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What to do when you are in Turkey

Sometime back in June 2013, we had quite a fun and successful trip to Turkey – which we had planned from scratch (Pritika mostly). Everything from airline tickets to the itinerary, hotels, etc. was meticulously planned and we did not use any travel agents.
I had then intended to write a six part blog post on the entire trip – but life got in the way. Since then, I have been asked by a bunch of friends about the trip and finally thought of putting in a one post with tips and things to do. I am going to try and be concise.
Our itinerary was as follows:

  • Mumbai (BOM) to Istanbul (IST) via Turkish Airlines
  • Istanbul – 3 nights – Stayed at Hotel Erboy (I highly recommend this hotel)
  • Istanbul – Kayseri (airport for Goreme – Cappadocia) via Anadolu Airlines
  • Goreme – 3 nights – Stayed at the Divan Cave House (They have an excellent breakfast)
  • Kayseri – Istanbul via Anadolu Airlines
  • Istanbul – 2 nights – Stayed again at Hotel Erboy
  • IST to BOM via Turkish Airlines

Visa to Turkey
If you are an Indian citizen and hold a valid US, UK or Schengen visa, you can get your Turkish Visa online or on arrival. If you do not have either of these, you will need to get a Turkish Visa earlier via the normal route (I am not sure if this has changed since then – please let me know if this has)
Pritika and I both had US Visas and that was the reason for us to go to Turkey in the first place.
We got the Visa online via: https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/ which you can download and print for $20 per head (I think). You have to carry this print out with you. I recommend this as the Visa on arrival counter can get quite busy in the morning and you may have to wait for 30 – 40 minutes.
Currency in Turkey
The primary currency is Turkish Lira – but they also accept dollars and Euros.
I carried a few dollars for emergency – but right outside the airport, I went to the ATM and got some lira which we used. I mostly paid by my Amex card (food, hotels, etc) which was accepted mostly everywhere – except at a couple of places in Goreme which took only Visa / Mastercard. So you will need to carry a backup Visa / Mastercard as well if you have an Amex.
Banks, ATM & Conversion charges
Don’t try to pay via USD or EUR because the conversion rate the folks give you are horrible. Also – you will find money changers at every location – avoid those as well as I have seen really poor conversion rates. My bank charges me 3.5% for international transactions which was quite acceptable if I was withdrawing more than INR 11,000 per withdrawal.
Staying Connected
For this trip, I just got a SIM card which works in 40 odd countries from Matrix cellular. Get the prepaid card (500 bucks for the card + top up). They will try to sell you the post paid – avoid that like the plague!
I put in 1,000 bucks in the pre-paid top up – and had over 800 bucks left when we got back. So you may be better off recharging for lesser. Only drawback with the prepaid card is that you don’t have internet – but I made sure all the places we stayed at had free WiFi.
Since then, I have bought a One Sim Card which I would highly recommend.
Internal travel
Istanbul has an awesome public transport system. Unlike the US where you have a fixed rate no matter where you get on or get off, here you need to pay by the distance. You can buy an Istanbul kart and load it from the Airport when you get there which you can use for all public transport in Istanbul (metro / ferry / etc).
The Istanbul cart works like a credit card – so multiple people can use the same card. So you need to buy only one of these.
The metro can get crowded – but people are nice and friendly and it was fun traveling via the Metro.
Travel Light
We took 2 x small suitcases which we carried into the plane (no check-in) as domestic airlines inside Turkey will charge you for check in baggage. This was great and also let us use public transport everywhere as we did not have to fight our luggage.
Staying at Istanbul
Initially, we decided to AirBnb our stay and even booked a room in the Taksim area of Istanbul for something like INR 800 per day – but when the riots broke out exactly there, we figured a hotel would be safer to stay in and the nice folks at Trip Advisor advised that it would be safer to stay in the old / touristy city (Sultanhamet) rather than the new part.
It was a great decision and I was happy choosing Erboy because everything was walking distance and we could come back in the middle of the day and rest at the hotel rather than sit somewhere random.
What to do in Istanbul?
Istanbul is an awesome city and it has a LOT of things to offer. Even after spending 5 days there, we felt we could have stayed for a week more and not seen everything.
Museum tours can get boring (and expensive) quickly if you are not the history buff. We did a couple – but decided to leave out the rest. Instead, I would highly recommend the following experiences while in Istanbul:

