September 28, 2016

Wandering alone in Karnataka - Part 6: Plan, Cost and Suggestions!

Hi Guys,

To read Part 1, click here (The Start)

To read Part 2, click here (Exploring Hampi)
To read Part 3, click here (Reminiscence of Vijayanagar Kingdom)
To read Part 4, click here (Hampi-Dudhsagar-Madgaon-Murdeswar)
To read Part 5, click here (Udupi and Around)

In final part of the series, I will jot down the plan I had executed along with costs and provide some suggestions as well. By the way, this is my 250th Blog Post (It has been 7 years, 1 month and 16 days since I started!)

Travel Plan
I started on a Saturday night from Chennai and reached back Chennai after 8 days on a Sunday morning in the following route

Dep Arr Train No/Name Dep Time Arr Time Remarks
Chennai Bangalore 12607/Lalbagh Express 15:35 21:35  
Bangalore Hosapete 16592/Hampi Express 22:00 07:10 (+1 Day)  
Hosapete Madgaon 17603/KCG YPR Express 6:20 13:55 Slip Train. 4 Days a week
Madgaon Murdeswar 16311/BKN KCVL Exp 9:30 12:22 Only on Thursdays
Murdeswar Udupi 13654/Bangalore Exp 16:30 18:15  
Mangalore Chennai 12686/Chennai Exp 16:20 08:00(+1 Day)

Out of the 6 trips, I had booked 2S in Lalbagh, 3AC in Hampi-Madgaon & Madgaon-Murdeswar stretches, Sleeper in rest. Given the crowd in Madgaon-Murdeswar stretch, I felt travelling by Unreserved coach would have even be fine and 3AC was not required. The total cost of train tickets came to around Rs. 2500.

I stayed in the following places

  • Hampi – Lakshmi Heritage homes (Rs. 900 per night for Non AC – One of the good places you will find in center of Hampi)
  • Madgaon – Hotel Greenview (Rs. 600 per night for Non AC – I stayed here as the Railway retiring room got cancelled in last minute – you could find better hotels)
  • Udupi – Hotel Shambhavi (Rs. 1100 per night for Non AC – again had an Airbnb option for Rs. 750 per night which was cancelled by Host. The hotel is nearby bus stand and a very good one).

I booked Hampi and Udupi via Cleartrip and effectively spent only around 2/3rd of the total cost. The total cost of Hotel Reservations came to around Rs. 4100

Other expenses included around Rs. 3000 for food, Rs. 1000 for local travel (Cylce, Auto, Bus) and some miscellaneous expenses in temples and museums. Effectively, the trip made be spend around Rs. 11000 (well within the budget of Rs. 15000 I had in mind). I had got no souvenirs or made any shopping except for cashew nuts in Madgaon due to the limitations of having only a rucksack.

Most of my trip went on plan except at a few places. Making some quick suggestions to people wanting to explore the places

  • There will be no network connectivity in most places. Download Offline Maps before heading to. Google Maps might be confusing to identify places, Satellite version works better.
  • Constantly look out for Hampi Map put by tourism department and places around the current location.
  • If you are short on time, hire an Auto. The place is huge.
  • A few places are secluded on Off days. Though I faced no troubles, I avoided venturing into a few places

  • I had a very short stay here and visited Colva beach.
  • Though I consciously avoided Goa, after coming back from the trip, I had a feel that having travelled that far, I should have spent one more day either in Goa/Gokarna/Karwar
  • Jog falls is also a nice place around here, but travelling to and fro would take atleast a day

  • Udupi left me confused in terms of the number of places around to visit.
  • Do a good research before heading and choose from the following list – Kollur, Agumbe, Karkala, Kundapur, Mudabidri, Dharmastala, Malpe/Kaup Beaches. Most of the places will take around half-one full day. So, decide your interest and head out.

It was a nice trip visiting different set of places over a week. Hope you enjoyed reading my series on it.

Happy Reading!

September 3, 2016

Wandering alone in Karnataka - Part 5: Udupi and around

Hi Guys,

To read Part 1, click here (The Start)
To read Part 2, click here (Exploring Hampi)
To read Part 3, click here (Reminiscence of Vijayanagar Kingdom)
To read Part 4, click here (Hampi-Dudhsagar-Madgaon-Murdeswar)

Day 7 – Aug 5, 2016
Udupi is an interesting place with lot of scenic tourist spots around, but it takes time reaching each of them. I had a few options in mind – Kollur, Agumbe, Karkala among others. I had rounded it to two options – Kollur or Karkala. My friend Vijay had suggested me to head to the Kollur temple as it was located amidst forest and you also get free food (A good enough reason to travel two and half hours each way) I was finding Karkala interesting, but one review that I had read said Karkala has slippery steps and you got to be careful in monsoons.

