Sunday, June 10, 2018

Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (2 of 2)

Also read: Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (1 of 2)

Agra - Jaipur - Mathura trip starts at 6 am from Panicker's Karol Bagh office. We got up at 4 am and started getting ready. The bus departed Panicker's office sharp at 6 am. After a 2.5 hours drive, there was a breakfast stop over at Hotel Highway Prince. Panicker's had arranged a special breakfast menu for Rs.125 each. We finished our breakfast and departed to Jaipur. We saw Birla Mandir, Jantar Mantar, Maharaja Palace, Museum and Amber Fort in Jaipur. The night stay was arranged in Hotel Red Fox within the city. We reached the hotel by around 6 pm. The buffet dinner at the hotel costed Rs.200 per head. The stay was very good. We went to bed at 8.30 pm, as the next day trip starts at 5 am.

The day 2 of the Agra - Jaipur - Mathura trip started at 5 am sharp. The travellers had a quality 3 hours of sleep during the bus ride to Fatehpur Sikri. We had a stop over at a private venue where Panicker's had arranged the breakfast. They charged Rs. 100 for the breakfast, but had a number of items in the menu. Then, we covered Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort and Taj Mahal during the day.

The day temperature was very high - mostly 40+ centigrades. Each of us would've had 4+ litres of water every day.

In the evening, we were taken to Mathura, specifically to the Mathura Temple. The places around the Mathura Temple appeared as-if they belonged to the Independence era. There was absolutely no signs of development. We then headed back to Delhi. On the way back to Delhi, we witnessed dust storm on the highway. It lasted for about a minute and then, it started raining. Though the dust storm lasted just for a minute, it looked disastrous. We reached Delhi by 9.45 pm and checked-in to Hotel Sonil. We ordered dinner at the hotel and went to sleep. 

The next day, Delhi sight seeing trip started at 9 am. So, we had enough time to sleep. We reached Panicker's office by 8.45 am. The bus departed at 9 am, sharp. The quality of the Delhi sight seeing bus was somewhat average. They had a super cool luxury bus for the Agra - Jaipur - Mathura trip. We visited Qutab Minar, India Gate, Lotus Temple, Indira Gandhi Memorial,  Parliament House, Gandhi Museum, Rashtrapati Bhawan and Red Fort. The lunch was served in Tamilnadu Tourism Hotel. We wrapped up the day with a visit to Birla Mandir Temple. We were brought back to the Panicker's office by 7 pm. We finished our dinner and slept early. 

On the last day, we woke up a little late, had our breakfast and started packing our luggages. We reached airport by around 1 pm. We finished our lunch at the airport. Our flight was at 4.30 pm. So, we had a lot of time to kill. The kids spent bulk of the time in wandering around and by going up/down the travelators. We reached home by around 8.30 pm and cherished the memories of the trip.

Those 5 days taught me some critical words in Hindi, such as Bhai, Bhayya, Kitna, Udhar, Idhar and Lao. You can simply survive with these words. We had a very enjoyable trip to Delhi, Agra & Jaipur. The kids had more fun than the adults. We are now geared up to make yet another North India trip.

Also read: Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (1 of 2)

Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (1 or 2)

For nearly 10 years, I was postponing our  Delhi/Agra trip for the simple reason that I was not proficient in Hindi. Recently, a friend of mine said, she did a Delhi / Agra trip through Panicker travels (not to be confused with the Chennai Paniker Tours and Travels). I started doing some research and found that the reviews were very positive. I had never done a group package tour before, so I wasn't sure if that would work out for our family. I was afraid that we had to wait everywhere for other group members to return back to the bus after the sightseeing. But, my friend assured that Panickers maintain the timing in all the places and it is convenient even for families with kids or elders. That gave me some confidence to proceed with the booking.

I planned a 5 days itinerary - reaching on the 1st day, 3 days of sight seeing and returning back on the 5th day. Some monuments are closed on certain days, so I checked their availability before planning the trip. We chose Thu/Fri/Sat/Sun/Mon for our travel. I booked our flight tickets in Indigo Airlines. I went to Panicker Travels office in Prince Plaza, Egmore to book the 3 days sight seeing package and accommodation. They had a 2 days "Jaipur- Agra - Fatehpur Sikri - Mathura (Golden Triangle)" package. This package included an overnight stay at Jaipur. And then, I picked the 1 day Delhi tour package. I also asked Panicker's to arrange the Delhi stay for my entire trip. They helped with that. In finished the planning 2 months in advance.

In the last few years, we had check marked the usual destinations such as Ooty, Kodaikanal, Wayanad, Tanjore, Pondicherry and Coorg. Our May outings are normally with the extended family, which includes 10+ people. The kids in our family were too excited about the trip (actually, about the flight travel!). We got warnings from our friends and family members to cancel the trip - because of the sandstorm in Delhi. However, weather forecast was normal and so, we didn't cancel the trip.

Finally, The D-day came. We boarded the Indigo flight from Chennai Airport at 11 am and reached Delhi by 2.30 pm. We booked Ola Primes from the airport. Our first surprise was the CNG fitted SWIFT Dzires. The trunk space was hogged by the CNG cylinders. There is absolutely no trunk space in those cars. We ended up literally squeezing into the car, with all of our luggages. Our accommodation was arranged in Hotel Karat, Karol Bagh. When we checked-in to the hotel, we were surprised. It appeared like a budget hotel and was not so clean. We were too hungry. So, we headed out to finish our lunch at Hotel Southern, which was nearby. The food at Hotel Southern was very good, also it was very clean. We ended up having all of our meals during Delhi stay in Hotel Southern.

