Thursday, May 29, 2014

Travelogue: Neelkantheshwar Temple

One visit to this place and you wonder, why such a beautiful temple (one of the best temple’s I have seen) is not on the regular tourist map of Pune. In fact it is almost as if this place doesn’t exists, for not many people are aware of it.

The temple is named after Lord Shiva and depicts his blue throat due to the venom that he had swallowed during sagar manthan. It is a huge temple, with lots of open space, space to sit and enjoy the exquisite sculptures that tell different Hindu mythological tales. I have never seen so many sculptures in one place. See some of the pictures to get a sense of what you are missing, if you haven’t been to this place as yet. These pictures still don’t tell the complete story.

Now that you have seen some of the pictures and want to make a trip to this place, note the following. The temple is on a small hill, maybe around 700-800 ft high. Physical walking distance maybe around 1.5 km, but given the steep climb that one needs to negotiate, do plan this for early morning or when it isn’t too hot. When we visited this place few days back, and started our climb almost around 12 noon, we soon realized what a big mistake we had done.

If you are going there from Pune, the best option will be to take the Warje-Malwadi road towards NDA, cross Uttam Nagar and go past the Khadakwasla dam (the dam being on your left side) and continue towards Peacock bay. Continue on this road, which is well constructed, but mostly single lane. You will cross Kudje, Khadakwadi, Mandvi villages, Splendor Country club and see lots of signs for Waterfront plots. Near Katawadi, you will need to take a left and cross a narrow bridge. There is a big overhead board here pointing to take this left to go towards Neelkantheshwar. There is no way you can miss this board, unless of course the board itself isn’t there anymore. After the bridge, you will need to take left again in the Dawje village. There is board here that will point towards right for the temple and you can drive up from within the village and reach a small Bhairav temple. There is an option of parking your vehicle here and go up-hill towards the Neelkantheshwar temple, but note that this is a much longer walk.

Instead, continue straight for Jambhali village, which is about 3 km from here. At the village you will hit a junction, where again appropriate board will guide you towards the “right” road that goes all the way to the base of the hill on which the temple is. This is not a very well-constructed road, but is definitely drivable. Park your vehicle at the base of the hill (Rs 15 parking charges for a four wheeler). From here starts the steep walk up the hill. The climb is really steep in few places and unless you are in good shape, this can be very difficult. There are steps also, but only for initial short distance. The loose gravel on the road, only makes it more difficult to walk. However the path is pretty wide and it does seems that someday in future, there will be motorable road right up to the temple as well. The path flattens a bit towards the end, but this relief is short lived as the entire temple is again a climb (you can either take the stone stairs or continue to walk on the mud path).

From the temple entrance itself you are enchanted with the sculptures and there are just too many of them (see the pictures above). You can easily spend couple of hours here looking all of these and also relaxing. The walk down while is less tiring, can still be difficult as getting a sure foothold in some places is a challenge. So walk carefully, lest you skid and fall.

It will be a good idea to carry food and water, since there are no options at and around this place. We had luckily taken aloo-puri and many water bottles. Given the heat of May, we consumed the water pretty quickly. As we sat there, eating our lunch, the weather changed and soon it became very very windy, which caused many mangoes from the trees around to fall. This brisk wind was soon followed by rains and the temperature dropped suddenly making it very pleasant. The road journey that seemed tiring and through dry lands in the morning, now suddenly felt very pleasant. On the way back, we found a spot where the lake water was just 10 meters or so from the road. We took a break and stepped into the cold water, giving much required respite our legs, which were tired after the steep climb and then decent in the hot weather.

I can only say that the place is a must visit, but chose a better time of the day and weather, be prepared for a good steep climb and carry basic refreshments with you.

Till next time… bye.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Travelogue: A fun filled trip to Anandvan Resort @ Bhandardara

Bhandardara, a place I had not even heard off till recently, turned out to be one of our best holidays till date. I had recently seen this place in a friend’s Facebook updates and when we had some time at hand (in between my changing jobs), we decided to give it a try.

