This time I was really scared.
My son persuaded me to at least take a look at the ride video on YouTube. Take a look for yourself:
Well, my son and I went to the Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi last week, and I can tell you that the real experience of riding on the Formula Rossa was not any less scarier than the videos that you just saw. The website of Ferrari World is at Formula Rossa at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
Formula Rossa is currently rated as the fastest roller coaster in the world with a top speed of 239 KMPH which is achieved in less than 5 seconds of extremely fast acceleration using a technique used on aircraft carriers to launch jet planes on a very short runway. For the initial run, I chose to sit on the very back row of the Formula Rossa – though my son objected. I told him that I need to get a “hang” of it! Even while sitting on the back row, the ride was instantly terrifying with a speed which I have never experienced in my life. My heart beat increased and my heart was pounding when we finished the ride. The air pressure on the face and body was immense. The cork screw turn from the very top was scary to say the least. But the best part was the initial acceleration and the steep climb up.
For the second time experience, my son insisted on sitting in the very first row (like sitting on the very edge of the nose of a fast speeding bullet). I asked for time to think and so went around on other rides and eventually came back to Formula Rossa ride. I agreed to sit with my son on the first row of the ride. And, it was the most terrifying ride I have ever undertaken in a theme park ride. I could not even move my hand, the air pressure was too much not allowing any movement (I wanted to hold the plastic spectacle wrapper which was holding my spectacle glasses). While I managed to keep my eyes open for the initial 4 to 5 seconds, I could not do so once the roller coaster climbed up on to its steep ascent of over 50 metres and then accelerated with heavy momentum on the cork screw. I tried to open for a sneak view but decided to keep it shut as the tracks were speeding towards us at enormous speed (!!!). I only opened my eyes towards the last 5 or 6 seconds of the ride, but came out smiling as the thrill gene in my body seems to have grabbed its rightful sync with the Formula Rossa!
This is a fantastic ride, and I would strongly encourage you to take the first row, if not in the first attempt. It is a great feeling to almost feel what a Formula 1 race driver would experience on the race track (and more). It is overall a fabulous experience and very much worth the visit to Ferrari World (which is located at Abu Dhabi, some 75 minutes car ride from Dubai).
Hold tight and enjoy the speed, acceleration and momentum of the Formula Rossa – the world’s fastest roller coaster as on date.
3rd December 2016
I wanted to send this one out before I returned from Dubai, however here it is – a dispatch on the cost dynamics of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
There is no income or sales tax in Dubai – there is just no taxation of any kind. So that would be a big incentive for most people as a draw to go and work in Dubai. Sure, it is a nice, and I would say a great feeling when you pay no taxes at all to the government. There are very few places in the world which provide such a strong incentive.
However, the picture is not so simple. Almost all items that one needs to consume are expensive, and even more expensive when compared to Singapore. I think this is true even when a comparison is made with Hong Kong prices of consumption items. May be only Tokyo is more expensive than Dubai.
A Cafe Latte in Starbucks costs 19 AED (Dirhams, the U.A.E. currency), which translates to SGD 7.5 (as against SGD 5.5 in Starbucks Singapore). A decent lunch at a foodcourt in one of the fancy malls of Dubai costs the equivalent of SGD 20 to 25 as against a typical comparable lunch at SGD 11 to 15 in a Singapore mall. All tourist attractions are heavily expensive when it comes to the entrance fees. A typical entrance fee to a theme park or water park costs around AED 270 or SGD 106 – whereas a good price that can be obtained in Singapore for a similar attraction ranges from SGD 40 to 60. Taxi prices are more or less comparable, though the base fare from the Dubai International Airport is AED 25 (or SGD 10) as compared to SGD 6.20 (SGD 3 surcharge from Changi and base fare of SGD 3.20) as base fare from Singapore Changi Airport. There is no apparent reason for such a high base fare.
So, apparently, what the government does not collect is being collected by product and service providers in Dubai via increased prices. The argument that they have to operate with imported labour (mostly Filipinos in service industries) does not fly as the situation is not very different in Singapore for lower-end jobs. The real estate prices are comparable, so that argument also does not work. So, it has to be only the motive of higher profit from the flow of tourists and resident foreigners that is driving higher prices in Dubai.
