RockMe Burgers in Chiang Mai

It all started by reading a blog on food joints in Chiang Mai, prior to our departure for this beautiful city in Northern Thailand. Apart from the super local food, I chanced upon this particular writeup featuring the best burgers in town. Just by seeing the pics, I was all set to dive into a meaty & cheesy concoction, made famous by all travelers to this small but happening restaurant.

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Located on Loi Kroh Road, the nightlife paradise of Chiang Mai, this Restobar is located below the Raming Lodge Hotel. We chose to stay there as well as the hotel’s breakfast was being catered to by Rock Me Burgers (how convenient). Having spent the first two days roaming around sampling local fare and walking a lot to build up a massive hunger (and to lose some weight as well), we decided to hit the joint on a Friday afternoon. The interiors of the joint made us even hungrier as all we read and saw were food related information and pictures. The menu card is expansive and has options of meat and vegetarian burgers so, all my veggie friends.. fear not.. enjoy !

IMG-20180819-WA0029I ordered a massive beef burger and to my expectations.. it was MASSIVE.. my friends ordered other varieties including one in seafood which came in a coconut shell. The quality of the burgers is superb and portions enough for 2 to a plate.

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Ice tea and a few beers later, most of us were struggling to walk as half a ton of burger inside each one of us did make us sleepy as hell. Over the next few days, we did visit the joint again, and enjoyed every bit of the bite.

Next time in Chiang Mai.. its RockMe all the way

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Location & Other Detail credits: Chiang Mai Food Critic

At a Glance

Lots of seating. Fun counter bar outside. Air conditioned inside. Excellent burgers. Sandwiches include french fries. Reasonable prices. Credit cards accepted.

Prices

Drinks: Water: 30 baht/Heineken, San Miguel: 80 baht/Singha, Leo: 70 baht/Chang: 60 baht

Food:

Original Burger: 160 baht/Classic Hotdog: 130 baht

Food Taste: If you’re looking for a delicious burger in Chiang Mai, this is the place to go! They also offer hotdogs, fries, onion rings, milkshakes, and more. Everything is excellent!

Atmosphere: There is indoor/outdoor seating. Indoor is air-conditioned. Outdoor has a long bar along Loi Kroh Road with a fun atmosphere, and you can watch the cooks grill the burgers. 80’s rock plays throughout the restaurant.

Cleanliness: The restaurant is part of Raming Lodge, so it is pretty clean.

Service: Great! The staff speaks American English and serves with a smile.

 

Address:

17-19 Loi Kroh Road, Chiang Mai 50100, ThailandPhone: 089-852-8801 / Facebook:Rock Me Burgers & Bar on Facebook

Hours: 11:30 – 24:00 Everyday

SKODA OCTAVIA – The “CULT” FAVOURITE

When the Skoda Octavia was launched in 2002 it changed the game for performance sedans in this country. Prior to that if an enthusiast was looking for something exciting he/she looked abroad, or modified the existing cars available then. The Octavia since then has gone on to develop a massive cult following. When Skoda announced their latest face lift of the Octavia last year it was met with lots of enthusiasm. Worldwide, Skoda has sold over 50 lakh units of the Octavia.COLLAGE 1.jpgThe Octavia has a split-headlamp cluster called the Quadra LED headlights. The reason for this name is because they are split into four compartments with the low and high beams being separated. LED daytime running lights and fog lamps on the bumper are part of the kit. There is a chrome strip running across the bumper which gives the car a premium finish. The grille is glossy black, with some creases across the hood which weren’t there in the earlier version. The front fenders are far more sculpted adding to the muscular look of the Octavia. The tail lamps at the rear are LED units with a rear bumper that has been revised too.COLLAGE 2.jpgOne of the new features the Octavia gets is the Park Pilot. Once you activate this, the car manoeuvres itself while parking. The driver still plays a role applying the brakes whenever necessary. There are proximity sensors all over the car with the customary reverse parking camera.

Step into the car and the first thing you notice is the new 9 inch infotainment scree with capacitive touch. The interface is very smooth and fast with a resolution ratio of 800×480. The Octavia comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirror Link to pair your phone with. Skoda has an app called “Boss Connect”. This app lets owners who usually sit in the rear seat control the infotainment system from there.COLLAGE 4.jpgThere’s ambient lighting with 10 colours on offer as well!  One can increase and decrease the brightness of the lights in the footwell and doors. A panoramic sunroof is also part of the package. Two USB ports for rear passengers below the rear AC vent are there as well. The interiors are extremely plush and classy with soft-touch plastics and a beige/black two-tone colour scheme.  Lots of leg room and space in the cabin make this a very comfortable space, where one can spend long hour driving or being driven around.COLLAGE 3.jpgThe Octavia comes with two engine variants, the 1.8-litre TSI and the 2.0-litre TDI.  I drove the diesel variant and boy or boy what an engine. All the Skoda cars I have driven in the past have been amongst the best driver cars in terms of performance. So much power is available through the power band.  This comes with the legendary 6 speed DSG gearbox. If there was a lifetime achievement award given to a gearbox, the DSG would win it hands down. That’s how good it is. The power and torque output is 140.8 bhp and 320 Nm. The claimed mileage is 19.3 kmpl.