About 165 km from my place (about 4 hour drive), this place is almost like heaven on earth. A place you can visit all year round due to its lush green mountains, Wilson dam, Arthur Lake (also known as Pravara lake), Umbrella falls and many other points worth visiting.

We stayed at a place called Anandvan resort. There are only 2 other places worth staying – Yash Resorts and MTDC resort. The MTDC resort was in a really poor condition and was in a state of renovation. Didn’t notice Yash resort, but Anandvan is by far the best place to stay, as also rated on trip advisor.

The experience at Anandvan was just great, right from the reservation call I did. A friendly person advised on various options and shared the bank account details in which I had to make the payment. The place has cottages of various types so that families of different sizes can easily accommodate. We stayed in a one bedroom cottage, which had a sitting room, a bedroom and a private sit out. The room interiors were very soothing. A bit low on lighting, given the shortage of power and frequent cuts, but overall the greenery around, the fresh air, the warmth of people makes you fall in love with this place.

The regular checking time is at 1.00 pm and depending on the package you take, lunch could be included. Given the location of the resort, almost no other eating joint around, it is best to take the “all meals” plan so that you are sure of getting good food. The rates on the menu are on the higher side, so taking an all meals plan still works out in your favor.

We realized that we will reach late so when it was already around 2.00 pm, and we were still almost 30 km away, we called the resort to update them. The person politely responded that since we had lunch in our package, we had nothing to worry. They will make sure that we will get lunch, however late we will be. The first pleasant surprise J.

We eventually reached the resort by around 2.45 pm. The place is almost at the highest peak of the hill besides the Wilson dam and is itself made on a hill side. We checked in, but opted to go directly to eat first. As we entered the small restaurant, we immediately got a homely feeling. While the meal options say buffet, we didn’t see anything on the table. The person on the staff told us that all items will be served at our table and we were given a menu to choose the items from.

Mr. Kaul, Narendar, Rajaram, are some of the people in the restaurant that we will remember always. Narendar came to take our order and we asked him how many starters we could order and he said – “how many ever you like” (with a wide smile on his face). Mr. Kaul, the person in charge also came to us, welcomed us and said that we should treat this as our home and feel free to order whatever we liked. In fact they started making suggestions on what is good and what we should definitely try. When they realized I and daughter eat non-veg, they immediately said “you must try our chicken in black pepper” and indeed it was delicious. All their chicken and paneer dishes are just awesome. The food while is very tasty, is heavy and some items like the Chinese have a liberal helping of black pepper. It has been ages since we had such a courteous staff, which would actually feel bad if we didn’t try out all the items on the menu. Once we were telling Narendar to only bring small helping of each item and he asked us – “What is your worry? The food will go waste? Don’t worry. You just enjoy”. Another specialty is the local fish, called as 'Prem Chopra'. If you relish non-veg, you must not miss this.

The rooms are up-hill from the reception/restaurant. Ours was a climb of 120 steps and we were in A4. Cottages A type are single bedroom, B type are double bedroom. There is a T type, which is like a machan and is ideal for a couple. The largest is a 4 bedroom cottage. There is no swimming pool at the resort, something we missed in the warm weather conditions, but given the greenery, the strong winds and the pollution free air, we had other things to help us rejuvenate. They do however provide for baby pools in the private sit out space each cottage has. The club house had provision for pool table, TT table, carom table and even a badminton court that offers option to play basketball as well.

Rooms start from A1, A2 and so on with A1 being closest to the reception and A5 being the farthest (uphill). Similarly it is for B1 to B5. A and B types occupy either side of the pathway/steps going uphill. So the good part is that you can actually eat the heavy food, as you would get to digest it immediately while walking back to your room. If you have elderly people with you who have trouble walking or climbing, you would want to make sure you get the closest room, but that too will need some effort to reach.