So, I started the day with no clear plans. I went in search of breakfast and no restaurants were open at 8 am near the bus stand. So, I trudged back all across to Woodlands hoping that it will be open. Luckily they had just opened (their timing of breakfast is from 8.30 am!). After breaking my fast, I returned back to the bus stand. Instinctively, I caught a bus to Kollur. It took almost 2 and half hours for a 75 km trip. After Kundapura, the road was bad for a stretch of 10 km and I was wondering if the ride is going to be bumpy. But luckily the hill roads were much better.
Breakfast at Woodlands - Udupi Masala Dosa
As I reached the temple, it started pouring. There was huge queue and I was wondering, why I came here. I stood in the queue at around 12.15 pm and luckily I was sent in around 1.25 pm. Behind me, the line was closed and were to be remained close till 3 pm! After finishing the prayers, I went back to the Annadhanam Hall for food and joined the queue there. It took 30 minutes, but the food was pretty good and experience different. They had Rice with Rasam, Sambhar and ended with sweet Payasam. I came back and it was still raining. There was so much of rains at this place.

Kollur Mookambika Temple amidst rains
I started back at 2.45 and I was wondering where to go next. I hopped onto a bus heading for Kundapura and then went to Anegudde which is considered to have a beautiful Ganesha temple atop a hill. It turned out to be a dull place. So again, I started to Udupi at around 5.10 pm from there. At around 5.55 pm, I got down at Udupi Bypass and caught another bus to Malpe beach. It was a day of impulse decisions.
Malpe Beach
Malpe Beach is part of Malpe Village, a fishing harbour on the outskirts of Udupi. The beach is serene with White Sand, Coconut Trees, Huts and a few shops. After missing out Sunsets in Tungabhadra and Colva, I finally had my chance in Malpe amidst the heavy monsoon rains. The sunset was indeed splendid with huts and Gandhi statue in the backdrop.
Sunset at Malpe Beach
After sunset, I came back to Udupi and headed to the temples around Krishna Mutt – Chandramoulishwara Temple and Sri Anantheshwara Temple, both dedicated to Lord Shiva. Both were peaceful and not thronged by too many people. After that, went to Woodlands restaurant again for dinner. Had Udupi famous Masala Dosa and a few other items there. A very good place to have food if you are in Udupi.

Day 8 – Aug 6, 2016
The day started with a visit to Krishna Mutt. It was interesting to find the tradition of viewing the God through window also known as ‘Kanakana Kindi’. The tradition is that the famous poet Kanaka Dasa viewed Krishna through the window in 16th century when the temple was affected by earthquake and the structure had collapsed.
Udupi - Sri Krishna Mutt
Then headed for breakfast at the traditional Mitra Samaja which is a dilapidated status today. Still the food tastes pretty good here.

After checking out, started to Mangalore at around 11.30 am. Reached Managlore by about 1 pm and was wondering what to do. Went straight to Ideal Café which is well known for Ice Creams. After having Lunch there, came back to the Railway station and started reading a book. Mangalore-Chennai Express uses the modern LHB rakes (which are more agile, safe and big). But as it started raining, we figured out the windows were not closing properly and water started spraying all around (was wondering if this is the localization of German Coaches). So, I settled on my upper berth for the rest of the journey.

Day 9 – Aug 7, 2016
The train arrived 45 minutes to Chennai on the final day. Totally, I lost 5 hours of my Trip thanks to the train delays. I headed back home amidst the hot Chennai Sun which reminded me that Southwest monsoons donot affect this part of the country.

Thus, my great expedition of Karnataka came to an end.

To be continued... Trip Plan, Expenses and Suggestions to form the final post of the trip!

Happy Reading!

