Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Saluting Eun-kyong - A True Mardaani

[This is written as a part of I am Mardaani activity exclusively at BlogAdda.com for Indian Bloggers.]

The impact of getting to know a real warrior is just inexplicable. Every now and then, we come across a tale of bravery and sacrifice that instills our faith back in humanity; an act that reminds us that sheer belief and strength are good enough to defeat even the most dreaded disease in the world. 

Those who've had a near-death experience know how indispensable life is and how it ought to be cherished.

This is a true story - not of a celebrity - but of a common person, whose zeal and zest for life and compassion for mankind has made her a hero in the hearts of many.
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I relocated to South Korea for work in 2005 - knowing little of the country where I'd be spending the next seven years of my life - notwithstanding the challenges that were going to come my way.

First Reality Check

In Korea, from the hoardings to the labels of packaged goods, Hangul rules the roost. It didn't really matter if I was proficient in English. The commoners, the doctors, the grocery store attendants, and almost everyone I met wanted me to learn, err, master Hangul. I was forced to communicate in sign language, sometimes in broken dialect. It was around this time I met Yun Eun-kyong, a 30-something Korean woman, broadly structured, tall, humorous, and warmhearted.

Yun Eun-kyong - A True Mardaani

Her presence was reminiscent of a fresh spring breeze. Casual tea get-togethers soon turned into family outings. She showed me a side of Korea I never knew existed - a culture and tradition seemingly difficult yet so deep-rooted and enchanting.

Eun-kyong's Tryst With Cancer and Infidelity 

As the friendship grew deeper, we started to share everything - from our buried past to our varied experiences. It was shocking to learn that she had battled Stage 2 breast cancer. As if the trauma of chemotherapy and the fear of death was not enough, she was further devastated by the bitter revelation of her husband's extramarital affair. Deceived and dejected, she started preparing her two kids for a life without her - teaching them how to bathe, get dressed, make breakfast, clean dishes, and perform other chores all by themselves.

Moi and Eun-kyong

Though she never gave up on life, she did not want to solely rely on the meek ray of hope. To her surprise and by the grace of God, the therapy was a success and the cancer was removed.

By then, she'd already learned an important lesson and decided not to take her life or relationships for granted -- as either could backstab again. She started living for the moment, reaching out to those who called for help, standing besides those who felt alone, and giving strength to those who fumbled. She recognized the difficulty expat families faced in the rigid Korean society and decided to assist them.

Random Acts of Kindness

Eun-kyong learned English from the Internet, sometimes from the foreigners she'd accidentally meet in the local buses, parks, malls, etc. She became the ready-reckoner for most expats living in the vicinity. From taking sick children to pediatricians and pregnant woman to gynecologists to helping expat families in school admissions, she stood by all those who called for her helping hand.

Eun-kyong - Always the Center of Attraction

Soon her name became synonymous with celebration. Everyone I knew of respected and adored her. She became a godmother to several newborns. She would religiously drop each family going for their vacation to India at the airport, wish them luck, and anxiously wait till they returned. Yet she never revealed her painful past and wounds to anyone.

Hanging out with Eun-kyong and other friends

I feel blessed that she found my friendship worthy enough, thus could open up to me. She gave me innumerable reasons to smile.

Though I've left Korea now, but I know for sure that she continues to make a difference in other people's lives. Eun-kyong is a true Mardaani, to whom life bows down with respect and admiration. This is an ode to a rare friend whom I will never forget.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Jifi Brings Social Banking To India

I dread visiting a bank. You can’t always expect them to be digitally driven or socially connected. While banking, I also look for convenience and comfort besides the usual perks like redemption of points, rewards, etc. In short, I want my banking experience to be totally rewarding.

Enter Jifi – Redefining new age banking in India

Keeping in mind the ever growing need to cater to India’s tech-savvy and socially networked youth, Kotak Mahindra Bank has recently launched Jifi, a fully integrated social bank account. If you like hanging out on Facebook or Twitter, Jifi can be a complete game changer in the way you look at banking. I kid you not!

Kotak Jifi
No Minimum Balance? No Worries.

For starters, you don’t have to lose hair on maintaining a minimum balance in your bank account anymore. Make an initial payment of INR 5,000 to get started with Jifi, and you’ll be just fine. This zero-interest current account comes with no minimum balance requirement. Provides the kind of flexibility you’d always desired from an Indian bank.