The Arthur Lake is close by and in monsoon is a beauty to watch. Even now, when it is almost a year since the monsoon, there was sufficient water in the lake and we had a short boat ride in it. When the lake is full, it rises almost 10-15 feet higher than the current level. This is the back side of the Wilson dam.
On the front of the dam, at the base, is a garden that you go visit, and spend some time and also watch the small water fall. The garden unfortunately isn’t very clean, but the water is. Many people were enjoying taking a dip in the water here. Small kids were selling mini sized jamun and kheera.

We also visited Randha Falls, but there wasn’t much water in it at this time of the year. This place, like many other spots in Bhandardara is used frequently for film shooting.

The road closest to the resort is in the worst condition. So even a short stretch of 4-5 km easily takes 15 min to drive and my XUV proved to be the right vehicle to drive here. While monsoon season is the best time to be around here, but the roads can become lot more dangerous to drive given the bad condition and also the monsoon tends to be very heavy. In monsoon there are thousands of water falls from all the mountains surrounding this place and the lake is full, the dam has some of its gates open, giving rise of what is known as umbrella falls.

This time, in May, the weather is a bit warm, but still lot better than in Pune. However after a short drive, we did feel very thirsty and had to gulp down loads of cold water to satisfy ourselves. When roaming around, ensure that you are well equipped with water and some snacks as the place has not much to offer in terms of good shops, or hotels.

Now a bit on the drive to Bhandardara. From Kaspatewasti, you can go to Pimple Saudagar and then take the new Nashik Phata road. There is a new JRD Tata flyover built on this that gets you to the Pune Nashik Highway (N50), over the old Pune Mumbai Highway. There are two toll plaza that you would need to cross, one at Moshi and the other one at Rajgurunagar, both charging Rs 25 for a one way toll for 4 wheeler. The road till Rajgurunagar toll is 4 lane, with a divider separating the traffic in either direction. So while there is traffic (depending on the time of the day), it is still fairly good and fast drive. After Rajgurunagar, the road for some distance is just 2 lane (with 1 lane for reach direction) and this is where you end up slowing down a bit. The road is almost straight and you would cross Alandi, Chimbali, Chakan, Shiroli, Rajgurunagar, Peth etc.

If you trust in google maps, then you can follow it almost blind folded as it is extremely accurate. While going, we did just that and while we realized later that we ended up going into some narrow lanes, in-city by-lanes, but still the google map never let us down.

Near Narayangaon, the google map takes you from the shortest route via Ozar, Hivare, Otur, Bhramhanvada to Kotul, Rajur and finally after a U turn near Randha falls to Bhandardara
(be careful to not miss this U turn, else you will end up going towards Mumbai). The U turn is about 10 km from Rajur. Rajur is the only place in this vicinity after Narayangaon that has option to fill petrol/diesel. Best is to keep your car tank full when you start. The round trip was about 320 km. Add to that 20-30 more in case you plan to roam around a bit. Given the poor road conditions in some places, the very many ghats, your car is bound to give less mileage than it usually does, so stock up keeping that in mind.

The road from Narayangaon to Bhramhanvada, as shown by google maps, is almost via dry lands and very little population to see. The road is mostly single lane and you end up getting half off of the road when a vehicle is coming from opposite direction. There are numerous ghats on this route, so be well prepared in case you have a tendency of road sickness. This is a pretty long drive with almost no population in between.

This road is definitely for the more adventurous of the lot. In case you want a more comfortable drive, you should stick on to the Pune Nashik highway N50, taking the right arm of the Y junction at Narayangaon. Continue on this road all the way to Bota, crossing Alephata in between. This road is surely far better, wider and being a national highway you will get regular options of hotels and petrol pumps all the way.