August 25, 2016

Wandering alone in Karnataka - Part 4: Hampi-Dudhsagar-Margao-Murdeswar

Hi Guys,

To read Part 1, click here (The Start)
To read Part 2, click here (Exploring Hampi)
To read Part 3, click here (Reminiscence of Vijayanagar Kingdom)

Day 5 – Aug 3, 2016
I had kept a couple of alarms around 5 am so that I donot miss the train. But I woke up 15 minutes before the planned time, thanks to the Power Cut. The auto driver, Rama Li had come by 5.10 am much earlier than the scheduled time. I started around 5.30 am from Hampi to Hosapete Railway station and took a train at 6.20 am to Madgaon (commonly referred as Margao) The train was filled with Party mood with lot of people heading to Goa. The main objective of this trip was to experience the journey via Braganza Ghats (a section of Western Ghats) which is a 26 km rail route connecting Goa to the hinterlands. It is considered as the most complicated construction of Indian Railways. This route is most famous for Dudhsagar Falls which can be accessed only by train.

As the train headed towards Hubli it started raining heavily. After reaching Dharwad at 11.30 am, the train entered the dense cover of Western Ghats and was moving at a snail’s pace. So, the train was chugging amidst rains, forests and mountains. The excitement started building up as the train moved closer to Dudhsagar falls through tunnels and streams. From Castle rock station, it took almost 30 minutes to reach the place and it was marvelous with water flowing in full force thanks to the monsoons. Dudhsagar means 'Sea of Milk' and there is no exaggeration in the name. The falls is viewed better when the train takes the next turn and you face straight at the falls. At this point, you can view the falls in its entirety whereas in the first turn the train is so close to the falls and all you see is water gushing. After slowing down for 3 hours, the train was back at a good pace and reached Margao at 3 pm which was a delay of little more than an hour.
Dudhsagar Falls (Image from Wikicommons) - You get this view when the train takes a turn
Here came my next surprise. I had booked retiring room for overnight stay at the Railway station. The caretaker said no rooms are available. I said I had made online booking. He took me to the room. The room was turned upside down. They were treating it for Bed Bugs! Then the booking authorities had no clue of how to cancel the reservation and I wasted one hour. Then finally I managed to cancel it with some special reason and headed to a nearby Hotel based on Google reviews.

In the evening, I took a bus nearby and went to Colva beach which is one of the key beaches in South Goa and is 6 km away from the station. The city is filled with old buildings and green trees. I fell in love with the city. The beach in itself was beautiful with lot of people, both Locals and tourists. A group of fishermen were taking out fishes and crabs from the fishing nets and lot of dogs and crows surrounded them looking for some feast.
Colva Beach

A fresh catch

Little kids trying their Luck!
Again with cloud cover, I missed out on Sunset. After exploring the city market for some time, purchasing some cashews I went to a restaurant at around 7.55 pm and the server told me, ‘Sir, you are late. We run out of things by 8’. Then I don’t know what he thought, he went inside and brought me a Masala Dosa. After munching, I went back and crashed for the day.

Day 6 – Aug 4, 2016
The day started at 8.30 am as I headed back to Madgaon station. As I started walking, a guy came on a Motor Bike and asked me, ’30 Rs, OK?’. I was blinking for a minute before realizing these are bike taxis of Goa. Then he asked me how much I can give. I agreed for 20 Rs and he dropped me at the station. Despite being a walkable distance, the huge rucksack I had made me go for the ride.

After having breakfast at the Railway station’s restaurant (which was pretty good unlike the usual stuff we get in Railway stations), I waited for my Train which was from Bikaner to Kochuveli. Supposed to arrive at 9.20 am, the train arrived at 10.20 am. Half the train got down at Margao and I was wondering why I booked 3AC in the train when Sleeper would have done for the three hour trip to Murdeswar. In entirety, there were 10-15 people in the coach.

Hence started my journey through the Konkan Railways with tunnels, bridges and mountains. Naturally, the train was an hour late at Murdeswar too and I got down at around 1.30 pm. There were no Autos in the Railway station and I walked around 300 meters to the entrance of Murdeswar and got an Auto for Rs. 30 to the temple (for about two kms).

