Saturday, April 07, 2018

My experience with Fastag - Electronic toll collection system

Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers
Long back I had wrote a post about the toll booth nuisance in Indian highways. I recently got Fastag attached to my car though my drive on highways have reduced a lot. There were few reasons to do this.
  • Greater chance of bypassing long queues at toll plaza. 
  • Cashless transaction. No need to search for change or scratch my head on the chocolates received as change!!
  • Embrace technology. Being a digital savvy person, paying cash looked boring for me.

It was not a simple task to get the Fastag. That itself demands a separate post. To cut the story short, I called up a number advertised in one of the toll plazas and got Fastag. The entire process took one and a half months. It should be much easier now.

After getting Fastag, I did few trips on highways passing through toll booths. Though I did not expect to zoom past the toll booths like in western countries, the experience was much below my expectations. In this post, I shall narrate few experiences.

Let me start with best case scenario, though it is no way near to the utopian dream. There will be a separate lane for Fastag and one person will be guarding the entry. He sees the Fastag on the car and allows you to enter the lane. You go slowly and near the booth a person asks you to stop and checks whether the scan happens or not. You may have to move your vehicle front or back. Finally, the gate opens and proceed. This is no way near to the “zoom and drive” but this is the best you can hope for.

A variation of above case is that the person physically comes with a scanning machine and scans the tag. If there are big vehicles like lorry, the person will have tough time.

Sometimes the person guarding the Fastag gate would have gone to drink tea/coffee or sleeping somewhere in shade. A round of honking and he will come back!! It is not fair to blame him as it is difficult for anyone to stand under scorching sun. Since the people do not have common sense to honor Fastag lane, someone needs to guard the lane.  

In few toll plazas, all vehicles are allowed to pass through Fastag lane. No priority here. It is even possible that queue at Fastag lane could be longer.

In one toll booth, I saw the Fastag lane filled with 10 vehicles whereas the lane next to it was practically empty. Just because I have Fastag does not mean that I need to suffer waiting for my turn. So, I took the empty lane. With cash in hand, I told the person at the booth that I had “Fastag”. Immediately he called the person scanning on the Fastag lane and asked to scan my tag!! I am sure that the vehicle owners on the Fastag lane would have been frustrated. 

The recently constructed toll plazas between Chitradurga and Haveri did not had special lane for Fastag. When told that I had the tag, a person came with the scanner and scanned.

The Fastag lane is also used by few low level Government officials who think they are very important and show their ids to the person in the toll booth. This usually takes a long time as the rules do not entertain free entry for these people. Finally, one of them have to relent and this eats up some time.

Once, the scanning did not work at all in Fastag lane and I was diverted to the adjacent lane. Wido, who was sitting next to me told me that he will be witnessing some “Indian jugged”!! He was not disappointed!! The person in the booth gave me the scanner to scan my vehicle as there was no one else to help him nearby!! It took some time for me to understand how to scan. Wish I had a photo of it!!

In general, all toll booths accepted Fastag and I did not pay cash in any toll plaza. In that way, my second objective was achieved. I do not think I saved significant time as I timed my travel to avoid busy times in toll plaza. But it was definitely faster than cash option. 

At couple of places, I realized that the money was not deducted at all. I am not sure whether I need to happy for that extra money or be worried about the state of affairs in this system.

But what I am really worried is about the technology or the way it is incorporated in toll plaza. Almost in all toll booths, it was not smooth and it took some time for the machine to scan the Fastag. In some cases, I had to move my vehicle to ensure that the machine worked. In few cases, it did not work at all and a person had to come with scanner. This is not a scalable solution. Considering the Fastag was introduced few years back, this is not promising. I hope it is not implemented for the sake of introduction. I do not know whether my expectations are too high in a country like India!!The good part is it is easy to recharge and you get SMS and email for all transactions.