  1. The Hagiya Sofiya / The Blue Mosque
    This is probably the most iconic landmark in Istanbul and a ten minute walk from our hotel. It is truly breath taking and a definite visit.
  2. Gulhane Park
    Brilliant park. They have a small cafe there. Nice place to sit, chill out for a bit and have awesome apple Turkish tea 🙂
  3. Hafiz Mustafa 1864
    This is an awesome, awesome eatery – again within 15 minutes walking from our hotel which we turned up at every evening for coffee and awesome pastries and baklava.
  4. Baklava
    Eat lots of them!
  5. The Bosphorus Cruise and visit to the Prince Islands
    We almost did not do this but were so happy that we did. It was one of the highlights of our Istanbul stay.
    Get the government ferry which takes you to the Prince Islands. Hop off on one of them and get some lunch and hop back on again. It is truly beautiful – the cruise.
    I remember getting that auto GPS guide which was a total waste (audio was bad and not in sync). Avoid that. We went all the way to Büyükada – which is the last island and had lunch there and walked about. It was excellent! The ferry takes an hour to get there and an hour back with a couple of hours loitering about – so it was a good half a day excursion.
    PLEASE DO NOT TAKE ANY PRIVATE FERRIES / CRUISES.They are expensive and I have found loads of reports of people getting swindled and even mugged. The government one is excellent, cheap and has a food place inside the boat in which you can buy tea, coffee and snacks.
  6. The Grand Bazaar
    This one is a must do.
    Don’t plan to buy a lot of things there though because you cannot get a good bargain with these guys anyways (they are professionals) and you’ll feel you overpaid no matter what discount you received 🙂 (high chance of buyers regret). But it is a must-see. Prepare to get lost quite a bit as it is quite huge.
  7. The Museum of Archaeology
    This was again decent – lots of walking around but they have an awesome garden restaurant where we sat for a bit and had excellent Turkish tea.
  8. The Arasta Market
    This was a nice, quiet market to walk around in. If you are looking to buy towels, soaps and the like, good place to check out.
  9. Rooftop Restaurants
    Our hotel had a rooftop restaurant for drinks which we went to one evening and it was breath taking. The Istanbul skyline is just amazing. Try and do this one of the evenings while the sun is setting.
  10. Topkapi Palace
    This is again a very huge tourist attraction. It was interesting and pretty – but in hindsight, we could have given it a miss as we are not really history buffs.  But if you have a choice between a museum and a this place, you could do this instead.

Entrance Fees
These things add up quite fast and is something that we did not anticipate in our budget and planning. Paying 25 EUR per head per attraction is not uncommon. So keep this in mind if you are planning this trip on a budget.
Getting to Cappadocia
Cappadocia is actually a big region and there are smaller towns where you need to stay at – depending on what you want to do. We wanted to basically do the balloon ride – and hence decided to stay at a place called Goreme – which is about an hour’s drive from the Kayseri airport.
Note that Istanbul has 2 airports – the main international one (Ataturk) and a second airport (Sabiha Gokcen) which are quite far apart. To catch the plane for Kayseri – you have to go to the Sabiha airport (the second one) which is about an hour / 90 minutes drive from Sultanhamet.
There is a Havatas shuttle which offers an affordable service to and fro from the airport – which your hotel can arrange for you.
We stayed at the Divan Cave house in Goreme – which was good but not brilliant. Our first and second choices were all booked at Goreme.
Things to do at Goreme

  1. Get the Balloon Ride
    This is the primary reason you are here, aren’t you?
    I would highly recommend getting it from a reputed company – we went via Butterfly Balloons and were super happy with them. They will pick you up from your hotel at around 4:30ish AM, get you some light breakfast, take you on the ride and drop you back off.They are extremely professional and our captain seemed to know what he was doing. The entire ride lasts 1 hour – 1 hour 20 min and is worth every penny (We paid something around 300 – 350 EUR for 2 people).
    On landing, they have wine and cake and give you a certificate of flight after which they drop you back at your hotel by 9ish.
    Remember to take your camera and have the panoramic setting on your phone.
  2. Derinkuyu Underground City
    I would highly recommend doing this. We took a local bus toDerinkuyu and back. Your hotel should be able to explain to you how to do this.
    However, if you and tire easily, are asthmatic or have 0ther heart / stress related illness, you can give this a miss as it is quite strenuous.
    There is a LOT of climbing and the passages can be very narrow and claustrophobic.
    We did not initially hire a guide to save some money (they are decently expensive) – which I think was a bad decision as you can get lost quite easily. However, one of the guards inside came up to us and offered to show us around for half the price. Another wandering couple joined us and his price dropped even lower. I am not sure if you will be able to find guards willing to take you around now (check out TA) but that saved our trip.
    He was not as thorough as a guide probably would be, but we did not feel we missed out on anything. A guide will be able to give you a better narrative which is extremely important for a place like this.Truly amazing and wonderful.
  3. The Goreme Open air museum
    This again is a fun place but visit only if you have time.  You can easily give this a miss as it involves a decent bit of walking and is on the outskirts of the main town center. It took about 30 mins of walking to get there which was a bad idea while coming back in the hot sun (I don’t think there is any public transport in Goreme). You can rent out a scooter or a car if you are adventurous.

