Saturday, May 28, 2016

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The travel industry is at all time peak since few decades now, and hotels are doing everything possible to ensure their customers have a pleasant experience while they stay with them.
I had a grand plan for a Rameswaram trip, covering other places along and off the route. My interest was stoked when I wanted to know and in person experience the historic Pamban bridge. Consdering I had read about Autocar’s Mercedes GLS 4x4 review driven in Dhanushkodi, and the kind of scenicness the place offered, Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi got listed as my top priority for this year’s travel.

This post is not really about what these places have to offer, but consider APJ Abdul Kalam was born in Dhanushkodi, consider that Pamban railway bridge is one of the more difficult bridges to have been built and being maintained, and the fact that Dhanushkodi is now a ghost town, after the cyclone that devastated it five decades ago – all these reasons made me to want to see these places.

Add to the fact that the often discussed reality of the bridge Rama built from Dhanushkodi to Sri Lanka and many different versions of its real existence, this fact alone heightened my interests even further. Add to that the absolute beauty of the merging of Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean creating a calm beach on the one side, and a rough and choppy one on the other side, this was surely something to see and have fun.


A quick look on the internet yielded very few hotels in Rameswaram of which Daiwik was the one that has the highest number of ratings on TripAdvisor. For me a hotel is as good as its website and reviews. A brief look at the website made me feel comfortable to go ahead with booking at Daiwik for a couple of days.

The booking process was ridiculously cumbersome. I had to mail and/or call them to enquire about direct rates, and travel portal rate charts. Each mail of mine to them on initial customer engagement, needed a follow up phone call for them to respond to my mail. The hotel is run by people from Kolkata and you have people who do not understand English very well at the front desk. Its either Tamil or Hindi. Each time you have to give a context of who you are, what is your email id, what dates you have asked for the stay and then you will receive a lousy response for all the efforts you have taken with some not so detailed information about what you needed.

Update: The hotel has clarified on their response times, but I am not going to correct the fact that I had to call them almost after every clarification for them to respond. I strongly believe there were times to my knowledge that the hotel did take over 24 hours to respond. And I feel established hotels should process their mails more frequently than this timeframe.



Couple this with the fact that you have to prepay all amount to block a room and this is kind of a financial trap which you cannot get out of. Anything might force a change in your plans and hotels need to understand that its always their customers who are at receiving end of losing money, and not them. They can always find another customer within no time but having no flexibility even to the tune of 50% is a bit disappointing.

Update: As per the hotel's comments, they have clarified that I will lose 50% if I cancel within 48 hours which is fair. Still I would have preferred something shorter to accomodate travel plans. Anyway this was not the major issue as such.

Anyways after some extra efforts and calls and mails back and forth and a NEFT transfer of the whole amount to them, I finally had a confirmed booking and arrived at their hotel. The hotel itself is very well appointed and decently constructed. After a welcome drink it took like eternity for them to show me my room. This considering the fact that there were only two customers including myself. The staff at the reception is untrained and clueless how to handle customers visiting the hotel. I am not saying this in the ugly sense of the word, but more on the impact and perception it creates in the traveler's minds.

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The room was good and spaciously appointed. However any calls to the room service was basically redirected to the dustbin. It was a repeat telecast of the booking process here. The guy handling room service for over some 200 rooms is the same guy managing the restaurant part. Just imagine the chaos. I waited nearly 20-30 mins each call, and with multiple reminders at 15,10,5 mins each. When you have two impatient kids who are otherwise well behaved, its pretty disappointing to have to teach a room service guy how to handle requests. If you want to compain about this to the reception, it makes no sense as they themselves need to be trained first on many things.

Update: The hotel has clarified that they have only 90 rooms. The Reason I mentioned 200 is an approximation by how many floors and how many rooms they may have roughly had. So I stand corrected to say it is 90 rooms as per their clarification. However the fact remains I had rather unusual wait times on room service calls and the room service charges being higher does not match with the received level of service.

The third part of this hotel was the restaurant. Too many houseflies. I really mean it. You cannot sit and eat at a place which has insects. Really, I have matured a lot over last two decades and there are certain things I really DO NOT like, and this is one of them. I cannot eat in a place with such disturbances. That said, an order took eternity with both me and the waiter being clueless on what is being prepared and when it would be served. Given he was the same guy handling room service, they were lost in attending to customers. Zero marks for this. Sorry you have to answer something to pass an exam right?