You might be thinking whether you want to have Fastag on your car or not. I would strongly recommend you to do so for two reasons. One is that the hassle of paying cash can be avoided and the second is that it indeed saves some time. Time is money!! For new four wheelers, it is made mandatory while registering the car.

Let me know your experience.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Basaveshwara statue at Gadag

Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers
If you are in Gadag, it is hard to miss the huge statue of Basaveshwara next to Bhishma lake. Recently, we stayed in Gadag for a night. We had some free time in the evening and decided to visit this statue.

The 117.6 feet statue was erected in 2015 next to the lake. The statue is surrounded by a park. It seemed like a popular place for locals. The added attraction was boating activities in the lake. A very small entry fee allows one to enter into the park and statue. From the base, it looks very huge and I was impressed by the amount of work that had gone in building this statue.

At the base of the statue is a small museum that depicts the life of Basavanna. Good amount of information. 

Overall, it was a good place to visit in Gadag. The park is maintained well. Note that the park closes at 6PM.

Friday, March 16, 2018

An evening stroll in Galle fort, Sri Lanka

Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers
Galle is a town in the south eastern part of Sri Lanka, about 125 km from the capital city of Colombo. For a traveller or a tourist, the primary attraction in Galle are various beaches and the historical fort. The Galle fort was built by Portuguese in 16th century and was later fortified by Dutch. In 1640, it fell into the hands of British. Today, it is recognized as the UNESCO world heritage site.

Galle fort

Our idea was to spend an evening in Galle fort. While the town of Galle looked like any other town in Sri Lanka, it was completely different world inside fort complex. It gives colonial feeling and looks familiar to an European town.

A road inside Galle fort
To provide a glimpse of the fort, our driver did a complete round of Galle fort and dropped us near the light house area. It was time to explore the fort area. We had lot of time and we decided to walk around the fort in leisurely fashion. Tanu was also happy that she was allowed to eat street food (Ice cream!!). We spent some time watching the lighthouse and the ocean around it.

Light house

Cricket is a famous game in Sri Lanka. We saw few kids playing in a ground in the fort area. Spent some time in watching the same.

Cricket game inside the Galle fort

For serious cricket, there was Galle cricket stadium. It was clearly visible from the fort. It looked very peaceful that day but it would be a charged atmosphere during International matches!!

Galle cricket statium

Galle clock tower is one of the popular landmarks in the area. 

Galle clock tower
Some statues at the base of the clock tower were interesting.  We could not find information about the relevance of these statues.

Statues at Galle clock tower
We crossed Galle National Museum.

Galle National Museum
Dutch hospital, now a shopping place is one of the landmark in the fort.

It was a very nice walk in the fort. We reached back to the lighthouse and watched sunset. The “Indian hut” restaurant near the lighthouse area attracted us and we ended up having dinner at that place.  Before getting back into the car, we spent some time in the lighthouse area.

Light house at night
Overall, it was a good place to visit. Very relaxing and peaceful in spite of crowds. I felt that evening is the best time to visit the fort. While we stayed outside the fort, there are many hotels inside the fort where one can stay. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The massive fort of Midigeshi

Midigeshi fort was built by local chieftain Nagareddi during Vijaynagar days. He also built around 101 temples in Midigeshi village at the base of the hill. Few of the temples remain even today though most are in ruins. Those were the golden days. Like many forts in India, the control of the fort changed many hands during the course of history. Today, it is occasionally visited by trekkers but remains neglected by ASI.

Midigeshi fort
Midigeshi village is on Madhugiri - Pavagada highway. This was in my list for a long time. I had visited many hill forts nearby, like Madhugiri, Channarayanadurga, Ratnagiri and Pavagada. As the summer was approaching, we had last few weeks to do some hikes. Along with Krishna and Subbu, I looked at the options and found that it was time to climb Midigeshi fort.

The temple at the base of the fort
The journey to Midigeshi was uneventful thanks to great roads all along the way. We parked our car in the village and asked villagers for directions to the fort. As usual, they were helpful in guiding us. A quick glance at the fort hill convinced us that it was neither easy nor difficult.