Scams in Turkey
Being one of the top 5  tourist destinations, Turkey has it’s share of scams and tourist traps. Please be aware of them and avoid them. Whenever in doubt, pay a little more and go to a more reputed business rather than a cheaper, shady one. Trip Advisor is your friend.
This is a good resource – though I hadn’t seen this at the time: http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Middle_East/Turkey/Tourist_Traps-Turkey-TG-C-1.html
We had watched this episode of Scam City: Istanbul which was quite helpful: http://watch-series-tv.to/episode/scam_city_s1_e7.html
Istanbul Trip Advisor Page
The Istanbul TA pages and forums were super helpful. Considering there were riots happening then – the locals in the TA community was super helpful in alleviating our fears. So if you have any specific questions, please check them out here:

If you have any questions or comments, shoot them and I’ll try my best to answer them.
Picture time!

How to get your child’s passport in India in 3 days flat!

UPDATE (09-Aug-2016)
It has been a year and a half since I wrote this post and since I got my child’s passport and as you can imagine, a lot of things have changed. A few lucky breaks that happened to us may not apply any more.
I think after reading the blog, you should head down and read the latest comments as those would be more helpful and would paint a more realistic picture of what to expect in today’s date.

UPDATE (04-Mar-2019)
I just read a news article that walk-ins have been stopped for minors and senior citizens in all PSKs. Tried digging in the online PSK website but did not find any information on walk-ins.

As such, I think the news article is still valid and if you need a passport urgently, you would need to get a Tatkaal done. Let me know if your experience has been otherwise.

Indian Express article is here:

I recently applied for the passport of my 10 month old on the Thursday (1st Jan 2015) and had it in my hand on Saturday (3rd of Jan 2015). If you are wondering how this was done, here is my story.
If you are expecting any hacks or cool tips, I am sorry to disappoint, but it was a boring, straight-forward process.
My wife and I both have valid Indian passports and are living in the same city from which we got our original passports issued. So your mileage may vary depending on where you are staying and whether both of you have passports. You may require additional documents if you do not fall under this category.
Other happy notes:

  1. Wife’s name on passport before marriage
    The name on my wife’s passport is the one before marriage and on the birth certificate of my child, the name is from after marriage (change in surname). We were afraid that this would be an issue and we would first have to change her passport and then apply for my child’s passport. Fortunately, this did not matter. The name on my child’s passport under the mother’s name column was entered from the birth certificate and they did not trouble us on this front.
  2. Spouse Name Endorsement
    If you go through the FAQ section of the Passport Office and if you even call their customer support (I did), they will insist that you first endorse your names on each other’s passports. Otherwise you cannot apply for your child’s passport. (On the last page of your passport, there is a line which says “Spouse Name”. You are supposed to do this after your marriage. Both of us basically felt this was quite stupid and we did not bother doing this.) 

    I was quite sure that they would send us back due to this. However, fortunately, they did not bother and did not even bring it up. If you haven’t gotten your names endorsed, don’t worry. Didn’t matter for us.
  3. Walk In Interviews
    When you fill up the form online for the passport and get an interview date – you’ll generally get something after 30-40 days. I applied on 20th Dec and got a date for 30th Jan. However, if it is for your child, it does not matter. You can simply walk-in to the Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) the next day (you need to wait for 1 day after filling in the form). The timings for walk-ins are between 9am – 10:30am in Pune. Though this could be different for the PSK you visit. So please check.

What I took:

  1. My passport (original)
  2. My wife’s passport (original)
  3. My child’s birth certificate (original)
  4. Photocopy of my passport (first and last page) – attested by me
  5. Photocopy of my wife’s passport (first and last page) – attested by me
  6. Photocopy of my child’s birth certificate – attested by me
  7. Print out of the Online Application Form Receipt – 1 copy
  8. Annexure H (http://passportindia.gov.in/AppOnlineProject/pdf/AnnexureH.pdf)
  9. A recent passport photograph of my child (3.5 cm x 4.5 cm) because she is less than 4 years old.

What I paid:

  1. Rs. 1,000/- online for the normal passport application process (don’t bother with tatkaal)
  2. Rs. 35/- in cash at the PSK for the SMS registration facility (if you want SMS updates for your passport process)

The Process:

  1. Make sure you have the birth certificate for your child. In our case, this was the only document they scrutinized and I don’t think it may be possible to apply for a passport without it.
  2. Create a username and password on the Indian Passport Site: http://passportindia.gov.in/
  3. Apply for a new passport and fill up the form the best you can.
  4. Pay the required fees (in my case, it was Rs. 1,000.00)
  5. Wait for a day.
  6. Look at the documents you require to carry with you. They have quite a handy document advisor here:
  7. Go to the PSK at 9am. There wasn’t much of a rush for us and we moved along quickly.
    We actually entered at 9:30am and were out by 10:20am

