I'm a Social Media Entrepreneur, Professor of Digital Marketing, Author of 5 books, Podcaster and an Organic Farmer.


Kiruba Shankar

The Cleartrip Experience – Part 2

This is a follow up post to my experience with ClearTrip during my trip to Kuala Lumpur. Please read the first part if you are new to this. Also read the blog post by Hrush, Cleartrip’s co founder. ( Apologies for the delay in writing the second part.)

After a harrowing experience at the Chennai Airport and a thrilling last minute rush, me and my wife were on board the Malaysian Airlines flight to KL. As soon as I landed, I had to rush to the conference venue. This kept the bitter memories off my head as I was fully occupied with the conference.

Once the conference got over, later that evening, I wrote a detailed post on Cleartrip’s Customer Forum. I knew that forum posting will have to meander through layers of authority and hence I followed it up with emailing Hrush, the co-founder and Nikhil Godbole, Senior Manager, Operations.

Prior to this, I also made a tweet venting my frustration. I wanted to make a detailed blog post but a combination of complete lack of sleep the previous night and a draining day at the conference left me with little energy. That’s when I realized the importance of Twitter. You get to say what you want to say in quick time. No wonder Twitter is cannibalizing blogs!

I wasn’t expecting a prompt reply. Cleartrip surprised me here. Nikhil wrote an apology email and confirmed that my tickets for both me and my wife will get taken care of. I was asked for my hotel phone number and soon enough, he gave me a call.

The next day, I received an email with the PNR details for our return flight. Nikhil called me up once again to give me the confidence that they had double checked the tickets.

To me and my wife, having a confirmed return tickets was a major source of relief. We could now enjoy our vacation without worrying about nasty surprises.

On the morning of Day 5 in KL, the day we were to fly back, I received an email from
Cleartrip saying that they have bumped us up to Business Class. They explained that they were sorry for spoiling our Wedding anniversary and wanted to make up.

We were spoilt bad on Business Class. Pampered would be an understatement. There were just two other passengers in the entire Business Class. This meant that the stewardesses out-numbered us.

I consciously ordered Champagne. As we toasted, we couldn’t help but think of the stark difference between the two experiences. What started on a disastrous note ended on a fairytale.

Important lessons learnt.

It’s natural to screw up. But it takes courage to admit one’s mistake.

I’d give credit to Cleartrip for following up and resolving the issue. The phone calls and prompt reply helped.

Before making the blog post on Cleartrip’s blog, Hrush wrote to me seeking my permission to take this incident as a case study and to explain the reasons. I agreed. He earned my respect for following this simple courteous gesture.

I will continue to use Cleartrip to book tickets. But from now on, I will take the extra effort to make a phone call to the airline to confirm the tickets. Definitely so, if its an international one.

Twitter is indeed powerful. I no longer look at it as a ego-massaging, narcissistic tool. It’s a fantastic community tool. Just this morning, I had requested for an illustrator for children’s book and I got over 20 personal references via email and Twitter. Now, that’s usefulness.

Twitter is useless if it is used as a PR announcement tool. It’s strength comes in when corporates engage in genuine conversations. Cleartrip gets a thumps up for that.

You need balls of steel to point your customers to vent their frustration and complaints on your corporate website in full public view. At first sight, it looked like having the public Customer Forum on Cleartrip’s site is like shooting your own feet. At least that’s what most PR folks at a conference in Bangalore said when I took Cleartrip as a case study. But look deeper and you will notice that they use it as a transparent tool to show resolution of complaints. And they are using the public scrutiny to their advantage to resolve issues.

I’m looking forward to the reimbursement of the ticket money from them. I’m assuming that’s under process.

Also, looking forward to the changes that Cleartrip said they will be making based on the learnings from this incident.

Like they say, Alls well that ends well.

The Overnight Camping Experience in the Hills

This post is part of the Binsar Travelogue. A group of six travel bloggers headed out on a 4 day trip to this beautiful Uttaranchal region.

On the 3rd day of our trip, we decided to rough it out. After getting pampered at the comfy rooms at the Club Mahindra resort, the call of the wild was too strong to resist. We asked Amarnath Bakshi, the resort manager, for suggestions and he told us exactly what we wanted to hear. An overnight camping in the woods. It got all of us quite excited.

And so, we headed up the hill towards dusk to a nice cleaning in the woods. When the manager said, “everthing will be taken care of”, he really meant *everything*. The tents were already pitched, the bonfire logs were stacked up, dinner packed and three enthusiastic guys to help out. A little too good for our liking. Personally, I would’ve preferred to lug the stuff, pitch our own tent, collect our firewood and cook our own food. But I guess its understandable. Most folks who come on vacation here are family type would like it easy and not many really want to sweat it out.
I’ve done quite a bit of overnight stays in the woods but never once in my life have I really stayed in a tent. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and glad that time had come. The remember seeing the tent bag at the ‘activity centre’, not any bigger than a small stuffed bag. To see that expand into a biggish tent that can comfortbaly have four people, surprised me.
Thankfully, it didn’t rain that night. Heck, it didn’t rain the entire week we were there. People said we were lucky. Apparently, it does pour. Rather heavily.

