well. On Most days you are back in the train by 6.30 PM. ( Jaisalmer you are back by 1030 PM)

 Do you get any time off for shopping ? 

Nope – they do take you to govt. approved pricey stores that sell carpets , bedsheets, handicraft etc – but no street bazars ( there is a security risk with so many foreigners, even the platforms where the train is parked is blocked with security and sniffer dogs)

Other points that may be of help ? 

The bathrooms come with towels , toiletries , Geyser etc. (No health faucet only toilet paper). Train hardly has any kids – there were the 4 kids from our two families and one more 10 year old – good to go as a group of two families – that way you can have an entire coach to yourself for one week.

The Train does not have Wi Fi – but the 3G connection is good all throughout ( better than Bangalore – even in remote Jaisalmer)

The stations in Rajasthan are neat and spotlessly clean (Bharatpur & Agra were dirty, crowded and infested with flies)

Whats the cost of the Trip ? 

Its priced in USD – but you can pay in INR. Price depends on time of booking. We paid 3.2 Lacs for 2 adults and 2 kids ( 3 tickets since kids below 12 are 50%) – this was 6 months in advance – however our friends who booked a few months in advance paid 4 Lacs for the same no of tickets.  This was off season rates ( rates drop from April 1st – peak season is Sep to March, train does not operate in May , June , July)

There is no way you can cover 3000 KM across 7 locations in 1 week – think of the hassle of changing hotels every night and traveling by an Innova or Tempo Traveller over long distances – to cover the same by road would take 12 days at least and would be a lot more strenous. ( yes you may save on cost). There are no hidden costs – you can do the whole trip without spending an extra rupee ( except the Tips at the end of the trip, and some shopping)

If you compare the cost with a 1 week holiday in HK / Macau or Singapore – its not way off. Its unique , you get pampered and treated like royalty – and its an holiday you remember for life. We strongly recommend it.

 Is this the only train – or are there others like this ? 

There are quite a few Luxury Trains in India – the Rajasthan Royal is a newer train that runs a similar circuit – but does Khajuraho & Varanasi ( they exclude Jaisalmer) – then there is one that starts from Bangalore and the Deccan Odyssey.

Palace on Wheels is a 30 year old Train ( been renovated twice) – while the others are relatively new .

Any negatives ? 

At times you can get a little claustrophobic – the cabins and alleys are small – so a big 6 footer may at times yearn for some fresh air. There is no Gym in the train – with so much of food across breakfast , lunch & dinner you tend to feel heavy. You do walk in the day – but not much. WE did manage to get some walk along the Train platforms at night ( The platforms are blocked with security & sniffer dogs – and the Train is nearly 1 Km long)

 For any further information drop me a mail at vak_1969@yahoo.com

We booked our journey thru Heritage India Journeys – Abhay Kumar  (abhaykumar@heritageindiajourneys.com)

The contact at Rajasthan Toursim – Pallavi Sharma ( pallavi.sharma@tlt-tours.com)

www.theluxurytrains.com 

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