20120331

Travelogue #7 - Chennai to Masinagudi/Mudumalai/Bandipur

As has been propagated in this blog many times before, the magnificent Western Ghats of India is truly a traveler’s paradise. This fact only got further reinforced as we traveled to yet another beautiful destination in the Ghats recently. This time, unlike our previous visits, we decided to explore the wildlife that is known to flourish in the area encompassing the borders of the three South Indian states - Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Now that you have got the hint, here is the warning – read on only if you like nature and wildlife. If not, you will find this travelogue rather uninteresting and vague. The destination in spotlight is Masinagudi, and the nearby Mudumalai and Bandipur.

We deliberately chose places where the only things to see were wildlife sanctuaries and the only activity to do was to go on safaris, either inside the forest or along the public jungle roads, trying to spot animals and birds in their natural habitat. For a change, we waited for elephants and deers to cross the road, we pulled over by the roadside to catch a close glimpse of peacocks and langurs, mobile phones did not ring and nuisances like horns and camera flashlights were prohibited. Thankfully, it was the wildlife and nature that were given preferences in these places than us humans, as the authorities know only too well that we play spoilsport wherever we go.

Though Masinagudi is in Tamil Nadu, the best way to reach the place is to go through Bangalore and Mysore. As already stated in the Coorg Travelogue before, the full stretch from Chennai to Mysore makes for a great drive with wide and neatly paved roads with the only dampener being a few unmarked speed-breakers. Though the road narrows down to two lanes beyond Mysore, the surface is mostly excellent except for a few patches here and there. On the way, make sure that you stop at Nanjangud to look at those abandoned meter gauge coaches and rail buses, that takes us to a bygone era. The roads are mostly deserted and boring until you enter Bandipur from where the road gets very interesting as it passes through forests and ghats.

Bandipur, Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border and Mudumalai come and go in quick succession. At the Mudumalai Forest Office junction, the road to the left takes you to Masinagudi and the straight road takes you to Ooty. Once there, your daily routine would be to go on jungle safaris in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. Tamil Nadu Government charges Rs.30 per head for a 45-minute safari in Mudumalai whereas Karnataka Government charges you Rs.300 for a 2-hour safari in the Bandipur forest. Just like you, we were quite puzzled by the huge difference in the rates between the two places, yet another classic case of Karnataka’s ridiculously high cost of living.

Having experienced both, we suggest that you take your own vehicle along the highway that passes through these jungles, as we ended up spotting much more wildlife activity along the roads than on those trails inside the forests. The rickety old vans used by both the Governments for the jungle safari needs special mention here as the squeaks and rattles that they produce would scare any living creature on earth even a kilometer away. It just goes to show that we have a lot to learn from countries like Kenya where, we hear, jungle safaris are organized beautifully in a perfect and disciplined way. Nevertheless, having been there and done that, if given a chance to go there again, the answer would be a definite ‘yes’.

ROUTEMAP:


FACTFILE:

* Total No of Days: 4 (01.10.2011 - 04.10.2011)
* Vehicle Make & Model: Honda Civic

* Odometer Start Reading: 33699 km
* Odometer End Reading: 35151 km
* Total Distance traveled: 1452 km
* No of Toll Booths: 16
* Money spent on Toll: Rs. 630

* Total Quantity of Fuel filled: 108.06 l
* Average Fuel Consumption: 13.44 km/l
* Money spent on Fuel: Rs. 7908

* Destinations Covered: Masinagudi / Mudumalai / Bandipur
* Route Followed: Chennai-Hosur-Mysore-Nanjangud-Bandipur-Masinagudi

THE LANDSCAPE:


THE AUTOMOBILE:


Charge your batteries, pack your bags, don’t forget your cameras and get as close to wildlife as possible in South India by visiting Masinagudi, Mudumalai and Bandipur. Once there, please make sure that all rules are strictly followed. Excepting a few stupid souls who scared the hell out of the animals by honking their way to glory and by flashing the cameras right onto their faces, most other tourists were highly disciplined. Most importantly, do not go off the track into the forest and, whatever happens, do not get out of your vehicle in the entire forest stretch starting from Bandipur till Masinagudi and beyond.

2012 European Car of the Year is Opel Ampera

The Chevrolet Volt may not be as big a sales success as GM would have hoped with the company even recently announcing an extended closure of its plant in North America where the car is manufactured. But the Volt is just not done with the awards yet, it seems. As if the long list of awards and titles that it garnered since its introduction an year ago isn't enough, the Volt's European cousin was recently crowned the 2012 European Car of the Year. Yes, the badge-engineered Opel Ampera came out on top this year beating out the other finalists ranging from the diminutive Volkswagen Up! to the luxurious Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. The jury adjudged the Volt/Ampera as a mature product, after years of development and perfectioning by General Motors, and the first example of an electric vehicle with extended range. They also commented that other manufacturers will soon come along this path with their own extended range gasoline-electric hybrid. 

