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A journey to Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi (plus tips on do’s and dont’s while visiting the place)

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Introduction to the monument




We landed in Dubai via Oman Air pretty early into the morning. If you wish to read about that experience, you can click here. Most of the next morning was taking rest due to a lengthy and unnecessary air travel which I will explain in another blog post.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is about a 45 minutes drive from the Dubai International Airport, it is located at Abu Dhabi which is the capital city of United Arab Emirates.



We went on an afternoon drive with a private vehicle to the mosque. At the time of arrival there were not many people there and we could get parking pretty easily but the fact remains that too in the evening hours getting parking could be a bit troublesome.



There are a lot of people who visit the mosque in the evening and the place gets pretty crowded there. Still there is ample space around the mosque and it never feels very congested.

Features of the mosque



This Mosque can sometimes hold up to more than 41000 people for prayers at any given point of time. This Mosque is well known for its minarets and the architectural beauty it encompasses through its construction.

Built between 1996 and 2007 this mosque was designed by a Syrian architect, and employed about 3000 people and 38 companies to complete the construction.

World's largest carpet



The carpet in the main prayer hall is supposedly over 60000 square feet in dimension. The carpet itself took around two years to complete and was done by more than 1000 workers.

The world's third largest chandelier



This Mosque has seven imported chandeliers from Germany including the world's largest that incorporates millions of Swarovski crystals.



The chandeliers are awe inspiring and people usually slow down to spend some time staring at the beauty of the architecture. At one point in the hall all the three chandeliers can be seen one behind the other.

Highlights about the mosque


The minarets of the mask and the central courtyard make the mask and astounding beauty to look from far away. No matter whichever angle you are looking at it from, you can never seem to get enough of seeing the mosque.

There are wide walkways with small lights on both sides which illuminate the pathway during the night. There is also an area where there are small fountains which make it very nice to see and spend some time around, specifically for kids.


As you enter the main hall there are cupboards and shelves where you can leave your footwear before going inside (socks are permitted). In general most people maintain silence and are busy with photography since photos are allowed within the mosque as an exception.


There are toilets around the mosque and specifically facilities for women are better.

Photographic opportunities



This monument presents a lot of photographic opportunities for the photo enthusiast. The gardens & the fountains lighting the monument with the sky behind, the afternoon and night views of this mosque and a view of the mosque from the highway are some excellent photographic opportunities. 

You don’t really need an SLR for enjoying all of this even a mobile camera would suffice. All photos of this mosque in this blog post are taken with the Samsung Galaxy S7, the best in the camera department (until the Google Pixel trumped it)


One can easily spend up to two hours in this environment enjoying the beauty of the place.

Do's and don'ts while visiting this mosque



It is important to bear in mind some of the regulations before entering his mask so that you are not surprised when you arrive there. This part of the blog post will try to explain as much as possible how to be prepared while going to see this place.
  • [ ] security: since this is a monument of national importance there is a layer of security around the mosque and at the mosque entrance which you need to clear before entering inside. The security will do a baggage scan and also offer the traditional burqahs so that people can cover themselves completely.
  • [ ] it is essential that women are covered from head to toe and as long as you are wearing a dress which is like that it should be okay. Even for Men shorts are NOT permitted and it is preferable that you wear full pants and shirts. It's not really clear when the people at the security might ask you questions about your dressing but generally if you are fully covered it should be fine.
  • [ ] Women do get all sizes of burqah at security entry point so it is not a big deal to be worried about.
  • [ ] as far as I understood food is not allowed into the mosque so it's OK to just carry a water bottle or so with yourself and keep the rest of the food in your car for later.
  • [ ] Since the whole visit is going to take less than two hours you are not going to be so tired that you need food very often.
  • [ ] there are no entry fees for getting into this mosque it's free for everybody.
  • [ ] try to follow the queue system as much as possible where applicable and try to remain silent while going about taking photographs. This whole place is very elegant when it is silent and you should enjoy the beauty in such a situation rather than making noise.
  • [ ] stop by the lawns or the fountains and take some rest by sitting down whereever you feel like nearby.
  • [ ] don't forget to see the carpet and the Chandeliers, these are most important parts of the inside of the Mosque.
  • [ ] you can leave between 2 and 3 p.m from Dubai so that it's a good one hour drive to reach the mosque
  • [ ] sometimes the mosque may be crowded so be patient
  • [ ] you will not be allowed to go into the central area of the Courtyard so stay away from there and just follow the pathways. There are plenty of photo Ops even there among the pathways
  • [ ] as far as possible do not touch any part of the monument but just enjoy the beauty while walking past.
  • [ ] inside the main prayer hall it is extremely important for women to keep their head covered and hence they should ensure that the clothing does not fall of the head to avoid reminders from the staff. It is against the religion for women to show the head within the prayer hall so please take care of this and stay clear of this controversy.
  • [ ] it is essential that you keep moving forward from the entrances as there are enough places to stand and take photos from rather than crowd the entrance itself.
  • [ ] finally when you exit the mosque it is likely that lot of people have come in so you need to remember where you put your car in order to find it more easily.
  • [ ] when you exit you are supposed to give back the clothing given by the staff upon entry.
  • [ ] in general when questioned by the staff be courteous and be specific with your answers.
  • [ ] the big bus abu dhabi has a stop here in case you are opting to come by bus so they have you covered for this destination. 