Safety which is hallmark with all VW family cars sees the base trim of the Octavia get 4 airbags. The top trim gets 8 airbags with dual airbags upfront and at the sides. ABS, EBD and traction control are standard across the variants.

We drove with the Octavia to Kamshet. It’s located 120 kms from Mumbai along the Mumbai – Pune Expressway.  Driving the Octavia on empty roads early in the morning was the perfect demonstration of the handling prowess of the car. Acceleration is rapid, before you realise it, the Octavia is touching three digit speeds. To get to Kamshet one must take the 2nd Lonavala exit and get on to the Mumbai – Bangalore Highway.COLLAGE 5.jpgIt’s a picturesque hill station in the Western Ghats, which is renowned for paragliding and flying schools. Kamshet is regularly featured in the top 10 must visit destinations adventure junkies. Driving in these natural scenic surrounding on narrow roads was a refreshing break from the highway. In Kamshet one can enjoy the surroundings and have a closer look at the village life of India with muddy huts and village markets. The area is surrounded by paddy and sunflower fields and it provides an awesome view while you are enjoying the world class paragliding facilities here.

After spending a day of taking in the sights it was time to head back. This was a day well spent driving one of my favourite car to a location that is still untouched by development.lastPricing for the Skoda Octavia starts at 18.91 Lakhs for the 1.4 TSI Ambition Petrol Manual and 21.79 Lakhs for the 2.0 TDI CR Ambition Diesel Manual. Prices are on road Price (inclusive of GST), Mumbai.

 

FREESTYLING ALL THE WAY…

One of my favourite weekend getaways from Mumbai is Alibaug. Located just 120 kms from Mumbai is Maharashtra’s version of Goa for people who are looking at a weekend beach getaway.

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We were headed to Karpewadi resort in Alibaug in the Ford Freestyle. Here at Karpewadi, they practice sustainable management and encourage the guests to do the same. The term to describe it is an ‘agrotel’ where being one with nature is the central theme. You get private beach access, a range of activities to choose from on site as well. For people who like sightseeing, there are several such destinations nearby. The owners believe in a no- compromise approach to providing basic comforts with quality home – cooked cuisine.

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The Freestyle was launched earlier this year. It fits into the cross-hatchback segment in India. Most other manufacturers have seen varying degrees of success with the models launched, now it was Ford’s turn to launch a cross version of their proven and successful Figo Hatchback. Of course, lots of changes have been incorporated into the Freestyle.

The first time you see it, barring some similarities in shape to the Figo, you get a different grille, bumpers, side skirts, fender extensions and alloy wheels! The new grille is sporty honeycomb design with glossy black treatment. The bumper is stylish looking with a plastic silver skid plate. On the side you have plastic claddings on the wheel arch & side skirt. This is accompanied by 15-inch split 4 spoke alloy wheels. Ford has added a racing stripe decal on the lower section of the doors which we like. There are luggage racks on the roof that can take up to 50 kgs in weight.

The Freestyle comes with 190 mm of ground clearance which is very good, specially when driving over bad roads!

Now let’s step inside…

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Fully loaded in the truest sense is what the Freestyle is. A reddish-brown dashboard with glossy back accents. The infotainment and touchscreen package are something of a speciality with Ford cars. We specially like the digital compass!. A nice-looking instrument cluster greets you with silver accents which complement the dashboard. Seven cup and bottle holders are available between the door and center console! There is also a small soft touch shelf on offer below the climate control with another square cubbyhole to store small stuff! The seat upholstery is vibrant, the carpet mats are a modular rubber which are very easy to clean and maintain! There is a small hidden storage space inside the dashboard as well. Lots of storage space is on offer!

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Two airbags, ABS and reverse parking sensors come as standard on all Ford models. The Freestyle gets six airbags on the top spec Titanium variant with electronic stability control (ESC), active rollover protection (ARP), and Traction control (TSC). This is first in segment feature. Ford’s emergency assistance program is available on the Freestyle which shuts off the pump and shares a GPS location with emergency services.

