Sunday, January 30, 2011

Semmozhi Poonga - The Greenway in the heart of Chennai city

Spectacular landscapes, vibrant fountains, and colorful gardens - these are some awesome features of our newly inaugurated Semmozhi Poonga. If you are in Chennai and want to kill a couple of hours, Semmozhi Poonga is the place to go to.  The park is conveniently located at the heart of Chennai city, near Anna/Gemini Flyover and US Consulate.

(Also read: Anna Tower Park - A boon to Anna Nagar Residents)

The park was opened to the general public a couple of months ago and it continues to be fresh, clean and beautiful. The park has several features attractive enough for kids, adults (especially, couples & group of friends), and elderly people. The entrance fee is very nominal - Rs.5 for adults and free for kids under age 10. Folks who want to do their morning walk in the park can pay Rs.150 per month. The park is open on all the days, between 6 am - 8 am for morning walkers and 10 am - 8 pm for the general public. There is no extra fee for photo cameras/camcorders.

The entrance to the park has an arch with a vertical garden, which is an attention grabber. There are vibrant fountains at the entrance, welcoming you with a smile. The water coming out of the fountains resemble the party logo of the ruling government. There is a security guard checking the visitors to make sure that they aren't carrying any eatables or plastic. Some of the folks still manage to sneak-in snacks and other eatables in plastic covers.

The gardens are maintained very well. I saw a number of workers landscaping, mowing, fertilizing and watering the plants. There were plants and trees from various part of the world. The whole place looked as-if it is covered by a green blanket. Though Semmozhi Poonga is in the middle of the city, it was relatively calm, peaceful and filled with fresh air. The walkways are designed to meet the needs of morning walkers. They are well-laid and clean. The park has a man-made waterfall, which looked very natural. The ponds were filled with "Ujala whitened" ducks.

They have deployed 'police women' in large numbers - I saw at least 10 or 15 of them, in the park. Majority of them were just "chit-chatting" or "glued to their mobile phones".

The park has wonderful play structures for kids and many of them are on-par with what I've seen in US. No wonder why there were many kids from different schools, picnicking there. The school teachers had a tough time to manage the enthusiasm and excitement of the kids. The kids behaved as-if a hungry man saw food, after days of starvation. It was absolutely impossible to control them. They were climbing over all the play structures. The whole play area looked like a beehive filled with bees. (Also read: Mahabalipuram, Muttukadu & Crocodile Park)

The play area is restricted for kids under age 10. However, I noticed that several elderly kids (10+) were playing there with excessive enthusiasm. I did try telling a few elderly kids "not to play on the play structures as they were meant for smaller kids and the structures may break if the elderly kids use them". However, none of them seem to be listening.

At first, I complained to the police women... but they escaped easily by saying "Sir ! We are deployed to safeguard the place against drunken folks and miscreants. It is hard for us to control the kids. You should complain to the officials in the administrative department". I went to the administrative office and complained to the personnel there. The administrative personnel said "Sir ! We have been telling the elderly kids and parents about this. But, it is hard for us discipline them. The signboard clearly says that the play area is for kids under age 10. But, none of them seem to follow the sign. Thanks for your complaint. We'll see what we can do". I'm sure nothing is going to change - but, I had a satisfaction that I did my job. (Also read: If I don't care, who will care?)

In general, Semmozhi Poonga has good infrastructure for visitors. There are several benches for people to sit and relax. There is abundant parking space for cars and two wheelers. The restrooms are in good condition. The park maintains its cleanliness by not having any eateries and by not allowing hawkers. There are trash-bins in many locations inside the park. (Also read: A visit to Arignar Anna Zoological Park - Vandalur)

Overall, I liked the few hours that I spent in Semmozhi Poonga. It show cases our Tamil Nadu government's passion to create parks in several areas inside the city. I wish the park continues to be maintained very well, in the coming months/years also.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Adarsh Palm Meadows, in Bangalore - A perfect residential community for R2I folks

Have you been missing your residential community in US - the green parks, the neat walk ways, and the luxurious house? If you are planning to settle in Bangalore, you don't have to miss any of those... especially, if you are going to live in Adarsh Palm Meadows in Whitefield. I had a chance to visit the community and I was quite amazed by its infrastructure. It is simply spectacular. If I have to summarize what I saw in Adarsh Palm Meadows, in just one word - It was "Luxurious".

(Also read: R2I Planning Guide)

Adarsh Palm Meadows is located in the Whitefield area near Varthur lake (roughly 1 hour drive from Hosur). The community has nearly 600 villas and each one of them seemed to be different (at least, the exteriors). The community has villas of varying sizes. The villas resemble the ones that you typically see in Palo Alto area in California. All the villas are duplexes, with neat gardens and sufficient  parking space. Small things make perfection, but perfection isn't a small thing - the architects have paid great attention to the details. The interiors had finesse and I saw perfection everywhere.

