Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival, Bangalore, December 2012

Was at Dr L.Subramaniam’s annual fusion music festival last night. He started with a real foot stomper called ‘Indian Express’ (poetic justice indeed, since the festival itself is sponsored by the Times of India) and ended the evening with Don’t Leave Me. In between were pieces by  his wife Kavita Krishnamurthy, their kids and two other musicians. Except for the odd flash I pretty much forgot HolidayIQ for over 2 hours; evidently the music was absorbing.

A small regret – I would have liked the two global musicians to have got a bit more of play time. Froy Aagre from Norway on the Sax & Chris Rhyne from LA on the keyboards.

Techie Foodie

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(the Artists’ Corner at Sixtyfour)

Bangalore is for obvious reasons flooded with techies. What is interesting is that a clear sub-genus, the ‘techie foodie’, is emerging. And many of them are starting restaurants.

I was in one such place over the weekend. Sixtyfour is a smallish place describing itself as “a bistro & bar featuring great food and music”. Started by 4 techies in a converted Koramangala house, it is intimate and relaxed and yes, actually has pretty decent food – effectively it is everything most lounge bars in Bangalore are not.  Vijesh (my photographer-friend Nagesh’s brother) teamed up with Sameer (who set up a software company, sold it to Mindtree and worked for sometime there), an entrepreneurial IIM – Cal  alumnus via Gulbarga & Ratlam whose name I forget and another techie from Delhi to set up Sixtyfour.

Another such instance I am aware of is Shiok the pan-asian cuisine restaurant on Inner Ring Road near Embassy Golf Links. Madhu, the patron-saint of the place is another techie who forsake the world of bits & bytes to dig deep into ‘makaan’ of east asia.

As our techies travel far & wide across the world, the food enthusiasts among them bring back pieces of the globe to this city. May their tribe grow.

Travelocity India

Travelocity is coming through (and not just by buying up Indian companies) – looks like they have some of the better flight deals in the region. I recently found a Bangalore – Singapore return (economy of course) on Singapore Airlines for Rs 11,200. And a Bangkok return for 13,600. Both of which are better than the normal fares offered by m0st travel Agents.

So, if you have the time (or the necessity!) to do research f0r good flight deals, I suggest Travelocity India.

The star tourism product for karnataka

Recently, my friend Rohit Hangal posed an interesting question on one of the Tourism Groups on Linked In. His question was:

If we had to chose among one ‘attraction/destination’ in ‘Bangalore/Karnataka’, what would that be and the reasons for it – Scouting for that one ‘Star Tourism Product’.

I love the question, because I believe the bane of Indian tourism is trying to ‘sell’ too many things at the same time.

Therefore, let me attempt an answer:

I don’t think I know Karnataka well enough to pop up all of the options. But having spent too many years in Management Consulting, I cannot avoid the temptation to develop a framework to find an answer. So, here is my 2-bit on this.

It should be:

- Relevant – relevant to the target market. If we assume the target market is the 25 to 45 year old India urban-dweller, then we better make sure s/he is truly interested in what we come up with. if we assume that the market is 60+ year Caucasians, that is another story.

- Defensible – we must be able to able to ‘defend’ it from other competing offerings. that is, there should be no threat of it becoming a ‘me-too” product. Would any World heritage work? Unlikely, since many other states also have ‘world heritage sites’

- Desirable – the people of Bangalore / karnataka (ie. the ‘owners’ of the attraction) must feel that this is a ‘desirable’ facet to promote. If ordinary folks are in some way not quite convinced, all of the effort will go in vain. For, every time the tourist comes into contact with the real product, there will be a strong possibility of disappointment.

- ready – the product must be ready for sale. Which means, a reasonable amount of necessary infrastructure (both core & tourism infrastructure) should already be in place

Any ideas?

Do not fly Paramount Airways

Rumour had it that Paramount airways was good on service, so I decided to desert Jet Airways for once on my trip to Chennai. Bad idea. I got a call late at night from Paramount airways saying that my next morning’s flight to Chennai was ‘cancelled for commercial reasons’, which all of us know means they did not get enough passengers for them to feel obliged to operate the flight.

So, I dug a bit deeper. Seems this is a frequent occurrence. Many people I know in Chennai now tell me that the on-board service in Paramount is good – provided, you are lucky enough for the flight to actually operate.