Let’s check out the engine…

This is a new petrol engine. The motor from the new Dragon engine family is a 1.2 litre unit that makes 95bhp of peak power and 120 Nm of peak torque. The new gear-box which is a 5-speed manual. Gear shifts are smooth and refined. The Freestyle comes with a lighter clutch which helps in the start stop traffic we face in cities.

The Drive…

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We started early in the morning. Traffic at that hour is non-existent so it was a breeze getting out of Mumbai.  Once we get onto the highway the kind of power sitting under the hood of the Freestyle became apparent. All the Ford cars I have driven down the years have super driving dynamics. The Freestyle is no different! Lots of power is available in the mid-range so one doesn’t have to shift down to overtake. One gets to three-digit speed very easily.

So far, the journey was on good roads hence the suspension of the car wasn’t really tested. That changed the moment we got off the Expressway. When we checked how far we were it showed 50 kms from our destination. Not much of a distance if the roads are good. But the roads just went from good to worse in a matter of a few kilometers. It was like we were transported 20 years back to a time when India still didn’t know the concept of expressways and good roads.

The Freestyle managed these roads well. The suspension and ride quality is good; it handles whatever is thrown at it. The feedback to the steering is direct, quick changes in direction are managed with ease.

The weekend spent in Alibaug driving the Freestyle was a breeze. Makes for a perfect companion on out of town weekend trips.

Price…

Pricing for the Freestyle petrol starts at Rs 5.09 lakh for the base model and going all the way up to Rs 6.49 lakh for the Titanium+ with the diesel ranging between Rs 6.09-7.89 lakh.

Style & Luxury – The TIGUAN way…

2017 marked the re-entry of the Volkswagen India group into the SUV market with the launch of the Tiguan. A SUV that has the trademark design lines of Volkswagen. Elegant and sophisticated are the words that came to mind when I first saw the Tiguan.

COLLAGE 6.jpgCOLLAGE 8.jpgThe hallmark of VW cars is how simple and clean the design always is. Starting with the front you have the 3-slat chrome grille on which sits the VW badge. Accompanying that are the LED headlights and LED DRL’s which complete the look.

Walk to the side and one notices the silver finish 18-inch alloy wheels with a high ground clearance of about 200mm. The shoulder line that runs from the front right to the rear reflects the elegant design of the Tiguan along with LED tail lamps in the rear.

COLLAGE 5.jpgCOLLAGE 2.jpgVW is targeting the upmarket, premium and sophisticated customer for the Tiguan who pays more attention to the finer details of a car… This is not a SUV for someone who likes to be loud and aggressive in their car choices.

Step into the cabin and the all black interiors welcome you. They are rich and premium in feel and finish. The centre console comes with a host of features, colour touch screen, Apple car play and Android auto.

The seats in the front offer good support and the cushioning is high quality, something that makes long road trips very comfortable. The materials used reflect the luxury that VW is going for in the Tiguan. Now let’s come to the huge and panoramic sunroof which is probably the most opulent in this category. Its huge and when fully opened gives you a great view on clear cloudless nights.

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The legroom and shoulder room in the rear is fantastic. The headroom is good courtesy the design of the roof. The rear seats have a reclining feature with a 60:40 split. Something the passengers over long trips came to appreciate. In a SUV such as the Tiguan, can impressive boot space be far behind?. Not at all. There’s lots of room there and the foot gesture opening feature adds a unique touch to the regular standard. Makes it fun to open the boot without using one’s hands!

The Tiguan comes with a 2.0 litre TDI turbocharged diesel engine with a peak power output of 143 hp and 340 Nm of torque. Based on Volkswagen’s legendary MQB modular platform, the Tiguan is lighter than most SUVs in its price bracket. The result of this was very evident when I drove it in the city and highways. It moved about very effortlessly and smoothly. The 7 speed DSG transmission the Tiguan comes with is amongst the best in the business. The upshifts and downshifts are quick, efficient and smooth. The Tiguan comes with paddle shifters which makes driving a fun exercise on empty highways.

HOW DOES IT DRIVE?

I spent the first 3 days with the Tiguan in the city. Driving it in all sorts of traffic conditions was an easy and effortless exercise. Like most people living in Mumbai, I don’t like the experience of driving in the city most times because of  bad traffic. Somehow, I forgot that feeling when I drove the Tiguan.

Over the weekend, I had planned a trip to Sula Vineyards, one of India’s oldest and most well-known vineyards in Nashik, Maharashtra.