I have not had the time to do a detailed research on retail prices at Dubai malls (though I bought a couple of items), but had the opportunity to kill some good time at the fabulous shopping areas of Dubai International Airport before departing to Singapore. The liquor prices at the Duty Free Shops were lower than in DFS Changi Shops, and the chocolate prices were marginally lower though the variety of chocolates available was vastly superior in Dubai. I ended up buying good amount of chocolates which are not available in Singapore. The electronic product prices were more or less similar – again, the variety of offerings in Dubai was superior. For example, I saw six different brands of drones in a single shop with almost all accessories as compared to just two brands in a typical Singapore electronics shop. Drones are hot selling items and I am developing an interest as my son is keen to try out the same, and will eventually buy one raptor kind of drone with electronic eyes quite soon.
Overall, living in Dubai is an expensive proposition but then residents save on income and other taxes though paying higher prices for consumer items. Interesting, isn’t it? More news on Dubai soon, it is a place worth visiting for all. Abu Dhabi should not be forgotten either, it seems to be more organized and apparently has more wealth than Dubai itself.
Welcome to more expenses as you travel the world!!!
3rd December 2016
That’s exactly what happened at Chennai International Airport last evening.
What I am referring to here is the closure of the three entrance doors of the international airport side, keeping only one door open for ALL travellers, which resulted in long, serpentine queues outside the main doors all the way down along the main corridor wherein travellers disembark from their taxis and cars.
First of all, I saw many irritated folks (that includes me, of course), who could not find a trolley to load their baggages. There is no trolley point at the point(s) at which travellers disembark from their vehicles. All the trolleys are dragged to the points just outside one of the main doors, which forces people to wade through huge crowds in search of trolleys. What a dysfunctional idea is it to park all the trolleys away from points where they are sorely needed? I had to wade through the crowds, first to my right where I could not locate any trolleys and then to my left where I saw trolleys parked some 200 feet away but I could not reach those trolleys as there was a long line of folks trying to get into the only door which was open! However, I did wade through and reached the trolley line, and managed to get two trolleys and then had the unenviable task of climbing over people and cutting across lines to get to my baggages (I luckily had another traveller taking care of my belongings). This was ridiculous, no international airport has such a mess going on at the peak time for international travellers. I was already profusely sweating by the time I managed to bring the trolleys for loading of baggages. Chennai is not for anti-humidity and anti-heat folks.
The most annoying thing however, was the long queue (usually there will be at least 3 doors operating for different airlines) and the quick adaptation of the Indian Q-Theory which I have written about in the past. This theory predicates that if there is one feet of space between two people on a Q, then you can rest assured the gap will quickly covered by a suddenly appearing person who grabs that space, or that space will be used as a “bridge” for people crossing from one side to the other. This theory also advises folks to take care of their nostrils because of the pungent smells which hit one from folks all over in a sweaty weather. This theory then goes on to predicate that people like to rub each other with complete lack of sensitivity in India while existing on a Q, and when it suits them they ignore the presence of people in the front by smashing their trolleys into the inviting legs in front of them as they decide it would be a good resting point for their trolley. And so on, and so forth.
It took me more than 40 minutes to just get through the outside Q, before I reached the only open main door to the airport terminal. Now I was sweating badly, and saw an intruder trying to cut me just at the entry point from nowhere. I threw him away by strong and loud questioning as that is the only way to put some sense into such idiots – they get scared and move away (they must be thinking “what a moron – what is there – I am just one single guy trying to jump into the Q”).
Once inside the terminal, there was a small Q at the airline counter, which I tackled in about 10 minutes. Armed with the boarding pass, I then turned my attention to the immigration Q, and was appalled to see a very, very long Q spilling out of the immigration area by a mile. This was just hugely ridiculous. How do other airports even within India handle crowds? Mumbai and New Delhi stand as prime example on how queues are managed effectively, even with an operating Indian Q Theory. But Chennai International Airport has failed its passengers completely, it is a dysfunctional airport with new buildings which do not make sense. One previous time I saw the new terminal building leaking in pouring rains and puddles of water all over inside the terminal.