What happens at the PSK:

  1. Tell the guard outside that you are there for your child – so this is a walk-in. He will let you in. Yes. Your child needs to be with you. Both parents can accompany the child.
  2. Go to the Token counter and hand over all the documents from #4 to #8 listed above.
  3. The guy will make a file for you and give you a token print out.
  4. You then will be asked to go to Counter A.
    In Pune, there are approximately 30 counters for the A Counter and our number came up within 30 seconds of us getting the token. (It will be shown on a screen).
  5. Meet with a friendly guy (probably on TCS roll) who will do the data entry for your documents and scan all your original documents along with the notary approved copies and translations and the passport photo of your child.
  6. He will also take your child’s thumb print via ink pad.
  7. He will also verify your details on your application by looking at the original documents and make the necessary changes.
  8. Once everything is done, you have to go to a waiting room and wait for your token to show up for Counter B.
  9. Counters B and C are Government counters and people won’t be as friendly as from Counter A.
  10. This takes about 5 minutes. Your number will be shown on a screen. There are about 10 counters for Counter B.
  11. The junior officer will verify the documents and sign at a place in your file.
  12. You then have to move to counter C (about 6 counters for C). Wait for your token to show on the screen. Takes again about 5 – 10 minutes.
  13. The senior officer or Granting officer takes the final call on your file and will choose to grant your passport.
  14. He will keep your file with him.
  15. You return your token at a window on your way out.
    In Pune, they compulsorily make you fill the feedback form behind the token.
  16. If your passport is granted, you will probably write happy things.
  17. Exit the building.

Next Steps (via SMS & email updates):

  • Thu: Passport sent for printing
  • Thu: Passport printed
  • Fri: Passport dispatched via Speed Post
  • Sat: Passport arrives at home.

I hope this post was helpful. Please leave your comments below of experiences that you’ve had with the passport office.
If you have any particular question, please add it in the comments and I’ll try my best to address it as well.
Update 01: 29-Oct-2015
As per a comment from Madhuri (see below this post), if you submit only one parent’s passport, your child’s application gets put in for police verification and is not as quick as it can be. Hence, it is recommended to submit passports of both parents (if available) to expedite the process and skip police verification.

Why owning a second car doesn’t really make much sense …

The title of my post says it all… Before we start, there are some assumptions to this statement.

The assumptions are as follows:

  1. Your are living in a Tier 1 / Tier 2 city in India which has decent Uber / Radio Cab connectivity (Have heard good things about Meru as well See Update 2 below).
  2. You use your car as much as an average person does – say about an hour or so a day.

Let’s pull out our calculators for this one…

Step 1: Determining the cost of ownership of a car in India

  1. Some used or new car (average make): Rs. 5,30,000.00 (A). This, again, depends on what kind of car you are looking for.
  2. Lifetime of a car: 7 years (pretty decent estimate)
  3. Fuel expenses (considering diesel without inflation): Rs. 2,000 per month (on the lower side)

    Cost over 7 years: Rs. 1,68,000.00 (B)
  4. Car Auto Coverage Insurance (considering Rs. 10k avg per year): Rs. 70,000.00 (C)
  5. Car Maintenance / Servicing: (Rs. 10k avg per year): Rs. 70,000.00 (D)
  6. Change of tyres (twice in 7 years @ Rs. 3,500 per tyre): Rs. 28,000.00 (E)

Let’s add all this up: Rs. 8,66,000.00 (T = A+B+C+D+E)

Cost of owning this car / day over 7 years: T / (365 x 7) = Rs. 338.94 per day.

Please note that these are fairly conservative estimates. The cost here will be somewhat higher due to:

  1. Rise in the cost of fuel over the years.
  2. Not considering the amount you may need to pay for parking in your society (going rate in Pune is 1.5L – 2.5L per spot)
  3. Not considering the loan that you probably need to take to buy a car @ 15% pa. (you will end up paying an additional 2L interest over a 7 year loan period).
  4. You may not want to get an average car but a more expensive one. (Add the difference in costs accordingly.)

(Adding these expenses will take up the cost of your car to about: 8.66L + 1.5L parking + 42K fuel inflation @ Rs. 500 extra pm + 2L for loan = Rs. 12.58L or Rs. 492 per day over 7 years)

What this means is that everyday your car is sitting in your garage, you are wasting Rs. 340.00 – Rs. 492.00 per day.

I am going to consider the case in which you need a second car for your spouse to go to work.

(My office is around 8 km from home and hence my fuel costs are Rs. 2k per month approximately. If it were further, fuel costs would go up accordingly)

Also, most folks I know – use their second car even more sparingly than this particular use case.