The club house in Adarsh Palm Meadows is worth special mention. It looked like a 5 star hotel - with neatly maintained swimming pools (indoor & outdoor), play structures for kids (indoor & outdoor), decent library, tennis court, a restaurant, fitness center/gym, etc., They have a mini Hindu temple inside the community. The community also has a good grocery store. There is 24 x 7 water supply, and electricity (with generator backup). There conduct all sorts of classes such as yoga, music, swimming and dance. You get all the things that you would typically expect in a Tier 1 residential community. You can do your weekly shopping in Varthur Farmer's market - where you can get fresh vegetables/fruits. (Also read: Why am I a Vegan?)

The whole community looks as if it is painted in green.  It is hard for you to see an area without trees or plants. The roads are well laid and there is walkways everywhere. You can see people  doing their morning walks and jogging, very early in the morning.

Technically, you don't have to step out of the community for anything (except to work). Yes ! They don't have offices inside the community ! :)). The community has people from all over the world - mostly expats and wealthy folks. You'll feel as if you're living in the bay area, in US. You see many Americans, Europeans, and folks from other Asian countries.

The community also has exceptional security. Visitors (including housemaids) should always go through a stringent security checks. You can see security personnel not just near the gates - but in many locations.

All of this luxury comes at a cost. I heard that each villa costs around Rs. 4 crores (& they were sold at Rs. 45 lakhs, nearly 6 years ago). If you are planning to settle in Bangalore after your Return to India (R2I), you should definitely consider Adarsh Palm Meadows.  (Also read: Money needed to R2I)

There are so many luxury residential communities listed online. For real estate, rental and property deals, you can look at websites like MyDeals India. You can also search for real estate deals online from the popular real estate websites.

I haven't visited many residential communities in Chennai. Hopefully, there are equally good communities in Chennai too. I'm very curious to find that out :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Golden Temple in Sripuram, Vellore - Marvelous

We visited Sripuram Golden Temple in Vellore, this weekend. The temple can easily astonish the visitors. This is one of the best Hindu temples that I've ever visited. I heard that they took nearly 7+ years to build this temple and I can understand the time spent on this project.

The temple is built in an area of 100 acres of land, surrounded by a village called Thiruamalaikodi. Golden temple is located in SriPuram which is in Vellore, mid-way between Hosur/Bangalore and Chennai. It takes approximately 3 hours to get there from Hosur or Chennai. We just took a Google map to get there and believe it or not, it was very accurate. Not trusting Google, we stopped in a couple of places on the way to confirm the directions. The localites were very helpful in directing us. (Also read: Kovai Trip - Maruthamalai Visit)

The drive from NH46 in Vellore to the temple is nearly 10Kms. There is proper parking facilities near the temple, for Two Wheelers, Cars, and tourist vans/buses. They charged us Rs.30 for the car parking. You aren't allowed to carry mobile phones or cameras/camcorders into the temple. You can leave them in your car or in the dedicated stalls which are inside the temple. There is multi-level security checks and they make sure that you aren't sneaking-in with these gadgets. There is no entry fee - however, if you want to avoid a long queue or if you want to take a closer look at "Lakshmi Narayini" you can get a "Divya Darshan ticket". The "Divya Darshan Ticket" costs Rs.100 per person, which also gets you some "Prasadam". "Divya Darshan" is free for kids under 7. There is wheel chair assistance for elderly people and you need to purchase a ticket for that.

The main gate of the temple was HUGGGEEEE - resembled the gates that you would normally see in forts/palaces. You have to walk at least 1 km from the main gate, to get to the main temple ("Moola Praharam"). It was hard for me to believe what I saw inside the temple ... the place looked exactly like a Telugu movie set - but, it was real. The entire facility is 3+ years old and it still looked stupendous. Lush parks, beautiful fountains, neat walk ways, stalls serving snacks, proper restroom facilities ... - the place looked more like an "attraction" than a temple.  I wish I had a chance to take some pictures inside. But, the photographs that I took with my naked eyes are still fresh in my memory.

It took us nearly 20 minutes to get to the Moola Praharam. There was no waiting at all. They had placards carrying spiritual inscriptions along the walkways. The view of the main temple was "magnificent". The main temple was soaked in gold and it glittered with the kisses from Sun rays. There was a pool of water around the main temple and my daughter asked "Dad! Is the temple floating on the water?". It indeed looked as-if the main temple was floating on the water. There was no one pushing you or pulling you in 8 different directions and we had a very peaceful darshan.