For an airline that says it focuses on the business traveller, this seems a pretty rough reputation to acquire. Avoid it, if you need to defintely get to your destination on the date/time planned. If you are flying for a lark, it is of course a different matter.

Home Alone

The last few days in Bangalore have been wonderful, especially since I was running around various parts of India for about 10 days before that. Its been overcast for every one of these days; a little rain every evening and generally very cool & pleasant. Life continues on its curious Indian urban rhythm.

Page 3 types here have been shouting themselves hoarse (with the usual support of the Bangalore Times) about the lack of night-life in Bangalore. As you would expect, everyone in Bangalore thinks it is a shame that restaurants close at 11.30 pm here. What happens if you are single & have a night-shift job that demands you look for a restaurant after 11.30 pm? This is a hard-working, 24×7 city and such restrictions are of no help to anyone.

I am of the opinion that this rule has not got changed for only one reason – because of the loud support it has got from the Page 3 crowd here. Bangalore is a city of serious achievers and hard-working citiziens. We have some of India’s leading & most respected business people here – Azim Premji, Narayana Murthy & VIjay Mallya are just the obvious names. The creme of India’s scientific community live here – for instance, the leading lights of the Indian Institute of Science, Indian Space research organisation & the DRDO to name just a few. We have our share of prominent sports-persons too. From Rahul Dravid & Anil Kumble to Pankaj Advani & Anju Bobby George there is a veritable phalanx. In such a city, the Page 3 types – mostly superannuated hotel managers, socialising matrons & similar hangers-on – are for obvious reasons, generally held in benign contempt. And it is the very prominence of these light-weights in the movement to keep restaurants open that is seriously harming the ’cause’. Girish Karnad, the movie director took part in a rally last week and spoke for the ’cause’ and for a day, it seemed the Powers would wobble. But another day of strident sound-bytes from the city’s social butterflies put paid to that hope. So, restaurants stay closed after 11.30 pm and God help you if you need to eat out after that. ‘Go Home’ says the sign.

Maybe it is high time some real people asked the government why this nonsense continues in Bangalore.

In the meantime, the great weather goes on & I flit between strong cups of Mysore coffee and hot, crispy Dosas. At home, obviously.

Weekend getaways from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata and 10 other Indian cities

HolidayIQ has just revamped its weekend getaway section. Now one can find weekend getaway destinations as well as weekend getaway resorts/hotels by distance from each of the top 17 Indian cities.

Click here to see the new pages:

Weekend getaways from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata

Weekend getaways from all 17 cities

Requiem for an airport

(The world has gone away…)

They closed it down last week; the old HAL airport in Bangalore, that is. I was there on its last day to say farewell. And in spite of all its inadequacies (there were too many), I felt not a little sadness. It is small, impersonal events such as this that sometimes tell me how much the world we are all so familiar with is now coming to a close.

In a decade, I am sure India will have spanking infrastructure in most of its cities and the misery of trying to lead a highly productive life in the midst of such crumbling old world infrastructure would be a thing of the past. Indeed, it is our generation that has borne the brunt of it, since most of us would have lived a good part of our life in the cusp between ‘third-world’ and ‘advanced’. What that also means is that we will be the last generation to remember India ‘the way it was’.

As I watch my sons grow up, I am relieved that the India we are moving into will probably give them everything they need to ‘succeed’ without the daily struggle we are all so familiar with. But, I am definitely left with a niggling thought that there were a few things that we had good in ‘the old times’. Such as not needing to choose too much (for example in my childhood, Indians cars came in 2 models – Fiat and Ambassador and in about 4 colours!). Or walking across to the cranky, neighborhood kirana guy for a toothpaste (you will now probably go to a Reliance outlet where the salesman will paste on a plastic smile & wish you ‘a good day’ – God forbid!)

Anyway, to come back to the old HAL airport. Over the last 10 years (almost 8 of which I have lived in Bangalore), I have probably used the airport about 500 times. And I still cannot get over my first experience (circa 1997) of returning from a hot & dusty Delhi to a wonderful cool breeze late in the evening in Bangalore and walking across the tarmac to a little terminal in which my 50 odd co-passengers were the only souls about.

Sorry baby, I loved you in my own way, but I gotta let you go now. That is the way of the world.

Best Summer Holiday Destinations in India

Here is a list of top (popular) destinations that Indian tourists are going to inside India during Summer 2008. This is from a tourism trends document recently released by HolidayIQ, part of a series called Holiday Intelligence.

