Mumbai-Pune Puncture Scam

If you live in any of the major cities of India, and own a vehicle, you’re more than likely to have heard of many popular cons that happen in and around the city to unsuspecting motorists. Typically, they involve someone flagging your running vehicle down, and pointing out a problem you need to get fixed. Then, another helpful someone shows up out of the blue, and attempts to “fix” the problem, eventually making it worse, and making you shell out thousands before you can be on your way again. One variant of this also includes throwing out sharp nails on your road stretch, causing some punctures, and then going about fixing them.

Since I was aware of many of these, I thought that I would be insulated from such scams. But, I was wrong.

On a recent trip with the family to Pune, just as we entered the Pune city limits on the Mumbai-Pune expressway (near Hinjewadi), a man on a bike signalled that I should get my front-left tyre checked… and rode away without stopping.

Since he didn’t stop to “help” me, I took his warning as genuine, and soon stopped the car by the kerb. The tyre pressure in my tubeless tyre did look a little lower than normal, so I thought I should get it checked as soon as possible. As it turns out, close to where I’d stopped was a roadside tyre repair shack, so I headed there and asked him to check it.

Again, note that there was no way for me to link the biker who rode away without glancing back, and the tyre shack who was supposedly minding his own business when I drove upto him.

Anyway, he jacked up the wheel and starting checking the tyre in question with some soapy liquid for air bubbles. I did ask why they use soap (which would froth and bubble on its own) instead of plain water, but he said they help him spot the puncture leaks better. I wasn’t too worried since I was keeping a sharp eye out for what was a real air bubble from inside the tyre, and what was on the surface.

During the conversation, repeating the process through the entire surface of the tyre, the good man found (and showed me proof of!) 8 different puncture leaks – big and small. The physics seemed sound: Unless the leaks are fixed, they would keep increasing in size. Plus, I was travelling with kids and the trip hadn’t even begin yet. Plus, I was 200 kms from my home city (and trusted garage). So, all things considered, I asked him to go ahead and fix all of them at 150 bucks a pop.

All the way home, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss. So, when I returned, I went to have a word with my local garage, who I have known for years and has yet to cheat me in any way. Here’s what he told me…

This is a very common scam on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. In all likelihood, while the chap at the tyre shack was “checking” for a puncture, as soon as I glanced away, he probably used his poker to make more tiny holes which later he could prove as punctures, so that he could charge me for each fix. Checking for punctures in tubeless tyres should be done by dismounting the wheel, putting it in a bath of liquid and filling it with high pressure.

Not only did I get conned for a thousand bucks, but I also ended up damaging a good tyre for the long run.

Shockingly, I came home to look this up on the Net and could hardly find any stories of similar experiences. Hence, this post to warn other unsuspecting motorists of what to watch for. If enough of us are armed with the correct information, it will be difficult for the scamsters to do their thing, don’t you think?

Hopefully, this should save you from ruining another good tyre and a few thousand bucks…

 

Bombay to Udaipur

In April 2011, we embarked on our first “long drive” from Bombay to Goa. In May 2012, we once again attempted the same trip, this time older and wiser. Then, came some months of back trouble, which reached such a low that I did not think I would drive again. However, having made a full recovery this year, high on the agenda was a drive to Udaipur…

I was told by friends who had done it before that the Bombay to Udaipur journey is longer than Goa (approx. 800 kms each way, instead of about 650 kms), but easier to do. In any case, we decided to make the most of the road trip, and not stress about reaching Udaipur before sun down. So we planned a halt at Vadodara, both ways.

That turned out to be a good decision since Vadodara is a nice, clean city that resides roughly halfway to Udaipur. You also have the option of breaking journey at Ahmedabad, which is roughly an hour’s drive further north from Vadodara.

Here is the log from our trip… Bear in mind that, depending on your starting point, milestones may vary by 3-4 kms. Also, our goal was to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. Therefore, these logs will reflect that attitude in the stops we made.