The hills can get quite chilly at night and the dew was heavy. If you stood long enough, you’ll find your head wet with dew. We huddled close to the bonfire, soaking in the warmth. While we had big logs for firewood, its the dry pine leaves that was used to rekindly the fire. Every time we put a handful of the dried leaves into the burning embers, it would burn rather instantly as if you poured a cup full of petrol. Now, I know how those forest fires that I had seen in TV rage with such ferocity.

There’s something about the hilly air that makes you ravenously hungry. We gorged on the food. The resort manager said that they won’t provide any non-vegetarian food because the smell of meat would attract unwanted visitors. I don’t think there were any dangerous animals around but realized that its the basic respect for the wild, just the same way we don’t play loud music or wear heavy perfume while trekking.

We spoke about our many trekking experiences. Then started antakshari, a favorite amongst the bollywood smitten locals. I knew as much about hindi songs as a fish knows about bicycles. So, played the background hummer for most part.

We retired around midnight. Each of us snucked inside warm sleeping bags. BTW, its my first ever experience in them. It was slightly claustrophobic but I had no choice with the cold.

We woke up early at day break and quickly started the bonfire for warmth. It did turn quite cold that night and I remember sleeping fitfully.

The morning air was amazingly refreshing and make you realize how much you miss this in the city.

Way beyond the mountains, were the himalayan peaks (not seen in this picture) that absolutely mesmerised us.

We helped ourselves to some hot tea and the firewood smoke gave it a special taste.

Before we decamped, we took a group photo for memory’s sake. From left to right, Prashanth, Arun Nair, Me, Shrinidhi and Arun Bhat. The overnigt camping was a memorable experience for me and the memories will stay with me for a very long time.

The Bath Towel That Caught My Attention!

It’s these small things that really make up an experience. When we entered our room at the Club Mahindra resort at Binsar, the first thing that caught my eye was this White Swan on the bed.  When was the last time a simple bath towel that really caught your attention at any hotel or resort?

There was also a small leaf on the left corner of the bed (look closer and  you’ll find it) that had an handwritten welcome message in it.

The next day, we found a nice ‘flower towel’ decorating the bed!

The Power of Local Knowledge

This is the first in a series of posts I plan to write on our trip to Binsar.

Over two months ago, the plan was hatched to make the second Travel Bloggers trip. The first one to Coorg last year was fabulous and it made every sense to plan the second edition. We had a whole host of destination choices but chose Binsar in Uttaranchal for one reason: It’s remote location. Figure this. It takes a 3 hour flight, an overnight train journey and a 7 hour road trip via hilly, curvy roads to reach this place! I’m a big fan of exotic remote, unspoilt locale and Binsar fitted in like a ‘T’.

The six bloggers, three from Chennai, two from Bangalore and one from Mumbai, all flew into Delhi airport. We all banded together and hired a van to take us to railway station to catch our overnight train to Kathgodam. The train’s departure time was 9:50 pm and we started from the aiport at 7:30 pm. We were told that its an hour’s journey from the Airport to the Sarai Rohilla railway station and we figured we were well placed to reach in time. But boy, were we wrong!

I always had the impression that Delhi’s traffic was the better amongst all major cities. That impression took a serious beating. The Delhi traffic that evening would’ve made a tortoise look turbo charged. Looking at the brighter side, the bangaloreans amongst us felt better!

7:30 became 8:30 and we hadn’t even crossed the half way mark. We were still confident of making it in time. At 9:15, we were just a kilometer from the railway station. But we were stuck in the middle of a traffic deadlock. At 9:25, we hadn’t moved an inch and the nervous jokes turned into worried thoughts. We were mentally warming ourselves up for jumping out of the vehicles, hauling our heavy bags and making a dash to the railway station.

I got off the vehicle and approached a gentleman on a scooter in front of us to ask how long would it take to reach the station. His answer was least bit reassuring. “1 hour by car in this traffic. 20 minutes if you can run”. Not good. We had just 20 minutes with us.

By then, he had found a small gap in the traffic for him and he squeezed through to take a right turn and was gone. I returned back to van to convey the bad news. Just when we were about to offload our luggage and run, the scooter guy knocked on our vehicles window. This guy had parked his vehicle on the other side, crossed the road to meet us . He simply gestured us to follow him.

At that stage, we were desperate. We asked no questions. We urged the driver to blindly follow the fellow. We squeezed through the small gap in the road, took a right turn and entered a small gully that was only a bit wider than the van we were travelling in. After multiple lefts and rights through the Delhi gullies, we found what we were aching to see. The dimly lit Sarai Rohilla railway station board.