Chennai is as close to my home town as any city can be, and it is shameful that the authorities could not manage such an important international airport effectively. Almost everyone I talked to complained or put the blame on one government agency or the other. Unless there is shame which is deeply felt, unless the government ministers and officials are forced to go through the mess like an ordinary passenger, the situation on the ground is not going to change.
What a pity? Why would tourists choose Chennai over the other cities? When is this situation going to change for the better?
No answers yet. Hope is still there.
12th September 2016
I have been observing driver behaviour on Singapore roads for the past several months, and decided to conduct an experiment recently.
For the uninitiated, Singapore traffic system looks to be the most advanced system of its kind in the world, with orderly traffic and less congestion than what should exist in a densely populated city state of over 5.5M people and nearly a million cars (not yet verified). Singapore has over 3,500 KMs of paved road (must have gone up by now – my data is couple of years old) in a small island with an area of 700 SQ KM.
However, the orderliness for which Singapore is famed over the years has come down in recent years – traffic incidents are on the increase, rash driving is common, and simple violations are going up on the roads. I see this every day while driving to office and back.
Of course, compared to other large and even small nations, Singapore scores on multiple factors, such as accidents per capita, traffic deaths per capita, etc., It is still a well-managed traffic system, with controls and monitoring in place to ensure appropriate driver behaviour.
However, I decided to check this out. Most days, I take the innermost (high-speed) lane on the expressways (I am avoiding mention of the specific expressway here), and maintain more or less a constant speed of 90 KMPH. I noticed that many drivers did not like me as their conclusion appeared to be that I was too slow on a high-speed lane though the displayed speed limit at most places on the highway was 80 KMPH and in sections of the highway it was 90 KMPH. The daily occurrence was that high-speed cars acted as though they were chasing James Bond on the expressway, and zoomed in behind me at speeds in excess of 100 – 120 KMPH and gave me the scare. After seeing that I was not going to dodge them by shifting to the next lane, they eventually overtook me and occasionally looked at me while doing so. But the most scary part was when they are behind my car at probably couple of feet away at very high speeds, when the advised distance between two cars is six car lengths at speeds of 60 KMPH. I do keep at least a gap of 3 to 4 car lengths between my car and the car ahead of me, even in the innermost high-speed lane, irrespective of pressures exerted at my back by drivers who were fast losing patience with my cautious driving and wondering why I was driving on this lane anyway.
My conclusion was that if one sticks to the speed limit imposed on expressways, he or she is bound to get into problems if he or she chooses to follow that speed limit on the innermost high-speed lane. He or she will be hated for following the traffic rules, and will be cursed for blocking high-speed cars.
Now I decided to check out the middle lane which is supposed to be for slightly slower cars. One thing that I noticed is that my overall time taken to reach the office was more or less the same – though my speed was averaging at 70 KMPH, as compared to the high-speed lane in which my average speed was in excess of 80 KMPH. Second thing I noticed was that my slower speed was respected by most motorists, who decided to overtake me without much issues, either from the left or from the right. They must have just come to the conclusion that there is no point in arguing with a guy who has decided that the world will indeed move slowly today. Luckily, there was no threatening and over-speeding cars behind me in the middle lane – in fact, there was no such cars occupying the middle lane. The reason for that could be simple – the fast riders move very fast from their starting or entry point to the innermost lane and then push ahead with speeds higher than what is stipulated by the authorities.
I found that the middle lane offered most comfort at less cost. Petrol consumption was lower, and driving was more relaxed. While one has to be cautious all the time, there was no reason to be scared in the middle lane. Of course, the irritant of the high-speed, maneuvering motor cycles (mostly from Malaysia) cannot be avoided, and one has to be wary of them as they weave in and out of lanes all the time. The Singaporean motorcycles also violate all the road rules, and it is tougher for them as they usually have bigger motorcycles or scooters with bulges on both sides, etc., Even they try to sneak between the lanes which is a dangerous game.
In a nutshell, my experiment revealed that driving has become a tad dangerous on Singapore expressways and even on the regular city roads because motorists drive at high speeds and cut across in front of you without warning. Or tailgate good drivers who are following the traffic rules. And so on and so forth.
Traffic education should be mandatory before renewal of driving licence to all motorists irrespective of their past performance. That seems to be the only way to secure improved driver behaviour on the road.