No Minimum Balance Requirement
That’s not all, if you are able to maintain a balance of INR 25,000 or above, Jifi will automatically convert the amount into term deposits at applicable interest rates, allowing you to earn high returns on idle money.

Loyalty Club – Another Name for Fun Banking

To make banking fun, Jifi introduces a unique Loyalty Club through which you can earn points and get rewarded. Redeem these “social and transaction” points to buy exciting lifestyle, shopping, and dining products online.

Social and Transaction Points
The more number of Facebook friends you invite and add to your Jifi network, the more your social points are. Likes and comments on Facebook will only add to your kitty, so what are you waiting for?

Jifi
Earn transactional points for every online transaction, like 10 points for every introduction. Convert these transactional points to social points or even trade points with friends.

Sign-up Benefits
Opening a Jifi Account is like a Cakewalk

To open a Jifi account, simply invite yourself with Facebook credentials and follow the instructions mentioned in the activation mail. In case you don’t have a Facebook account, use the email option available on the bank’s website. Although a Facebook account is not a prerequisite, you will need one as the Loyalty Club thrives on it.

Benefits Galore at Jifi

Besides Facebook and Twitter, you can transact through net banking and the supercool Kotak Mobile Banking (KMB) app that runs on Android, iOS, and Blackberry devices.

Kotak Mobile Banking (KMB) app
You also have access to conventional facilities such as pan-India branch, countrywide ATM networks and toll-free number, a personal finance tracker called MoneyWatch, a funky platinum debit card, and a net card.

Kotak MoneyWatch (KMW)
In order to perfectly fit in the social banking slot and eliminate human intervention and error, transactions on a Jifi account can be carried on via Twitter. For instance, you can tweet Jifi about a cheque book request or make inquiries about your account balance or transaction history. Managing banking activities on Jifi through your Twitter handle is seamless and efficient.

Jifi Platinum Debit Card
Finally, I’m quite excited to see that banking in India is now truly becoming social, and Jifi is providing a single window for every banking need of our youth.

See http://www.kotakjifi.com for more information on Jifi.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Top 10 Must See Places in Oman

I have always been a wanderer at heart. Never missing out on an opportunity to bagpack and break away from the maddening pace of the city life.

I guess a lot of folks spend their lifetime in finding their true calling. Not me though. 

Ever since I took on the path of self-discovery and reflection, everything has centered around travel. Making in-roads to mud-brick villages nestled amid remote valleys, stretching through the rough terrains and uncharted territories. Capturing life through a lens and a blog.  

For a new work assignment, I was asked to fly to the Sultanate of Oman. The very first thought that crossed my mind was will I land in an old Arab state right in the heart of the Persian Gulf.

Sultanate of Oman
To my surprise, Oman turned out to be quite a revelation; the kind of place where modernity blends with tradition. The land offers a spectacular postcard from a seemingly bygone era.

Sparsely inhabited landscapes, resplendent with an undiluted culture. Difficult not to admire and embrace the quiet stretches of the coast, replete with palm trees and fishing boats. The low-key glitter of cities like Muscat, Salalah, and Sohar will constantly remind you that contemporary is not always about being loud.

See http://www.omantourism.gov.om for more information.

Here are my Top 10 "must see" recommendations for first-timers to Oman.

1. Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Ever been to a mosque that can house over 20,000 worshipers and is open to non-Muslims? Need another good enough reason to visit the main mosque in the Sultanate of Oman? Get ready to witness the world's second largest single piece hand-woven carpet and chandelier.


Chandelier at Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a classic rendition of the modern Islamic architecture.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
2. Green Turtle Watching at Sharqiya Beach

Imagine a large number of green turtles springing out of the ocean to lay their eggs in the long stretches of pristine sand - a memorable wildlife spectacle that will stay etched in your mind long after leaving the Sharqiya beach.

Amidst the historic forts, sand dunes, and mountain canyons, the unspoiled coastline continues to remain a top draw among tourists.


Green Turtles at Sharqiya Beach
3. Khor Ash Sham

In the mood to view pods of frolicking dolphins trailing their way through a khor (fjord)? Get aboard a dhow cruise and keep an eye out for the Earth's most intelligent animals.