As the auto dropped me, I was looking at the mammoth temple tower and the statue of Lord Siva. But the sea was more mesmerizing with rough waves and cloud cover in the backdrop. I headed into Naveen seaview restaurant which was covered by Sea on all sides and ordered a Meal. And it started pouring outside. I had the lunch amidst breezy rains, amazing views and splashing water. The lunch was not great, but good enough and economical at 70 bucks. I waited for the rain to subside and then went straight up to the Shiva statue. Both the temple and statue are constructed by a business man known as R.N. Shetty. He owns nearly half the properties in the small town and I am not sure if this temple is a dedication to Lord Shiva or just another business with his own guest houses and restaurants built. The temple and statue are free to visit and to that extent what he has done good work not commercializing the entire area. The temple is huge with 18 towers, but I found it plain with nothing so aesthetic about it.
A breathtaking view of the temple
The majestic statue of Lord Siva
At 3pm, the temple doors opened and I visited the temple which is also neatly constructed. I was surprised to see patches of artificial grasses inside the temple. With the huge rucksack I abandoned my desire to go the 18th floor and have a view (at a charge of Rs.10, a lift takes you all the way to the top). Coming out I sat by the sea and started admiring the sea for quite some time.
Inside of the temple
Naveen Beach Restaurant with nice Sea view and decent food
A view from the other side of the temple
At around 4 pm, I started back to the station (Rs. 40 Auto Charge) and waited for train Karwar-Bangalore express. The station is pretty picturesque with mountains on either sides. The sky opened again for a short span of rain. The train as usual came 40 minutes late and the compartments were fairly empty. A young boy studying 6th standard started chatting with me on what I was reading on (he was curious about Kindle) and where I’m heading to. The train reached Udupi at 6.45 pm – 30 minutes late than destined. As I got into an auto and headed to my booked hotel (Hotel Shambhavi), it started pouring again.

To be continued...

Happy Reading!

August 20, 2016

Wandering alone in Karnataka - Part 3: Reminiscence of the Vijayanagar Kingdom!

Hi Guys,

To read Part 1, click here (The Start)
To read Part 2, click here (Exploring Hampi)

Day 3 – Aug 1, 2016
It was my second day at Hampi and I was determined to cover most of it that day. After an energetic toast and tea at Mango Tree, I rented a Bicycle (Rs.100 per day) and headed straight to Kamalapur. Cycles are good way of covering Hampi though it can be a bit tedious covering distances and riding across the hilly terrain. Kamalapur is a small village 4 kms away from Hampi and has 3 ATMs. The route is filled with all the key ruins apart from lush green paddy and sugarcane fields. After withdrawing money from one of the ATMs, I headed back the same way to start the exploration.
My Cycle for the day
First stop was Lotus Mahal which is inside the Zenena enclosure. There is the basement of Queen’s palace in this enclosure along with beautifully designed Lotus Mahal, the treasury building and a few Watch towers. Just outside the complex is the Elephant’s stable which consists of 11 spacious rooms interconnected with each other. After some imagination of how splendid this place would have been with Queens, soldiers and Elephants, I moved on (You might wonder how Queen's palace and treasury building are in same place - there is a contradictory view that this place was never the Queen's palace and was an administrative building)
Basement of Queen's Palace (Watch Tower visible on extreme left)
Lotus Mahal
Watch Tower
Elephant Stable
After taking my cycle, I headed to Hajarama temple which is said to be a temple built only for the Royal people. Then I headed to the Royal enclosure which houses a lot of ruins which were once the palace that were adorned by Kings. The entrance has Mahanavami Dibba which is tall structure with inscriptions of elephants, horses, etc. The detailing is exquisite. The kings and royal audience have attended ceremonies and festivals from this place. The complex also has a marvelous stepped tank which has beautifully carved out steps leading to the water. Apart from that there are ruins of the palace, King’s Audience and a underground war planning chamber.
Stepped Water Tank
Queen's bath
On the way back, I made a visit to  a huge Krishna temple which is also currently in ruins, but the Government is making efforts to revive the temple. After that, I stopped near a hillock and visited Sasikavelu Ganesh, a huge statue of Lord Ganesh and started climbing the steps and ended upon the two tiered entrance and the Sunset point. Only, then did I realize I was at Hemakunta Hill and how the place is structured. I met another interesting group here consisting of people from Pondicherry staying in Hampi for 7 days and exploring. As I started back to the Bazaar, the sky opened up. The rain coat I had carried all the way came in handy. After finishing Lunch at Mango Tree, I came back to the center of Hampi and it started pouring again.
Krishna Temple Entrance
Sasivekalu Ganesh
I took shelter under the magnificent tower of Virupaksha temple. Once again an Auto Driver came asking if I wanted a whole trip of Hampi in Auto. As I said no, he started chatting with me casually and told he was planning to come over to Tamil Nadu on a trip. I learnt that there are totally around 50-55 temples around Hampi which will take days to cover. As rains slowed down, I came back to my room.
A view from the Sunset point
I went to Virupaksha temple in the night and it was just splendid. The sodium vapour light created a mystic feel to the temple. I again visited the inside of the temple with not much crowd. This time I was able to realize the temple is not just magnificent, but has so many intricate details. I promised to come over early next day to see the temple in broad daylight.
Virupaksha Temple - majestic in day and mystic at night...
Only by the end of this day, I was able to visualize the entire setting of Hampi and the locations of monuments. After looking into the map now, I was able to realize what I had seen and what I had missed out.