11th June 2016
I booked a taxi in Chennai last week using the traditional call taxi operator – which means that I called the phone numbers for a specific taxi operator that I have used in the past and booked the cab for a specific time of pickup from my home. The cab did arrive at the appointed time (some 15 minutes after the taxi driver verified my home address), and I used the same for some six hours of work. Such a service offering in taxi parlance is called “a package booking”.
I had a chat with the driver (who I used for the next couple of days as well), who was smart and knowledgeable. He made a few points – that the call taxi service has become extremely competitive with the arrival of OLA, an innovative taxi operator from Mumbai. All taxi operators are being challenged by the new ideas that OLA has been rapidly bringing to the market. OLA does not have the “package booking” concept, but both of us agreed that it is only a question of time before OLA launches that service as well. The driver had a smartphone (!) and even advised me about the best shop to get a smartphone bargain ! I did buy a smartphone to replace my old Samsung mobile phone (not a smart one), and I bought that phone in flat 15 minutes. When I came back to the car, the driver commended me for buying a Lenovo smartphone !! He said that Lenovo is moving fast in the market. Amazing insight from a taxi driver ! This is India.
Later, I used OLA shared mini cab – an innovative concept which allows you to search and book a “mini” cab (a Tata Indica usually) on a shared basis. The OLA app tells you how much you have to pay before you even start the journey (which is usually 50% of the usual fare) and once you pay that fare, the cab proceeds to your destination. On the way, there may be other OLA users looking for a similar cab, and if one finds this specific cab via his OLA app, then you have to share the cab with him/her. Typically this would mean a delay of some 10 minutes. I used the shared cab facility twice, and during both times, there was no other person who shared the cab with me. This would mean that I got to use the cab at a 50% discount and got to keep it for myself.
The OLA driver this time was even more knowledgeable, he was also polished and professional. He explained the nitty gritty of the OLA app, and explained how the whole system works ! I was impressed. He said that once he accepts the app request from any user, he cannot but turn up for picking up. There are strict customer service rules that OLA has imposed. I asked him about Uber, and he said that while they are more relaxed, the service is yet to catch on. The cab drivers have to wait for a week to receive their discount compensation, whereas OLA pays them in 48 hours.
I gained good insight into the taxi operation in Chennai, and I believe it is the same elsewhere in the country. There is a revolution going on in transportation in India. I even used the OLA auto rickshaw service, offered only by OLA. The auto drivers have been provided with smartphones by OLA and the rest of the process is the same like cab service. For frequent auto users, it is a godsend as it completely eliminates haggling with the intractable Chennai auto rickshaw drivers for a flat additional fee of INR 10 on top of the auto fare. Very welcome, and I could always find a OLA auto somewhere nearby, and they always turn up for the pickup. No haggling, no unreasonable demands, they even return the change ! If this change can be wrought on Chennai auto rickshaw drivers, then India can achieve anything via social media.
Overall, my experience using the OLA app on smartphone has been a pleasant and mostly successful one – I say that because the network can sometimes fail you while searching for a cab or an auto. Then you are back to square one. The Vodafone 3G network was not good enough in Chennai, so I had to switch to Airtel 3G once, and it worked flawlessly. Vodafone – take note. I am speaking from direct end-user experience. I thought I will use Vodafone on my overseas mobile phone and Airtel on my India smartphone, but eventually I switched both to Airtel. Kudos Airtel !
Well, welcome to India free of auto haggling experience on the road. Buy the data pack of 500 MB for your smartphone at INR 150 (USD 2.5) per month ! You cannot get any cheaper than this, and the prices keep falling.
Enjoy app based services. More such blog posts on other stuff will follow.
8th February 2016
In India, a large city is usually called a “Metro”. It sometimes confuses people, as metro could also be used for subway train system. But people in India understand the “largeness” of a Metro City. Originally, there were only four Metros in India – New Delhi, Mumbai (also known as Bombay), Kolkata (also known as Calcutta) and Chennai (also known as Madras). Chennai is the smallest of these four Metros, with an estimated population of around 8M. Subsequently, several other cities such as Bengaluru (also known as Bangalore) and Hyderabad were added to this list of Metros. I am not sure how many such Metro Cities are there in India, but surely it is more than the original four.
