Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Little Big car: Part 3 - An unbiased review of the Renault Duster

The third part of this series appears in the Woodcrawler's Journal because the Duster was tested over a terrain that is a Woodcrawler's paradise.

It was a 14 hour drive from 6.30 AM to 8.30 PM in the 18th of November covering Chinnar, Anamudi Shola National Park and Munnar.

I am listing here the few things a Duster owner might be interested in but the full story can be found in the main post. Check the link above or that independent link below.

For the Duster Fans
Total distance: 338  kms
Fuel consumed: (full tank to full tank): 22 liters
Fuel efficiency: Highway - 18 +/-, Hills - 15 +/-, Off road - 12 +/- (based on figures shown on the FE calculator in the instrument panel). Overall - 16 kmpl (based on topping up after 352 kms)
Ride quality: Excellent. There were two people with bad backs in the car. Despite the gruelling drive in the Anamdi Shola we both never felt even a twinge of pain. On the highway there is no body roll even at high speeds and at no point do you get the feeling that you are losing control.
Engine noise: Barely audible even when negotiating tough roads in low gears, almost silent on highway
Gears: Easy shifting, no strain between 2000 to 3000 rpm, shift down if you run below 1500 rpm. I have found the clutch as easy as in my Punto. Drivers shifting from petrol engines might take a little time to get used to the heavier clutch and frequent need for down shifting.
Steering: Easy and ultra steady. It was only when the wheels slipped of loose rocks that I felt a wobble, which I think is natural. Again, people shiftin from a smaller or lighter car might find it a bit stiff.
Tires: Excellent on the highway. Minor slipping on loose gravel in the Shola. The OE MRF Wanderers seemed to be better suited to paved roads than off-roading. Have to test it out on rough terrain in the rains.

Here is the link to the Unfinished Business in Anamudi Shola

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Masterpiece in Wood: The Padmanabhapuram Palace, Part -1

Sometimes, unplanned travels throw up surprises, usually of the nightmarish kind and I thought my trip to Kanyakumari from Trivandrum was one such. I was in Trivandrum for three days to attend a conference and I had to find something to keep my 10 year old son engaged! Kanyakumari was one of the options and it made sense because I'd never plan a trip to the tip of peninsular India otherwise.

The road distance from Trivandrum to Kanyakumari is a little under 90 kilometers which, in normal circumstances, can be covered in less than two hours if you take the traffic into consideration. I thought if I started after breakfast I could do Kanyakumari with Suchidram, Padmanabhapuram and a couple of other places, and still be back at the hotel for dinner. Unfortunately, this calculation does not apply when driving on the NH-47. I had forgotten my own policy that distances should be measured in time and not in kilometers; a rule that I follow when I drive my own car! I should have listened to the taxi driver when he said we'd have to start at 6 AM if we were to cover all the places I wanted to visit. I, being a lazy weekend person, had insisted that we'd start after breakfast. Consequently, at a quarter to 12 after a three hour drive, we had only reached Thuckalay (52 kms).

The Padmanabhapuram Palace is about a kilometer off the highway, on the left, as you come from Trivandrum. Our main destination being Kanyakumari we wanted to walk around the complex quickly and get out to reach Kanyakumari for lunch! That was not to be.  It being a Saturday the tourists were there in hordes. Besides, Padmanabhapuram Palace demands that you spend time to soak in it's history. When we finally managed to drag ourselves out, it was a quarter past 1.00!  Now, I want to go back and spend a whole day there to absorb the history that each room carries!

You have to buy tickets to get in (Rs.25 for adults, Rs.10 for children under 12 and Rs. 25 for camera) and also deposit your footwear outside before entering the palace complex. Just keep in mind that there are pathways between buildings that are  paved with interlocking tiles or granite so if you land there in the afternoon it might get mighty uncomfortable!

The main door to the palace is actually small for a complex this huge but it opens to let you in on a fabulous surprise.

Once you step past the bored policeman and ticket checker through the metal detector you reach the 'Poomukham', or the reception area of the palace. This was where the palace received it's visitors before being ushered to the Maharaja's presence. 

On the left of the 'Poomukham' is a clock that is over 300 years old. I was supposed to be running perfectly but from the time we entered to the time we left the hands had not moved at all!

There are some interesting artefacts in the 'Poomukham'.  There is  this chair gifted to the Maharaja by Chinese traders and looking as if it were delivered yesterday. It seemed to be one of many as there were similar chairs in other rooms too. If only the Chinese stuff we buy these days lasted like this chair.......

A stone cot next to it is supposed to have a cooling effect if you sleep on it, though it beats me how comfortable you will be, sleeping on it!

Just next to the staircase is a showcase with a collection of carved wooden objects called the 'Onavillu'. It is apparently a stringed musical instrument but the ones here, gifted to the Maharaja by local traders on the occasion of Onam, did not have any strings on them. They are decorated with carvings and paintings of Sree Padmanabhaswamy.

The ceiling of the 'Poomukham' is covered with carved lotus flowers, 90 of them, each having it's own unique design.

There is a narrow staircase leading up to the floor above and it can easily be mistaken for the staircases found in traditional Kerala houses. For a palace, it seems rather inadequate, but when you consider the number of attempts to assassinate Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma it makes perfect sense to have a narrow staircase! 

On the upper floor is the 'Mantrashala', the Maharaja's council chamber. There is another 'Chinese' chair here. The entire floor has slatted window screens that let in a cool breeze along with subdued light. The floor is a polished, plastered layer and it is apparently made of a mixture of lime, sand, egg shells, jaggery, burnt coconut shell and oils. It retains it centuries old shine even now.

What is striking is the simplicity of the room. No opulent carpets or ornate chandeliers. The floor is bare and shiny and light comes through the slats and the few small stained glass windows. It resembles a living room that belongs to a traditional Kerala house rather than in a Maharaja's palace!

You leave the room humbled and step into a vast empty hall; the 'Ootupura' or main dining hall. It is a long hall with terracotta floors. The roof is supported by two lines of pillars with single piece cross beams that stretch across the breadth of the hall.

The Maharaja used to feed 2000 people everyday in this hall and the one below it! The room below has remnants of the serving 'vessels' used in those days. At one end of the hall are a group of urns that the guide told us, was the Chinese (again!) pickle storage jars. 

The cooked rice and buttermilk were stored for serving in rectangular granite troughs like the ones seen below.

As you look out of the windows of the 'Ootupura' you see the 'Thai kottaram'. It is the oldest building in the complex. 'Thai Kottaram' translates to 'Mother palace' not mother's palace as is wrongly described in some sites.. It is the first building to have come up in the palace complex, constructed sometime in the mid to late 16th century.

I will take you on a tour of this building in the next post. Watch this space..