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My last flight on Kingfisher Airlines April 2, 2012

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Airlines, Aviation, Branding, India, Marketing, Social Media, Travel, UAE.
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24 comments

I’m a loyal customer of India’s Kingfisher Airlines. I first flew Kingfisher in Jan 2011 but since then I have flown them 15 times. I fly them as much as possible. I often pay a premium to fly them even when I have cheaper or non-stop flights available. I even recommend it to those who are looking for flights to India. The only time I flew another airline to India instead of Kingfisher I felt like I was cheating on a partner.

What I like the most about Kingfisher is how they make me feel special when I fly with them. Another reason I love to fly them is their social media engagement. I became a loyal Kingfisher customer because of how they engaged with me on social media the first time I flew with them and have been connected to me since then.

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What every brand can learn from Finnair’s social media content strategy January 31, 2012

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Advertising, Airlines, Aviation, Branding, India, Marketing, Social Media.
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1 comment so far

I’m a huge fan of Finnair’s content strategy on social media. Suddenly, content strategy sounds like a buzzword. So for the sake of simplicity, I’d say unique and creative ways of connecting with travelers and creating buzz.

If I could create a manifesto for them, it would be something like:

At Finnair, let us create engaging content by –

  1. Focusing on passion points that people already love
  2. Being relevant and topical
  3. Being emotionally appealing
  4. Owning the experience at all touch points
  5. Ensuring attention to detail
  6. Having fun while creating the experience

It’s not easy bringing all these elephants into one room, but if and when you do, you have created magic.

It started in September 2011 with the Angry Birds flight from Helsinki to Singapore featuring the first ever Angry Birds Asian Challenge (sponsored by Samsung and Roxio). They branded and owned the experience like no other, from a creative and execution point of view. The entire plane, airport, crew and in-flight experience screamed Angry Birds. They got the passengers to play an in-flight Angry Birds challenge. Even served Angry Birds cupcakes when they landed in Singapore.

Check out these delightful snaps from the Angry Birds flight at Travelerfolio.

And then they did it again in January 2012 with the Bollywood dance video on a flight to New Delhi to celebrate India’s Republic Day. The video has nearly 3.5 million video views as of today and tons of positive PR. They spotted an opportunity at the unique intersection that Indian airlines or other international airlines majorly serving India missed – India’s love affair with Bollywood and patriotic feelings inspired by the Republic Day. And the fact that Indians would warmly appreciate the gesture by a ‘foreign airline’.

The secret here to create engaging content is to have an open slate, tell an interesting story and not be restricted by the canvas of your industry. Think about who you are targeting, what captures their interest most and be creative about it while having fun. The views will take off and the buzz will happen.

Will Air India’s flight to social media take off? April 11, 2011

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Airlines, Aviation, Branding, Conversations, India, Marketing, Social Media.
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1 comment so far

Pic credit: Daniel Villa, Airliners.net

In the high-flying world where aviation meets social media, the impossible turned possible today. India’s government-owned national airline Air India announced it was stepping into social media with a clear mandate to generate at least 30% revenue as an ROI.

In a Financial Express news report by Shaheen Mansuri, Arvind Jadhav, AI’s chairman and managing director said, “Until now, we were unable to provide a flexible pricing and customised products to our customers. While other airlines have their presence on Facebook and Twitter, we were missing from that space.

Once brand AI is exposed to a larger audience, it can translate into more sales. Social networking sites have opened up a new distribution platform for the airline. The traditional travel agents and travel websites will co-exist with the new medium,” said Jadhav.

You can read the entire story here.

I had several interesting responses after I shared the story on Twitter which was first broken by the evergreen diva @TobyDiva.