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Oman air ticket booking experience online

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Introduction



In this post I want to share with you my experience of booking tickets via Oman Air to go to Dubai. I'll try and cover the options that I had and the final choices that led me to make this decision of choosing Oman air and the overall experience of having to deal with them while on the flight.

Booking tickets online


I'm a faithful customer of the Cleartrip app and I always use the app for booking flight tickets where ever I fly. The reason I like that app is because of the clear user interface and using minimal clicks to get my things done. However most of these apps are based on dynamic pricing and whether you are browsing using your phone or depending on the country you are doing it from etc.

The prices change based on where you are accessing the app from and how many times you have accessed it before on the same day. Somehow I felt all the prices for Dubai were peaking a lot using these apps due to the holiday season. Also most of these ticket charges did not offer me enough luggage capacity or seating choices. I had to pay over and above the stated amount for choosing my seating and or meals.

Oman Air was the only airline which offered me sufficient luggage capacity meal choices and sitting choices as well. So I directly went to Oman Air website and wanted to book the tickets to Dubai. The route was via Muscat and there was quite a lot of waiting time at Muscat. The sweet part of this whole booking experience was the cost. I could get to and fro tickets for 4 of us to Dubai for 65000 rupees. This included 30kg baggage per person (one of the highest) plus 7kg hand carry, meal and seat selection included as well. Hats off to Oman Air for offering so much during booking.

The problem with layover time

Sometimes due to the tickets being cheap or the rush during the hour of booking you can get tickets which have a lot of transit time at the intermediate airports. This is what happened to me while flying to Dubai and I had to wait in Muscat airport for nearly 6 hours before my next flight to Dubai.

Issues with modifications to tickets

The problem with the fare being offered on most of these routes is that these conditions are non negotiable. Like for example you cannot change the meals or change the seats.

Modifying the flights will cost you quite a lot and if you do decide to cancel the flight sometimes you will lose all the money. Depending on the package taken if you cancel the flight you may also get some money back but that is normally about 50% of the booking cost.

Approaching Oman Air office in Muscat

The situation that I had was that I had my next flight from Muscat to Dubai 6 hours after I landed.

As a last minute effort I tried to get a seat for the four of us on to other alternative flights 3 hours apart and earlier. The effort was to minimise waiting time at Muscat airport.

When I reached the Oman Air office and ask them whether I could change the booking even if it was at a cost they simply ask me to go to the same source from where I book the ticket and try to change it from there.

They did not have a clue on how to handle customer request and they didn't even care about what I was actually trying to communicate or seek a clarification on. I went online to Oman Air website using Oman airport free WiFi since my roaming connection was not available and I noticed that it would not allow me to even load the ticket leave alone modify it or change it.

The reason for this is when you undertake a journey with Oman Air or for that matter any other airline they will mark against a ticket that this journey has been undertaken. My last journey from Bangalore to Muscat was not yet recorded since I just landed in Muscat. Due to this I was not able to load the ticket and make any other changes.