Start of the trek
Our climb started from Venkatramana temple. I would logically divide the climb into four sections.
  • Gradual climb to first gate
  • Steep climb to the middle section
  • Very steep climb after middle section
  • Walk on the top portion
Midigeshi fort
Gradual climb to first gate
From the base, we could see the first gate which was our first destination. The climb was relatively easily through loose sand, rocks and shrubs. The path was not clear at many places and we missed the route. Bit shocked at losing the way at the very beginning of the trek, we searched for the ways to climb up and eventually made it to the gate. 

First gate
A nice view of Venkatramana Swamy temple could be seen at the gate. The temple was renovated but the beauty was damaged by whitewashing it. This is an issue I have seen in most historical temple where the deity is worshipped. Someone needs to tell the religious people managing temples to also appreciate architectural beauty. 

Temple and the village

Steep climb to the middle section
The path after the gate was clear. Some sections of the climb required walking over rocks. Thanks to rough surface, it was not a difficult task to climb up. In the midway, a partially constructed temple platform makes its appearance. It looks like for some reason the construction had halted. Evidence of quarrying for the conduction are visible.

Temple platform
The climb after the temple platform is over steep rocks. Again, the rough surface makes it possible to climb this section without much difficulty. 

Rocks at the middle section
Very steep climb after middle section
The walls of the top portion of the fort makes it appearance. But we need to climb almost vertical section of the rock to reach the top. While I was wondering how we could cross the section, the rock cut steps shows us the way to the top. That makes our life easier. It looked very similar to the section in Ratnagiri fort.

Steep section
As I climbed, I realized it was not as easy as Ratnagiri. The climb at Midigeshi was steeper, the steps were not straight but turned at few places and angle of the steps making it difficult to climb. I knew that I cannot see up or down as it makes me dizzy. So, I put my focus on the steps and climbed in one go. My heart was pounding when I crossed this section. Needless to say, climbing down was much difficult. 

While climbing down
We rested for a long time after climbing this section.

Walk on the top portion
The next stage was very simple. The steps were neatly placed and we crossed couple of gateways before we reached the top portion of the fort. We saw some blood stains as we climbed up. It was not in large quantity but someone had an injury. The person (or animal) would have walked down. It It was also quite fresh. We could not identify anything more than that. Krishna also found a porcupine quill. 

One of the gateways of the fort
As we reached the top portion of the fort, a dilapidated mosque made its appearance. One of the minaret was damaged for reason unknown to us. A lot of graffiti from people craving for recognition was seen on the walls of the mosque. It showed that lot of people lacking common sense had made it to the top!!

Mosque at the top
Small buildings that would have served as granaries were also seen at the top. 

Dilapidated fort
We entered into the ruined structure to reach to the other side of the fort. There we found a place between two precariously placed rocks to rest. It was a great place with stunning views. We rested for a long time discussing various topics. We wondered how this rock could have come to that placed and stood in that position. 

The rock
On the way back, we visited the mosque again. There was a narrow pathway through the minaret to reach to the top of the mosque. That was interesting.

Midigeshi village
We visited Venkatramana Swamy temple at the base. While most of the temple was renovated, the pillar in front of the temple looked old. The priest also explained some history about the place. He seemed to be very proud of the location.

Temple and the fort
There were few ruined temples in the vicinity which we made a quick visit.

Old temple
From the top of the hill, we had seen twin temples near the lake. We made a visit to this place. The interesting part was the stone slab placed in the area. It was rare to see such a huge slab. While we were interpreting the sculpture in the slab, the year “1956” caught our attention. The slab looked much older than that. Certainly, someone else had played a role to alter. But today, the slab stands totally ignored by people.