Out of the above list, I had the opportunity to recently visit Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai. This post is about sharing my recent impressions and experiences of visiting these cities (not the first time for me however). All these cities are well connected by road, rail and air. All have well-established international airports, served by a variety of domestic and international air carriers.
First, let me talk about Hyderabad. The international airport is good (I would give it a rating of 4 upon 5), well organized, and easy to navigate. But as it always happens in India, there is confusion once you exit the terminal gates with your baggage. It is not easy to move around with coffee and food shops around cluttering the exits (the airport authority found it fit to sell the space to private operators who have clogged the place), and I found that even a person waiting to receive you at the airport terminal exit has to pay a fee to sit down in the public seating area (it is like asking one to pay for seating at a bus station or train station, or even worse asking one to pay for sitting outside the station !
The highway from the airport to the city is excellent. It has 3 lanes on either side, and is well lit. However, since the road curves around steeply (built through some hilly areas), more safety features are needed than just having a better lighting or illuminated strips on the road. There must be speed reduction and speed monitoring by radar, and imposition of fines on drivers who violate these speed limits.
The city of Hyderabad is good (except in the old part of Char Minar which is extremely congested) overall, but the construction challenges pose big issues to the operational aspects of road travel and safety (this comment however applies to all Metro cities in India). The weather in Hyderabad is better than the Chennai weather, while the days are hot the evenings are very pleasant. But I believe that Hyderabad is not having a cold winter in December 2015; it has gotten to be hotter than it was in December 2014. El Nino effect ?
The IT industry is hot in Hyderabad, with all the global big players having major facilities in the “Hi-Tech City” – a suburb of Hyderabad. However, the cost of living is reasonable (not as high as Bengaluru or Chennai). I had the opportunity of buying some sugar free cookies at the famous Karachi Bakery in Hyderabad during this trip. The roads were not evenly good all over Hyderabad, with big ups and downs in several business and shopping areas, and the Corporation of Hyderabad will do well to fix these road related issues quickly to improve its image in the pecking order ahead of Bengaluru.
After Hyderabad, I visited Kolkata, the erstwhile HQ of The British East India Company, and still behaving in some quarters as a colonial city (especially in its social club practices). I was surprised that Kolkata has a new and large airport but not many air travellers. The airport was relatively empty when I arrived at 10:30 AM on a working day, which told me something about the “business friendly” approach of the city. The previous governments were run by the Communist Party for four decades and the impact is still there for everyone to see and experience.
As a people, the Bengalis are probably the most intelligent group of Indians (I do not wish to get into a slanging match on this point however !), who do very well globally in industry, business and academics. Hence, one would experience a thoughtful treatment in many encounters, with very open and candid discussion on topics of relevance. So, we need to be prepared for an engagement of a different order and breadth !
The city itself is dilapidated, with most of the buildings and structures very old and crumbling. There are many condominiums and some new corporate buildings, but then the overall perspective is that the city is not doing as well as the other Metros of India. One example of the un-fixed issue is the complete stoppage of traffic at several key intersections in the city area, where most drivers switch off their engines as there is no point in keeping the engines running for 15 minutes or more (yes sometimes it takes that kind of time to move through a traffic junction !). Such inefficiency will be witnessed by all travellers to the city of Kolkata. In general, the city moves at a slow pace (slower than what is needed for business success), and there are very few corporate HQs in the city.
The food is great, and the Bengali sweets are world famous. I took a tour of the city – saw Victoria Memorial (fabulously well kept), Marble Palace (not well kept but worth visiting for seeing the European marble statues), Howrah Bridge, et al………..fascinating, with lots of Bengalis from other parts of the State visiting their own State Capital of Kolkata probably for the first time – all wide-eyed, clicking photos on their cell phones…….!