  • Departure @ 6.10 am from Powai, Odo set to 0 kms
  • Stopped at Kamat’s @ 76kms, 7.45 am for breakfast (30 mins)
  • Other milestones: McDonald’s @ 162 kms, Hotel Tulsi @ 171 kms
  • Sugar and Spice food plaza @ 198 kms with clean loos
  • Other milestones: Sugar and Spice @ 243 kms, McDonald’s @ 262 kms
  • Stopped at Hotel Swagat for lunch @ 276 kms, 1.30 pm (45 mins)
  • Arrived at Vadodara around 3.30 pm, 410 kms
  • Started next morning at 8.15 am, towards Udaipur!
  • Breakfast stop (30 mins), 10.30 am  at the start of Ring Road (Many hotels and loos)
  • Stopped at the Vintage Car Museum (1 hour) @ 519 kms
  • Stopped at Hotel Landmark for lunch at 2pm (Bad loo) @ 175 km before Udaipur i.e. 587 kms from Mumbai
  • Multiple petrol pumps seen soon after crossing the Rajasthan border @ 648 kms
  • Reached Udaipur at 850 kms, 6 pm

On the whole, the roads were smooth and the drive was pleasurable. The journey on the way back was somewhat less eventful…

  • Departure from Udaipur at 6.20 am, Odo set to 0 kms
  • Stopped for breakfast at Hotel Aashirvad, 103 kms, 7.45 am
  • Other milestones: Hotel Ashish @ 122 kms (bigger and better), Hotel Asopalav @ 138 kms (biggest!)
  • At 10 am @ approx. 32 kms before Ahmedabad, we took a detour via Gandhinagar, to visit the Sabarmati Ashram
  • Stopped at the Ashram @ 257 kms
  • Joined the Ahmedabad expressway again @ 270 kms, at 12 pm
  • At 349 kms, 12.50 stopped at a sad food court about 15 kms from Vadodara to fill fuel and reached the city soon after
  • Departed next morning at 7.10 am, 385 kms
  • Breakfast stop (30 min) at 9.05 am at a big food court with nice loos, CCD, etc. @ 507 kms
  • Also, Sugar and Spice @ 560 kms, and a big Kamat’s @ 637 kms
  • Stopped at 12.20 pm at Hotel Ahura (45 mins) for awesome Parsi food @ 691 kms (on opp. side of the road)
  • Reached home (Powai) at 3.10 pm with 810 kms on the odo

The stretch from Udaipur to Vadodara was even better, since the detour via Gandhinagar meant that we bypass the only stretch that has two-way traffic. Driving through Gandhinagar was also an experience worth doing!

A common lament across all my road journeys remains the woefully inadequate facilities we have across the country, when it comes to washrooms and clean water.

A new phenomenon we encountered during our Ahmedabad to Udaipur to Ahmedabad stretch is spotting a number of vehicles that looked clearly ‘lived-in’, and carrying multiple passengers, but without any license plates! So watch out in case you get into an accident with one such dubious vehicle.

City of Joy

It’s been a while since I blogged. Moving to a new job has kept me busy, these past few months. It’s been a particularly demanding, challenging and exciting journey, but it hasn’t left me much time for anything else, including blogging. In August, I also moved my blogs to WordPress.com, and that migration took the good part of a precious weekend, but I digress. Before I joined my new employer, I took the opportunity to go on a trip to a city I’ve longed to see for more than a decade – Kolkata.

Kolkata is a city unlike any other in India, or so I’d heard until I actually saw it for myself. Now, I know it to indeed be so. I chose the last week of June – one of its hottest and most humid – not by choice, but because I was in between jobs and that was the only window I had. Yes, I’d done a fair bit of research online, and also spoken to my “bong” friends who were very generous with their long lists of things that should be ‘must-see’ on my agenda. But, I also wanted to keep it free flowing… experience Kolkata as it happens to me.

And, as it turned out, that was a wonderful idea!

I hailed a non-airconditioned yellow ambassador taxi from the airport, since that was the most classical way to traverse the city of joy. I’d chosen to stay on Sudder Street, since it was very popular with foreigners who backpacked across India, and also close to the famous Park Street. Sudder Street, and its adjoining New Market, were a full-blown sensory experience, giving me the chance to take in the sights and sounds of the city in all its glory. Most places I wanted to see were a short taxi ride away, which was convenient since it saved me a lot of time.