Pods of frolicking dolphins
The clear waters of Khor Ash Sham are bound to attract both snorkelers and swimmers alike. Get mesmerized by the high cliffs that kiss the sea; the exquisite varieties of rock formation will simply blow your socks off.

Khor Ash Sham
4. Nizwa

Hailed as the largest city in the Ad Dakhiliyah region, Nizwa holds the distinction of being the most historic town in Oman. While meandering through the picture-perfect huddle of souqs in Nizwa, make sure you have enough time in hand to purchase silver jewelry, which is considered as the best in the country.


Nizwa
5. Desert Night Camp

Underneath the amazing canopy of mystical Arabian stars, the desert night camp encapsulates the true essence of a desert life amid the vast dunes of the Wahiba sands.

At the camp, you can experience various adventure activities like dune bashing in the desert, quad biking, traditional Arabian music, etc.

Challenge the dunes, take a camel safari at sunset, feast in the flickering glow of the campfire, or sleep out in Rub al Khali, the largest sand desert in the world.


A Desert Night Camp in Oman
6. Al Ayn 

Surrounded by lush green gardens and palm grooves is a magical cluster of magnificent Bronze Age beehive tombs called the Al Ayn. A world heritage site declared by UNESCO, Al Ayn is perhaps one of the most exotic tourist destinations in Oman; and probably the most memorable one as well.


Al Ayn 
7. Muttrah Souq

Hailed as one of the quaint marketplaces in the Arab world, the Muttrah Souq is essentially a traditional colorful bazaar. In its disorienting and cobbled alleyways are stacked a wide array of exotic merchandise like household items, shoes, ready-made garments, fresh jasmine, frankincense, perfume oils, and spices.


Muttrah Souq
8. Trekking in the Western Hajar

A hike to Western Hajar will transport you to some of the finest wadis (valleys) in the region like Wadi Bani Awf, Jebel Shams (the highest peak in the region, also known as Oman's Grand Canyon), and Jebel Akhdar. 

As you traverse through these exhilarating hiking routes, discover the sheer beauty of a stunning mountain range.


Trek in the Western Hajar
9. Sur

Sur is a famous old port town in the Persian Gulf, best known for building wooden ships (dhow-building). Besides the beautiful harbor and waterfront, you can see the same vessels that were once employed for trade two centuries ago.


Dhow-building at Sur
10. Bahla Fort

Yet another UNESCO world heritage site, this fortress of pre-Islamic origin remains a testimony to the power and ingenuity of the medieval Banu Nebhan tribe. Hard to believe that the Bahla town was once protected by a 8 miles long wall, guarded by a special detachment of slaves.


Bahla Fort
Finally, Oman has certainly managed to get it right the first time, but must retain its powerful sense of place and past in order to be exceptional.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Make Your Monsoon Get-together Unforgettable With Borosil

The arrival of monsoon is a treat for our senses. Raindrops on the leaves, the scent of wet soil, and the cool refreshing breeze. Just the right time for some mouth-watering delicacies.

But why eat alone? 

Relief from the scorching heat should be a good enough reason to invite family and friends for a sumptuous meal.

To make your monsoon get-together unforgettable, be sure to include the latest and the most stylish ensemble of products from Borosil.

Ready for a welcome drink in Canard glasses?

Start your evening with a welcome drink. How about serving the chilled and refreshing Aam Panna garnished with mint and lime in the elegantly crafted Canard, Borosil's new range of design glasses that are available in a variety of contemporary silhouettes.

As the old proverb says, "Add a touch of elegance to your drinking experience." These glasses are exquisitely molded to enhance the palatability of your drink.

Serve your entrées in Borosil's Mini Plate Set

A get-together in a Punjabi household like ours will remain incomplete without steaming hot samosas, aloo tikkis, and kachoris. Serve your entrées in Borosil's Mini Plate Set, specially designed for single serving. Elegant, easy to handle and reheatable, the mini plates are ideal for guests of all ages.

Kadak chai served hot in Piccoletta Tea Set

Team up your snacks with kadak chai, served hot in the All Vision Piccoletta Tea Set consisting of a carafe, six Piccolo cups and saucers, a milk pot, and a sugar pot.