Air India to join social media w/ an ROI goal of increasing sales by 30%. http://ht.ly/4xpDx via @TobyDiva

Few responses:

Jesus! They’re gonna get butchered! Via @DeveshM

WOW! Xcited Via @vishal1mehra

air india using social media would be a pretty stupid initiative in my way..n 30% sales from there sounds insane! Via @aseemrastogi2

This will probably end up like CCD when they entered the social media scene: a lot of unhappy customers who compained non stop. Via @Thor_

My view on #AirIndia & #socialmedia is that they can go two ways…but the #Airline had better do it right to be effective. #smtravel Via @flyingwithfish

If#AirIndia can’t breaks it’s habit of not effectively addressing passengers & protecting it’s brand, #socialmedia won’t succeed Via @flyingwithfish

AI is certainly a late bird after the social media worm; shud’ve emulated Jet & Kingfisher well ahead. Via @StoryMary

I Would say to everyone: “If you’re not in #SocMed yet you’re too late” Via @eezeer

No use without changing hostesses. Via @Askabuska

Here are a couple of my thoughts:

1.    Today Air India is strategically and operationally at a critical juncture. New aviation minister at the helm, overview of top management after the departure of COO Baldauf and his deputies, debt restructuring in process, the much awaited Dreamliners joining the fleet soon, the forthcoming entry into Star Alliance etc. Social media can now step in as a part of an image makeover – the journey to a new Air India. However, this image makeover will have to reflect in the way airline treats customers & offers them an experience that is no less compared to what the competition is offering them.

2.    Air India can be sure to get a lot of negative PR and feedback on their social media platforms. The airline has unfortunately had a legacy of poor service and this is going to show clearly when consumers engage with the airline on social media. How they manage the negative feedback and win over audiences is going to be very crucial.

3.    The best brands on social media are the best brands in business. There’s only so much social media can do to make you look good. If you do not deliver on your core customer promise or if you don’t do your job right, you should never be on social media. Period.

4.    The danger of using social media as a broadcast medium is that it will bite you in the back. Social cannot be a me-too approach as a response to your competition being on it. However, I appreciate the assertiveness shown by Mr Jadhav on utilizing the medium for generating revenues. Air India’s competitors such as Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines are doing a great job engaging with their customers on social media. Competition on the airline social media airwaves in India will be intense.

5.    Is Air India ready for the big step it is to take? Are they aware of the potential benefits and pitfalls of engaging in the medium? Do they have the resources in place to execute a social media strategy that will work for them? Lots more questions that time will answer.

Good luck, Air India and welcome aboard the social media bandwagon!

So is Air India going to make it or break it in social media? Would love to hear your thoughts.

The King of Good Times: A social media surprise from Kingfisher Airlines February 25, 2011

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Airlines, Aviation, Branding, Conversations, India, Social Media, Travel.
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10 comments

As an aviation geek & a social media marketing professional, I keep a close eye out on airlines that are blitzing the social media trail.

On last count, there are over 180 airlines on Twitter. Every airline worth their salt is on Facebook building communities and rewarding loyalty via contests.


What I love most about airlines that are doing social media right is: those who are using social media to listen to their customers and offer them delightful surprises. Such a rare experience happened to me last month, via Kingfisher Airlines.

Kingfisher Airlines, based out of India is one of the world’s seven airlines to be ranked as a 5-star airline by Skytrax. They fly to 63 domestic destinations and 8 international destinations with an Airbus & ATR fleet. Headed by one of India’s most flamboyant tycoons Dr Vijay Mallya, Kingfisher has built a strong brand for itself in service and quality over the years. It wouldn’t be unfair to call Kingfisher the Virgin America of Indian skies.

I have watched Kingfisher’s meteoric rise and often lamented the fact that I have never flown them, primarily because they don’t fly out of Muscat. Anyhow, a great opportunity to try Kingfisher for the first time came up last month and I decided to fly them outbound on Dubai-Bengaluru-Cochin and Chennai-Bengaluru-Dubai on my inbound leg.

Kingfisher is active on Twitter and as always, I tweeted before my departure that I was flying them. I received a reply from them asking me to enjoy their service. Quite the appropriate thing to do on social media, yes?

