Saturday, May 29, 2010

PVR Cinemas in Skywalk, Chennai - Worldclass

I had been to PVR Cinemas in Skywalk to watch the new movie, Singam. The theatre complex was spectacular. PVR cinemas is located in the 4th floor of Skywalk, the newest multiplex in Chennai. They have 7 movie halls. The ticket price was Rs.120 (+ Rs.15 per ticket for online booking). You can book your tickets online and pick them from a kiosk by just swiping your credit card (that was used for booking tickets online). For the first time in theatres, I noticed security checks and bag screening for people.  (Also read: Skywalk in Chennai - Multiplex++)

The movie hall was HUGE. A single movie hall can accommodate nearly 400 people. The movie hall had carpet flooring, well lit seat rows & numbers, cushion/pushback seats. They had left sufficient space between the screen & the front rows. If the movie isn't good, you can just go to sleep lying down on the pushback seats. Fortunately enough, Hari & Surya didn't give us that opportunity today. Singam is a very fast paced movie - the hero, camera man, editor & director has done a stupendous job ! Kuddos to them.

One thing worth mentioning about PVR cinemas is the quality of rest rooms. You'll be caught in surprise when you open the door of the restroom. It looked like a restroom in 5 star hotel. Compare it to the restrooms in other theatres where there is smell of urine or pan spit all over. (Also read: A ban on spitting pan in public places - who enforces it?)

They also have a food court serving all kinds of snacks in the world ranging from hot dogs, sandwiches, nachos to popcorns and coffees. There were even small lobbies with designer sofas where you can sit comfortably to sip your cup of coffee. My wife & daughter enjoyed the large popcorn pack (Rs.60) that I bought during the break. Believe it or not, the theatre is "smoke free".

When the show was over, the housekeeping people were eagerly waiting to get into the movie hall to clean it up !

Skywalk has a good parking structure for vehicles (2 & 4 wheelers). Of course, they charged an exhorbitant amount for parking - Rs.30 for 4 hours of 2-wheeler parking. There were enough people to guide you, along the way (right from the entrance all the way to the theatre).

Overall, PVR cinemas provides a wonderful movie watching experience. The experience was similar to watching movies at an IMAX theatre in US. I didn't repent spending Rs.500 for watching a movie in PVR Cinemas at Skywalk.


Skywalk in Chennai - Multiplex++
Unnai Pol Oruvan - Short 'n Sweet
No No Samy - Kandasamy

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Danushkodi Trip Experiences

A trip to Rameswaram will not be complete without visiting Danushkodi. After our visit to Rameswaram Temple, I checked with a few tour operators about Danushkodi. All of them unanimously said "There is NOTHING TO SEE in Danushkodi. Why do you want to go there?". In fact, one of the tour operators even showed me a newspaper article describing Danushkodi as the ghost town. (Also read: Rameswaram & Danushkodi Trip Planning Tips)

When all my fellow family members were sold on the 'NOTHING TO SEE in Danushkodi' mantra ... I wasn't. When you ask a child "Not to do something", it will immediately do that out of curiosity. Similarly, I was so determined to visit Danushkodi, when everyone said "Don't go there... there is nothing to see in Danushkodi". The next morning, we (my wife, kid, a cousin & I) left Rameswaram to see Danushkodi. All the other family members decided not to join us. We boarded the Danushkodi bus in the stop opposite to Rameswaram temple. Bus services to Danushkodi start as early as 5.30 am. We boarded the bus at around 7 am. The bus was completely packed with people who are going to Danushkodi to setup shops, to swim or to fish. Smell of fish was coming from even the empty baskets carried by the fishermen/women. The road to Danushkodi was along the sea shore and hence, the breeze was very pleasant. The bus reached Danushkodi check post by 7.40 am. The local tempo van operators in Danushkodi who are running the "tours" haven't started their service. They were waiting for at least 20 people to assemble. In about a few minutes, we gathered significant mass and started our journey to the interiors of Danushkodi.