Contacting Oman Air office in Dubai

So upon reaching Dubai in my schedule flight late in the night the next day I decided to call up Oman Air office in Dubai and try to alter the return journey. The person on the other end who answered the call had no clue how to get this done for me and gave me an email id that I should send a mail to ask for a refund.

Reaching out to Oman Air on Twitter

I sent him an email and for nearly one whole day I did not get any response. So I took to my usual route of contacting Oman Air via Twitter and after another one day of wait and two days of turnaround time they responded to me saying that they will reply to my email regarding the refund.

After another day or two they replied to my email stating that I would lose two thirds of my money if I decided to modify or cancel the flight.

Testing other options such as upgrading to business class

When I entered my PNR number and requested for Oman Air has to upgrade my ticket to business class the whole ticket immediately popped up and started showing me fares for the upgrade.

All this while when I tried to enter the same PNR and try to retrieve my ticket it did not allow me to do so just because the current location was not updated. Only for the upgrade process everything seem to work which was a bit disappointing.

Lessons learnt from this booking experience

I will go ahead and share a few things that you need to know in order that you do not do the same mistakes that I did while planning a trip.

  • [ ] take a look at the transit times before finalising the tickets
  • [ ] understand whether your airline has an active customer support policy
  • [ ] talk to people who have been to the intermediate airport and ask them about the customer support facilities available there
  • [ ] if the direct flight is about 10000 to 20000 costlier you may decide to book that instead of the one that has a transit time
  • [ ] if you have kids Who need to board a flight beyond 12 P.M then it is better not to up for that kind of schedule because it will be very difficult to wake them up and make them board the flight since they often tend to get cranky.
  • [ ] do a trial run on Twitter by approaching the airline to see how the response would be.
  • [ ] understand the refund policies and cancellation policies for cancellation of tickets
  • [ ] charges apply even if you want to modify the ticket so you may need to be aware of what you would be losing in terms of cost.
  • [ ] it is not worth while trying to reach out to airport staff at the transit airport in case you are already about to sleep. This is likely to lead to lot of frustration and improper responses can only make things worse.
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The Jog Falls travel experience

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Travelling to Jog Falls



As part of my previous post I have already written what it takes to go from Bangalore to Jog Falls. We stayed at Sagar in a hotel called Green Embassy, whose review I have given in another blog post. If you wish to know more about the hotel please click here.

Jog Falls tourist attraction

Bus journey from Sagar to Jog Falls is roughly around 25 km plus or minus and it is a treacherous route down the Mountain and up the Mountain again. Since it's a waterfall you will need to go down the Mountain to some extent to see the falls from the top. There are lot of private buses that operate from areas like Sagar up to Jog Falls in a regular frequency.

The cost of the bus is roughly around 1 Rupee per kilometre so we ended up paying around 20 or 30 rupees for a ticket one way per person. What is more important to note is the time it takes to cover this distance and it is slightly on the higher side due to the terrain. It is quite common that you might feel a bit giddy and may even feel like puking.

Jog Falls pathway




The Jog Falls is a Majestic tourist attraction and has roughly around 1300-1400 steps all the way down. The steps themselves neatly laid out and it gets steeper by the flight as you reach down. It takes roughly about an hour to go down and between an hour and a half or two hours to come back up. We carried only a couple of bottles of water along with our bags down. It is highly recommended that you keep some food like biscuits or the likes while going down. The time when we went was in November and hence the water was pretty less in the falls itself. Like I said earlier in one of my posts this was more of a backpack trip and we had to do it in haste without rhyme or reason.

The best time to go would be between June to August during which time the thunderous falls are a sight to behold.

Safety along the stairs



There would always be a question what happens to you if you go alone all the way down or even with another person all the way down. Would there be somebody who would pickpocket you? Or rob you? Or mug you or even much worse. What is worse is that there are just two security guards at the bottom of the falls. These guys cannot help much and they are just there to control the crowds. Sometimes there could be a set of unruly people who just want to have fun. So far I have not heard of any mishap but there is a genuine risk of something happening. Going down is essentially at your own risk although it is not a very difficult thing and you do not hear incidents happening every other day.