Step 2: Let us consider the alternative: Uber / Ola Cabs / Meru / Other Radio Cab Services (See Update 2)

This is what I would pay one way to travel from my house to work.

Uber - Pune 2014-10-08 00-02-17

So: Rs. 120 one way. Rs. 240 both ways per day.

Assuming that I don’t need to use my car to travel on the weekends (Sat, Sun) my expense turns out to be:

  1. Per week: Rs. 240 x 5 = Rs. 1,200.00 (W)
  2. Over 7 years: W x 52 weeks x 7 = Rs. 4,36,800.00
  3. Cost of travel per day (over these 7 years): Rs. 170 per day

    i.e. I will be saving 340 – 170 = Rs. 170 per day just by not buying a car and using Uber instead.

In addition to this, the benefits of Uber / Similar services (over driving your own car are):

  1. You don’t have to drive a car.
  2. You get a nice, air conditioned, chauffeur driven mini-sedan (UberX has Sedans).
  3. No worries of filling up fuel, getting your car insured every year, PUC, serviced and maintenance.
  4. No more driving around for hours – looking for parking.
  5. No worries about someone hitting / denting / scratching your car while driving / parking.
  6. You can use your travel time to catch up on that extra level of Candy Crush instead of cursing those taxi and rickshaw drivers.
  7. With a little pre-planning, you can use your other single car between yourself and your spouse in most occasions. Saving on money and the environment by carpooling.
  8. The extremely satisfying feeling that you get when you press a virtual button on your phone and a car magically appears in front of your door cannot be beat. The magic of technology!
  9. Let someone else worry about getting you through that rush hour traffic – while you sit comfortably behind playing Candy Crush.
  10. Did I mention you don’t have to drive a car anymore?

Isn’t this all worth it? Not only do you save 170 bucks a day (Rs. 62,000.00 per year), you pay only when you travel. So if your travel needs are more infrequent – say for example, you need a second car only 2 – 3 days a week, your costs will come down even further – to about 80 – 100 bucks a day (or 60-70% cheaper than owning a car).

Step 3: So what is the hold up?

Sigh… There always is a catch isn’t it?

In this case, there are a couple of them:

  1. Uber isn’t as widely available as I would like it to be – and this will still be in only Tier 1 / 2 cities for sometime.

    Most of the times, it takes me between 10-15 mins on an average to get a cab (after pressing a button on my phone).

    Depending on your address in Pune, it could take you longer (20-25m). So a little pre-planning is required. However for the popular areas (camp / Viman Nagar / Kalyani Nagar / Koregaon Park / Aundh / Station / Airport / etc. – cabs arrive in between 5 – 8 mins which is not bad at all).
  2. You would be dependent on public transport / rickshaws – incase Uber cars are not available tomorrow.

    So you cannot depend on them a 100% yet – but with a little pre-planning, you can get around it.

In the end, I believe it is a lifestyle choice – something that we are very interested in trying. The economies make sense and the convenience makes so much more sense. If only the service grows and has enough drivers – then we’ll be talking.

Step 4: Get your first ride free – on me – worth upto Rs. 300.00

Just because you have read this post so far, your first Uber ride is on me. The coupon for the Rs. 300 off is: ubersaurabhj

Download the App on your phone (search Uber on the App Store, Google Play Store or Windows Phone Store), sign up (most debit cards and all credit cards work), hit Menu > Promotion and enter this coupon.

Update 01 – 08-Oct-2014

Gaurav pointed me to two interesting resources related to my blog post:

  1. An interesting discussion on hacker news.
  2. A blog written by Sam Altman (in SF) with an excel sheet having the same thoughts as me.

Update 02 – 08-Oct-2014

I have added Meru as a viable option in my posts assuming their rates are at par with Uber. But I was quite surprised to see them substantially expensive. In Pune for example, their minimum base fare is 200 bucks compared to UberX’s 90 bucks. Also their price per km is 20 vs UberX’s 12. That won’t hold up to my earlier calculations.


This post may seem that it has been sponsored by Uber – but that isn’t the case. The level of service and convenience that these guys offer is giving us the first glimpses of “Transport as a service” – which we haven’t seen so far. A service which allows you to summon a ride at the push of a button gives you the ability to dream about getting rid of that vehicle you rarely use anyways and use your hard earned money smarter.

We are actually very serious about selling our second car and converting to Uber – so if you see any flaw in my plans / calculations, please leave me a comment so that I can rethink! Thanks 🙂

Cancellation Policies and Charges of Airlines in India

This post attempts to compare the change and cancellation policies of airlines in India. The airlines compared were: Air India, Spicejet, Kingfisher, Jet Airways, Indigo and Go Air.

I recently was to travel to Delhi and had to cancel my tickets two days ago due to some personal reasons and was shocked to see the latest cancellation charges.

They are literally daylight robbery!