Day 4 – Aug 2, 2016
After two days of rains, it was a day with bright sunlight. I had few thoughts in my mind – To head to Hospet to see Tungabhadra dam, to cross the river and see Anegundi (the earlier capital of the kingdom) or visit the left over portion. Decided to go with third option and rented a cycle again. The day started with Virupaksha temple. I also met the same group from Pondicherry again at the temple. The temple was wonderful in bright daylight and it kept throwing new surprises at me. I took a detailed note of the inner sanctum carvings which were designed in the 5th or 6th century. After that, I went to an area marked as ‘Inverted Tower’. It is designed in such a way that light coming through a small hole makes the main tower appear inverted in nature. Interesting design!
Virupaksha Temple in Broad Daylight
Again went all the way to Kamalapur and went to the Archaeological museum. The entrance fee is Rs. 30 and there was no one inside apart from me. The four galleries had a few statues and in center there was a huge model of Hampi designed way back in 1978. The museum wasn't worth a visit.. As I came out, a boy came and told I have to give Rs. 5 for cycle parking and I had to visit a few shops around to get the change! I moved on to Pattabirama temple which is nearby to the museum. As I went there, the place was in complete shambles with the floors and roof opened up and work going on. I came back to the main road and headed to Ganagitti Jain temple which is again on the outskirts. There are quite a lot of Jain and Muslim structures in the area constructed in the same time period as that of Hindu temples.
Ganagitti Jain Temple
Again I moved back to the Royal Enclosure and now with my enlightened knowledge, I had a better glimpse of the place. There were lot of tourists this day compared to the first two days. It was good to see people around after roaming alone in most of the places. As I came out, I saw the two giant Doors kept in floor which I had missed the other day. Similarly, I visited the Underground Siva temple on the way back but it the underground portions were unreachable due to the rains. I headed back to the Hemakunta hill and went to see Badavi Linga and Ugra Narashima, two giant statues located at the entrance of Hampi.

The two giant doors
Badavi Linga - always dipped in water
The magnificent Ugra Narasimha
The day was hot and I was tired by then. So, I slept for some time in the afternoon before returning the cycle in the evening. Around 6 pm, went to Tungabhardra River for the sunset. Unfortunately the clouds avoided the scenic view. Made one last visit to Virupaksha temple in the night and then headed to the room. I had to pack my bags to catch an early train the next day and I was in no mood to pack. I was emotionally attached to Hampi by then.
Tungabhadra River in the evening
After a tough time, I packed things up and slept with dreams of how magnificent the city would have been in its peak. Every rise has a fall!

To be continued...

To read Part 4, click here (Hampi - Dudhsgar - Margao - Murdeswar)

Happy Reading!

August 14, 2016

Wandering alone in Karnataka - Part 2: Exploring Hampi!

Hi Guys,

To read Part 1, click here (The Start)

Day 2 – Jul 31, 2016

After finishing my breakfast at Mango Tree, I was all set to start my exploration!

A bit about Hampi here – Hampi is one of the biggest ruins that you will see in our country. Hampi was the capital of Vijaynagar empire which is of the key kingdoms in India around 14th-16th century in India and had the famous Krishnadevaraya as one of the kings. The city was established in the southern banks of mighty Tungabhadra River amidst Rocks and Boulders. The city has been constructed with Rock on Rock. The ruins are spread across 29 sq. km of Area and is a UNESCO Heritage site. There are around 85 key marked monuments and numerous unmarked monuments here.