Some things to take care of while going down

  • take a few bottles of water and something to eat like biscuits
  • preferably go between 9AM to 11AM or even earlier
  • as the sun rises it gets pretty difficult to come back up again
  • safety is at your own risk so be aware of your surroundings
  • the mobile signals are not available as you go down so be aware of that
  • preferably go with someone else or as a group of people
  • time your descent and ascent accordingly
  • while coming back up again take as much rest as you want wherever you want
  • do not stress yourself to climb up the stairs fast
  • ample time to come up give time for others to take rest but at the same time keep looking at your watch in order to come back in a reasonable time
  • the staircase USA open between 9AM in the morning and 6AM in the evening
  • if you are going during the monsoon, take an umbrella and use proper clothing like shoes/raincoats etc. 
  • It could also be cold during monsoons, so cover your ears and chest if you can

Food options at Jog Falls

The Options for eating food at Jog Falls are extremely Limited. So you need to be aware of this and plan accordingly. There are a few stores selling frozen paratha or chapati along with some ill made curry.

The shops also stock a lot of ice creams & beverages cold and hot. So you should be able to get your Coke or Fanta or Pepsi easily. Please avoid the rice items here as the rice is not well cooked. Additionally there is also a KSTDC hotel which is only slightly better than the shops around.

Still this restaurant has its own flaws. Not all of the items listed are available at all the times. And if you go somewhere in the afternoon most other items are not available.

The best solution is to pack your own food and take it along with you so that you have something tasty and something made by you that is more edible than the ones available there.

Options to stay near Jog Falls



The couple of hotels that I did notice which is very near to Jog Falls. One of them is the Gerusoppa Maurya by KSTDC. I also noticed Jungle Lodges and resorts nearby. Barring this your nearest best option would be to stay at Sagar or Shimoga.

The total time it took for us to visit Jog Falls and be back is a little more than half a day so you need to plan accordingly if you are going there. This was of course from Sagar so if you are staying at Shimoga it could take much more than that.

Even though it was November it was pretty humid and sweating all the time. The climb down and back up only makes it worse. If you are going between July and August and plan to go down the staircase, don't forget to take a raincoat or an umbrella and still continue to take water and some food. This should help you to be hydrated as well as mitigate the sweating problem during rainy season.

Conclusion



The Jog Falls is a must visit for everybody at least once in their life. Be careful to choose a place nearby to Jog Falls for your stay. Take care to pack food and water while going down Jog Falls pathway. Try to avoid the food which is available there. Time your visit properly. It would also serve if you can read about Jog Falls and its history before going there to appreciate the place.

If you like this post and photos please consider sharing and leave your valuable comments for me in the comment section below.

The Green Embassy, Sagara - Why you must check out this hotel when you visit Jog Falls

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Introduction


Green Embassy Hotel, Sagara
My cousin arrived from United States of America and I had a chance to decide to have a backpack trip with him. It was a short decision to make and I had to hurry to make the best use of the time I had with him. For over 40 years I've never visited Jog Falls and I was always wanting to go there to see what it felt like to stand in front of the Majestic waterfalls of Karnataka.
We had to quickly book a mode of transport to get us there & also had to book a hotel for our stay there. Besides this we also had to find ways of reaching Jog Falls, seeing place and getting back to Bangalore within a day.