I arrive at Dubai Airport on the date of my departure, stood in a snaking queue of flustered passengers waiting to check-in. When my turn came, I noticed the check-in agent spend a few extra seconds looking at her screen and then proceeded to consult with her supervisor before handing me a complimentary Lounge Access card. Now, how great is that?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t check out the Lounge as I was running late for my flight, so I boarded the all economy A321 and we were soon wheels up to Bengaluru. After reaching cruising altitude, the cabin crew started meal service. I noticed that they rolled up the cart straight to where I was sitting (somewhere in the middle of the plane) and asked me “Mr Rajagopal, what would you like to have for dinner?”

That was an absolute stunner for me. I know in premium classes it is a practice for crew to know beforehand who they are serving, but moi flying in Y class (or cattle class as one prominent Indian politician once described the back of the bus)? The crew knew my name and that was an absolutely delightful surprise for me. They served me well & I sure got a few envious looks from around the cabin.

The 2 cabin crew members who worked my section would come up to me once in a while and ensure that I was all comfy. Nothing artificial, but a genuine and warm desire to serve well, which is sadly missing from a lot of airlines this day. Believe you me, these are the little, personal touches that make flying such a lovely experience for me.

When I inquired how the crew knew me by name, I was told that they were informed beforehand that I would be flying with them and was asked to take special care of me. Social media at work, yes? 🙂

I felt like the ‘king of good times’ as I thoroughly enjoyed my flight and didn’t forget to compliment Kingfisher in my feedback form (I believe they should look at the paper quality of the form as ball point pens don’t write well on them – minor detail, I know).

I landed early morning at Bengaluru and almost missed my connecting flight to Cochin due to a security snafu. I literally missed my bus to the plane. However, the kind people at Kingfisher got me ferried to the waiting ATR in their car just in time. I hopped on the plane and we were off. Trust me on this; they could have left without me. Will never forget the sight of an ATR waiting on the ground on a misty morning, the crew peeping out of the door and me diving into it with my rucksack pulling me back. Reminded me of how we jump into moving trains. Another big star from me.

Landed in Cochin and I was happy to let Kingfisher know that my flights went well and they DMed back wishing me a great time in India. (Almost sounds like a love affair, hmmm?)

So I spent the next couple of days train hopping across India (I think I spent 7 out of my 9 days sleeping on overnight trains). A week later, I was ready to make the hop back to Dubai. I was flying from Chennai and on my local train ride to the airport, I was wondering if I would have any similar surprises in store.

I was met by this very helpful Kingfisher ground staff who helped me with my bags. And I did make a note of how Kingfisher staff are generally polite, professional and courteous. You begin to feel that these people, whether they are at the low end or the high end of the line, are carefully cherry-picked to live a certain brand vision that leads to delighting customers.

Proceeded to check-in and gladly got my fav seat on an A321 which gives you humongous amounts of legroom. There were no surprises waiting for me at the check-in desk. Must say, I was slightly disappointed after all the pampering a week ago. I traipsed across the terminal towards a Maggi noodle stall and went on to ravenously chomp down a noodle bowl.

As I gulp through my noodles, I spot 2 Kingfisher staff make a beeline for me and I’m like – Uh Oh! Crew: Mr. Rajagopal, we were looking for you… So again, Kingfisher decided to make my day. Minutes later, I was escorted into a lounge at Chennai Airport (at this point was beginning to feel like royalty) and the staff promised to fetch me before boarding. Spent a good 30 minutes in the lounge and then she was back.  Trust me, nothing beats the experience of being chaperoned by a Kingfisher crew on the ground. I did manage to count a few envious looks and did I say I didn’t have to stand in a line for my security check? The lovely crew member hopped with me on the bus and literally dropped me at the door of the plane. My mind was flying at 35k feet by then.

The flight to Bengaluru went without incident. Must say, I liked my seat on the ATR in front of the plane which is the only row facing the rest of the seats. They are comfortable and you get a feeling of flying in a biz jet. Landed at Bengaluru and was at met at the door of the plane by another Kingfisher staffer. I know that at this point this is all sounding like a giant ego-fueled fairy tale. But then this gorgeous staffer walks me from the plane, takes me through immigration and security, mind you, no standing in queues again, you are introduced everywhere as a ‘guest’ and then proceeds to comfortably ensconce me in a premium lounge at the International Terminal.