Though I had seen a lot of maps on Hampi, nothing stayed in my head for the place is humongous. I started with Virupaksha temple which is the centre of Hampi today. It is a huge temple that was built across various phases starting from as early as 5th century when the Inner Sanctums are said to be built. The outer structures and towers were built by the Vijaynagar rules around 14th century. The temple's entrance tower is majestic at a height of 50m and 9 tiered. It is a still a living temple and visited by numerous people from surrounding villages every day. The mainy deity is Lord Shiva. The temple was so crowded when I visited the first time. Then I headed to Tungabhadra River which borders along the temple. The river is huge, was flowing full with monsoon waters and so scenic. Had to admire the stone steps that were constructed centuries ago to access the river and also the height prevents the flooding of river.
Virupaksha Temple
I came out of the temple and got a Local Map from one of the sellers and as soon as that happened, many Auto drivers swanked around me saying that they will take me around the full of Hampi. I was in no mood for that. If you are running short of time, Autos are the best option to roam around. They charge around 600-800 for a full day which is till 4 pm. After dissuading them, I climbed on the hill that is on the left of the temple. Also known as Hemakunta hill, the hill houses a few temples including temples for Lord Ganesh, Hanuman, Jain temples, a two towered entrance and a Sunset point. The first time I climbed, I had no idea where to head to and climbed down half the way.
Atop the Hemakunta Hill
Jain Temples on Hemakunta Hill
Then I headed straight from the temple and started following a trail. The trail was along the Tungabhadra River and was filled with boulders. It led to Kodandarama temple which is a small living temple. The priest outside advised me to go ahead and there are lot of places around. So, I started walking and after sometime I was roaming all alone with no idea of where the trail leads. As I was wondering of turning back, met a group of tourists coming from the other way. They advised me to go ahead as there are lot of interesting places.
Tungabhadra river along the trail
Ahead was an interesting place known as King’s Balance where Kings used to weigh themselves and donate to the villages around. Going ahead I striked upon the famous Vittala temple complex. Vittala temple is currently a ruined temple, but is known for the famous Stone Chariot. An impressive Chariot made completely of stone is constructed facing the temple. The entrance to the temple is Rs. 30 and can be used to access Lotus Mahal too if accessed on the same day. On coming out I figured out, there is an easily accessible way to the temple on the other side with a road connecting Hampi to the place (but that is at least 8 kms away from Hampi).
Vittala Temple
The famous Stone Chariot
Then I followed back the trail and as I reached Kodandarama temple, there was Chaos outside. A cobra had entered the temple and it was crawling around. A few Cows were coming by the way and they were threatening the Cobra and people were threatening the cows to get away. It was quite a scene. I headed to see the Monolithic Bull statue and then tried climbing the Matanga hill, but then stopped after 30-35 steps as I saw no one around. As I came back to Hampi Bazaar, monkeys were running all around snatching anything edible from people. A child lost her banana and her mother lost the flowers that decorated her hair. As I was clicking photos of them, one monkey snarled at me. I closed my camera, kept it inside the bag and rushed to Mango Tree for Lunch and it was already around 3 pm. It started raining as I was having lunch.
Monolithic Bull
One of those mischievous monkeys

After rains, I went back to room and then headed again to the Tungabhadra river. As I was sitting on the banks, the rains arrived again. This time it was quite scenic to see the rain spreading from west to east and how people figure out arrival of rains and cover the shops. And the rains meant an end to my explorations for the day.

To be continued...

To read Part 3, click here (Reminiscence of Vijayanagar Kingdom)

To read Part 4, click here (Hampi - Dudhsgar - Margao - Murdeswar)

Happy Reading!

August 7, 2016

Wandering alone in Karnataka - Part 1: The Start

Hi Guys,

It has been sometime since I took a break and went somewhere on a trip. After a few failed plans, I decided to go on a Solo Trip somewhere. But the question was where to. My first instinct was to go somewhere north of Delhi. Then after some pondering and considering the low budget in mind, I switched over to Karnataka which some of my friends had been insisting me to visit. Karnataka has so many places spread over, so again I had to circle down upon a few.

Taking clues from the trip we had planned (and cancelled) last December to Badami and Gokarna, I thought of expanding the list. I wanted to loop in Jog falls and Hampi. After doing all research over the internet, the final list was completely different considering all the travel options I had. The final plan was to spend some time extensively in Hampi before moving to Udupi and covering a couple of places en-route.  I had made bookings just a month earlier and to my surprise, I got confirmed train tickets for all the places. Guess, due to monsoon the tourism at all the places are at a very low.