Sula Vineyards was established in 1999 by Rajeev Samant the first winery in Nashik. This has now paved the way for the emergence of Nashik to become India’s Wine Capital, with almost 35 other wineries setting up base there. Sula is one of the most Eco-friendly companies in India, with a significant amount of its resources committed to sustainable wine-making practices and ensuring fair livelihoods for Sula’s community of farmers across Maharashtra and Karnataka. Many Sula’s workers come from disadvantaged communities and have seen a significant change in their standard of living through their employment with the company.

COLLAGE 3.jpgCOLLAGE 4.jpgOn Saturday at the crack of dawn we set off for Sula. The moment we got onto the Eastern Express Highway towards Thane, the Tiguan came into its own. It also helps that the Mumbai – Nashik Expressway is very good and generally devoid of heavy traffic early in the morning.

The acceleration was very brisk and refined. I got to three-digit speeds very easily without any stress. The Tiguan is extremely planted at these speeds. The experience in the cabin was quiet, courtesy the well contained NVH levels.

The Tiguan comes with four driving modes – Snow, Normal, Off road and Individual. These modes alter the engine and gearbox response to handle different road conditions and terrain accordingly.

When you talk of Volkswagen, safety can’t be far behind. Their cars are known for being one of the safest in the world. The Tiguan is no different. It scores extremely high in that department. Starting with an active hood that automatically raises by 3 inches in the case of an accident with a pedestrian. This helps prevent the pedestrian from hitting the hard parts of the vehicle, minimising the level of injury. For people within the car the SUV comes with 6 airbags, ABS, ESC, Hill Descent Control and Auto Hold. Auto hold helps hold the car indefinitely until the driver presses the accelerator.  The Tiguan also warns the driver every time a pedestrian/car/motorcycle is too close for comfort by beeping loudly.

Driving on the highways, on small village roads, in the city wherever I went with the Tiguan, I came back impressed. This is a SUV that you want to drive all the time. Efficient, smooth and refined is the Tiguan.  I spent a whole week with the car. It still didn’t feel enough!

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Priced a 27.98 for the Comfortline and 31.38 for the Highline, the Tiguan is for the customer who wants luxury combined with the practicality that a VW car comes with.

Would I buy this? Definitely!

Visit to Kalpa

ANJANA BOSE-TRAVEL WRITER     – By Anjana Bose – Travel writer

The first time I travelled to Kalpa was in 2002 as a part of a project. It was not a leisure trip, but the experience was like no other.

The Kinnaur district was, at that time, reeling under the flash floods and landslides of 2000. We had started early from Shimla. After brief stoppages at Kufri and Narkanda, we reached Sarahan by early evening. The road till Sarahan was quite nice and we were accompanied by a clear sky, beautiful peaks and lovely company. We parked ourselves for the night there after visiting the Bhimkali temple. Though we were staying at the HPTDC hotel, our driver-cum-guide took us to a relative’s house nearby for dinner. We met a few locals here, heard some stories of bygone era and their dreams for the future. The hot home-cooked food was better than any hotel could have offered.

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The next day, we restarted our journey towards Kalpa – Rampur, Karcham, Kalpa. The road started deteriorating after Rampur. Soon, there were only pebbles for road. We saw the locals and army working together to fix the roads and to ensure that travelers like us were guided properly. For most part of the route hereafter, the Sutlej was at par with us. We could see and feel the immense power the river had within itself. The road became quite perilous as we moved towards Karcham. We experienced a couple of instances of rock-slides. At some places the river overflowed on the roads making it slippery, but the feeling the splash of the river was unearthly. The cliffs hung dangerously at many places but looking at the sun through these peaks were some of the best sights I have seen. We reached Karcham towards the end of the day and felt thankful. At the back of our minds though, we knew, that this is the same road we must travel on our way back.

At Karcham, we got to know that a dam was under construction which will control the power of the Sutlej and generate electricity, part of which would be used to light up this region. There were sure signs of progress. But, the continuous use of heavy machinery and transportation by loaded trucks made the road more dangerous resulting in frequent rockslides. We also came to know that monsoons render the route extremely dangerous for the same reason. But, they promised the Karcham-Recong Peo road was in a better condition. Well, it was better but nowhere close to our comfort levels. One of the main bridges was washed away making travel very difficult. Frankly, there was more than one occasion when we wanted to turn back. But, there was no option for that – the only place the vehicle could turn back was Reckong Peo. Also, the scenic beauty around us forced us to drive ahead, promising us many more visual treats. Finally, we reached Kalpa late evening. Once again, we put up at the HPTDC hotel. Even in the darkness we could make out that it was located near the summit with long stretches of wilderness around us.