The 4-wheel van drive to the interiors of Danushkodi was very exciting and adventurous. There were few instances where I thought the van is going to topple-up. The tempo van cruised through damp lands, sea shores and regions with thorn trees. Along the way, we saw jeeps carrying tourists and tempo vans carrying supplies to the fishermen living in interior Danushkodi. During our trip, our van had to stop a few times to help lift other vehicles that got stuck in sand/mud. A 10Km drive to the interiors of Danushkodi took nearly 45 minutes. We reached the tip of India which was covered by sea on all the 3 sides. On one side, the sea was very calm and the other side it was rough. The sangamam of both the seas (place where they both merged) looked remarkably beautiful. There was continuous sand storms in that region - no wonder why all the old buildings/structures were almost buried into the sand, in Danushkodi. I heard from the tempo van driver that the spot was used for shooting films such as Sura, and Nanda. There is a small shop selling snacks and drinks in that location. We spent nearly 20 minutes in that spot.

The van then took all the tourists to the real 'ghost town'. You can see destroyed houses, church, railway station and other government buildings in that region. Many houses were almost buried into sand. You can see only the roof of such houses. There were a few shops selling snacks, drinks & souvenirs in that area. We spent about 20 minutes in that location. The van then took us all back to Danushkodi check post. They charged Rs.60 per person for the round-trip tour which took about 3 hours.

If you are visiting Rameswaram, I would definitely recommend you to visit Danushkodi. It is definitely one of the MUST TO SEE PLACES near Rameswaram. You'll definitely like the roaring seas, sand storms, fresh air, peacefulness, scenic locations and adventurous ride. So, don't miss it !

Also read:

Rameswaram Trip Experiences
Rameswaram & Danushkodi Trip Planning Tips

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rameswaram / Danushkodi Trip Planning Tips

I learned quite a few things during my recent trip to Rameswaram & Danushkodi. Here are some tips/data points that will help you to plan your Rameswaram/Danushkodi Trip:
  • Take a train to Rameswaram that reaches after sun rise. You can see the beautiful & majestic Pamban Bridge. Also, you can admire the water on both the sides of railway track, when the train cruises through the sea.
  • Auto rickshaws charge Rs.40 to take you from Rameswaram railway station to the temple
  • There are pay & use toilets/bathrooms near temple (suitable for bachelors, who don't need an accommodation)
  • TTDC rooms are available in Rameswaram and can be booked online
  • There are lots of hotel rooms/accommodation available near the temple at various price ranges
  • Temple opens very early in the morning (at 5 am). So, the hotels/commercial establishments near temple are open very early, too
  • If you are interested to take bath in the '22 theerthams' inside the temple - there are people who charge you Rs.75 (including the Rs.25 fare) and provide express service. Also, they pour one bucket full of water on you instead of just 'showers'.
  • Do not take any cameras when going to take bath in the '22 theerthams'. If you are taking cash/valet, do take a high-quality polythene cover with you
  • There are adequate bus services from bus stand to the temple (once, every 10 minutes or so)
  • There are number of buses that operate between Rameswaram & Madurai
  • There are regular bus services between Rameswaram & Danushkodi (once every 30 minutes or so). You can board these buses in front of the temple, near the post office.
  • There are NO good restaurants near the temple. Hotel Vasantha Bhavan (located outside the temple) is OK for a quick meal. But hygiene in that restaurant is questionable. Hotel Aryas restaurant (in the Goswami Madam complex) looks decent. But, you need to walk quite a bit to get there. 
  • Usage of plastic bags & plastic cups is banned in all commercial establishments in Rameswaram
  • There is a fee of Rs.25 for taking camera inside the temple (to take pictures in 'moondram pragaram')
  • Tour operators within the city charge Rs. 250 for auto rickshaws, Rs.750 for Maruti Omni or similar vans, & Rs.1000 for Mahindra Tourister like vans. They'll take you to the "popular places to see in Rameswaram" such as Ramar Theertham, Setha Theertham, Lakshman Theertham, Ramar Patham, House of Kalam (view from the street), Kothandaramar temple. They'll also show you the floating rock. If you want to include Pamban Bridge and other locations, you may be charged extra. I heard that Vivekanandar Mandapam in Rameswaram is good. Danushkodi trip is not covered by this.
  • There are jeeps that take people from Rameswaram to Danushkodi (all the way to the end). They charge Rs.900 per jeep, which can take about 7 people. Alternatively, you can take a bus from Rameswaram to Danushkodi checkpost (Rs.5 bus fare per person). You can rent a tempo van for Rs.1200 (for a group of nearly 15 or 20). If you are a smaller group, you can pay Rs.60 per person to share the ride on the tempo van.
  • There are small mom & pop kind shops/restaurant near Danushkodi checkpost/beach. There are small shops towards the end of Danushkodi selling cool drinks & snacks. Fishermen are still living in huts on the old/destroyed Danushkodi.
Also read:

Rameswaram Trip Experiences
Danushkodi Trip Experiences
Tirupati Tirumala Visit - May be the last?
Tiruchendur Temple - Poojari's demanding money  

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rameswaram Trip Experiences

Last week, I had been to Rameswaram with my extended family members (nearly 15 people). Rameswaram is not only a popular destination for South Indian pilgrims but also for North Indians because of its historical significance. I was eagerly waiting to see various places in/around Rameswaram, because of their legacy. (Also read: Rameswaram & Danushkodi Trip Planning Tips)

We took Rameswaram express from Chennai (at 5 pm) and reached Rameswaram early in the morning (at 4.30 am). We did a mistake of not booking hotel rooms in advance. The roads around the station weren't maintained well and there were hardly any hotels, near the station. Looks like people/devotees typically stay closer to the temple. We took 4 autorickshaws to go near the temple to look for rooms. Rameswaram isn't a developed city, despite the huge crowd that visit the temple city everyday.

We managed to find an accommodation in Siva Lodge near the temple (for Rs.500 per room which can accommodate 4 - 5 people). We dropped our luggage in the hotel room, took a short break and went to the sea to take the holy dip. I was surprised by the quality of sea water in the location where people take the holy dip. It is heavily polluted because of the crowd.

We then went to the temple for '22 theerthams'. We paid Rs.75 per person (including the ticket fare), for an intermediary to quickly take us through the '22 theerthams'. After the '22 theerthams' we went back to the hotel room to take bath and change our dress. We had breakfast in Hotel Vasantha Bhavan opposite to the temple and then visited the temple again. (Also read: Golden temple in Sripuram, Vellore - Marvelous)

Rameswaram Temple was not maintained very well. There were broken pillars, peeling cement/paint layers, and spider webs all around the temple. The exteriors of the temple are painted well. The 'moondram pragaram' had a number of pillars on both the sides of the walkway for nearly 1200m. The view was simply amazing and a feast for cameras.

We went back to hotel room, took rest and hired a couple of Maruti Omnis to take us around the city. They took us to the 'famous spots' in the city and charged us a hefty Rs.1000 per van, for 3 or 4 hours of ride. The places they showed us include such as Ramar Theertham, Setha Theertham, Lakshman Theertham, Ramar Patham, House of Kalam (view from the street), and Kothandaramar temple, Floating Rock, Pamban Bridge and Jothilingam temple. We had lunch at Hotel Aryas in Goswamy Madam. The food quality was good. We finished the tour and came back to hotel by around 6 pm. We spent the rest of the day in the hotel. The breeze from the sea nearby was very pleasant and hence many of us decided to sleep on the corridor of the hotel room for the night. The corridor had an open balcony from where you can get the ocean view.

Certain pockets of Rameswaram is well developed, but majority of the city isn't maintained well (including the streets near the temple & the roads near 'House of Kalam'). The restaurants near the temple aren't adequately staffed and there is a long waiting time to find seats. Majority of the people who visit Rameswaram include old people and people of middle/low income category. So, the commercial establishments are targetted at such customers. If you are expecting 'luxury' you'll be disappointed very much.

Also read:

Danushkodi Trip Experiences
Tirupati Tirumala Visit - May be the last?
Tiruchendur Temple - Poojari's demanding money  
Kovai Trip - Maruthamalai Visit 

Monday, May 17, 2010

First R2I Anniversary - The Journey continues ...