Dinner served in Indigo Neuvo Melamine Dinner Set

A wholesome ensemble of Dal Makhani, Shahi Paneer, Chana Masala, Pulao, Raita, and Parathas look palatable when presented in the 35-piece Indigo Neuvo Melamine Dinner Set. This stylish offering from Borosil also goes well with the monsoon magic theme.

Time to satisfy your heart with Mini Oval Dish Set and Easy Grip Round Cake Dish

And once your culinary senses are truly tickled, it is time to satisfy your heart. A moment of repose - just sit around and chat. Fun, jokes, songs … relieving memories ... it's time for something sweet.

Hot and glazed Gulab Jamuns served in the Mini Oval Dish Set along with layered custard cake baked to perfection in the Easy Grip Round Cake Dish will make your time together truly memorable.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Shopping for a MasterChef using Baggout

"Shopping for a MasterChef? You have got to be kidding me!"

At first, my wife couldn't believe her ears. She probably thought I was pulling a fast one on her, but I was dead serious. With little less than an hour to prepare, I had to get my mind around the type of gifts Vikas Khanna would like, err, love.

A dapper Vikas Khanna, looking chic in Black
This was apparently my second rendezvous with the MasterChef, who is unarguably the most humble soul on the face of the planet.  

"I don't want to rub it in but you're shopping for one of the sexiest men alive, the hottest chef of America, and the face of Indian cooking. Try Baggout. Am sure that'll save the day for you."

Pat came a priceless suggestion, courtesy wifey.

Vikas Khanna and moi
For the uninitiated, Baggout is a preferred destination for shopaholics, who want to discover great products besides getting lucrative cashbacks and coupons for every purchase they make. 

Participating stores on Baggout
The best part, however, is that you get to see what your friends love.

Isn't that cool! 

While on the site, I couldn't help but wonder what if Vikas stumbled on Baggout someday - to shop - what would he go after? 

Perhaps the black solid suit from Givo, since he anyway looks ravishing in black? 

Black Solid Suit from Givo
Black Solid Suit from Givo
Methinks he may find the blue solid blazer from Givo easy on the eyes for any evening bash.

Vikas Khanna (left), the celebrity MasterChef

Blue Solid Blazer from Givo
Blue Solid Blazer from Givo
Since his favorite abode among all the places is the kitchen, he might feel comfy with a simple V neck T-shirt from Softwear.

Mr. Approachable
Softwear Mens Plain Andhra Melange V Neck T-Shirt

Finally, Baggout intends to give the power back into the hands of Indian consumers like us, and must be applauded for breaking stereotypes. In a world dominated by digital marketers, salesmen, and anonymous reviewers, we no longer have to control and limit our opinions on the way we shop.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The journey of a professional blogger

Why did you start your blog?

I started blogging in 2006 to spread awareness about the technical communication profession, which seemed like an uncharted territory for many Indian graduates or working professionals. Back then, I was disappointed to find substantial information on the web for someone wanting to break into this field. People wanted to know the real deal, you know, not the usual beaten-up fluff you read in books! Also, traveling so much and meeting like-minded folks from all over the world did it for me, since everyone whom I bumped into during this time asked me to write about what I did.

Guess a blog was long overdue!

How long have you had the blog for?

It has been eight years already. My first blog post was published on February 21, 2006. I have written close to 50 blog posts. A good hard look at all these years would reveal more. Like I inflicted a self-imposed exile from 2012 to 2013, a period of time when I thought I hit the writer's block.

Do you see yourself still blogging in 5 years? 10 years?

Abso-fucking-lutely. I wouldn't mind becoming an old fart but still not give my right arm for anything else in the world. I blog because I care to provide a voice for issues that concern. I might not be blogging often, but each blog post of mine is a goldmine. No kidding!

Generally, I spend more time in researching, writing, and editing my blog than I would be in doing an article or a story for a publication.

How does your blog make money?

I don't blog for money. Period. I loathe posts that are laced with advertisements. That's clearly not the motivation. Besides, I was living and working in Korea from 2005 to 2012, a time when blogging seemed like the only way to connect with the folks in India and let them know about my travel exploits. I do acknowledge that as a result of blogging, I have been invited to special events like product launches or celebrity talks. Some of my best friends are bloggers, and it's very obvious why.

How do you get people to come to your site?