After finishing the lunch, my brother & I went to Panicker Travel's office, which was also in Karol Bagh. We requested them for a hotel change. Initially, they had charged Rs.1.5K for a room. They charged us another Rs.1K to upgrade to Panicker's guest house, which was nearby. I was surprised that they did the hotel change, without making a fuzz about it. We then switched from Hotel Karat to Panicker's Guest House. We spent some time taking rest in the hotel. Then, we had our dinner. We slept early so that we can wake up early the next day.

Also read: Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (2 of 2)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Power of Aadhar - True potential to be unlocked !

Last week, we decided to upgrade my wife's phone connection from a pre-paid to a postpaid plan. After swirling around the town, we landed up in a showroom in Ashok Nagar. The showroom was
very busy and filled with people. All of the representatives were quite engaged in conversations with customers.  In fact, the store had a token system for customers to be serviced in order, by the Airtel representatives. We took a token and patiently waited for our turn. While waiting for our turn, my wife told me "I don't have a passport sized picture. Would that be a problem?". I gave her a stare, not knowing how to react to that.

Also read: Coimbatore Airport - Lost & Found

I looked around and saw some applications hanging off the shelf in the wall. I pulled a postpaid upgrade application form from the shelf. It was longer than the application form to apply for a H1B visa in US consulate. They had a place to affix photograph. "Oops!" I thought. I made my wife to sit inside the store and walked out to check if there is any instant passport photo shop nearby. I couldn't spot one. I walked back into the Airtel store with disappointment.

Around that time, one of the representatives called our token number. We walked to him and occupied the chairs in front of him. He looked at us and asked for the application form, photograph, address proof and ID proof. I told him with a "sorry" face "Sir! We don't have a passport sized photograph. We just have the Aadhar card. Would that be enough?". He said "No problem sir ! That would be enough". He pulled out a small finger print reader, connected it to his mobile phone... and opened an application from the mobile. He entered the Aadhar number and asked my wife to put her thumb on the finger print reader. The mobile application immediately pulled all of her information from the Aadhar database - picture, address etc., He entered the old pre-paid mobile number, selected the basic postpaid plan and clicked submit. He said "Sir! The transaction is complete. You'll receive an SMS in another 4 hours and the migration to a postpaid plan would be complete".

Also read: Money need to R2I

"Wow! No application form... no signatures ... no photocopies of proofs "... I was spellbound when I saw that. The experience that I had in the Airtel store was on par with some of the mobile activation experiences that I've had in the US (or even better than that). I was amazed by the power of Aadhar. I'm now quite excited to see other Aadhar integration applications. I'm hoping that we will soon live in a world, where we don't have to remember two dozen usernames and passwords. On one side I'm excited of the simplicity of Aadhar and on the other side, I'm nervous about its security features. In a country like India, it is very hard to protect online services from hackers. Hopefully, Nandan Nilekani had done a thorough job on the security of the Aadhar services, too. I feel that India is very well positioned to enable digital identity verification and digital payments with services like Aadhar based validation and UPI payments. We have the potential to leap frog some developing / developed nations in digital payments / customer identity validation.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Coimbatore Airport - Lost & Found

Last week, I had been to Pollachi to attend a Industry Institute Conclave in Dr. Mahalingam College of Engineering and Technology (MCET). It was almost a full day event and there were participants from many industries, all over South India. After the event was over, I returned back to Coimbatore
Airport to catch my Spicejet flight at 9.15 pm. I reached airport by 6 pm and the checkin counter wasn't open at that time. I spent an hour in the lobby catching up with emails and phone calls.

At 7 pm, I checked-in at the Airline counter and stood in the queue for security checks. The security personnel asked everyone to keep their laptop and iPad in a tray. Normally, I keep all of my electronic gadgets in one tray, including laptop, iPad and mobile phone. On that day, I had carried with me my iPad and mobile phone. I kept just the iPad on the tray and kept the mobile phone in my bag. After clearing the security checks, I picked up my bag and moved to the seating area. I didn't realize that I had forgot to pick up my iPad from the tray.

(Also read: Chennai Metro Rail - Simply the BEST)

I was at the Coimbatore airport till 9.15 pm and boarded the Spicejet flight. The flight started on time (These days, Spicejet maintains on time departure ! :)). I landed in Chennai and reached home in a Ola cab. By the time I reached home, I was too tired and crashed into the bed.

The next day morning when I got up and wanted to catch up with my emails, I couldn't find my iPad in the bag. I was shocked. When I rewound the sequence of events the previous day, I realized that I didn't pick my iPad from the security. I didn't know what to do. I googled to find out Coimbatore Airport's website. There was a phone number and email id published in the website for "Enquiry". I sent an email to them and called the phone number (thinking that no one will pick up the phone at 7 am in the morning). To my surprise, a lady picked up the phone on the other side. I asked her "Mme! I was traveling from Coimbatore airport yesterday night and I missed to pick up my iPad during the security checks. Can you please check if the security officers have secured it?" She turned around and asked someone "Did you find an iPad yesterday night from the security line?" I could hear the conversation... and the other person responded back positively to her. She turned to me and said "Sir! Your iPad is safe, you can come and collect it from us showing your ID proof and copy of the boarding pass". I told her that I'm in Chennai and I can request my friend to pick it up. She said "Your friend has to come up with their ID proof and a requisition letter from you". I requested one of my friends in Coimbatore for help. I sent the documents through my friend and she was able to pick it up for me. The next I received a response to my email checking if I have received my iPad.

(Also read: Night stay in Bangalore airport - rethink)

I am positively surprised by the responsiveness of the Coimbatore Airport staff and their outstanding support. It is very rare to see such committed / sincere staff in Government institutions. Our country is still going strong, because of officials like the one in Coimbatore Airport. I'm very thankful to them. If you are flying via Coimbatore, you don't have to worry.. you are in "safe hands".