The difference between our visit to Golden Temple & Tirupathi is ... when you come out of Golden Temple, you feel peaceful and more energized. But, when you come of out of Tirupathi, you are completely exhausted and tired. The temple authorities had stores strategically located near the exit, selling articrafts, souvenirs, and idols. There were also "Anna dhanam" facilities serving "free food" to devotees. The temple was filled with seasonal "Sabarimala devotees" and there were people from all walks of life. (Also read: Tirupathi Tirumala Visit - May be the last?)

The temple looked more like a commercial establishment/attraction. They had workers who are neatly dressed and carrying proper identification cards. There were security personnel deployed all over the place. They had people watering and maintaining the gardens. There were clear sign-boards everywhere - written in Tamil, English and Kannadam(?).

We spent nearly an hour and a half inside the temple. But, you can easily spend 3 or 4 hours inside the temple if you are very spiritually inclined. There are hawkers selling snacks/toys outside the temple and there were enough restaurants near by. You can get to the center of the Vellore city in about 15 minutes from the temple and there are neat restaurants there. (Also read: Rameswaram Trip Experiences)

Overall, I enjoyed our trip to Golden Temple in Sripuram Vellore. If you are in/around Chennai, I would definitely recommend you to visit the temple.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chennai Marina Beach - Free recreation for everyone

Chennai Marina Beach - A place where the "law of diminishing marginal utility" fails miserably. Irrespective of the number of times that I visit, Marina Beach provides the same comfort, cheer and peacefulness. What a wonderful place on earth, it is? Despite the staggering crowd, you are always assured of one thing - free recreation !

(Also read: Panambur Beach in Mangalore - Extremely beautiful)

The sands of Marina Beach is always filled with people, like bees in a beehive. You can see people from all walks of life - people of varied economical background, people from different cities, speaking different languages, and belonging to different age groups. Evenings in the beach are more pleasant and lively. You can see several students/youngsters hanging out with their friends, people chit-chatting, kids actively playing, and folks taking their evening walk. Though it is heavily crowded, you can still have some quiet moments with your friends and family.

Sitting along the shore and watching the waves which never give up - we tend to forget our worries. The beach not only provides "free recreation", but there is also a number of commercial outlets. You get all sorts of food items to eat - coffee/tea, soft drinks, ice creams, popcorn, and a variety of snacks (fried fish, nuts, bajji, murukku, sundal etc.,). 

In addition to the eateries, there are attractions like carousels, horse rides, and shooting. The other attractions in  Marina are the memorials of late Chief Ministers Anna Durai and MG Ramachandran, who managed to find spots to "sleep forever" in beach. 

Adults and kids are equally excited to get to their feat drenched. Kids enjoy building sand castles. Sit on the beach for a few minutes, you'll be approached at least by a few guys selling sundal/murukku or ground nuts or cotton candy. You can see people offering services to predict your future by palm reading or through parrot astrology. There are spots for photo shoot-outs with popular movie stars and politicians. There are shops/hawkers selling toys, balloons, flute and hand made articrafts with shells.

You may be tempted to take a dip in the ocean. But, swimming in the ocean is banned. Still, youngsters try to take a dip in the ocean despite the ban and police patrol. Government has recently introduced "all-terrain" vehicles for police patrol. There are dedicated swimming pools for the passionate swimmers. I heard that there is also a membership program for "regular" swimmers. (Also read: Brownstone Apartments Swimming Pool)

There are restrooms in the beach which are maintained reasonably well. There is sufficient parking space for two-wheelers, cars, and even tourist buses. You can easily spend 2 - 3 hours in the beach. Kids definitely like the Marina Beach, more than adults.  (Also read: A visit to Arignar Anna Zoological Park - Vandalur)

The eateries in the beach make the place untidy. People may not be throwing trash on the center of their living room - but, they cool-ly throw them on the beach. The quality of sand is very bad. There are NGOs who try to clean-up the beach once in a while. However, I consider such activities "as correction" instead of "prevention". Littering Marina beach should be considered as a crime. Government should not be just focusing on keeping the pavements clean and developing gardens near the beach - but also to keep the beach sand clean. The eateries in the beach are "unregulated" and hence, they do their fair share of polluting the sand and the water. I don't see many trash bins in the beach. There were a few of them - but were close to the road. (Also read: Heavy rains turned Chennai to Venice)

Despite the limitations, I still love to go to Marina Beach - because of the beautiful waves, the crowd, and the free recreation mother nature provides.

COVID-19 Vaccination Experience in Chennai

Booking a vaccination slot in India through the CoWIN portal was similar to booking a H1B Visa appointment in US Consulate (not sure if that...