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In all frankness, I like the place and all that, but the service levels were really pathetic owing to the understaffing of the place. How much more lucky can you get? Yes you can. The days that we stayed there, unfortunately the aircon in the entire 2nd floor had a glitch and they had to switch off the aircon all over the floor. You can probably bear this in a cold country like UK, but imagine doing this in Rameswaram where the average temperature was over 40 deg C ! And again no one explains to me why the aircon does not work. On top of that heavy drilling work. Upon my persistence on this matter, they agreed something was wrong on 2nd Floor and gave me another smaller room in 1st floor. At least I had aircon, and did not have to go through the noisy shit in the other floor.

Update: The hotel have clarified that the room given to me was another deluxe room like the previous one, however I felt it was smaller than the previous one. And no one had explicitly told me that the room given was of similar style. And, until I asked regarding the AC not working well, no one spoke to me on getting shifted out to another room. My only point is that if there is something wrong on the floor, its the hotel who must be proactive to inform guests on this. And not wait until the guests have to ask. Further, it is not that I said things cannot go wrong (such as the AC), which the hotel misunderstood. Its about how the situation is handled post that.

Another small but pesky thing. In one of the rooms opposite to mine, someone tried to open the door with either a wrong card or left the door open for too long or something like that. Apparently the lock technology decided that it was time to beep. At 10PM. So loudly that I could not sleep. I called room service who would respond by 11PM in all my knowledge and they finally plugged the matter. We stay in hotels not to be disturbed by daily city life. And these kinds of issues irk customers a lot. Especially after a long and hard day full of exercise and fun, we have to hit the bed in peace.

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Finally the checkout process. You expect the hotel gives you a feedback form if they really mean improvement. And I am a customer who diligently fills it up if given to me. I really mean to give feedback in all respects and expect the hotel to address them depending on priority. After all I have paid a lot to stay there and my opinion should matter to them. But Daiwik did not even bother to offer me a feedback form. And I am not surprised. If they were really meant to take feedback, then they would have done it even without the form. Simple questions like “How was the food”, “did you enjoy your stay” – would do. You can get some really valuable answers.

But no they did not bother. Absoulutely did not even try. And that’s it. I have made my call. I will think twice to stay with them again.

Update: The hotel claims that feedback forms are available. First, I did not find them or ask for them. But while running a hotel, it is the duty of the hotel to understand their guests. Not the guests to understand the hotel. So I stand my ground here. And I wished the hotel gave me their feedback form. It is upto the guest whether they want to fill it up or not. But not being offered feedback form only creates further perceptions which cannot be avoided. Again, this is not about bad-mouthing the place. It is about how the hotel handles guests and their feedback.

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There are other better hotels coming up there and its only a matter of time. Including the famed Hyatt right next to Daiwik. It’s a pity when the hotel is good, but people don’t care. Since Daiwik runs their hotels both in Shirdi and Rameswaram both places being piligrimage centers mainly, perhaps they have an understanding that other customers may not turn up there. There are interesting places such as Pamban, and Dhanushkodi and Daiwik management must understand for the sake of tourists from other parts of the world coming there, that they must focus on what matters most – customer engagement. Word of mouth is a powerful weapon and if it is fired wrongly it can damage reputations. I am not meaning to say my blog post does, but there could be others who start talking crap and that would make a difference.

Again the hotel itself is very good. The whole place is understaffed terrbily. To the point that you dont get any attention to matters that you want solved urgently for yourself. So when you go to Rameswaram keep this in mind. Whether or not you book Daiwik is your call. But for me if there are better hotels available by the time I go again, Daiwik will not be a choice on my list.