As always, 7 finalists were chosen for the title from the initial list of 35 cars that were launched in 2011. The candidates included the very best of automotive industry such as Audi A6, BMW 6 Series, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Lexus GS and even the Porsche 911, which only makes the Ampera's achievement more note-worthy. With the Chevrolet Volt not setting the sales charts on fire in USA, we hope that this all-important victory gives a fillip to Opel Ampera's chances in Europe. This is the second victory for Opel in 4 years as the Insignia took the European Car of the Year title in 2009.

2012 ECOTY RESULTS:


1. Opel Ampera / Chevrolet Volt - 330
2. Volkswagen Up! - 281
3. Ford Focus - 256
4. Land Rover Range Rover Evoque - 186
5. Fiat Panda - 156
6. Citroen DS5 - 144
7. Toyota Yaris - 122

PREVIOUS ECOTY WINNERS:

* 2011 Nissan Leaf
* 2010 Volkswagen Polo
* 2009 Opel/Vauxhall Insignia
* 2008 Fiat 500
* 2007 Ford S-Max

The European Car of the Year title is among the most respected in the industry, judged by a panel of 59 senior motoring journalists representing 23 countries across Europe. The seven organizers of European Car of the Year are prominent automotive publications such as Auto(Italy), Autocar(UK), Autopista(Spain), Autovisie(Holland), L'Automobile Magazine(France), Stern(Germany) and Vi Bilagare(Sweden).

Nissan bucks the trend, to revive Datsun brand for India and other emerging markets

The last few years have not been really great for the automotive industry as the great economic recession left it in tantrums, as car-makers struggled to stay afloat. General Motors shut down a boatload of brands like Hummer, Pontiac, Saturn and Daewoo and Ford closed down it's Mercury division. But all is not gloomy and dull in the world of automobiles and here is something for us to cheer about. Nissan, the Japanese manufacturer that is slowly but steadily gaining a foothold in India, recently announced its plans to revive the once-popular and iconic 'Datsun' brand. That's right, the legendary automotive marque is going to be reborn. If you aren't aware of Datsun, just check with your car-loving pa and grandpa who, we are sure, would be having lots and lots to say about. For us though, the word Datsun will always be associated with the timeless and classic 240Z that was the predecessor of Nissan's current sports car, the 370Z.

The revived Datsun brand will initially be launched in India, Indonesia and Russia and might expand its base further at a later stage. The major focus of reviving this brand is to gain traction in the emerging BRIC nations where car sales aren't showing signs of slowing down anytime now. Datsun will be positioned below Nissan with affordability being the major highlight of the brand. The first Datsun-badged car could reach showrooms in India as early as 2014 as the initial models are to be made at Renault-Nissan's alliance plant right here in Chennai. It was also announced that the core model of Datsun would retail under 4 Lakh Rupees, putting it right in the hot-spot. The Datsun brand is expected to play an important part in accelerating Nissan's growth across new markets and segments. The brand's logo was unveiled as was the hexagonal grille that will be a part of all Datsun cars.

"Datsun is an important part of the heritage of Nissan," said Ashwani Gupta, program director of Nissan’s newly-created Datsun Business Unit. "We will offer our customers in India modern and spirited cars that they will be happy and proud to own - at an affordable price". With this, Nissan, along with its partner Renault, will have no less than 3 brands vying for attention in India. If the luxury brand Infiniti also makes it here, the number goes up to 4. The company has to make sure that it gets the positioning and marketing of each of these brands right, so that the intended message reaches its target customers. Though the revival of Datsun seems to be a surprising move considering that manufacturers closed down brands by a dozen not so long ago, Nissan seems to have a clear plan to make the move stick. With the ever-aggressive Carlos Ghosn at the helm of the affairs, we don't really doubt them.

20120312

Mercedes-Benz launches City Bus C125 RLE in India


Daimler is on a roll in India. Close on the heels of unveiling an entire range of light and heavy trucks under its India-specific 'BharatBenz' brand, Mercedes-Benz launched its City Bus, the C125 RLE, in Pune on March 09, 2012. Not very long ago, Mercedes-Benz entered the luxury inter-city bus segment with its 2-axle and 3-axle coaches built by Sutlej that were pretty successful in eating into the market-share of Volvo. To extend its reach and appeal, Mercedes-Benz is now channeling its efforts to the luxury intra-city segment. Again, Volvo is ruling the roost here, making a mockery of whatever little the competition has on offer and setting the benchmark for public transportation in every major city in India. It is this lucrative space that Mercedes-Benz is targeting with the City Bus.