Route map

Map from Bangalore to Jog Falls
The distance from Bangalore to Jog Falls is about 445 km and it roughly takes about anywhere between 7 to 8 hours to reach there. We had a few options to get there which included KSRTC, going by train or driving there.
I have given to many places already within India and I was kind of fed up of taking my car out for this journey. As one would expect getting train tickets is extremely difficult to go to this place since this route is always busy and many people book the tickets in advance. So that left me with only one another option which was KSRTC.
My cousin said he would take care of the booking for the KSRTC bus and my responsibility was to book the hotel in a place called Sagar which was close to Jog Falls. The train actually goes to a place called talguppa but it is a place which is a bit nondescript and has only a railway station there. Please bear in mind that this place does not have proper hotels or stay options although there are some homestays near by.
Your best option would be to go to Shimoga or Sagara. There are frequent buses from Sagar to Jog Falls and it would roughly take about an hour to reach there. Although Google Maps says that it's about 38 to 40 minutes one must factor into the route the railway crossing as well as the drive Downhill and again a bit Uphill to reach Jog Falls. Given this consideration and some wait time at the bus stand in Sagar it is better to keep about an hour for your travel to reach there.
I have already written a blog post about the KSRTC bus booking service online which you can read more about here. For this blog post I will focus on the hotel that we stayed in which was called the green Embassy in Sagar.

Criteria for the hotel choices

One of the main criteria that I had for choosing a hotel was that it must be very near to the bus stand or railway station or both if possible. Not only that it also had to have a decent restaurant as well as should be available at a value for money price. After doing a bit of research I did find that the gerusoppa kstdc hotel at Jog Falls itself was booked completely for the weekend.
Also since it was pretty expensive I had to choose something more reasonable. This is where I came across green embassy hotel which I finally booked.

Distance

The green embassy hotel is about 4 minutes by drive and about 10 to 15 minutes by walk from the bus stand or railway station in Sagar. This actually ticked my requirement for having hotel nearby. For the uninitiated this hotel is not a four or five star hotel but a more reasonable hotel in the area. It has nearly about three to four floors with a decent amount of rooms.

Rooms


The rooms are surprisingly clean and had large Windows and curtains. The beds were large and neat and the room also had a writing table and the customary wardrobe in it. One of the most important things everybody Looks for while booking a hotel is how good the toilet is. I was pleasantly surprised with the toilet within the room. Again it was not of four or five star quality but then for what it was it offered a very neat Western commode a good large and neat wash basin, with all the toiletries kept beside it.

Toilets


The toilet also had a shower partition and the water was quite hot for a good satisfying shower. One of the problems I always have with hotels is the pressure from the shower. Sometimes the pressure is so low that the whole experience of having a good shower is lost. The green Embassy was good in that respect.

Restaurant


Breakfast was complementary along with the hotel cost per night but since we stayed only for the day we had to pay originally for the breakfast. The breakfast is not a generous spread, but rather a few items of the menu that the waiter will discuss with you. Based on what you like he will be able to make a the crispy dosa and serve you Idli and vada, besides offering a few other things like Hot and Cold beverages and a few other items.
There are two restaurants within the hotel one is called swadishta and the other is called garlic. One the first one is a pure vegetarian restaurant the second one is a combination of veg and non veg food. We preferred to have food in the vegetarian restaurant and hence could not get a chance to check out the garlic restaurant for the vegetarian choices there.
The restaurant itself was very pricey and for just a handful of items that we eat we ended up paying up to almost 500 rupees which was high in my opinion. Not to worry though because there are very good restaurants around the area just if you step out of the hotel. All these restaurants can be found between the hotel and the railway station as you take a walk. So if you are not in the mood for having pricey food within the hotel you can always step out for a walk to eat somewhere cheaper.
The food itself was good but it was not of the best quality that you get in other major towns. How it was still tasty and we liked it a lot.

Cost of stay

I had already pre negotiated my time of arrival with the hotel and the chicken itself was pretty smooth and not a major affair. Our room was already ready by the time we reached Sagar.
Typical Hotel costs in These areas can range between 2000 to 5000 rupees. Green Embassy was somewhere in between. The room rack rate was 2000 rupees and we got the room at about 2300 rupees without breakfast. With breakfast it would amount to about 2800 rupees which is slightly on the higher side for a place like Sagar.
I also ordered a couple of beverages using room service which cost about 78 rupees.

The good parts about the hotel


  • [ ] proximity to railway station and bus station by walk
  • [ ] very neat and clean
  • [ ] good toilets
  • [ ] decent breakfast
  • [ ] a large enough car park

The bad parts about the hotel

  • [ ] breakfast is a bit pricey
  • [ ] the TV has very minimal channels and to do very well with an attached set top box

Conclusion


The Green Embassy is a very reasonable hotel for a place like Sagar. Its proximity to the bus station and the railway station makes it all the more likeable.
The varieties of restaurants available should cater to most people who want some good. The neat rooms and a friendly reception plus a reasonable car park and front entrance make this hotel good to stay in.