I tuck into some fine Sauvignon Blanc, Paneer rolls and rum cake as I wait for my ‘Bus to Dubai. My ‘handler’ appeared again before boarding and walked me on the airbridge till my jet, bidding bye and safe travels.

Wheels up to Dubai, great food, much better than on the inbound leg, caught some shuteye and a perfect landing – didn’t even know if we touched ground, just floated in and came to a stop at the airbridge. As we deplaned, the Captain came out to say hello. A great ending to an awesome Kingfisher tale.

So what’s the summary of this whole experience? Just a fluffy piece singing a lot of praise in favor of Kingfisher for making the day of a planegeek? Well, they earned it and yes, a big thank you to them for giving me one of the best flights in my life.

Will Kingfisher roll out the same red carpet treatment to everyone who tweets to them about their journeys? Perhaps not. But have they won a loyal customer and strong brand evangelist in me. Definitely, yes.

To sign off, brands engaging in social media take off to a new level when they are able to consistently and creatively offer value, engagement and delightful surprises to their audience.  It all starts from caring to listen and daring to surprise. Amen!

The best cabin crew uniform in Indian skies August 17, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Advertising, Aviation, Branding, India, Marketing, Travel.
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39 comments

Close on the heels of JetLite unveiling their new cabin crew uniforms, IndiGo has decided to go for the PanAm designer look and shake up the skies.

Let’s have a fun contest today to find out the best cabin crew uniform in the Indian skies.

Who looks the sizzling best? Feel free to vote for your favorite airline uniform in the poll that follows the pictures. I pick Jet Airways.

* (Apologies for the ‘poor’ GoAir pic! Do share if you find a better one!)

Air India / Air India Express / Indian

Jet Airways

Jet Airways

Kingfisher / Kingfisher Red

JetLite

IndiGo

SpiceJet

GoAir

Paramount Airways

Why customer feedback matters for an airport. The case study of Cochin International Airport. August 16, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Aviation, India, Marketing, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , ,
2 comments

Image credit: Shahin O.

One of the reasons I like Cochin International Airport (COK) is because of its large spaces. A lot of airports I have been to in India or in the Arabian Gulf region are bursting at the seams or are under a constant state of development.

Opened in 1999, Cochin International Airport has all the whistles and bells of a modern airport. Larger spaces. Faster check-in. A great view of the tarmac from the gates. A reasonable duty-free selection. And the airbridges, which means no bumpy rides in the bus to the plane or no getting wet in the rains. And yes, a bookshop will be open soon. I’m told that the newly opened international terminal at Trivandrum (TRV) is catching up with Cochin and I can’t wait to check it out soon.

I was recently traveling through Cochin and with a couple of hours to kill for my flight to Muscat, I chanced upon a register placed in a corner of the Departure Terminal under a board that said ‘Feedback on Airport Security’. I couldn’t help but glance through the feedback book and what I read is going to be the crux of this post.

1.    Airport security needs be more friendly.
Majority of the people complained about the cold, indifferent attitude of the airport security staff. Someone wrote: “The airport security should learn to speak proper English; English being the ‘national language’ of India.” I don’t know if the airport authorities can influence behavioral changes among the security staff. I think airport security is managed and run by CRPF, a central government agency whose functioning is outside the purview of the airport management’s control. But yes, there was almost universal criticism of their ‘customer service’ skills and their general approach to dealing with travellers. Now some of you may ask, shouldn’t their focus be on airport security than being nice to people in an age of heightened terror and security risks, but isn’t it better to have pleasant people skills no matter what your job.

2.    Please smile, Mr. Immigration Officer.
The immigration officials at the airport came under fire too. Someone had written – Can someone teach these people to smile? Or getting them to smile is like asking for the moon… something in that lines. Frequently traveling through airports in India, I know this is true. It doesn’t matter that the immigration official is probably one of the first people you come across in a new country, especially if you are a tourist. I have given up on all etiquette and polite manners when I submit my passport at Indian immigration. I give a cold stare and get a colder one back along with the stamped passport. On good days, I get the passport and boarding card flung at me. Oh why not, I’m being done a huge favor after all by this official who had to forgo his siesta at 6 in the morning to see the back of planeloads of travelers bound to the Arabian sands. This is where I admire the immigration officers at Muscat International Airport. They never forget to wish you, enquire your well-being and heartily welcome you to their country before stamping your passport.