My itinerary was as follows:

Pune to Delhi via Spicejet (2 people)

Rs. 9,374 (booked via GoIbibo)

Delhi to Pune via Indian Airlines (2 people)

Rs. 10,126 (booked via the Air India website)

I ended up paying the following (insane) cancellation charges:

  1. Spicejet: Rs. 950 x 2 = Rs. 1,900
  2. GoIbibo (I booked the Spicejet ticket with them): Rs. 250 x 2 (their cancellation charges) + Rs. 100 (credit card transaction charges) = Rs. 600
  3. Indian Airlines: Rs. 1,575 x 2 = Rs. 3,150 (the complete base fare)

A couple of years ago, we had cancelled some Spicejet tickets and they were Rs. 750 per ticket.

What really irks me is the way these guys are doing business. I think the bulk of their revenue comes from people cancelling their tickets.

  1. They haven’t flown me!
  2. They have 100% sold the ticket to someone else at a super high rate (PNQ – DEL is a very popular route) and made a profit on it. (Last minute tickets are super expensive)
  3. They have made Rs. 5,650 from me without providing any service.

If this is not day-light robbery, I don’t know what is!

As a result, I did some research and have put up a sheet of airline cancellation charges of all airlines in India – which you should take a look at before making your bookings in case there is a possibility of you changing your plans. This is a google spreadsheet and editable by all – so feel free to make changes incase you find new charges (these change regularly).

Table created on: 26th Aug, 2012 09:31 hours.

These rates might not be the same on the day you are viewing this. For (a possibly updated) excel sheet, see this:


The following airlines had information on their website which I could easily come across (I have over 13 years of web experience and I did web design and usability for a living)

  1. Spicejet
  2. GoAir
  3. Jet Airways
  4. Jet Konnect
  5. Air India (had to use a google in:site search)
  6. Air India Express

Following airlines had to be called to learn about the rates:

  1. Kingfisher (no surprises here)
  2. KingfisheR Red
  3. Indigo

Important Tip

Also, what you must definitely do is – NEVER book from these travel websites. Because cancellation is a 50% more expensive affair with these guys having their additional charges. What you should do is use http://ixigo.com which does a fare comparison on the direct airline website and book the tickets from there.

In my experience, 95% of the times, the lowest fares are on the Airline website anyways.

Kolkata Trip–Day 2

As every great day begins, mine too started with a visit to the neighbourhood market to buy the freshest vegetables at 7:30 in the morning with my uncle (mama). 7:30 was pretty late by Kolkata standards as people come by around 5:30ish to get a shot at the choicest and freshest vegetables.

However, by the time we reached, the fare was still pretty decent and we picked up whatever we wanted to. The especially funner part of this was the scooter ride through the neighbourhood area. The area that we rode the scooter through had the tiniest of roads (one lane, sometimes 1/2 a lane) – some parts were even dicey for small cars to go through without some skill – but the place had its own charm. Tall palm trees next to palatial three storey bungalows with the narrowest of lanes for company. The smell of fried fish wafted in  the air and it was not even 8 in the morning. It was truly extraordinary.

After a scrumptious breakfast of freshly prepared puri bhaji, we took off in the hired Innova to Dakshineshwar. Dakshineshwar is this pretty large temple complex for Goddess Kali. We reached there through traffic and some maniacal driving in less than an hour. After wading through the crowds and giving a handful of people business – including the flower vendors and the shoe keepers, we went and obediently stood in  one of the many lines inside – like any good, self respecting Indian would.


Our awesome ride!

Cameras and cell phones were prohibited in the temple premises and big signs all over the place screamed at you – threatening you from taking any pictures. Fearing for the life of my precious camera, I kept it hidden in my backpack and as a result, was not able to take any pictures. However, knowing that you will be disappointed with this, I am putting below a stock image that I found on Google Images.

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Dakshineshwar temple and the long queues to get in (source: google image search)

Our lines were twice as long as depicted here though.

After waiting for what seemed an eon – we moved up the line to the temple and got our magnificent glimpse of the Goddess for exactly 2.3 seconds. During this, I saw the pandit pocket atleast 60 bucks from the three people in front of us. Our turn came, Pritika handed over her flowers and when the pandit put out his hand and said “dakshina dao” (give me money for donation), Pritika went “huh?” and that was the end of our temple visit. (This was the first time for us when the pandit was proactively asking for donations.)

We then loitered around a bit having spent so much time getting there in the first place and after giving some more business to the people selling idols, plastic stuff, etc., we took a twenty minute, very unsafe boat ride across the Hooghly river to a place called Belur Math.


Our boat ride from Dakshineshwar to Belur Math

Again at Belur Math, photography was banned. It’s a pity because it was an awesome, well maintained place. Belur Math is actually a institute as well as a temple to Sri Sri Ramakrishna who was the teacher of Swami Vivekanand.