Western region – Goa, Mahabaleshwar, Ganapatipule, Matheran, Alibaug

Southern region – Coorg, Bangalore rural, Kodaikanal, Nagarhole, Ooty

Northern region – Srinagar, Manali, Mussoorie, Jaipur, Binsar

Eastern region – Puri, Digha, Kolkata, Raichak, Shantiniketan

North-east – Gangtok, Shillong, Pelling, Guwahati

I had a lot of fun working on this along with the team – some cool insights there about Indian tourists. Incidentally, here is a link to a recent article in the Economic Times which quoted extracts from Holiday Intelligence.

If you’d like a copy of the document, send a mail to holidayintelligence@holidayiq.com.

Mallu food at Claypot in Thippassandra in Bangalore

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(A surreal snap of a mallu ‘sadya’, I found on Flickr – click here for the original)

So you are looking for authentic kerala food in Bangalore. And you want a clean, not fancy place that serves you great food and no attitude. Check out Claypot, the tiny little mallu joint on Rama Temple Road in the midst of the crowded Thippassandra locality just off Indira Nagar in the eastern part of the city. Once there, ask for Benny and say I sent you. Should get you a warm smile. Keeping the determinedly socialist approach of the Mallu, knowing a big kahuna will not change anything else at the place for you – the food will remain the same as for everyone else. Which is good, because the food everyone gets is great.

My personal recommendation is to land up for lunch and to get yourself a mallu ‘meals’ (it is always said in the plural – anyone asking for a mallu ‘meal’ is either a serial-killer or a capitalist or both). Ask for a crab masala or prawn ‘thoran’ – if you can handle tons of lovely grated coconut – and mackerel fry. Say thanks to your God and tuck in.

New Delhi International Airport, Taj Palace Hotel, Indian Airlines now called Air India and Fujiya

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(Delhi airport. Photo from : http://www.newdelhiairport.in)

I am just back from a quick business trip to Delhi which coincided with the coldest week in Delhi in 28 years. Not good news – but as luck would have it, the first day there turned out to be very cold but very sunny, which is a lovely combination. So, escaped unhurt.

For old times sake (and because they have a bloody early morning flight from Bangalore), I flew Indian Airlines, which has now been determinedly renamed Air India. Unfortunate. Because in the process, Indian Airlines, which I have always had a soft corner for, is really starting to resemble Air India, which according to me is unquestionably among the the 10 worst airlines in the world. So, here is an emotional requiem to Indian Airlines; RIP.

Among the obscene prices for hotels rooms in Delhi, I was able to wangle a slightly less indecent price (fairly crazy nevertheless) from the The Taj Palace hotel by booking a no-cancellation room, way ahead of time on the Taj Hotels website. It is always nice to stay at the Taj, because somewhere they have perfected the art of clean & efficient luxury service without the ‘looking-you-over’ approach of some Indian luxury chains, not the least of which is the Oberoi. Continue reading

Konkan coast on rails

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(Map of Konkan Railway)

So, I am off again. The idea is to get to Mangalore and work my way up to Goa and then from there to explore the beaches of Sindhudurg in South Maharashtra. It is a non-plan, plan. I have a train ticket from Bangalore to Mangalore. I have a ‘second sitting’ booked from Mangalore to Madgaon. (I think www.IRCTC.co.in is a blazing wonder – I just booked, very effortlessly, a 71 buck ticket for the MAQ – MAO journey and even have a window seat allotted to me; need to see whether seat allotments hold on passenger trains on the Konkan railway). I also have a return ticket to fly back from Goa to Bangalore. Hopefully, serendipity will help me fill the rest.

Click here for all my posts on the Konkan.

And, click here for all my posts on Trains, planes, spacecraft etc.

Golden Anniversary of the National School of Drama, Delhi

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(photo from National School of Drama)

Read a news item that NSD is doing a series of plays to celebrate its 50th anniversary. I first went for one of NSD’s annual festivals in 1991 (I think). It was held in the open air theatre in NSD’s campus close to Mandi house and Kamani auditorium. Have you ever watched a live performance perched on the steps of an open air amphitheatre surrounded by aficionados, in the darkness of a cold northern winter? If not, do it as soon as possible.