The final leg of my trip took me to Chennai, which has been recently ravaged by the worst rains and floods in a hundred years. The spirit of Chennai still lives on, with many taxi drivers intensely narrating to me the problems faced by ordinary people while at the same time highlighting the good samaritan work carried out by hundreds of teenagers and youngsters to save the common man from the destructive floods. It was heartening to learn about such challenging human work, and it supported the videos that I have received and seen. There was a breakdown of government machinery since the government was not prepared for the huge magnitude of the rains which occurred. There have been reports of misdeeds by various factions, but the fact of the matter is that the city survived and seems to be recovering nicely. I could not see or feel the impact of floods, though almost everyone told me that there was 3 to 4 feet of water in most roads through which I travelled around in the city.
The Chennai roads are badly damaged, and need urgent fixing. Many small businesses have lost heavily, and many households have lost almost everything they had. Both the State and the Central (Federal) governments have to move very fast to ensure that the city gets back on its feet, and use the recovery process to streamline the horrendous traffic situation in the city.
I used OLA CABS and FASTTRACK CABS for my travels around the city, and I was both pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised. Since this post is becoming too long, I will make a separate post on some of these other experiences soon.
In the meanwhile, read this post and provide your comments, and enjoy a great weekend !
2nd January 2016
Five decades after bullet trains (“Shinkansen”) revolutionized land transportation in Japan, it is the turn for India to enjoy such high-speed mode of travel with its speed, convenience and elegance. Japan is funding most of the investment required for the bullet train service between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, and if this proves successful, then we can see all the key land corridors connected by bullet trains in the next couple of decades.
This is a huge milestone in the relationship between the two most powerful democracies in the world – Japan and India. Japan has also agreed to transfer nuclear technology to India after a long period of reluctance. In combination, these two milestones will provide the much needed boost for the Indian transportation and energy sectors in the years to come and further, solidify the partnership between India and Japan.
The Shinkansen system has not had any accidents over the past 50 years or so, as against the bullet trains from China which has had one major accident in the recent past. The reliability of the Shinkansen, combined with very low interest financing by Japan, and transfer of technology for local manufacturing clinched the deal for Japan.
However, one cannot ignore the Chinese competition. China has been working aggressively over the past couple of years in conducting feasibility studies for the New Delhi – Mumbai and New Delhi – Chennai corridors. These implementations will entail a very huge investment due to the distances involved, and my view is that the Indian Government will be hard pressed to ignore a competitive offer from China. The bullet trains from China are obviously lower-priced (like anything else) as compared to the Shinkansen which comes with a very long experience and expertise of inventing and running such systems with an impeccable accident record. However, a developing country like India will need to consider both the countries’ offers before making decisions on every corridor, and politics might eventually dictate such decisions.
India deserves to be served by such fast bullet trains as trains will become an “economic” mover. For the Indian economy to continue to flourish, the efficiency of the transportation sector, especially rail transport, is crucial. This combined with improving infrastructure logistics, will pave the way for the “make in India” campaign to be successful over the next decade. It will be easier to connect the metros with bullet trains than with roads, if one ignores the financing required. Further, trains provide mass transportation as compared to roads in India which still do not measure up to international standards – most people on the roads seem to be driving their cars followed by lorries. It is obviously not possible to run very long distance buses (for more than 500 KMs) due to passenger fatigue and other considerations.
Given the above situation, bullet trains provide an excellent alternative to the congested road systems of India. If one can travel at the speed of 300 KM per hour on bullet trains, why bother using flights for shorter distances ? It takes a long time door to door when one uses flights anywhere in the world, even for shorter flights. One prime example is the time it takes to reach your hotel in Kuala Lumpur from your home in Singapore. It takes not less than four good hours to go through the two airports, with the flight taking up less than 40 minutes. This is the reason why a high-speed bullet train is being contemplated between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. This is one of the highest air traffic routes in the world.
I am happy to see the closeness developing between India and Japan, this is a much needed collaboration. The Indian Prime Minister has taken a fascination towards the Japanese Prime Minister, and personal chemistry does deliver some wonders in due course of time. Japanese technology for anything is one of the finest available anywhere in the world (I am making this statement in a generic sense), and if India could find a financially meaningful way to leverage various Japanese technologies in its “Make in India” Campaign, then both countries would benefit enormously.
Let us not forget that this is a Democracy to Democracy partnership. The Japanese apparently see value in catering to the large Indian population, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this partnership becomes the most critical, defining strategic partnership in Asia, between any two countries.
13th December 2015