As there were many signs prohibiting photography inside the campus and due to my gifted ability to be able to read, I kept my expensive camera inside my bag for fear of some over enthusiastic security guy breaking it. Quite a few people were clicking photographs though and  a group were insulted by a watchmen who ran towards them shouting “Are you freaking illiterate? Can’t you read the signs? This is not a feakin’ garden. It is a temple!!!”

I then realised that photography was banned at such places not for anything else, but for the principle of it. Anyways, all I have to remember the place is the following:


which I happened to click “before” entering the premises. And boy I am glad that I did!

For those of you lazy enough to *not* click on the Wikipedia links I so painstakingly have put up (I know who you are!), here is an actual site photograph taken by a brave soul who then put it up on Wikipedia!


Belur Math – main building (source: wikipedia)

After paying our respect to the statue inside the building and loitering on the well kept lawns for a good half hour, we were chased out of the premises at exactly 12 o’ clock by a person ringing a very loud bell.

Our car screeched to a halt near the gate and the doors swung open. We jumped into it and made a quick escape only to get stuck behind a  line of ochre’ colour Kolkata taxis. However, lucky for us the person with the bell had given up and had turned his attention to other cell phone photographers.


A sea of yellow taxis surround us just next to Howrah bridge

We then made our way to College street which is the street on which the Presidency College is (and hence the name I guess). College street is also famous because you get nothing but books on either sides of the road. Something like ABC in Pune. My dad got a bargain deal when he managed to pick up a Rs. 95 book in Rs. 10 (though I must mention the book seemed old and very probably second hand).

Another thing that this lane is very famous for is the Indian Coffee House – which is a quaint little place in an old building and has great food (YMMW) along with a good cuppa. It is famous because you will find all the highly intellectual types (read: people like us) hanging around here discussing all conceivable topics under the sun – from Mamta Banerjee’s politics to how channels like UTV Bindaas are spoiling today’s youth by airing shows like Emotional Atyachaar.

We had quite a bit of food from vegetable cutlets to bread butter to hakka noodles to veg pakodas. As you can imagine, it was quite a fare and was mighty reasonable as well. This was topped up with a nice cup of filter coffee – something that this place is famous for. We soaked in the ambiance, the coffee and tried to fit in to the intellectual crowd but found that it was just too much effort. So we skipped out of the place within 45 minutes and went out to soak the sun.


The crowd and ambiance at Indian Coffee House


Us, trying to fit in with the other intellectuals at the Café


View from the top. The place has seating on top as well.

Our car came back soon and we made our way to City Center I and then later City Center II. There is nothing much to write about them except that these were malls and that City Center II was much better than I (one) and that both the malls were so much better than the pseudo malls that we have back in Pune. Though a little confusing in design, they had quite a bit of space and hand plenty of place for people to just sit and hang out.

Rest of the day was uneventful except that we were stuck in an hour long traffic jam and our driver tried playing tag with the oncoming vehicles on the road and fortunately. lost.

My fabulous Kolkata trip –Day 1

So we finally made it to our Kolkata Vacation with my folks – something that has been pending (and getting cancelled) for one reason or the other since the last three years.

We took a SpiceJet flight from Pune to Kolkata (via Delhi).

The flight was okay but I somehow felt that the seats were slightly congested. Also noticed the abundance of toddlers and children in the plane which made it a pretty eventful and noisy ride

Smile with tongue out

The flight leaves Pune at 11:15 am – but was 30 minutes late and after an hour and a half stoppage at Delhi which passed quickly – thanks to the “That 70s Show DVD” that Pritika packed in, we were in Kolkatta by 5:30.

The first thing that hits you when you step out of the airport – besides the chilly December wind is the colour of the Taxis! They are all yellow – a kind of ochre’ – which adds charm to the city. Other things that you will noticed in the first 30 minutes of landing in the city will be the famous cycle rickshaws,  cycle vans – which are largish platforms on wheels (something like the vegetable vendor’s cart) – but which ferries people and is driven by a person riding a cycle in front.

The other thing which you will probably notice will be the number of sirens. I counted 6 sirens in 30 minutes of landing – 2 for ambulances and 4 for police and “babu” vehicles. Babus here use their lal battis and sirens to very good effect – something which was completely new to me and something which doesn’t happen that often in Maharashtra.

If you are in Kolkata, you just need to taste all the awesome sweets. Kolkata is heaven for sweet lovers and the fare you are promised here will make all the “Bengali sweet” shops in your non bengali state fade and flicker in comparison. Since landing, I have savoured three types of awesome sweets – something that my youngest aunt had told me to expect. We had a longish, white, dry rosogulla which was as fluffly as clouds. Then later had khejure gude sondesh (sondesh made out of jaggery which is made from dates) and finally some kheer! And this is just the beginning I hear.