Day 1 – Jul 30, 2016
I had dumped all the necessary things into one trekking rucksack, thanks to my roommate who lent it for the trip. The first leg was to Hampi any my plan was to take Lalbagh Express to Bangalore and then catch Hampi express from there. It was pouring in Bangalore and the city was all over in the news. Two hours into the journey, rain started lashing and it was becoming gloomy. The train started to slow down. The stop over time between the two trains was a mere 25 minutes, but my hope was that the stop over time was 1 hour if I get down at Bangalore Cantonment station. Luckily the train picked up pace was on time (happened to be the only train that arrived on time at destination in the entire trip).

Hampi Express also arrived on time at Bangalore and the train was filled with a layer of water. Passengers carrying heavy luggage were facing a tough time. I fell asleep soon and got up at around 6.45 am ready to get down.

Day 2 – Jul 31, 2016
The train was just chugging into Guntakal station to my horror. We should have reached here by 4.45 am. So, I got back and fell asleep again cursing my bad luck. Finally, the train reached Hospet (now called Hosapete) by around 9.00 am, a delay of 1 hr 50 mins. I went outside and lot of Auto Rickshaws were calling out passengers for Hampi which is 14 kms away from the station. Ignoring the Auto drivers, I waited to catch a Bus to Hampi.
Hampi - A view of Virupaksha temple
After waiting for 15 minutes, an Auto driver approached me again and said he will take me to Hampi for 100 bucks as he had go back there. I was OK with 100 Rs for a 14 km trip. So, I got in and as we started off and went half a km, a bus with signboard ‘Hampi’ was heading to the Railway station. Still, I was content with the Auto. The driver's name was Rama Li and he was saying this is Off Season in Hampi and most of the guest houses would be empty. If you come directly, you can get one for Rs. 450-600 which otherwise goes for double in peak seasons.

I had booked in ‘Laxmi Heritage Homes’ based on reviews in TripAdvisor. After getting a few deals on ClearTrip, the cost of room came to almost Rs. 600 per night. The place is not as comfortable as a hotel room, but it is good enough for a nice stay. The owners of the place are really hospitable and make your stay good. My observation was that it is mostly foreigners who stay up at these guest houses. If you are looking for a full-fledged comfortable Hotel, you need to stay at Hospet and travel to Hampi which will take around 30 minutes. After getting ready at around 11 am, I headed to Mango Tree Restaurant for Breakfast (only good restaurant inside Hampi) and was all set to start the exploration.

To be continued...

To read Part 2, click here (Exploring Hampi)
To read Part 3, click here (Reminiscence of Vijayanagar Kingdom)
To read Part 4, click here (Hampi - Dudhsgar - Margao - Murdeswar)

Happy Reading!!!

March 13, 2016

Indian Startups - When Business Ideas are imitable...

Hi Guys,

There was a nice little pamphlet in today’s newspaper that was an advertisement for a new intra-city logistics service started in Chennai. I was wondering how many similar services have been launched in the past one year. I can remember seeing advertisements of at least two similar players.

Almost all the new start-ups in India have been facing the same issue – Imitations. During my MBA, 0ne of my professors concluded his Strategy course saying,

‘Strategy is something that will differentiate your business from competitors providing superior Value Proposition to Customers over a sustainable period of time’

In short, if a Competitor can imitate your strategy, then it is not a strategy in itself.

For starting a business, Ideation is important. You have a good idea which can get customers and make money – Investors will pump in money. But today, I guess it is enough if you can take someone’s existing idea and pitch in quoting less competition in the field and enter into a direct cost war with your competitor.

Eternally, the companies says that acquiring a customer is important. It is all about deals, cashbacks, acquisitions and sales at any cost. But, I am not finding any of the companies providing superior service to the customer, creating relationship and making efforts to retain the customer.

If you look at any of the newer business areas that has emerged, you can find a minimum of at least two players or sometimes as big as ten players trying to catch the pie. You have Ola-Uber fiercely competing and providing deep discounts to customers and big incentives to drivers. If you consider any of the aggregator services – let it be Food Aggregators (FoodPanda, Zomato, Swiggy, etc), Grocery Aggregators (Big Basket, Grofers, PepperTap, etc), Hotel Aggregators (Oyo, Zo, GoIbibo, etc), the strategies have been more or less similar. One players enters the business. A few imitations are born. The discount war begins. Cash burns and you end up in a Catch-22 situation.