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The Honda BRV reviews are all over the place by now. Many channels like the CarDekho, AutoPortal, CarWale, AutoCar also went to Japan to check out the BRV first hand when it was launched. As a potential buyer more than a reviewer I had to wait my turn until the car reached the showrooms. And it did sooner than later. Took my kid along after having a chat whether the BRV was indeed available for a test drive. It was only the manual petrol though which I had to make do with, but atleast something was available.
Sure enough as I entered the showroom, the BRV was parked under decorative arches since it was the newest entrant into the Honda family in India. After having bitter memories about the Mobilio last time where I even said why I may not end up buying it, I did not have much of expectation on the BRV. After having seen many reviews which went on screaming the fact that it resembled the mobilio my spirits were further dampened. When you go with zero expectation nothing can potentially disappoint you. In fact its more likely the other way around where something can actually impress you.
Coming to my need, with about a budget of under or equal to 15 L, I had specific needs if I were to buy a new vehicle this time. My top priorities were not including the price and mileage for once. I definitely needed over 100Bhp of power, minimum of 200mm of ground clearance, 6-7 seater and a reliable and trustworthy company that can address problems in my car if any cropped up.
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Among all contenders were the usual suspects ranging from the Brezza, all the way until the XUV (including the EcoSport, TUV300, Scorpio, Creta & Duster and Terrano among others). I did have a consideration for the Innova and the versatile Lodgy which I will come to perhaps in a later post but for now lets stick to what was discussed earlier.
I had three vehicles from the Mahindra stable to consider, one from everyone else.
The Duster exit the race as its interiors were below par for the price. It is no doubt the best for tough roads but that’s about it. It’s not going to lighten your mood when you are inside it.
And for perking up the same thing, the Terrano does no better for more money. The Creta is the best seller among all of this and without a single doubt the most luxurious feeling car of the lot while you are inside it. But paying over 16L for just features and no real other meat does not cut ice with me, so after a rather long while the Creta was out of the list. It was hard to let it go, but I had no other option.
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Coming back to the topic, the BRV does not feel like the Mobilio. In all honesty Honda have done much better for this vehicle and they have put their heart and soul into making this vehicle. The front facia with the rather bold chrome strip shows its presence, and the headlamps have a charm of their own when you see the car in flesh.
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The tail lamps though seem like its older sibling, have been beautifully though about and are chunky enough for the look and feel part. The dash is not bland anymore and though it does not offer everything everyone else offers, it does not have any bits and pieces of gadgetry peeping out of the dash unnecessarily.
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Its uniform, has the City and Jazz look and feel and Honda have learnt it the hard way that the customers cannot be sold crap like the older Mobilio. I did take a test drive of the BRV and I must say that Honda undoubtedly have one fo the best steering wheels in the market.

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If you want to know what is Butter Smooth, drive any other car and drive a Honda. You will understand it yourself. The steering just slices through the road in such precision that I was left astounded how well rounded the product is.