Turn left at Bota towards Belapur, taking state highway 21 (MS21) and you will hit Bhramhanvada. While this road is longer than the other route, it is surely faster given the much better road here. This will also prove to be less tiring overall. There is also a small lake here, very close to the road, where you can get down and maybe even take a splash. From Bhramhanvada, you join back the same road, leading all the way to Rajur and then the U turn to Bhandardara. The hotel is about 10 km from this U turn, but it will take at least 30 min to reach given the very poor road condition, especially in the last 3-4 km. However some repair works was in progress, so maybe this will get fixed soon.

There is a short cut from Shendi village to the resort, where instead of going straight up, you take the left at the village junction, drive about 100 m and from near a school (right in front), take first left that goes up hill. The second left from near the school, actually goes to the lake from where you get to do the boat ride. The left uphill road, takes you past MTDC resort (after many twists and turns) and then leads straight to Anandvan resort. You may want to ask someone to make sure you have taken the right route, or else follow google maps. The actual road is only a little bit longer.

The road leads further to the Ratangad fort, which is a good trekking point. On the way is the Amrateshwar temple that was supposedly built by Pandavas overnight. Given the road condition and slightly warm weather, we didn’t cover some of these points, but our intention was to go and have a relaxing holiday and that we did 110% at Anandvan resort.
We will definitely be willing to go there again, and this time in or just after monsoon.

Monday, May 19, 2014

End of an Era

What started a long long time ago… on a nice Monday morning of August 28th, 1995 @ Electronics City Bangalore, is finally coming to an end today on May 19th 2014 @ Hinjewadi Pune.

Almost 19 years, with Infosys (missed reaching the 20 year milestone!). While it seems like a lifetime, it really wasn’t. When I think back, I can still clearly recall the Monday morning when my uncle had come to drop me to the Koramangala Infosys Office and I had taken a bus from there to the Electronic City campus. I had walked cautiously into what was then just the building 9 and 10 (Heritage building) of the current Infosys City, Bengaluru. I walked to where some HR folks were sitting and told them that I was to join from this day and they greeted me with a warm smile and pointed me to a room where many others like me, freshers, were sitting to complete the joining in formalities.  For some reason I had expected this to be similar to college’s first day experience: ragging. But then realized that this was now a professional environment, that I was now on a job and such things didn’t happen here.

We did most of our paper work and had sessions from NRN, NSR and one or two more people and towards evening, I was enquiring on how to reach to Ulsoor Lake (for that’s where my uncle’s home was) and boarded the appropriate bus. Immediately that day, I got a taste of how things were to be on the road in the days to come. It took 3 hours to reach back (a distance of about 20 km). Uncle and Parents were a bit tense when I finally landed home. Recall that those weren’t the days of mobile phones and they only knew that I should reach home latest by 6.30 pm. It was a time when “reaching late to office or unable to reach office” was a documented risk in project’s risk plan.

Anyway, from building 9, SBU3, NCR project, to building 14, to building 19 in Infosys Labs (then called SETLabs), to building 23 basement (we had to come to the ground floor even to take a bio break), to building 32, I had not just a moving career in Infosys, but also pretty enriching. I remained aligned to Microsoft technologies all along that helped me gain deep expertise in MS products and further helped me bag the Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional Award 6 years in a row.

The day I had joined the Bangalore office, NRN had announced that an office in Pune was being opened up and I immediately applied for it. By the time they started taking people in for it, I was already assigned to the NCR project where we were working with Windows 3.11 for workgroups, using Visual C++ 1.5 and writing graphical user interface components to be used in NCR’s Point of Sale terminal applications. This was very interesting work and I was personally doing very well, so when I expressed my interest to relocate to Pune, my manager tried to discourage me, but I insisted and was eventually moved to Nestle project, that was expected to be the first one to shift to Pune and start from there. However some delays in occupying the building (in Pune) and contract signing from Nestle, and I was on bench for about 1 month or so. During this time I tried to learn typing so that I could increase my speed of working with the keyboard. I would pick a random book or carry the newspaper and start typing from any random page in a notepad and later check for mistakes. While this turned out to be a good thing, the ‘being on bench’ surely wasn’t and I was getting frustrated sitting idle. So I finally approached my NCR manager again and he gladly took me back in his project.