We just celebrated our first year R2I anniversary. It feels like just waving final good bye to US. But, the clock moved very fast to ring the anniversary bells. It is a significant mile stone in my life.

When I decided to R2I last year, I wasn't sure if my decision would withstand the tsunamis from day to day life in India. But, my R2I journey is standing tall and strong like a light house.

What do I miss the most? The first thing that pops out of my mind ... is my friends. Almost all my friends are in US and I miss their company. The regular get togethers, the potlucks, the birthday parties, the joint outings ... I miss them all. A quick call to a friend to ask "Hey! Did you file your tax returns? How did you do it?"... "How do I apply for my kid's passport?"... There are not many friends around, to ask such questions. 

What do I enjoy the most? The liveliness of India. Take a short walk outside your home and you'll meet at least 10 people that you know. They may not necessarily be your friends. But, they all wish you "Good morning!" or at least say a "Hi!" to you. India is filled with people. Parks, beaches, railway stations, tourist spots... there is people everywhere & I love it.

My wife and daughter are enjoying it too. My wife gets to meet her parents often, she gets household help from maids, she can do all her shopping in just a few minutes of walk (instead of having to drive miles). She is loving it. My daughter enjoys the company of my parents and their pampering. In fact, my daughter got adapted to the new life, faster than we had thought. (Also read: 100 reasons to R2I)

The last one year changed our life significantly and we picked up new skills along the way. We learned to navigate through the day to day problems. We learned to negotiate with people in India (though we haven't mastered it yet!). And more importantly, we learned to live without a car. (Also read: Driving on Indian roads - Pleasure or Pain?)

The last one year has made us stronger, wiser and super motivated to continue our R2I journey. We are deep into the woods now and there is no looking back. Definitely, there are miles to go... but, our batteries are charged with enthusiasm to take us through the rest of the journey.

Also read:

10 things to know before your R2I
R2I Planning Guide

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Shoe Trees - the life extenders for your shoes

Have you heard about "Shoe Trees"? It is hard to guess the application/purpose of this device, with just its name. Recently, I came to know about this device from a friend of mine, who has been there in US for 30+ years. We both were attending a trade show and our conversation led to my brand new shoes. I told him that this is the costliest pair of shoes that I ever bought. He asked  what do you do to maintain your shoes or extend its life? I was puzzled with his question. He continued to ask "Do you know that there is a way to keep the shoes from smelling bad?" He said, you should buy "Shoe Trees" and shared with me lots of interesting details about it.

Shoe Trees are very commonly used in US. The main purpose of Shoe Trees is to absorb moisture from the shoes and there by, extend the shoes' life and prevent the shoes from smelling bad. It looks like many young kids are forced by their parents to use Shoe Trees. Parents do not want to spend big bucks on high quality shoes and that too, not very often. Hence, they wanted the kids to use Shoe Trees to extend the Shoes' life. Moreover, kids get involved in intense activities and hence it makes sense for them to use Shoe Trees to absorb moisture from their shoes. Once you return home in the evening, you just need to insert these Shoe Trees into your shoes and leave them for the whole night. They'll take care of the remaining job.

On hearing about Shoe Trees, I was wondering, why "Shoe Trees" aren't very common in India. In fact, our feet get moist easily because of the hot weather in India. I guess the economics are making Shoe Trees unaffordable? In US, Shoe Trees are sold anywhere from $20 - $40. In India, many people cannot afford shoes. And the ones who buy shoes look for a bargain and end up buying shoes for half that cost. Also, because of the excessive wear & tear of shoes in India, you cannot technically "extend" the life of shoes. If you are using your leather shoes everyday, it may hardly last for a year or two. Also, during the winter season, you cannot avoid stepping into water clogged roads. So, the mantra of 'long life for shoes' doesn't hold good, here in India.

Anyways, if you have the practise of wearing leather shoes to work in US, you should definitely consider buying Shoe Trees. Based on what I heard from couple of people in US, these toys 'really' extend the life of shoes, if used regularly.

Also read:

11/45 - The rarest size
Goods in US - lots of options & cheaper price