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I was a bit disappointed with the rather idiotic stereo system in place. But that is something one can replace easily so it should not be an issue as such. That said, Honda has boldly made the dash fully black and it lends a certain business aura to the car.
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Another point to mention is the seats. This car comes with two captain seats, which are well rounded and cushion you with ample thigh and back support, a middle bench that is 40-60 splittable, and slidable as well and a rear bench which is much much more spacious than the older mobilio. If you really want to know, I did not even venture out for a test drive of the Mobilio earlier just due to this one fact that an adult could not even get himself to get into the rear bench.
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We all know and understand that there are challenges to these kinds of seats since it sits above the wheel arches, and I was quite happy that in the BRV the seats are more accessible compared to older siblings. However that said, I can certify that me being 5’11”, I can comfortably sit in the rear bench alongside another adult without much issue. But that’s about it. You could seat three kids or two adults at best. The rear airconditioning must keep these people in good comfort hopefully.
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The seats themselves are full leather with high quality professional stitching which speaks volumes about the effort Honda has taken to make this a well rounded product. I must point out that the middle passenger in the middle row is likely to get inconvenienced a bit due to somewhat of a raised bottom portion of the seat and perhaps I feel Honda could have worked on this aspect a bit more.
Switch the car on and you can hardly believe that it is on. With or without AC. No I mean it really. Step on the pedal and with AC on the car is slow but steady to react. After all its got a 100 horses and it must show up somewhere and somehow. Step on the gas a bit more and it takes that tiny moment for the car to react and lunge forward somewhat unpredictably a bit, but nothing major to worry about.
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The sweet spots of this car lie in the way the soft clutch has been designed and the rather slick gear shift with a six speed gearbox and that buttery smooth steering only means you have an awesome combination to enjoy the car with.
The one anohter aspect of this is the torque. You need to really drive the car slowly to believe it. I mean really slowly. Like 10kmph at 5th gear and bring it up to a full 100kph in the same gear.
Absolute beatuy of an engine. You know sometimes its not exactly about brute force power to fly about exactly but things like no gear shifts needed at super low speeds that make this vehicle an enjoyable one.
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Then there is thing about ground clearance. After all Honda calls it an SUV while in true spirit its a much much better designed Mobilio in my opinion. Anyways one of the traits of an SUV is ground clearance and the BRV has 210mm of it, beating all other rivals almost. What this translates to is something I have not exactly been able to measure with the short test drive that I took up. However I did go obliquely across two deep potholes with a rather uneven mound in between and the car did not scrape anywhere below. However if you live in Bangalore like I do, you would very well know there are some roads with manhole lids the size of road humps and the road itself is much below them. Another case in point is severe water logging during heavy rains in underpasses. I am really not sure how the BRV will perform in these two scenarios. A third simpler scenario is to keep a water bottle on the road and go over it to see if it topples. I could not verify either of these cases and unless I get a real chance to, I cannot really say this would perform like perhaps a Scorpio would. I can confidently say that I have tried these on a scorpio and it has had absolutely no issues in handling them.
Being pioneers in seat configurability the BRV offers varieties of ways to generate space both in the boot as well as in the middle rows using the 40-60 split modes. Whichever situation, space should never be a problem with BRV as this is what the car is all about for its money. That said, with all seats upright with passengers, the rear boot space is going to be somewhat optimal if not minimal and it can handle only a defined amount of luggage. Nothing to piss you off though really.
So what about diesel and automatic then? Frankly everyone knows Honda’s automatic CVT transmissions are among the best. Having paddle shifters means handling the car like using a video game console to shift gears with your thumbs. However until now the CVTs were sluggish and was intended for more of mundane driving without the thrill of driver defined gear shifts. With the introduction of the revamped CVT in the newly launched amaze, Honda claims it has addressed some issues with the familar rubber banding effect of its original CVT. At the time of writing this article, the CVT was not available for a test drive and hence I cannot comment on how it feels until I drive one. So I will reserve my comments for later except however to say here that this will be one of the most effortless cruiser both within and outside the city for tired souls after a hard day’s work.
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I have been chafferured around in a diesel Amaze and found it to be quite noisy on the inside. This is very unlike Honda and it clearly shows they did not research with it properly and just went in for a hurried launch party. However in the revised Amaze they claim to have taken care of this issue now. The earlier one felt like the first Hyundai Accent CRDi which had that distinct clatter all the time. One hopes that the diesel BRV will muffle these sounds even more with all the corrective feedback taken. At the time of this writing, the diesel BRV was unavailable as well due to which I could not test drive the same. It is bound to be a pocket friendly car for sure with mileages of over 20kmpl for sure. And a light clutch on the diesel as well means amazing driveability on daily basis.
But would you buy a diesel for close to 16L that has a 1.5 litre engine, or would you rather buy a Scorpio for 15.5L giving a mileage of 15kmpl, for a 2.2 litre engine generating 120bhp, or a XUV 500 for 16L giving a mileage of 11kmpl but with a 2.2 L 140bhp engine?
The choice is all yours frankly as each have its positives and negatives. Ultimately its about value for money and driveability that are the only two factors that makes a person decide what he or she would like.
Only time will tell whether the BRV will sell in huge numbers and be a hit for Honda. For sure this is not a Brezza or an Ecosport or even a Duster to sell 100,000 units in six months. But it sure will have steady sales once people understand how Honda has managed to engineer this car. And its long term reliability, acceptance for its strong virtues will decide whether or not Honda’s long term fortunes will be impacted positively or not. Honda has begun to take customer feedback and work on it which is a good sign and like Toyota the engines are legendary beyond measure which still is helping the company maintain its strong growth phase.
As CarDekho put it, if you a family man with old parents and young kids and you want a fuss free car that has SUV/MUV traits, is comfortable to be in, and keeps your senses calm on long drives, then the BRV is for you.

On a side note I did drive the Scorpio automatic which I will talk about a little later. The more I drive other automatics, the more and more I feel the Honda’s CVT just like the Nissan CVT are vehicles that other manufacturers’ products cannot beat in the long run.
So if you have 15-16L, need a great ground clearance, want to seat more people, want to have fun with a slick shifting manual or an absolutely smooth to cruise CVT, dont mind a lesser engine capacity, and prefer great mileage, reliability, and peace of mind buy the BRV.
This car is not about looks. Its about attention to detail, and character. The BRV won’t disappoint you.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

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Install DBS app on your phone, and open it
Enjoy the new tagline for banking - live more, bank less
Stare at awe at the self glorifying message by DBS bank Singapore
Learn about the new virtual debit card for shopping online

Sell your phone number and email id

Punch that keypad 6 times with your own superhero code sent to you

Choose your a username that glorifies you and put that all important top secret password not once but twice

Instant karma - your device is registered with the bank, and …..

your e-wallet is created - freedom from fucking OTPs forever

Open a digisavings account

Punch your till-now-you-thought-was-useless Aadhar number ….
and your PAN number .
A little about what you do ….

and how do you get your money …..

and whether you want ground floor service or premium first floor lounge service

respectful questions on people who gave birth to you and who your money should go to in case you kick the bucket after pressing sign up button.

and in case they want to reach your wife whether you are dead or alive ….

Get set to dress up and leave your house to Cafe Coffee Day

Walk in like a pro and across coffee sipping gossip mongers to do your biometrics
Enable the future on your phone - touch ID, goodbye to passwords

Complete your verification, request a physical debit card and while it is despatched to arrive at your address, sip that free coffee like a pro.

oh and just in case you thought you need to go to the bank to activate that card, nope your phone will do that too.