3.    “Can Cochin Airport have a dedicated smoker’s lounge?” What really impressed me about this request was not the request itself, but the sincerity and manner in which it was expressed.
“More than 60% of travellers and tourists around the world are smokers and hence this airport should make convenient arrangements for smokers to light up in peace without going out of their minds and troubling fellow passengers.” A feedback suggestion that is always substantiated with a fact has a better chance of going through. (In this case, the ‘60%’ fact).

4.    A gentleman requested for a separate prayer room for gents as well as ladies… fair enough.

5.    A traveler to Houston made the brilliant observation regarding the absence of a single clock in the entire boarding gate area. True, there are giant screens showing flight schedules, but it would be wise to have the local time on them as well.

6.    A tech-savvy traveler requested the airport authorities to provide passengers with Worldspace Radio… a couple of them demanded a better selection of TV channels on the airport TV. I guess Asianet or Surya is not everyone’s cup of tea.

7.    One of the ultimate requests was by a couple of travellers who requested a bar in the terminal; nothing like a neat Scotch on the rocks before departure. Full marks to that. And no points for guessing that they were Malayalees.

8.    Almost everyone complained about the lack of decent dining facilities in the departure terminal and the exorbitant price of tea & coffee. A cup of coffee costs 50 rupees. (A passenger wrote that the price of coffee was more scalding than the coffee itself). And COK Airport Coffee takes the crown as one of the ultimate listless coffees I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.

9.    A passenger wrote about the how the drive-in entrance at the departures & arrival terminal wasn’t covered leading to travelers and their luggage getting drenched in the rains as they entered the terminal building. A very valid point; I came under the showers too as I was leaving COK that morning. Not a good experience to take off wet.

10.    Hidesign has a swanky outlet at the airport. I hope they are making money.

11.    Thought to end the post: I find liquor at Cochin Duty Free cheaper than Muscat Duty Free. And the last time I checked, they were giving a bottle free with every 2 bottles of Jack Daniel’s.

A couple of thoughts on Feedback:

1.    Feedback is vital.
For individuals, brands and organizations, feedback tells you what’s working right and what isn’t. Feedback is critical to customer service, product improvement, cost savings, productivity and work efficiency.

2.    Feedback matters only when it is from the right person.
So I worked on this snazzy looking marketing campaign. Getting suggestions on its look and feel from my peers isn’t as good a feedback from the customers of that product or service.

3.    Use the right tools to collect Feedback.
A complaint book at Cochin International Airport seems to a simple and old-fashioned method to collect feedback. But it is any day, a more effective and practical tool than a website form. The customer should find it convenient to share feedback and feedback collection should ideally happen at touch points where customers interact most with you.

4.    Feedback should lead to action.
Feedback is of no good if you don’t act upon it. Also, it helps to acknowledge that have you received feedback.

To conclude, do enjoy this video of an Emirates B777 landing at Cochin.


The Secret Of Making It Work November 3, 2009

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Conversations, Healthy Living, India, Marketing.
Tags: , ,
3 comments

I recently got an interesting e-mail attachment. Without much ado, I’m sharing it with you:

Suvendu Roy, of Titan Industries shares his inspirational encounter with a rickshaw driver in Mumbai:

Rickshaw Mumbai 1 Last Sunday, my wife, kid, and I had to travel to Andheri from Bandra. When I waved at a passing auto rickshaw, little did I expect that this ride would be any different.

As we set off, my eyes fell on a few magazines (kept in an aircraft style pouch) behind the driver’s backrest. I looked in front and there was a small TV. The driver had put on the Doordarshan channel. My wife and I looked at each other with disbelief and amusement. In front of me was a small first-aid box with cotton, Dettol and some medicines. This was enough for me to realize that I was in a special vehicle.