Netaji Picture

Took a walk around the society where my uncle stays and took a picture next to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s bust. Netaji is to West Bengal what Shivaji is to Maharashtra.

PS: Kolkata should be pronounced as Coal-kaaa-taa (with the stress on the kaa instead of the Kol). Most Indians get it wrong. Something I learnt today.

You can't have your cake and eat it too …

If you really think about it, India is in a pretty mixed up place – economy wise …
We’re nowhere near a capitalist economy – nor are we entirely communist either …
We are somewhere in between …
I am talking about this because of late, there have been incidents in my life – caused by this aspect and I was wondering – whether a right balance could ever exist …

When I was returning from Proto a couple of weeks ago, I was to come to Mumbai by flight and then catch a bus from there to Pune. My flight was supposed to land at 10:40 PM – but it being Indian Airlines, it only landed sometime around 12:20 AM.
Luckily I had no checked in baggage and I was able to get out of the airport by 12:30.
I rushed to Dadar, and in my heart knew — that the last State transport bus would have long left and I would have to spend the night at the bus stop. I reached the bus stop at 1:00 AM.
Unbelievably – there was still a bus going to Pune (which I think would have probably been the last one).
It left with around 10 passengers (out of a capacity of 35 – 40) at 1:15 AM and albeit an extremely bumpy ride, I was home by 5:00 AM.
I secretly thanked the government for running such buses – even when there were hardly any passengers at such odd timings.

This is the other incident.

I live on the outskirts of Pune. As such, we have all the benefits which come with such a setting.
Clean, calm and pollution-free surroundings, lots of open spaces, etc. etc.
At around 10 kms – the main city isn’t too far either …
However, we also face the problems which come along with such a setting.
Namely, that of infrastructure — in this case, the internet.
The place where I live, there are no private players providing high speed internet services (or broadband).
This is primarily because not many people would go for it – so it does not make sense for these companies to lay fibre cabling all the way for a handful of subscribers.
The only one which does – is the government owned BSNL.
Until sometime ago – they had the monopoly in the telecommunication sector – and if you had a phone, it had to be from BSNL.
As a result, they have cables already setup – through which they provide the internet services.
The service though, leaves a lot to be desired – and the sorry fact is – being a government enterprise, no one gives a damn.
I’ve been having connection issues since eons (it works sporadically and mostly, only at nights) – but no one seems to be bothered. After about a hundred complaints, nothing comes of it.
I seriously have started believing that if anything needs to come of a government run agency, some palms eventually have to be greased. Haven’t tried that yet – but sadly, we’ll probably have to do it eventually.

So coming back to the issue.
Living in an entirely capitalist economy definitely has its merit. I honestly believe that the entire country progresses at a much, much faster rate as compared to living in a communist one.
People who are smart, talented or hard working get their just rewards – encouraging more people down that road, thus leading to faster growth of the entire nation.
(Monopolies are a negative – but then, thats just the way you look at them)
However, if we were actually in a completely capitalist economy, I would have spent the entire night at the bus stand and would still be on dial-up connection at home.
And if the government does step up and provide services like the state transport bus running at night or me getting my broadband at home (even though its on only half the time), am I right to demand good service — or should I just be grateful that I am getting such services in the first place and be happy with it?
The Indian consumer at large, I think, follows the latter ideology …
What do you people think?
(My connection went off and on 7 times while I wrote this post)
[ Min number of posts to go till Mar 17, 2008 : 79.]

Uploaded some photographs …

I dunno why I did this, but I went to Flickr today and uploaded some of the interesting snaps that I have clicked so far in my life …

Check them out here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/saurabhj/

Comments are available, so please do go ahead and comment.

A couple of ones that I really love are:

Larger sized images are at flickr.

I have tonnes more left to upload – will do as soon as I can extract some time for myself …

[ Min number of posts to go till Mar 17, 2008 : 81.]

Life comes a full circle …

For all those who wanted to know, we didn’t make it to National Finals of the Imagine Cup this year.

Now, unfortunately (or fortunately) the BE Project that we guys were doing and our IC submission was one and the same thing (for the sake of our sanities) – so atleast we will be seeing this thing through (hopefully)

Our theme and ideas were kept somewhat hushed up (which feels kinda stupid now) but anyways, will be letting the cat out of the bag soon enough.

In other news, came back from an awesome two day picnic to Nagaon (which is about 8 odd kms from Alibaug) and it was awesome fun. Will be posting pictures of the trip soon.

Perhaps the last with the guys from college – everything went off nicely and everybody had loads of fun.

For starters, here are a couple of images that I took on the beach …

Low tide at the Alibaug beach at sunset – small kid with his dad

A family of four moving towards the Alibaug fort which is accessible by foot during low tides