According to Mercedes-Benz, the City Bus creates a new benchmark in India with its striking exteriors, spacious and comfortable interiors, a fuel efficient Euro-IV compliant engine with BlueTec diesel technology and stringent production quality matching to the global standards. Highlights of the City Bus include a wheel-chair ramp for aiding passengers with restricted mobility, high-comfort cushioning in the seats, multiple mobile charging points, a thoughtful and ergonomically convenient driver's cabin, proven and robust OM 926 Diesel engine with 252 hp of power, state-of-the-art air suspension, high fuel efficiency and long maintenance intervals. MCV, the global body-building partner of Mercedes-Benz has setup shop in India too, inside the company's sprawling premises at Chakan, Pune.


Speaking on the occasion, the newly-appointed Head of Daimler Buses India, Mr. Markus Villinger, said “India is a fascinating market and there is a rising demand for robust, reliable and efficient city bus transportation. Our City Bus is designed to fulfill these requirements. I am extremely excited to be part of this growth story and hope together we can realize our ambition to make more people in India 'Travel with the Star'." Indicating the high focus for the Indian market, Mr. Hartmut Schick, Head of Daimler Buses, commented, “Our 2-axle and 3-axle buses have been very well received in the Indian market. Our foray into city buses will now enable more and more people to ‘Travel with the Star’." The base version of the Mercedes-Benz City Bus is priced at INR 9,000,000 ex-factory Pune.

Though they are new to this segment in India, Mercedes-Benz is one of the largest bus manufacturers in the world with a dominant presence across the globe, especially in Europe. With its experience, Mercedes-Benz will be hoping to end the monopoly of Volvo in India. Just like the standards of public transportation improved with the arrival of Volvo a decade back, we expect some further improvements with the advent of global competition, starting with Mercedes-Benz. Ultimately, it is us, the Indian public, who are benefited as a result. It is high time the domestic majors Tata and Ashok Leyland pull up their socks to avoid being left behind in what we foresee as the future of India's intra-city public transportation. Over to BMTC and KSRTC to set the trend, as always!

20120311

Tata Winger CNG spotted testing near Pune

Tata Winger, marketed as India's first maxi-van is serving its purpose well as a people-carrier. Powered by a couple of diesel-engine options and available in a range of seating configurations starting from the bare-bones 13-seater variant to the luxurious Platinum variant that seats 7 in total comfort, the Winger caters to a wide range of buyers. The fact that it is also available in factory-built School Van and Ambulance variants only helps its cause. To further widen its appeal though, Tata Motors is looking at launching a CNG variant of the Winger that will have a dual appeal of lower running costs and lesser emissions.

This isn't new info though, as spy-shots of Winger CNG appeared in the internet well over a year back. For reasons best known to Tata Motors, the vehicle has not seen the light of the day till date. This production-ready vehicle spotted testing in the outskirts of Pune sometime last month makes us believe that the launch date is nearby. If Tata Motors isn't planning otherwise, that is.

20120310

2012 Geneva - Bugatti and Ferrari vroom in with their fastest-ever cars

Bugatti is one automaker that is never content of holding superlatives. Anybody and their kith and kin will be knowing about a car called Veyron which already holds the title of 'world's fastest production car' with the mind-numbing 16.4 Super Sports variant. Known for introducing variants oh so often, it was only a matter of time before Bugatti launched the convertible variant of the speed machine. It's official now. Bugatti unveiled the Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show with the same 1200-horsepower, 8.0-liter, quad-turbo W16 engine that propelled the Super Sports variant to record-smashing speeds. The Grand Sport Vitesse (french for "speed"), once launched, is expected to be the fastest convertible ever.

Bugatti apparently isn't the only automaker that is after superlatives. Ferrari, the legendary Italian manufacturer also launched the most powerful and the fastest car it has ever built at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. Named F12 Berlinetta, the car stunned audience in an attractive Rosso Berlinetta three-layer color, which we would otherwise call 'Ferrari Red'. Ferrari claims that the F12 Berlinetta is extremely advanced with unparalleled levels of technology and innovation in its architecture, design and build. Powered by a 6262-cc V12 engine good for an astronomical 740 bhp, the F12 Berlinetta is capable of accelerating to 100 km/h in 3.1 seconds, easily making it the fastest road-going Ferrari ever.