If you're going for short stay which does not involve breakfast you can negotiate the rates with the hotel upfront. The best way to get to Sagar would be by bus or by train. Driving there is pretty long distance and can make you tired.
If you like this post and you wish to visit Jog Falls please do share this with your friends. If you have any queries or comments type them in the comments box below.

5 must see reasons for traveling on KSRTC Airavat

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My cousin had come for a holiday from the USA to Bengaluru and what better opportunity I had but to plan a quick backpack trip for a day from Bangalore to Jog Falls near Talguppa and Sagara (total of 399km approx). As a usual planner my go to destination for bus ticket bookings was RedBus.

My brother took up the bus booking and I managed the hotel booking, just to split the responsibility. This is where he suggested that we travel by the tried and tested KSRTC Airavat buses. Since a long time KSRTC has been providing transport to many states around Karnataka with their reliable Volvo and Scania buses.


Let us look at the top reasons for you to choose KSRTC over other private players for your travel specifically around Karnataka.

Timeliness


KSRTC buses mostly start from Majestic bus station at different times of the day. Many buses generally start near to midnight at or around 10:30 pm or so when the traffic within the city is a bit low so as to help them negotiate the exit from Bangalore. We had booked a ticket to Sagara in Karnataka and the bus departed exactly at 10:30 pm sharp.

Arrival time is also on the mark and they generally arrive at destinations on or earlier to the said time most of the times barring those times when there is some serious blockage on the roads which is beyond their control.

Online booking and cancellation facility


Though until sometime the online booking experience was not that great, these days the whole process is flawless. You can book tickets on the government portal of KSRTC. You can also use the KSRTC PNR enquiry system to view your PNR status of the booked tickets. While returning from our trip, since we got a train ticket with IRCTC tatkal booking, we needed to cancel the bus ticket. We could do that using the KSRTC ticket cancellation online by just using our PNR number and transaction password printed on the ticket.


You can easily pick source and destination and it shows all the buses available, including a seat map with seats specifically reserved for ladies for safety purposes.

If you are frequent traveler you can create your own login at the KSRTC login online booking link. Here you can save your details and easily book tickets as and when you like without much fuss.

On the topic of refunds, you can check the KSRTC refund status at the same source you booked the ticket with (like your bank account, or credit card, etc)

Reliability



There has always been one feather in the cap for KSRTC buses. And that is the reliability of the transport system. They undertake thousands of trips a year to different destinations and the drivers are familiar with the route and drive safely and within prescribed speed limits. They are careful on the road and one can hardly feel any discomfort while on their buses. The Volvo and Scania buses are comfortable and have decent amount of seat recline and space.

Facilities in the bus



You can get one or more water bottles depending on your use, they have a seat recline system which is decent and almost horizontal. There is also a blanket for you in case you feel cold. The airconditioning system has vents that are easy to close and open and you can precisely set an air flow pattern that you desire. Just to let you know about the comfort, we were sitting on the last two seats of the bus and rarely felt any jerk for the whole journey.

Compared to the Scania the Volvo buses are slightly more comfortable since the Scania buses sometimes lets in the road bumps filter into the cabin, but having said this - there is nothing seriously wrong with either variety of transport

Cleanliness




The buses look modern and clean, and you do not get a feeling you are getting into a rickety old bus at any point in time. Buses are neat, seats look new and well kept and the water, blankets are all well arranged.

Cost of Travel


The cost of travel is pretty reasonable compared to private players. Depending on the class of travel - normal, airavat or diamond class - the cost for our trip from Bangalore to Sagar varied between Rs.340/- to Rs.580/- which is in my opinion very effective for that distance.

If you are a senior citizen KSRTC has a special discount for you as well, you can see the rules on this link(section IV & V).

So what are you waiting for? Decide your destination, hop on to a KSRTC Airavat and sleep like a baby !

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