Rickshaw Mumbai 2
Then I looked round again, and discovered more – there was a radio, fire extinguisher, wall clock, calendar, and pictures and symbols of all faiths – from Islam and Christianity to Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. There were also pictures of the heroes of 26/11- Kamte, Salaskar, Karkare and Unnikrishnan. I realized that not only my vehicle, but also my driver was special.

I started chatting with him and the initial sense of ridicule and disbelief gradually diminished. I gathered that he had been driving an auto rickshaw for the past 8-9 years; he had lost his job when his employer’s plastic company was shut down.

Rickshaw Mumbai 3
He had two school-going children, and he drove from 8 in the morning till 10 at night. No break unless he was unwell.  “Sahab, ghar mein baith ke T.V dekh kar kya faida? Do paisa income karega toh future mein kaam aayega.” (“What’s the benefit from sitting at home and watching TV? If I work now and earn some money, it will be of use in the future.”)

We realized that we had come across a man who represents Mumbai – the spirit of work, the spirit of travel and the spirit of excelling in life.

I asked him whether he did anything else as I figured that he did not have too much spare time.

He said that he goes to an old age home for women in Andheri once a week or whenever he has some extra income, where he donates toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, hair oil, and other items of daily use. He pointed out to a painted message below the meter that read: “25 per cent discount on metered fare for the handicapped. Free rides for blind passengers up to Rupees 50.”

My wife and I were struck with awe. The man was a HERO! A hero who deserves all our respect!!!

Our journey came to an end; 45 minutes of a lesson in humility, selflessness, and of a hero worshipping Mumbai, my temporary home. We disembarked, and all I could do was to pay him a tip that would hardly cover a free ride for a blind man.

I hope, one day, you too have a chance to meet Mr. Sandeep Bachhe in his auto rickshaw: MH-02-Z-8508.

What this experience tells me is that: even the most mundane, uninspiring jobs on Earth can be made a fulfilling experience with one ingredient. PASSION. Passion brings with it the unique ability to make a difference in your own little ways. Ultimately, the secret is not to believe that you are driving a simple, humble rickshaw, but to believe that you are driving the world ahead in your own special way.

My greatest rail-fanning moments on Indian Railways January 17, 2009

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.
4 comments

Many years ago, when I was a budding rail-fan, I was fascinated with being a railway guard on Indian Railways. I was so enamored with how the gentleman in white at the rear of the train would lean out of his cab, sound his shrill whistle in a high pitch and gently wave his green flag to let the train move. And as the train picked up speed, his waving of the flag would feverishly increase in its intensity till the train would disappear from your sight.

Years passed and my interest turned into locomotives and their drivers (called Loco Pilots in Indian Railways parlance). Specifically Assistant Loco Pilots who perform inspection of the loco, check signals, and wave the green flag in sync with the Guard at the rear, as the Loco Pilot sounds the horn and takes the train out of the station.

The entire action of a train starting from a station is one of my biggest rail-fanning moments. For a rail-fan like me, those are moments of great anticipation.

Sometimes there is a crew change. The few minutes when the old set of crew interacts with the fresh crew taking out the train are exciting. If there is a loco change, you can bet that there will be a crowd watching to see the loco getting coupled to the train.

Occasionally, you will see a very faithful loco driver pray at the control stand before taking out his ride. Some Assistant Loco Pilots carry waste paper in their hands as they do their loco check. None of them wear a uniform in the place where I come from.

Almost all of them eagerly await the signal of the guard before they start waving their flags. No Loco Pilot sounds the horn till they get a ‘right’ from the Guard. It doesn’t matter even if the starter (signal) is right (green). The Guard’s gotta say ‘aye’.

Sometimes, the train moves as a family makes a last bid effort to the board the train. If the Assistant Loco Pilot spots that he asks his chief to go a bit easy on the wheel.

And I almost forgot about the locos, depending on the type of loco, be it a Diesel (WDM2, WDM3D) or Electric (WAP4, WAM4, WAP1), they all come with different horns, different looks and different take-off actions, which makes each experience different.