I continued to stay on in Bangalore till June 2004 and the days, months, years were wonderful. I enjoyed the work in Infosys and had a great personal time as well with friends. We visited lots of places in and around Bangalore. I was in a much better physical shape then and could do trekking, and played regular badminton at a resort in Yalahanka, where we had become members.

Got married, had a daughter, bought a flat and I was pretty much settled in Bangalore, but then slowly the 25 km distance from HAL Airport Road to Electronics City started to take 1.5 to 2 hrs one side and this increased the overall time away from home significantly. Also unfortunately the climate didn’t suit both my wife and my daughter and both would keep catching flue frequently and had throat infections; causing negative effect on my work and their health.

Eventually in June 2004, I officially shifted to Pune, and helped start local setup for SETLabs. Did lot of running around initially to meet various DMs to help sell SETLabs and offered our folks for consulting opportunities. Over the years Labs grew from the initial 3-4 of us in Pune to a pretty decent size.

Once I became the lead for SETLabs Pune operations, I got to join the Pune DC EC and it was a turning point in my life. Apart from my day job, this opportunity got me loads of opportunities to contribute at the DC level and it was an excellent team that I got to work with here. As I look back, I have probably worked with almost all teams and committees. Been part of DC EC, Phase 1 Ops Council, Phase 1 Canteen Committee, Pune Transport Committee, worked closely with HR for many DC initiatives, drove the Innovation agenda for the DC, mentored clubs like Eco Club, VOY, and Robogear team and also worked for few years with Hinjewadi Industries Association (outside of Infosys). Am proud that due to my pushing, the DC is now celebrating its birthday every year as Pune DC Day on 15th May. It has been a truly enriching experience.

All these years I have worked in many projects, with many managers, and with very many people and have mostly good memories of everyone, baring maybe a few incidents. Overall, I can say that my career at Infosys was going pretty smoothly. In about a decade and a half years, I became Principal Architect. The industry took a downward turn and things become to slow down. The software industry was reaching an inflection point, where the initial rapid growth for the people and the organizations was hitting a plateau and slowing down. The industry was saturating, the services become commodity.

New joinees around this time started feeling disgruntled that they didn’t grow as fast as we had grown and they didn’t get as many onsite opportunities as there were earlier. Many good people left us both at junior and senior levels.

The question that everyone asked while I was at Infosys – How come you stayed for so long? And now the question is – Why did you resign? For me job satisfaction is the key. So far I was happy doing what I was assigned to. I pulled along all these years because I always happened to be doing interesting things. The last few years, the work I was doing on Immersive User Interface was exciting and we could experiment on lot of new technologies, concepts and ideas including things like touch and gesture driven interfaces, augmented reality, etc. However due to organizational direction, some of this work had to be stopped and put on back burner.

They say - all good things come to an end. Such is now the case with me. Having worked only for Infosys, I don’t know how the world outside is going to be. Those who change the companies often, at least have the experience of going and settling in a new company. For me, it is almost like rewinding back to 1995 and starting afresh in a new company, but I guess this was required now, before it becomes too late.

As today came near, I have been cleaning up my cabin and it made me realize how many things I had accumulated over time. But it also taught me something... that we tend to keep things with us, thinking that they are of significant value, but they just occupy space and over the years, we hardly ever go back to them. Same is true with our emails. If only we can learn to clean up at regular intervals, we will probably not need the big data solutions.

The last week has been all mostly farewell, meeting and saying bye to friends formed over the years. Emotional moments. Am glad that most people had good things to say about me, or at least they shared only good things J. Got some very good and thoughtful gifts that I will cherish my entire life. Will keep reminding of the great times I had with these folks here.