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The next morning, we were awakened around 4am and what we witnessed was more beautiful than anything, anyone had told us of. Right from our windows we could see the majestic Kinnaur-Kailash range. The first rays of the sun slowly coloured the sky orange and then yellow. The snow-clad range reflected the sunlight with such force that it was difficult to look for too long. The beauty of it was beyond imagination. We were there for half a day, attending to project work. Every time we looked at the majestic range, we were awestruck. The colour kept changing, the snow appeared different and the clouds in the clear blue sky was mesmerizing. We were told that the Kailash peak and the mountain range changes colours 5-7 times in a day. We could not enjoy the peaks in their complete splendour as we had to leave for Sangla. But the memory of the short visit stayed with me and I promised myself I will be back.

Fast forward 2018. We planned to visit the hills and I immediately thought of Kalpa. The group included young and old alike, hence we decided to go for a longer visit. My earlier experience raised many doubts but reviews of those having visited in recent years coupled with the promise of a majestic and unforgettable experience helped us finalise our itinerary.

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This time round, we decided to take the HRTC bus service. The websites said 10hr journey, the people at the counter promised an 8hr journey; in reality, it took us nearly 12hrs to reach Kalpa from Shimla. The road condition throughout was good, extremely good. At many places, the rocks were bound to stop rockslides. We did find a few precariously hanging cliffs, but none hung as dangerously as the ones I had seen the last time. I was quite sad to see that advancement affected the natural beauty of the region. The Sutlej, which had been a constant companion in my previous trip looked like a distant dream. The river was now a little larger than a narrow stream lacking any kind of energy and strength. The good part being the growth of agricultural land along the banks of the river bringing in employment on prosperity to the locals. Prosperity though did not make them arrogant and they remain friendly and helpful. We had some mouth-watering aloo parathas, chana masala and various homemade preparations. We listened to their stories and heard interesting tales of how the region has managed to emerge a winner from the various calamities it faced. Important to mention that since my last visit, the Kinnaur region faced another devastating flood in 2005. The dam at Karcham was 100% functional. It not only provided electricity to the region, but also employment to the locals.

We reached Kalpa around 9pm. This time round we were booked into a small hotel that boasted of a better view of the range than the HPTDC hotels. Yes, there were 3 HPTDC properties now instead of the single one I had seen earlier.

Day 1 at Kalpa: We were greeted by a vibrant sunrise, early in the morning. The sight was as majestic as I remembered it. I sat at the balcony at 4am, wrapped in my quilt, looking at the sun breaking through. The day promised to be bright and sunny.

After breakfast, we walked down to the market. While I remembered a reasonably busy market place, this time round it appeared somewhat deserted at 11 in the morning. On enquiring, we were told that many work at Recong Peo and others at Karcham. That’s why not many people were around during the day. We walked down to the Monastery. Though small in size, it was very peaceful to be there. The Durga temple was our next stop. This temple is perched on a peak and surrounded by the snow clad mountain ranges. At the courtyard of the temple, I had this sense of being minute within this largeness of beauty. Here, we met a group of students who had come from Chandigarh. They were studying about the temple culture in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It is claimed that the state has 2000 temples listed, and the count keeps increasing. We also met a very noisy family from Mumbai whose main contention seemed to be that no one had prepared them for the chilly weather. The lady wanted to get clicked Yash Raj style, and was actually sporting a bright- coloured chiffon saree but was unable to take off the jacket for the photo shoot.
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Our next stop was Reckong Peo, which we reached using the local bus service. I highly recommend the use of local transport when in Kalpa. The roads are quite narrow and steep in some places. Those not used to traveling in similar road conditions will not be able to do justice to the drive. Peo, as its commonly referred to, was bustling with activity. We strolled around the market place before taking the bus back to Kalpa.

What was notable was that we had seen the Kinnaur-Kailash range and its neighbours change colours 4 times. Once back at the hotel, we parked ourselves at the balcony and did nothing much except look at the mountains and enjoy the beauty. This vigil was accompanied by regular supply of tea and timely snacks that the hotel provided. Kalpa is not famous for its nightlife or eating-out options. Once sundown, it tended to become somewhat monotonous. But having walked quite a bit, we were all tired and retired early.

Day 2 at Kalpa: This morning we were met with gloomy clouds which dampened our mood somewhat. We had plans of visiting the apple orchards and then walk down to Roghi village. At breakfast, the manager advised us against venturing too far, especially after 3pm. He also promised to put some extra quilts in our rooms as the temperature was likely to drop. We joked about the family from Mumbai we had met the previous day, as the temperature was significantly lower. We had to change our plans as the rain gods decided to meet us earlier than the expected 3 pm. We spent the day playing carrom and watching movies on YouTube. From a place with little electrification in 2002, to a place with strong data facility in 2018, yes, Kalpa has come a long way. Though it’s still a small sleepy town.