LIVE MORE - BANK LESS : GET A LIFE - all in 90 seconds !

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

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Being part of a launch event by FoneArena and Lenovo, us bloggers were one of the first few to lay our hands on Lenovo’s newest phone and brand launch - the ZUK Z1.

The event was hosted at multiple cities in India by a collaboration between FoneArena and Lenovo and we could manage to attend the same in Bangalore. The event was to showcase Lenovo’s latest ZUK Z1 mobile phone.

Some of the key points about the brand and the phone are better explained to you by letting you know the history of where this all came from. Lenovo spun off its ZUK brand as a smaller entity giving the team empowerment to create the next grade of devices which had better innovations up their sleeve. Some of the key challenges they attempted to solve were:
  • how to ensure the hardware and software were made for each other and to complement each others’ capabilities
  • whether the phones that saw the day through this brand could be as customizable and personal as possible
  • to showcase innovations that other brands did not have solutions to in terms of common problems such as water resistance or battery related topics

In order to get the best solutions to these challenges the ZUK Z1 runs Cyanogen OS which all of us know to be extremely secure and customizable in the Android world. Lenovo also made cases by tying up with super hero movie makers to get a variety including batman, superman, captain america cases and the likes for a good level of personalization. Custom themes is also possible on the Lenovo ZUK Z1. The cyanogen camera app is also included to work in conjunction with the camera on the phone providing some advanced controls.

The phone has AudioFX lossless sound output, and also has Truecaller integrated right into the OS. Further it comes inbuilt with the Cyanogen broswer as well. The processor in the phone is a SnapDragon 801 2.45Ghz with 4 x Krait 400 cores. Couple that with 3GB RAM and atleast on paper you must have a scorching device. The device is a 5.5” with a 1080p display with a 100% colour gamut reproduction which leads to a lot of sharpness in what you see.
The camera is a 13MP rear shooter with OIS image stabilization with a Qualcomm double ISR image processor. While we found the camera to be really quick in taking non HDR snaps, it was laggy when it came to HDR processing in low light. The continous burst mode also at times lagged a bit than expected and slowed down once in a way. Perhaps some software tweaks for the upcoming versions would solve this issue easily in my opinion.
What this phone also has is an Adreno 330 GPU which means that you are basically going to have flawless game performance without stutters. While we didn’t get a chance to try out games at the event, there is no doubt that there would be no issues playing graphics intensive games with this phone. Whether or not the phone will warm up or heat up is a question left to be answered by actual users on longer term ownership basis.

The design of the phone seems to be straight out of looking at an iPhone, but not extremely thin so to say. The bezel is of what you would expect out of a phone in 2016 and there are two colours gray and white.

The ZUK Z1 was launched at a price of 13,500 today in the market and for this price it mostly has what one would expect out of a lenovo or any other smartphone of the category. What is more intuitive among the innovations is the 360 degree fingerprint scanner which will read your print in whatever angle you keep the fingers on the scanner. Even if the finger is wet :-) The phone unfortunately does not come with a expandible storage, but it has 64GB of memory which boasts of a 10x improvement over speeds of a class 10 memory card.

The phone comes with a USB type C charger, and a whopping 4100 maH battery which must keep us going for a long time without a need for charging. Talking of which this phone also comes with a charger and battery cut off when the phone reaches 100% so as not to have mini discharge cycles between 90 and 100% through the night. Thoughtful of them to not let the battery lose its charm even after years of use. Real world statistics are yet to be proven on this count, but I cannot imagine why battery quality wont be preserved with such innovations. Good one lenovo.

Coming to network support, the phone supports most global bands of frequencies so it would just be a plug and play. The phone has 2 nano sim 4G sim slots which should provide you with enough to go through your heavy usage days, and also compatibility with current day SIMs.

To summarize the ZUK Z1 is a breath of fresh air in the commotion caused by other brands. Hopefully with the level of customization provided, the rather strong specs for the price point, some nifty innovations on the battery, and fingerprint sensors, theming support, a decent form factor and some cool skins one can expect that this phone will have its own fan following in the days to come. Lenovo in my opinion must also ensure the ZUK brand continues building on its strong points to bring in more powerful devices in future to make a sizeable market impact.

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About Me
Srikanth Eswaran
Bengloor Huduga

Srikanth is a blogger, reader, photographer, butter dosa eater, an urban car racer & an apple fanboy. He loves music, playing table tennis and traveling. Most times he would like to be solitary to introspect on what life has thrown to him and the bigger purpose of life.