Adieu to all my friends and colleagues at Infosys… my family for so many years… my home away from home… till we meet again

It is time to say the standard developer line “Hello World!” Here I come.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Speed Breakers

Of the various cities that I have been too, somehow to me Pune seems to top the list of speed breakers. There seems to be some specific liking for this object by our local municipal corporation and in some roads they really abound, almost like one speed breaker per house.  

The purpose for this object is good. It helps break the speed and ensures that people don’t over speed in certain areas where the possibilities of accidents can be high. However these get constructed with little regard to this basic rule and in many cases are themselves the reason for accidents.  

Personally I believe that they aren’t really required. If people follow proper traffic rules, there is actually hardly a need for something like a speed breaker. And then given the condition of some of our roads, there again is little need for speed breakers, given the various pot holes that exist on the road anyway. But I guess our highly zealous corporation employees go purely by the rule book. It defines a speed breaker as an object protruding up from the surface of the road, forcing vehicles to slow down as they drive over it. Pot holes, being inverted in their design, don’t pass this definition and hence don’t count.  

Additionally, speed breakers, hinder free movement of traffic and the slowdown in peak hours can cause heavy traffic jams. Some speed breakers, have lost their paint and hence tend to appear suddenly on the road, thus actually causing a threat to the safety of those driving. Finally, the frequent slow down, causes not only unwanted wear and tear of our vehicles, but also causes vehicles to consume more petrol/diesel. A vehicle running at a constant speed for long distance is much more fuel efficient than one that runs in jerks, due to the countless speed breakers it has navigate over in the journey.  

If a speed breaker had a standard design, things could still be tolerable, but it seems that every engineer who gets assigned the task of constructing one, wants to make sure that his/her work stands apart from the others. That said there a few typical kinds of breakers you will see on the road. These are (the names used below aren’t official names, but just the way I like to call them)  

The Plateau: These breakers rise above the surface of the road, then extend parallel to the road for 2-3 feet and then fall back. Driving on this gives a momentary elevated feeling to the driver. These seem to be designed keeping in mind that why should only vehicles drive on it. Pedestrians can easily walk across them. Some of these that happen to be on the wider side, can possibly offer parking for cars like Nano.  

The bumper breakers: The pretty standard design of speed breaker, where it rises suddenly and falls equally suddenly. The ability of the engineer is in the height the breaker attains and how steep the incline (up and down) can be. More often than not, the height is such that the vehicle’s bottom hits the top of the breaker or the bumper itself hits the breaker. These can also be affectionately called as body breakers, because of the shock they provide to the passengers.  

The rumblers: Gaining popularity of late are these rumbler speed breakers, which exist in multiples. Very often they are spotted in triplets, but occasionally (like at end of highway), they can appear in twenties or thirties. The periodic shocks that they provide to the vehicle, causes the driver to hit the breaks to smoothen out the bumps. It surely helps waking up sleepy drivers and can offer a cheaper alternative to digest heavy food, than trying to pop antacid or digestive tablets.  

The tiger: I am calling these the tiger because of their yellow/black color combination. These are the most consistent in their design, because seem to be mass produced as hard rubber and then drilled on the road surface. They are much smaller than the bumper breakers, but very effective, given the very hard material that is used to make them. Try to navigate past them at a higher speed and you will probably end up with your body internals in an entangled mess.  

I was in Delhi recently and driving from the International Airport to Ghaziabad. I must say that the journey was mostly speed breaker free, the roads were excellent and the numerous fly overs helped to by continuously driving at pretty good speed (within speed limits though), with the occasional halts at traffic light.  

I will urge the Pune officials to resist the urge of ‘construct one get one’ speed breaker free and rather look at making good wide roads and manage the traffic violations with a strict hand. Smooth drive on the road, can in the longer run, prove to be lot more environmental friendly than having the never ending speed breakers to drive over.  

Happy Driving!

My 2 cents on Reserved Instance Billing and Savings

If you are using Azure Virtual Machines (VMs), you have an option of using Azure Reserved Instance (RI) VMs instead. Microsoft (MS) claims ...