After the rain ceased towards the evening, we went out for a stroll, dressed in as many warm clothes that we could gather. We visited a nearby apple orchard which was deserted expect the sole guard at the entrance. Everyone was home because of the weather, he informed us. He treated us to jaggery tea which we were glad about. The cold started affecting us with sniffles having started among the youngest and oldest members of the group. We soon retired for the day, somewhat sad. We were leaving the next day but we had not been able to enjoy Kalpa as much as we desired.

Late evening we heard drumbeats. Locals had started gathering at the adjacent hotel. Though we wanted to, we were stopped as the drumbeats were because of a local religious ritual.

Day 3, away from Kalpa: Since we were boarding the 6am bus to Shimla from Peo, we left the hotel at 4.30 am. Enroute, we stopped for a quick visit to the Kalika temple at Peo. The temple was open even at that time of the day and peace prevailed. The remains of the festivities of the previous night was quite visible.

The sun continued to elude us as we bade farewell to Kalpa and Peo. As we left, we promised to meet again.

Can you stay silent for ten days?

Ten days of silence, bar optional evening question sessions with the teacher. “I didn’t speak at all,” Shona tells me. “Day two, I thought I’d have to leave, but it suddenly got easier.”

Meera Dattani

Meera Dattani – Travel Writer Reposted from her blog on trvl.com

I’ve just met Shona in a café in the former Thai capital and Unesco city of Ayutthaya, about fifty miles from Bangkok. We’re near Wat Mahatat, a temple complex most famous for the stone Buddha head in the roots of a bodhi tree. But this temple also has Thailand’s oldest higher education institute for monks, Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University, and the Vipassana Meditation Center.

Vipassana is, according to its teachings, about seeing things as they really are. And it requires serious meditation. No talking, writing, reading, physical contact of any kind. Not even any praying or yoga, and no food after midday. For ten days.

“I can’t quite explain it,” says Shona, “but I feel serene. Like I’m in control of my emotions.”

Ten days is difficult to contemplate. I visit the center and discover they run three-hour meditation classes in English. It’s a start. There’s no clock but the first 20 minutes, at least it feels like 20, are relaxing. After perhaps an hour, a mind-body struggle ensues, the brain determined to continue, the body desperate to walk, move, anything. But when three hours come to an end, I feel unexpectedly calm. But ten days? Hats off.

A Thai woman prays at a temple in Chinatown on the first day of the Chinese New Year. There are about 8million Chinese in Thailand, making up 12 percent of the total population – although up to 40 percent now have mixed Chinese ancestry. It is the second largest Chinese community after Indonesia’s outside China and many have roots going back five generations. – Getty Images (Paula Bronstein)

MONSOON FUN WITH THE AMEO

The last time I drove an Ameo it was the Ameo Cup Car at the MMRT – Chennai. Fast and furious are the adjectives that spring to mind when describing that car. Last week the stock version of the Ameo was waiting for me to drive.

How different was this Ameo compared to its race brethren? Let’s find out…

The Ameo is a compact shaped mid-size sedan, step in and the first things you notice is the flat-bottomed sporty looking steering wheel which is height and reach adjustable. There’s an accompanying armrest between the front seats.

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Switch on the car and the responsive touchscreen infotainment system comes to life. This supports Bluetooth audio, USB, AUX, SD-Card support, voice command along with mirror Link. The Ameo comes with rear ac-vent, electrically adjustable and retractable outside rear view mirrors. There are lots of features to choose from. There’s cruise control, reverse parking camera with sensors, automatic rain sensing wipers, one-touch power windows and a cooled glove box.

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Put the Ameo into drive mode and the familiarity and efficiency of the VW TDI engine greets you. I drove in dense traffic situations the first day, conditions which are now a regular reality in Mumbai. The Ameo is completely at ease in such conditions.  There’s enough and more power for over taking when required, the braking is very responsive and sharp.

The thing I noticed after driving the Ameo over 70 kms that day was the fuel efficiency. The fuel gauge had barely budged from its starting position in the morning.

I was now looking forward to driving it on the highway over the weekend.

A trip to Shahapur had been pending for a while now. Shahapur is located on the Mumbai – Nashik Highway around 50 kms from Thane. This highway unlike the Mumbai – Pune Expressway and the Mumbai – Gujarat highway isn’t usually choked with very bad traffic most times. I was praying that the traffic gods played along, to ensure a smooth and pleasant drive. The weather was just perfect for such a drive.