That is a very good question. When I started to blog, I didn't potentially realize the reach, relevance, and resonance of the content that I was producing. A lot of bloggers were leveraging the social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to promote their content. I realized quite late that in order to make everyone read the stuff I produce, it was important to get the word out first. Marketing was the game changer, so I actively started to socialize online and allowed my network to get access to my content. I am more like a content curator now, who cherry-picks the best content to share with the community.

How do you decide what content to produce?

Some ideas to write would directly come from the community. Others would come from life experiences and such. For example, a lot of people who stumbled on my blog requested if I could do a post on working in Korea, more specifically, working for a Chaebol like Samsung. A lot of the blogging that I do centers around telling the plain effing truth. What the traditional media publishes may sometimes be a contorted version of the hardcore reality. I don't like that, and obviously, don't want to stereotype my blog.

How many hours a month do you put towards the blog?

The muse strikes at least 3 to 4 times a month, but I am hoping it will be a thing of the past this year. I spend at least 4 to 5 hours in researching and writing a blog post of about 500 words. The editing may take an additional hour, depending on the length.

What's the best part about being a professional blogger?

Blogging is addictive. Your content resonates with people almost instantly. Even if they don't like what you've published, you will still get an opinion. And I think that is important for growth! I consider the audience of my blog as my best critique. The part I like the most about being a professional blogger is that there is never a dull moment.

What's the worst part about being a professional blogger?

The flip side about being a professional blogger is the time and effort it takes to write and maintain a blog. Because you have to research, write long blog posts with photos, captions, and such, editing is required. Not just any editing but extensive editing. Also, blogging cannot provide immediate results. I find that taxing at times.

Would you recommend that people try their hand at becoming a professional blogger?

Give me a reason why they should not, and the drinks are on me! Everyone has a story to tell, and they should do their own bit in contributing.

Do you have any advice for someone who is trying to start a blog?

Take a methodical approach. Choose your topics wisely, and ditto with your audience. Also, don't undermine the power of reach, relevance, and resonance.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Real Story of Seoul

Nine years ago, I transcended the physical boundaries to call Seoul my second home. Little did I realize, I was embarking on a beautiful journey of self-discovery.


Ajit, Cho, and Moi

For the outside world, Seoul might present itself as a sprawling, unique metropolis -- home to over 10 million people -- and undeniably, Korea's major economic, political, and cultural hub. However, for me, Seoul means all this and much more ...

Through this blog post, I'll share my perspective on Seoul.

Like most first-timers to Seoul, I too was awestruck by the sheer modernity of the city. Few could've imagined that the modern-day Seoul, as we know today, was at the verge of destruction during the Korean War. Its resurgence is symbolic in many ways.

A photo from the Korean War (Image Courtesy: Boston.com)

The real story of Seoul is not hidden in the tall skyscrapers or the ancient Buddhist temples that encircle them, but in a few important landmarks that are historically significant.

Jongno - The Bell Street



Jongno Tower (Image Courtesy: http://www.panoramio.com/)

Take Jongno street for instance. Better known as the “Bell Street,” Jongno is famous for Bosingak, which is a marquee with a large bell. It is said the bell signals different times of a day and controls the four main gates to the city, and is usually rung thirty-three times at midnight on the New Year's Eve. 

Bosingak (Image Courtesy: http://english.seoul.go.kr/)

When former Korean president Kim Dae-jung took office in 1998, the bell was rung in the midst of an intense economic crisis that had hit the country. Every Korean worth his salt knows that Kim opened a new chapter of economic transparency and played an even greater role of steering the country on the world map by hosting international events such as the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The melancholic yet inspiring sound of the bell has definitely struck a chord with millions of locals and expats living in or across Seoul.

Namsan

Somewhere in the heart of Seoul lies a mystic mountain called Namsan. On the top of this mountain, a tower has been resurrected to help the onlookers view the complete city.

Namsan Tower (Image Courtesy: http://namsan.files.wordpress.com/)

Close on the heels of the tower flows the Han River, which has seen the city go through several ups than downs for over 2000 years.

Han River

Sungnyemun - The Gate of Exalted Ceremonies

Any reference to Seoul would remain incomplete without the mention of its diversified cultural heritage and treasures. As you'd probably know, most original Korean artifacts were either destroyed or burned by the Japanese and the Chinese. Few that are left survive to tell the tale of Korea's long-lost and stark history.