Over the course of the next four days, I did almost everything I wanted to do on my list – circumnavigate the famous Maidan, go to the Indian Museum, visit the Victoria Memorial monument, photograph St. Paul’s Cathedral, go up and down the legendary Park Street several times, ride the Kolkata Metro, spend some hours in the tranquil surroundings of the South Park Street Cemetery, drive over the Howrah and the Vidyasagar bridges, visit the old Howrah town, drive past Eden Gardens, experience the sprawling Science City on the outskirts, saw several street arguments, visit the glamorous and upmarket stretches of Salt Lake City, and of course use every opportunity to take in some Bengali food, including eating at Peter Cat (where my wife had enjoyed several meals as a youngster!).

In the end, the only things left unchecked on my list were a tram ride and a trip to see Mother Teresa’s home – these would have to wait until my next visit. Of course, there would be many more visits to come…

Kolkata touched me in a way that most cities haven’t, and I was glad that I was able to take this opportunity to experience it in a way that most tourists don’t. Kolkata has an uncanny ability to assimilate you into its culture. Once you’ve made it your own, so as to say, it’s almost impossible to see it like an “outsider” does. Most folks I know would have a love/hate relationship with the city – they would either think I’m nuts to think of Kolkata in these terms, or simply “get it”.

Vir Sanghvi described this sentiment beautifully when he wrote: “That’s why Calcutta is not for everyone. You want your cities clean and green; stick to Delhi. You want your cities, rich and impersonal, go to Bombay. You want them high-tech and full of draught beer, Bangalore’s your place. But if you want a city with a soul, come to Calcutta.

Bombay to Goa: Part Two

Please Note: This is an extension of my earlier post on a road trip from Bombay to Goa. Read that to get additional dope on this subject.

This April, we made a second road trip to Goa and back. This time around, however, we were far more experienced about what to expect. (For the record, the Mumbai-Pune-Kolhapur-Nipani-Ajara-Amboli-Sawantwadi-Mapusa route is still the best route to take.) I’m sharing my log file with you since many of you have written in about how helpful you found those pointers…

Bombay to Goa

We decided to get a two hour headstart by starting off from Pune early morning. So we ended up staying over in Pune one day prior to departure. In hindsight, that didn’t help much since the time on road (including breaks) from Pune to Goa also ended up taking 12 hours.

0545, 0 kms – Started from Pune (near Baner) via Katraj bypass
0625, 36 kms – Passed by McDonald’s @ Khedshivpur
0711, 80 kms – End of Khandala (Satara) ghats
0750, 96 kms – Clean loo, Petrol pump n Restaurant
0950, 208 kms – Passed by Sai Food Court
1000, 217 kms – Kini Toll Plaza
1025, 240 kms – Passed by 24-hr McD (Kolhapur) on the opp side
1123, 283 kms – Turn off NH4 towards Goa @ Hotel Kavery (very clean Indian-style loo for ladies)
1245, 325 kms – Hotel Minerva Paradise. Very clean loos + Lunch break 1 hr
1430, 362 kms – Passed by Kamat’s @ Amboli just before the ghats begin
1500, 378 kms – End of Amboli ghats

(Then we took a left for a shortcut to Mapusa, but you should avoid it as it’s an unpaved narrow that bypasses Sawantwadi; Go via Sawantwadi instead)

1545, 395 kms – Turn on to NH 17
1622, 426 kms – Turn right for Mapusa city
1645, 440 kms – Reached Hotel in Baga

Goa to Bombay

On the way back, we decided to split the journey at Kolhapur which is almost midway in terms of time taken.