The engine’s full potential came to life the moment we hit the highway. The 7 speed DSG gearbox is smooth, refined and lives up to its huge reputation. The shift from drive mode to sports mode is seamless. Shift to sports mode and the gear shifts in the Ameo happen at a higher RPM. 100 kms whizzed by and we were at our destination in a little over 2 hours. The Ameo’s suspension has been tuned for our road conditions. The stretches of bad roads we encountered once off the highway, were a non-issue, tackled very easily by the Ameo.

The handling is sharp and very responsive. The hilly terrain I drove on with its series of corners was tailor made for the Ameo. The car handled that very smoothly and efficiently.

In my conversation with Sirish Vissa – Head of Volkswagen Motorsport India, he had mentioned how the Ameo cup car had a solid foundation to start with. The stock Ameo is a very solid product in terms of handling, suspension, engine and transmission.

This is a car that has more power than any other car in its price range and category.  The cost for the Ameo starts at ₹ 5.67 Lakhs and goes up to ₹ 10 Lakhs.  The petrol version starts at ₹ 5.67 Lakhs. The diesel version starts at ₹ 6.7 Lakhs.

There are lots of features on offer for the price. Combined with the fact that this is an easy car to drive around the city, makes the Ameo an attractive proposition in the mid-size sedan category. So, if that is the kind of car you are looking at buying next, take the Ameo out for a test drive…

A Drive with Lions

Self drive through the Kruger National Park

Sawubona… or hello in Zulu….

We picked up a brand new Hyundai ix-35 or the now popularly known Hyundai Tucson (recently launched in India) from Avis Rent-a-Car, ZA and could get a manual transmission – petrol version. I was initially a bit apprehensive of the 2.0 ltr engine as I was sure to be doing a lot of climbs around the Blyde Canyon region and wasn’t too sure of the capacity of the engine to manage steep turns. Unfortunately, I wasn’t entirely wrong. Even on the beautiful empty stretches of highway between Nelspruit and Hazyview (a town bordering Kruger), it was a task trying to get the ix-35 to stretch its legs. However, I soon got used to keep the engine revved to the medium range, where there was genuinely smooth cruising and lesser engine noise. I would think that the diesel options would give a far higher power throughput on intended higher speeds. Anyhow, I must compliment Hyundai 100% on the overall design, interiors and internal space in the ix-35. Loads of boot space, great back seat space to stretch out your legs and a very nice seating and console for both the driver and co-passenger. The AV console paired within seconds to my phone, and it was Alanis Morrissett all the way into the wild.

First timers on such self-drives, please try and book your car well before you actually land up in South Africa, because half the traveling world who land up here use self-drives, hence a perpetual scarcity of last minute hires. Also, if you are doing Kruger, you must know that Avis is the only brand having their counter at Skukuza Camp (the main camp in Kruger) as well as the Skukuza airport, right inside the national park. Not that booking through any other brand will lead to any problems, but why take the risk. Budget, recently taken over by Avis also serves the purpose but they have an office outside the main gates.

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Anyhows, getting back to the drive, we made our way to Blyde Canyon through the Panoramic Route, which they say, is one of the most beautiful drives in SA. Lots of interesting stops along the way and if you are even vaguely interested in photography, this drive could be your chance at producing some jaw-dropping landscape photos. God’s Window, the 3 Rondavels, several waterfalls and the beautiful valleys you would pass through, makes up for the tiring 2 hour drive from Nelspruit. We landed up at Blyde Canyon Lodge and were pleasantly surprised to see few zebras grazing just outside our cottage door. We were told that these and few deer and wild boars freely roam the estate and peacefully co-exist with the guests. By then I was really famished, and very wrongly enquired with the hostess, if the zebras were good to eat as well.. much to her alarmed reactions.

Next day, after exploring the region for the entire morning and afternoon, we made our way to the Paul Kruger Gate in Kruger National Park, where all visitors have to pay the daily conservation fee, which serves to upkeep the national park. If you are in Kruger for over a week and are a family of 3+, it makes sense to buy the annual family Wildcard which works out cheaper than daily pass rates. Do the research.. visit http://www.sanparks.org to check such details and also book your accommodation in the various campsites inside Kruger. It is advisable to book the accommodations at least 6-8 months in advance as all inside camps get occupied very fast. The private resorts outside the park are frightfully expensive and also need you to drive for longer periods of time to get to the interiors of the parks.