Nothing is an elevating as a live performance; a real person on a stage creating a spell of a character and drawing distinct human beings that make up the audience into that spell and that moment. It is one of the fascinating aspects of being human – this bubble which live theatre creates, encompassing both performers and the audience. I love it.

London is one of the greatest cities on earth and theatre is a big reason for that. West End of course we know. Great plays and fine dining make this THE location for an evening out in that city. But for a truly wonderful experience head out to Regents Park for an evening with the New Shakespeare Company. And here is the kicker; it is fairly close to Baker Street. So if you like both Sherlock Holmes and William Shakespeare, you need go no further for absolute nirvana.

Unfortunately, most Indian cities have practically non-existent facilities for theatre and almost certainly none for open air theatre. Further testimony to the fact that many Indian cities have become Continue reading

Bangalore to Mangalore – by train to the Konkan coast

Once upon a time there was this quiet town in India renowned for its great weather, doddering pensioners and slow & steady factories. And a few hundred kilometres away was another small town on the sea, with a massive smell of drying fish as its unique signature.

Life went well for everyone till a crazy Texan came to town (the first town with great weather) and in a short span of time had so corrupted the place that it was overflowing with cars, traffic jams, call centres, multi-milionnaires and java coders. While all this was going on, the second town was still on its placid path, with its unique olfactory imprint intact.

But a few souls in the sleepy, smelly town decided they wanted to get to the big city that the other town had now become. They too wanted ‘success’. So they fought hard for a railway line between the two towns.

Energised by the pleas of its people, the government decided to set up a railway line between the two towns. And started a project. The project went on. And went on. And went on. Soon, everyone in the two towns forgot about this railway that was being built. They went by car, by bus, by plane. By everything but by train. And the two towns bustled.

Till one day, when somebody suddenly said, the railway is now open. Continue reading

Chelsea Harbour, London

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(photo courtesy : Chelsea Harbour Marina)

Get on to the District Line (green) on the London tube and aim for Wimbledon. Alight at a station called Fulham Broadway and turn left as you come out of the station; walk for about a quiet mile and you get to Chelsea Harbour. London is full of surprisingly nice boroughs and Chelsea Harbour is one of them. If you are in London, are interested in Interior Design and have a few hours to spare to meander out a bit, this is an interesting little trip.

I found Chelsea Harbour a few years ago because I was chasing up a new design centre I had heard rumours of. Chelsea Design Centre - CDC – is a nice concept if you happen to like anything associated with Interior design. (I do, so the interest). CDC is a one-stop mall for various outlets providing designer products for all interior design requirements. When I visited it a few years ago, it was almost exclusively focused on Architects and Builders. I recollect wondering why they had not promoted themselves among the aam janata and I am happy to report that they seem to done it now. It is a concept crying out to be done in India; I think Mumbai, Delhi & Bangalore can each take one such place.

The other interesting place is the Chelsea Harbour Marina which as the name suggests is, well, a Marina. A lovely little marina on the Thames ringed by residential buildings that obviously provide a respite for harassed but well-heeled Londoners.

Here is the link to all my Europe posts.

And, here you can find stuff classified under European Cuisine.

Gopi Manjoori

I was at the ET Awards do in Bangalore last evening. Everyone but everyone was talking about the big daddies of the future world – China & India. How they will drive growth, how they will reshape geopolitics, how they will change everything. The mood was generally upbeat, as it would be when there is an armchair discussion inside a five star room full of well fed & ‘well drunked’ rich men (mostly).

But I view things with altogether more concern. For I can see the big battle brewing between these two powers that I think will shake the foundations of world civilisation as we know it. I am referring of course to the battle to become the world’s epicurian default setting. In the next decade, lightly done & midly aromatic chinese food with fresh vegetables & mixed meats will meet the the sensory overload of fried + spiced, strongly vegetarian Indian cuisine in an all-out war for hungry mouths worldwide. And the best part is, I have no clue which will win.

But in a ressurective spirit of Panchsheel, let me propose a partnership. As all of us who have travelled to the deepest interior of our land know, there is a diabolical dish whipped up by ‘chotu’ chefs across a million dhabas, that has the potential to bring these two warring parties to the table and create a whole new cuisine that can quite effectively take over the world without shedding an unnecessary drop of ketchup. I am obviously referring to Gopi Manjoori (nee Gobi Manchurian), that versatile creation that I can never have enough of.