As with recently launched Ferraris, the design is pure 'love-it or hate-it'. Not everybody will be pleased with the way the F12 Berlinetta looks, but as long as it satisfies the tastes of the fans of the 'prancing horse', Ferrari will be least concerned. The front-end has the now-familiar slatted grille that has now become the trademark of Ferrari. The car is a tasteful mix of curves and sharp-cut design elements that combine rather beautifully to create an imposing stance. Quite unsurprisingly then, Ferrari is reported to have already sold a few hundreds of the F12 Berlinettas at the Geneva stands that will keep its factory in Italy running for a few months to clear the back-orders.

20120307

2012 Geneva - Lamborghini Aventador J goes topless, make us go weak on our knees


Men are known to be traditionally weak. All that is needed to make us go weak on our knees is to show us something topless. The Lamborghini Aventador J, a one-off open-top model based on the gorgeous Aventador LP 700-4, just substantiates that fact. When we said topless, we were only referring to cars and nothing else, mind you. Displayed at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, this sole Aventador J is rumored to have found a lucky owner already. Having apparently spent an exorbitant 2.1 Million Euros on this topless, super-exclusive Italian beauty, the owner of this Aventador J will get "an utterly indescribable experience of power and dynamics", according to Lamborghini. How we wish we had that kind of money to describe the indescribable.


Powered by the same 700-horsepower 6.5-liter V12 engine as the hard-top model and armed with just a couple of miniscule wind deflectors in front of the driver and the passenger, the Aventador J is sure to give its occupants a truly marvelous and one-of-a-kind experience. An elated Stephan Winkelmann, President and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini said "With the Lamborghini Aventador J, we have molded our brand DNA into its most definitive form to-date. This automobile is as extreme and as uncompromising as only a Lamborghini can be. The new Aventador J is the most radical open super-sports car of Lamborghini's history. Its name comes from our tradition and combines an unconventional design with technology innovation".


What next, Lamborghini?

2012 Geneva - Tata unveils stunning MegaPixel Concept

We aren't exaggerating one bit when we say that the swanky floors of Geneva, and not Mumbai or New Delhi, brings the best out of Tata Motors. You just have to look at the various concepts that Tata had displayed in Geneva in the past to validate our statement. If the Pixel Concept that Tata showcased at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show left you impressed, this MegaPixel Concept, an evolution of last year's car just unveiled at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show will leave you, well, mighty impressed. According to Tata, the MegaPixel is a global, four-seater, city-smart, range extended electric vehicle (REEV) concept for the performance-seeking and environment-conscious motorist anywhere in the world.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Prakash M. Telang, Managing Director - India Operations, Tata Motors, said, “The Tata Megapixel, developed by our design centers in India, the UK and Italy, is our idea of a city car for discerning motorists in any megacity of the world. It is a result of the progress we have made on the Tata Pixel, displayed last year, and also denotes the company’s future design direction”. The MegaPixel Concept has a lithium ion phosphate battery that could be recharged on the move by an on-board petrol engine generator. Some facts and figures of the MegaPixel Concept like what is listed below are sure to leave you surprised.

* Driving range of upto 900 km with a single tank of fuel
* CO2 emissions of just 22 g/km
* Fuel economy of 100 km/l under battery-only power

 

Other stand-out features of the car include the class-leading 'Zero Turn' drive system that wooed us all in the Pixel and is sure to leave us spell-bound with its even higher level of maneuverability in the MegaPixel. Each wheel houses an independent electric motor which, while parking, drive the wheels in opposite directions while the front wheels are capable of turning at an acute angle, resulting in an outstanding turning radius of just 2.8 meters. Another innovative feature is the 'at-home' induction charging system that begins charging the car as soon as it is parked over an induction pad. An advanced version of the Human Machine Interface (HMI) shown in the Pixel also finds its way into the MegaPixel.

Coming to the design aspect, we confess that we just can't stop raving about the ravishing design of the car if we start. The MegaPixel, with its twin-sliding doors that open in the opposite directions, pillarless profile, integrated headlights and grille, beautifully-designed front and rear bumpers, panoramic glass roof, slingshot rear-view mirrors and funky LED lights is a real show-stopper that will make Tata, and hence India, proud in the hi-fi auto-funda spaces of Geneva. Like what it did with every other concept displayed at Geneva till date, we really do not want Tata to confine something as beautiful, advanced, practical and intelligent as the MegaPixel to just a motor show. That would be really cruel.

The more logical thing for Tata to do is to obviously tone down the concept a little and bring it closer to production. If they do that, we are sure that it will just fly off the showroom floors. And by that, we aren't referring to the Indian market alone, mind you. Before we part, here is a beautifully shot video of the MegaPixel that touches on all the highlights of this latest effort by Tata Motors. Check it out and post your views in the comments section below.

video