Sungnyemun or "the Gate of Exalted Ceremonies," which was built by the King Taejo during the Chosun dynasty, stood tall as the front gate of the capital. The locals still refer to it as the symbol of Seoul. Imagine how distressing it must've been for them to see the gate burn in front of their eyes.

Sungnyemun (Image Courtesy: http://www.thehistoryblog.com/)

People of Seoul are characterized by a strong sense of strength and hope. I can quote several instances from the history books, where Seoulites have stuck together and remained calm during adversity -- be it the hostage incident with the Taliban militants, the oil spill mishap in Taean, or the collapse of Sungnyemun – all are all living testimony to their undying spirit.

Walk down the nearby alley, and you'll find in the hustle and bustle of Namdaemun market -- a traditional 24-hour market -- that the hallmark of Seoul remains in tact.

Namdaemun Market (Image Courtesy: http://www.travelblat.com/)

Seoul is also a popular financial and commercial destination for some of the most prolific conglomerates the world has ever seen, such as Samsung (my ex employer), LG, KIA Motors, and Hyundai. Some locals call it a “Miracle on the Han River”.

Clearly, the fifth largest city in the world has a lot to offer – be it a free concert at the Namsangol Hanok Village or a cable car ride up to the North Seoul Tower, be it a peaceful protest at the City Hall or a field trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), there are plenty of things to do for everyone.

Seoul might seem intimidating at first, but it is truly a place to grow. The city is reminiscent of an unimaginably rich culture, mirroring ancient and western values. If you are excited about living in Seoul, come explore and enjoy Seoul – the soul of Korea.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Serving In A Fab Style This Holi

I cannot believe that Holi, the festival of colors, is round the corner. For me, the vivid memories of children, mostly boys, running helter-skelter with their pichkaris still linger on. As a kid, I could not wait for the Holi holidays to be announced at school. Just thinking of the bright colors of gulal and abir filling the air would bring a twinkle to my eyes. Me and my motley crew took turns in pouring color water over each other. We then refilled our pichkaris to repeat the ordeal. Not only that, we threw zillions of water balloons at passersby, making them wet in a fraction of a second. A hilarious sight to watch, though not so much for our unassuming victims!

Holi, for many, marks the beginning of spring. But for me, Holi was - and continues to be - the season of mischief - where people of all age groups indulge in throwing colored powder at each other, knowing that no one would object or mind in the true spirit of the festival. In fact, Holi unites the entire nation, bringing everyone onto the streets to celebrate.

That said, it is not uncommon to socialize on Holi. Many form groups or "tolis", move from pillar to post, apply colors, and exchange pleasantries. Another highlight of the festival is the Holi songs or dance ritual - be it the rhythm of dholak or the more popular Bollywood tracks like Rang Barse (or the most recent, Balam Pichkari).

Holi is also considered a festival of love, and not without a reason. It is believed that Lord Krishna started the trend of applying colors to his gopis (milkmaids) of Brindavana, including Radha, which gained popularity afterwards.

If you are in India during Holi, make sure to frequent the nearest markets, as even days before the festival, heaps of gulal can be seen along the roadside. You will also find frenzied shoppers displaying pichkaris in all shapes and sizes - using innovative design to lure all and sundry.

Think Holi is all about colors and collecting memorabilia? You are probably just getting to know our unique culture and traditions. Many Indian women take Holi as an excuse to prepare mouth-watering delicacies - thandai, dahi bhalla, gujia, malapua, mathri, papri chaat, and other snacks.

Wifey too, in full festive flare, ordered a set of porcelain bowls from FabFurnish.com - India's largest online home store. I cannot wait to relish the thandai and other delights in this set of 6 piece bowl set.

Alfresco Jagson Galaxy Bowl Set of Six Pieces
If you are not consuming Bhang on Holi, you will never know how it feels like to go all the way. Just kidding! I've seen the most sober folks make a clown of themselves in full public view after downing a few glasses. All in the spirit of Holi!

Wifey recommends a wonderful product to gift this season from the house of Pasabahce. Absolutely apt for the occasion!

Pasabahce Garden Water Bottle Blue & Yellow Set of Seven Pieces
Last but not the least, enjoy Holi this year and ensure it is a fun-filled, yet memorable day. Happy Holi to all your loved ones, peeps!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Skyscanner plays a gracious host at the 17th IndiBlogger meet in Delhi

Yet another IndiBlogger meet has just culminated. Beyond the usual hoopla of introducing a new client and their product or service offering every time, IndiBlogger scores pretty decent in engaging the blogger community in India.