A few weeks ago, I created a set of videos capturing the starting of trains at Ernakulam Junction, a major railway station in Kerala. These 12 videos feature probably everything I shared about my biggest rail-fanning moments. I was plain lucky to have the same vantage point for every video, a great place to watch these amazing locos take off. They may all look the same to many. But a true rail-fan will find each journey a different beginning.

Enjoy your videos!

Finally, Golden Glory for India August 11, 2008

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Conversations, India, Pot Pourri.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

Abhinav Bindra today became the first Indian to win a Gold medal in an individual event (10m Air Rifle shooting) in the history of the Olympic Games. It was such a heartwarming feeling to hear the Indian national anthem being played at the awards ceremony.
No doubt, his success is the fruit of supreme persistence, dedication and commitment, including a comeback from back injury. His victory is the perfect gift for a nation that is celebrating its 60th Independence Day on Friday.
Abhinav’s win will definitely inspire cricket-crazy India to devote more energy to other sports as well. It’s about time the snoozing tiger woke up.

Rail-fanning at Bharathapuzha June 30, 2008

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

Bharathapuzha or Nila is the second longest river in Kerala. Bharathapuzha means River (Puzha) of Bharathamba (Goddess mother of Bharath – India).

The allusion behind the name is that the river feeds people like their own mother – (the water is pure and can be used for drinking, irrigation or other purposes).

Bharathapuzha originates in the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu and flows west through the three districts of Palakkad, Thrissur and Malappuram and finally meets the Arabian Sea at Ponnani.

Shoranur 034

Nila is very close to hearts of the people of Kerala, owing to its historical and cultural significance. Many of Kerala’s greatest creative geniuses such as Kunchan Nambiar (a satirical poet and founder of the Ottamthullal art form), Malayalam writers M. T. Vasudevan Nair, M.Govindan, V. K. N. and O. V. Vijayan have been inspired by her beauty.

Kerala Kalamandalam, a major learning center for Indian performing arts is situated in the village of Cheruthuruthy on the banks of Nila. The famous Ayurveda treatment centre of Kottakkal is adjacent to the Nila. It is also home to several famous Hindu temples as well. Legend goes that those cremated on the banks of the Bharathapuzha achieve salvation.

A train journey over the Bharathapuzha is a very nostalgic experience for Keralites. Many times I’ve seen travelers gaze out of the windows admiring the river that embodies the soul and spirit of North Kerala. It is not uncommon to hear travelers give impromptu lectures about the history of the river and berate the recent man-made ecological problems that have led to its drying up.

The river flows to its fullest only during the monsoon season in the last few years, and this year Kerala has had a particularly bad monsoon and you can see the river much dried up.

The British laid the current railway track parallel to the course of the river from Parli in Palakkad through Shoranur (a major railway junction in North Kerala) and up to Tirunnavaya (the last station on the line). The railway line is thus an inseparable part of the contemporary history of Nila.

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I recently went on a rail-fanning trip to Bharathapuzha. It has been one of my greatest wishes to visit the banks of the river and check out the trains gliding over the majestic rail bridges over the Nila, ever since I was a kid.

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Highlights of the trip included up and down rides on the Bharathapuzha railway bridges on the Ernakulam-Shoranur Passenger and Shoranur-Trivandrum Venad Express (check out video), a dip in the river beneath the bridges where I had oodles of fun waving out to passengers in the trains, a visit to a local toddy shop and finally some action packed rail-fanning at Shoranur Junction and Bharathapuzha (check out the videos of the diesel and electric action).

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Shoranur 055

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Needless to say, with the sun playing hide-and-seek, intermittent showers and constant rail action, the atmosphere was simply enticing. Indeed, one of my best rail-fanning journeys ever!

Enjoy the videos!

Here are a few pics from a journey over Bharathapuzha in December 2006.

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Express trains on the Bharathapuzha Railway Bridge

Freight train (push-pull) action at Shoranur Junction

Parasuram Express at Shoranur Junction

WDM3D action at Shoranur Junction

WAP4 action at Shoranur Junction