0835, 0 kms reading – Started from Baga towards Mapusa, then onto NH17 for Sawantwadi
1020, 59 kms – Sawantwadi ends
1045, 72 kms – Amboli ghats begin
1140, 88 kms – Ghats end @ Kamat’s. (Loos not too functional)
1240, 120 kms – Hotel Minerva Paradise about 1 km before Ajara town
1345, 160 kms – Turn onto NH4
1430, 210 kms – Reached our Hotel in Kolhapur

Next day…

0915, 00 kms – Started from Kolhapur
1125, 137 kms – Anewadi Toll Plaza
1150, 166 kms – End of Satara (Khandala) ghats – bypassed through tunnel
1210, 187 kms – Big Kamat’s for lunch stop upto 1 pm
1325, 212 kms – New Katraj tunnel to enter Pune city
1415, 249 kms – Turn onto Pune-Mumbai Expressway
1520, 342 kms – Expressway ends @ Kharghar
1610, 371 kms – Airoli Toll Booth
1645, 382 kms – Home

Special thanks to the missus for logging in all this info on her cellphone throughout the drive. Have a safe one…

Bangkok: Travel Secrets

I love Thailand! I’ve been to Bangkok on work or leisure, more than a dozen times already, and can never get enough of it. Many of my friends keep asking me for “tips” on the destination. So I thought I’d pen it down in a post, once and for all. A word of caution: A vibrant city like Bangkok keeps evolving. This advice is valid as on Jan 2012, and may be more relevant to Indian travellers that are budget-conscious, than those that travel with no limits. So, here goes…

  • Visa rates keep changing – Check the latest consulate webpages to factor it into your plans
  • Thailand allows visa-on-arrival for many countries, but if you’re travelling with family, I’d suggest you get the paperwork done before leaving your country – The consulate is very efficient in processing visa requests
  • From the airport, a cab ride into the city center will cost you about 350-400 THB plus toll fees; If you’re travelling alone, you can also consider taking the Airport Express (skytrain) to a central location
  • Bangkok has terrible traffic congestion for much of the day; The fastest (and often, cheapest) way to get around is to take the BTS skytrain or underground MRT
  • Local SIM providers offer many options for prepaid cards with wild variations in call/internet rates; Find out the best plan for your needs by asking more questions on sms/call/data charges
  • If you’re travelling on work, and include some entertainment stops, research to find out if your ticket can be purchased at a discount by showing your work papers; Many places will also offer “international tourist” discounts!
  • Unlike most places in India, you may not save much money by showing up at the venue and buying the ticket – Online ticket sales will probably be at the same price but include free transport to and from your hotel
  • Most hotels will have “contact cards” at the reception with the hotel’s contact details and address printed in both Thai and English – Carry copies with you since many locals do not speak/understand English
  • At most popular malls in the city, there will be a designated place to queue up for cabs/taxis; The queues will be long during peak hours but are the quickest way to get a cab, unless you want to pay atrocious amounts for a “tuk-tuk” ride back to your hotel
  • Be wary of tuk-tuks that charge you very low fares or offer to take you for free, in exchange for a “quick stop” on the way. Google to know more on this.
  • If you’re travelling with kids, do consider including SafariWorld/MarineWorld, Siam Ocean World and DreamWorld in your itinerary; Bangkok’s Dusit Zoo is also a fun way to spend the day
  • If there’s one mall you must visit during your stay, make it MBK (National Stadium); 4th floor is full of gadgets & electronics, 6th floor has an inexpensive food court and the 5th floor has a newly-opened upmarket food court
  • Siam Paragon also has a very good food court on its lobby level, in addition to Siam Ocean World
  • If you’re a vegetarian, please check before you order; Many Asian countries include eggs, fish and chicken in their definition of “veg”!
  • Thailand offers some amazing architecture, and I’d recommend Wat Traimit, Wat Po and Wat Ben. If you’re visiting temples, research the dress code – many of them do not allow shorts, sleeveless shirts and other casual wear.
  • The Chaophraya River Cruise is a nice and expensive way to see all the major sights along the river while enjoying an international buffet, but you can catch a ferry at very low cost by hopping on to river taxis if you’re in the mood for some adventure
  • The Siam Niramit cultural show is a musical extravaganza of very high production values (similar to the Alangkarn shown in Pattaya), but plan to reach there a few hours ahead of the show time to experience the rest
  • Thai folks are warm, friendly and speak in a peculiar dialect of English – you may take a while to understand their version but when you do, it’s fun!

Remember, Bangkok can be a perfectly valid “family destination”, and is nothing like the reputation it used to enjoy some years ago (unless, of course, you go looking for it). Hope you get to experience all that it has to offer…