Huge slab lying in the village
Last words
Midigeshi is a certainly a place to visit for people interested in history and climbing. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Buddha statues of Budurwagala, Sri Lanka

Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers
At Ella, there were many boards put by tourism department providing information about the nearby tourist places. Most of them were in my list but the one showing the rock carvings of Buddha drew my attention. It was not in my itinerary but our driver mentioned that it only required a small detour on Ella Galle road. So, it got added to our list!!

Budurwagala rock cut statues
We had to stop our car a km from the place due to ongoing road construction. The walk was along the backwaters of Budurwagala reservoir which was very beautiful. Our driver mentioned about the presence of crocodiles in the lake. My daughter was eagerly looking out at the lake for the crocodiles while at the same time keeping healthy distance from waters!! But we did not find any crocodiles.

Budurwagala reservoir
The temple complex made its appearance at the end of the road. It was in a very picturesque location surrounded by trees. 

The handout provided at the entrance mentioned that “The remnants of the rock carvings visible at the site reveal the image of the Buddha in the standing posture in full relief and seven standing images of Buddha images of much lesser size engraved from a vertical rock face in the semi relief form. The features of the images are enhanced by the application of stucco finally impregnating their surfaces with different hewed pigments. In addition to these rock carvings believed to belong to the 7-8c A.C a large number of ruins are seen scattered around the site”.

The size of the largest Buddha statue is about 52 feet from head to toe.

In general, it was a nice place to visit. It is about 35 km from Ella in Monaragala district. There are many Buddhist places nearby like Rakkhittakanda monastery, Maligawila, Yudaganwa, Wettambugala, Budupatungala, Mailla, Dematamal vihara and Galabedda.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

New Zealand farm in Sri Lanka

Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers
When our driver told he would be taking us to New Zealand farm, I was bit confused. It was not in my itinerary and I was not very interested in visiting farms. But our driver said that it looks like New Zealand and completely out of this world. That looked exaggerated as I had always seen people comparing the local places to the world’s best locations. Nevertheless, I did not say anything at that point of time allowing driver to proceed towards the farm. Chaya and Tanu were very excited.

Scenery near Ambewela
Very soon, I had to correct my understanding as we were in for a pleasant surprise. The picturesque Kande ela reservoir made its appearance. With no people around, it looked very serene.

Kande ela lake
The landscape changed as we entered into Ambewela farm area. Having visited New Zealand before, I had to agree that the scenery in that part of Sri Lanka was indeed comparable to New Zealand!! The cows grazing peacefully in the grasslands looked very beautiful. 

Cows grazing in Ambewela
In the earlier photo, I had carefully ensured that the frame contained only cows and grass. But there were also windmills!!

Wind mills in Ambewela
At Ambewela village, we took the deviation to Ambewela farm. This should not be confused with New Zealand farm as both are same!! Due to partnership with New Zealand Government, the farm is also called as New Zealand farm.

A lake near Ambewela

On the way we crossed the beautiful Amebewela reservoir. 

Outlet of Ambewela reservoir
Having enjoyed the scenery so far, it was now time to enter into the farm. There is a separate entry for tourists. The crowd was very thin in spite of Christmas holidays as it was quite early for many tourists.

Inside Ambewela farm

The farm itself is typical where there are separate section for various activities. The main shed housed milking cows. I did not get answer on how they would milk hundreds of grazing cows we had seen on our way. It looked like the place was mainly setup as tourist attraction while the main facility being located elsewhere.

Milking cows
Another shed housed weaning cows.

Weaning cows
And there were calves. 

There was a section for pregnant cows too. They had extra chain put around their necks. 

Pregnant cows
Stud bulls also had a section. Considering the widespread practice of artificial insemination, I was not sure about their roles!! 

Stud bull
In general, it was a nice experience though I do not like the animals in cage. It would have been good if there was a guide to explain the process. Even in cheese factory, there was no one to explain.  But still it is a good place to understand the dairy process. Of course, icing on the cake is the scenery between Nuwara Eliya and Ambewela. That should not be missed. 

Ambewela farm
This place is about 17 kms from Nuwara Eliya and is on the way to Hortons plains national park.