It's a win-win situation for at least three parties, including:
  1. The sponsors: Usually the company sponsoring such events is looking to strengthen its PR and online marketing initiatives via word-of-mouth publicity on blogs or social networking sites like Twitter (as a matter of fact, the live tweets and the trending on Twitter using specific hashtags have proven to be such brilliant tools to get the word out!) 
  2. The folks at IndiBlogger: Obviously, someone will end up raking in the moolah ;)
  3. The local blogging community: Who meet and trade ideas from time to time in the hopes of getting out of the everyday rut (don't get me started on the unabashed networking, which evidently gets into full swing each time a large-scale event is organized; plus the usual cream of the crop that turns up to win freebies and occasional expensive gifts.) 
Everyone has good fun apparently, and that's the whole point.

Plus what wonderful hospitality! Anyone who has frequented the last few IndiBlogger meets in Delhi would tend to agree that the venues (read "chic 5 star hotels") are best in class ... and no-no, that's not the foodie in me talking!

Take Le Meridien Hotel for instance. On March 1, the Sovereign ballroom housed over 400 of Delhi's finest bloggers. That's a crazy number by any standard.

Sovereign - The largest ballroom in Le Meridien Hotel, Delhi
The "biggest" IndiBlogger meet was sponsored by Skyscanner - a passenger flight, hotel, and car hire search engine. Since I also work for a leading travel company, I was intrigued to hear their success story. 

Skyscanner offers a multilingual site and app that allows users to browse for flights, hotels, and cars in over 30 languages, including Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Polish, Spanish, and Japanese.

Skyscanner App
After downloading the app from the Play Store, it took me awhile to figure out that Skyscanner does not sell flights directly; however, you can find the cheapest deal for a desired route, after which you are automatically redirected to the airline or travel supplier’s website to make a booking. Pretty neat!

Agenda for the Skyscanner IndiBlogger meet
Post registration and lunch, we were introduced to Kavitha Gnanamurthy, Senior Marketing Manager at Skyscanner Singapore. We got to know that the company was headquartered in Scotland, United Kingdom, with offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Singapore, Beijing, Miami, and Barcelona. In fact, Singapore is their headquarters for Asia-Pacific operations.

Kavitha Gnanamurthy
Kevin Foo, who is the Head of Communications APAC at Skyscanner, urged us to travel smarter and make easier travel decisions by using Skyscanner. He seemed genuinely interested in hearing about our travel exploits, so the folks at Indiblogger obliged. Like how? By sharing travel pictures tweeted by fellow bloggers :) 

The deal was: if you tweet your favourite travel pictures with you in it, you could end up winning a return flight ticket to any domestic location of your choice. It was mandatory though to use the #skyscanning hashtag in the tweet. One winner was randomly chosen from the several who managed to send in their pictures in time.

My Favorite Travel Picture
The fun quite didn't end there. We were asked to click selfies with another blogger at the venue, whom we thought made for a great travel companion. There were domestic flight tickets at stake again. Any guesses who won?

Khusnud and Moi
No, it wasn't moi, even though my selfie was sort of cute ... heartiest congratulations to Sugam and his bestie :)

The Selfie winning entry - "bromance"
Then came the stage fight, where six teams were divided and leaders from each team were chosen. The task was to find out the names of cities or countries from a deck, and come up with the cheapest fare for the entire route/itinerary (to and fro).

I volunteered to become the leader for Team #3 (Skychainers). We put up a great show and were the self-proclaimed winners :)). The winning team (#5) came up with the cheapest fare of INR 4+ lacs, which was much closer to the real deal.

Team #3: Skychainers
The mic was later passed to enthusiastic bloggers, who narrated their travel stories one by one. I couldn't help but talk about my South Korean escapade. For the uninformed, I spent seven youthful years of my life (from 2005 to 2012) in the Land of the Morning Calm.

The Gatecrashers
Post hi-tea at 4pm, an open panel discussion was held, wherein hot topics like the safest countries for women to travel were discussed.

Finally, in the true tradition of all IndiBlogger meets, a group photo session took place and freebies like T-shirts and bags were distributed to all and sundry.

Group Photo