We had booked a 3 bedroom cottage with kitchen and private toilets. Accomodation with common facilities are more in number and are usually booked by larger groups. The cottages are self-contained and air-conditioned, and are generally maintained quite well, considering you are in the middle of the African bush. We had some baby bats in the room who didn’t disturb us at all but we had to make sure all food items were well covered or locked up. We did have few night visitors as well while having our dinner on the porch, so better keep lights on or keep a torch. I wish we had known how to Braai (barbeque) and as that’s so common in SA, I will surely learn it before my next trip in May this year.

There are 2 ways one can go on game drives in Kruger, one of course is a self-drive (6am to 6pm) and the other, in a camp vehicle for sunset drives or night safaris. My suggestion is to do both, as during the day one can drive around well laid out roads and earmarked tracks and on the camp drives, go into zones which normally are out of bounds to the day drivers. The Big 5 or simply put the main draws of the park are lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard and if you are lucky enough, spotting all of them on a single drive is quite possible, if you plan your routes well. The safaris, on the other hand, come with constant radio updates from other vehicles on lion spottings which are more or less kind of guaranteed viewing. Of all the animals, the elephant turned out to be the most dangerous of them all, and especially if you come face-to-face with a massive male tusker on heat, you better reverse your life out of there before he decides to turn you and your car into blubber. As far as the vehicle goes, I have realized that no matter what people say and what reviews suggest, it is always better to hire a higher vehicle like a SUV or a cross-over like ix-35 as due to the longish grasses across Kruger, it is always better to get a higher viewing point especially while on a self-drive. Also, there are speed limits of 50km/ph on tar and 40 km/ph on gravel roads which are very strictly monitored, so make sure you don’t mess with the laws. The ix-35 ambled along quite well at 50 km/ph on tar on the 4th gear keeping a constant speed at all times, but on gravel, it’s a 3rd gear all the way. Make sure your tires are in good shape as getting off the vehicle to change a flat could lead to a very satisfying lunch for a predator lurking nearby.

Our drives included many sightings of lions, and their various moods. One special, yet funny incident involved an amorous lioness trying to get the male to respond and since he was in no mood to comply, the entire episode was quite humorous with the lioness trying all sorts of antics for over an hour, till both decided to doze off. We got chased by a bull elephant on musth (heat) and had our heart-stopping moments trying to reverse for over a kilometer till he decided to let us go in peace. We had bush-babies (like small koala bears) peering into our porch and baby pythons crossing our paths (we didn’t wait for mama python to show up). All in all, every drive we took rewarded us with awesome sights, both in form of animals as well as nature. The blood red skies of the African sunsets are to be seen to be believed and the early morning skies are dramatic beyond description.

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Food in Kruger come in 2 forms.. one is from your kitchen in the cottage (supplies either from Hazyview before entering the park, or from the super markets in the main camps which stock just basic stuff), or the restaurants in the main camps which serve buffets and a-la-carte menus. The Mc Donalds of Kruger is the Impala deer and in order to keep their population under control, you would find it on almost every menu in any of their restaurants. A very poor joke by the waiters there is .. “Impala is Fast Food.. coz they run very fast” .. cheezy but understandable.

Kruger has fuel stations in the main camps like Skukuza and Satara in the mid-south region of the park. We have yet to cross Satara Camp as that itself is 2-3 hours away from Skukuza, and knowing that if one is not back before the camp gates close, its a stiff fine straightaway. You will do something like 50-60 km per day if you venture out twice on self-drives so a large tank vehicle always helps reduce trips to the fuel stations.

Our 5 nights in Kruger were spent between Skukuza and Lower Sabie camps, the latter being much nicer but more popular for bookings. The Avis deal included SDCW or Super Cover which included tires, windshield and theft. Tires can get heavily tried on the gravel roads so it makes sense to pay a bit higher on insurance and take the Super Cover. We left the car at the Skukuza airport as we flew back to Johannesburg from there, thus having to pay a one-way charge till Nelspruit, our pick up location. But that was worth it as we saved a lot of time and could get back to OR Tambo International Airport in Jo’berg on time for our return flight.
Before ending this article, I must point out one very important observation. South Africa has always been regarded as a very unsafe country to see on one’s own and news articles keep popping up stating highway robberies and car smash-and-run incidents. We drove around the Western Cape, Garden Route, Mpumalanga, Blyde Canyon and Kruger and never did once feel any threat to our lives or belongings. Needless to say, one needs to be careful by not displaying jewellery or expensive cameras/phones while traveling in remote locations, and if bad luck does lead to a situation, just walk away calmly without feeling the need to act the hero. I am looking forward to visiting this beautiful country again next month with a slightly more varied itinerary and I am happy to help anyone who needs any information on self-drive adventures in SA. Till we meet again on this page.. cheers and “Hamba Kahle” as our friends will wish in Zulu.