One of the key lessons taught in Strategy is that reducing your price is that last thing you need to do and that too when all other cards are exhausted. Most of these players seem to have only one card with them and that is the Pricing. Sometimes, I do wonder if these players are too myopic and are not thinking out of the box to attract and retain customers.

It remains pretty much the same with the big Daddys out there – Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal. But, one significant thing I find in ecommerce business is that these players are trying something to retain the customers. From my personal experience, Amazon has been trying to provide a great customer service and by treating customer as the king, they are making significant improvement in the market share.

Ultimately, I do wonder if many of the founders really have the passion to become the next big thing. Most of the Investor’s money goes into filling the pockets of founders (as remuneration) and to Customers as cashbacks and discounts (You know, it has been ages since I paid my Phone bill fully – Thanks to PayTm and Freecharge).

Happy Reading!

January 5, 2016

Has the Smart Phone Industry Matured?

Hi Guys,

Long back, I had written a post on how Samsung was losing its plot in India in the Smart Phone segment. In this post, I try to find out the way the Indian Smart Phone Industry is panning out and how different players are fighting it out.

Has the Smart Phone Industry matured?
Large Displays, Better RAMs, Better Resolution, More Megapixels… This is how brands are differentiating. Even the flagships have concepts like Force Touch, Iris Scanner which are not really great innovations. Today any smartphone in the range of Rs. 10000 has a good screen, decent camera and a big display. And brands matter less and less. So many Chinese brands are coming in. Nubia, Meizu, PhiComm, Coolpad… These are some of the brands that came in last year and had a decent crowd going for it. Reliability has not been a big question mark as the OEM tends to be the same player. The newsmakers have been fast shifting… From Motorola to Xiaomi to OnePlus to Asus in a span of 2 years.

Flagships are not really attention seekers anymore. Who would spend 40000 bucks on a phone when a 10000 bucks phone has 75% of those features. Apple thought it could extract its brand premium and priced 6S at a whopping price of Rs. 62000. Only to realize that Indians value their money and had to reduce price by nearly 15% overnight.

Do UIs Matter?
With majority of phone makers coming out with their own UI like MIUI (Xiaomi), Zen UI (Asus), Oxygen OI (OnePlus), does it really matter to the end user? Some of the UIs are pretty different, but none difficult to manage. The interface remains pretty much the same. And it doesn’t seem to be a key feature that impacts Buying Behaviour. Before OnePlus Two came out, CyanogenMed (which was used in Oneplus One) was highly critical and said OnePlus Two would fail because there was no Cyanogen. OnePlus said Oxygen UI is the best UI that is available today. But, no one bothered about the UI. No one either criticized or praised Oxygen UI.
I just wonder why many companies donot stick to the stock UI like Motorola. It is less complicated, straight forward to use and people find it good. So, why spend lot of R&D on a UI which is really not different?

Less Choice is better?
There is a concept in Behavioural Economics which states that lesser the choice, better the proposition. More the choice, people tend to get away or become confused. Most of the companies had a very good sales in the first generation – Motorala (Moto E, Moto G, Moto X), Xiaomi (Mi3, Redmi 1S), One Plus One and Asus Zenfone. Once these phones started coming out with more and more models, people started getting confused and the sales started dipping.

Any new Game Changers?
One of the key requirements of users these days is better batteries. But if you raise the capacity, the phone becomes heavy. What we need is an innovative technology that could provide better powerful batteries. I don’t think any of the existing companies are looking to solve this. The solution could come in from a new player who specializes in manufacturing batteries (someone like Panasonic or maybe Tesla or a new kid in the block).

Apart from that, most of the innovations claimed by companies are really not Game Changers. And again they are easily imitable in nature. The Industry looks to have hit a plateau where larger display, more MPs and better resolution are available with everyone and are affordable too.

Worldwide too, it doesn’t seem vastly different with Apple gorging up 94% of the Smartphone profits despite selling less than a third of the smart phones. The remaining players fight for the 6%. Apple has been able to play with its brand name, replacements and stature. But, not sure how long it would convince people to buy Apple, just because it is Apple…

It appears to have lot of parallels with the PC industry. Effectively, it looks like a field where everyone around looks the same and you got to sell more, spend less to make more profits…

Happy Reading!