The scooter guy had to take a road before the railway station and urged us to keep moving. I felt sad that we didn’t stop to shake his hands and thank him. Actually guys like him deserve a hug.

We made it to the railway station 10 minutes to spare, a luxury actually. We used the time to quickly pack Dal-Chawal for all of us and rushed to our seats just in time for the train to move.

I’ll never forget the nameless good Samaritan on the old Bajaj Chetak. ( Prashanth, fellow traveller, managed to capture the guy’s number plate DL 85 P 2329). Without him, we would not have made it to our four day vacation that we were so looking forward to. This post is dedicated to the kind souls who go out of their way to help others.

The Coorg Travelogue

Two weeks ago, a dozen of us headed out for a trip to Coorg. Quite a varied bunch. We had amongst us a marketing head honco, Communications Manager, Teacher, Software Guy, Traveller, Pro-photographer, Radio Jockey & Lawyer. It’s the diversity of characters that I loved. The only common thread that connected all of us was that we were all bloggers and travel lovers.

Since we all had to fly in from Chennai, Bombay and Delhi, we chose the Bangalore Airport as rendezvous. Once all of us gathered together, we huddled up in a van and headed on our 7 hour journey to Coorg. Most of the gang didn’t know each other but the holiday spirit helped break ice real quickly.

Having had an insignificant breakfast on the plane, I was hungry. So were a few others but our bangalore friends asked us to hold our appetite until we made the 40 km journey outside of Bangalore for a hotel called Kamat’s. It’s a mangalorean specialty restaurant and it absolutely stood up to the hype and made it worth the wait. We gorged.

It was nightfall by the time we reached the Club Mahindra Resort and had a traditional welcome. The welcome drinks were served and our bags were whisked away in an electric vehicle to our rooms.

The flower arrangements at a small pond amidst the wood carved lobby was a photographer’s delight.

The rooms clearly exceeded my expectation. The room was far bigger than any hotel room that I had stayed in. And much later, I came to know that it’s the smallest category we had stayed in, the Studio. I can only imagine what the other villas looked like. The wooden floors, lovely view from the balcony, the attention to minor details stood apart.

On the first night, we witnessed a traditional dance performance from local coorgi women.

…followed by performance from the Coorgi men.

It’s a snap that I had taken and I love it. I didn’t have my camera and that helped me experiment with cameras from other folks.

The early morning views were to die for. Here’s one atop the highest point in the resort which had a mega chess board.

We had really good guitarists and singers amongst the bunch. After downing enough alcohol, the mistakes in chords and pitches didn’t matter. It took be back to my college day memories.

I must’ve put on atleast a couple of kilos in the two days that I was there. Every meal had different menu and we were really well fed.

The best part of the breakfast was the view. The other side of the building was a drop and it felt like we were afloat amongst the trees.

Our guide was appropriately named ‘Joy’ and boy, were we glad to have him around. The guy had a nice sense of humour and amazing level of enthusiasm. Club Mahindra had worked out a real packed schedule for the three days we were in. Someone out there had done their homework really well.

Sqatting by the Cauvery.

Ever had a feeling your heart was about to burst? Well, I had after a couple of us made a bravado decision to run up the 300 odd steps to a hill near Tala Cauvery in one single burst. I was the first to reach the top, which in a a way was a good thing. I must’ve rolled over in pain trying to assuage the acute burning sensation in my heart. By the time the others caught up, I had time to recover and put on my macho face.

The really cold pool isn’t for the faint hearted. Once we braved the first entry into the pool (the smartest way is to just jump in), we had good fun playing water polo.

I had to return two days earlier to catch my trip to Amsterdam. Reading other’s travelogue and looking at the pictures, it looks like I missed quite a bit. More travelogues…

Arun Nair : The key guy from Club Mahindra is a new found blog enthusiast. Inspired enough to start his new blog and he starts off with a bang on his Coorg travel tales.

Mridula : Hey, teachers are supposed to be docile types, right. Wrong? She made mince-meat of all of us at the game of table tennis. Also a travel freak.

Sudhir Syal : The motormouth and clearly the guy who got away pulling everyone’s legs. The fun guy. A fun travelogue to read.

Anil: What kind of a guy quits software to join advertising? Answer: The interesting and creative type of guy. And his travelogue reflects just that.

Srinidhi : The most vociferous critic of Club Mahindra gets a chance to experience the resort for himself. Quite interesting to read his take.

Anita Bora: The chronic traveller is yet to put her travelogue up. Just a small teaser up. Should be worth the wait, much like the Kamat hotel that she recommended.

Dev Amritesh : My friend from college who now heads marketing at Dominos Pizza. Has the most ‘I care a damn’ attitude in expressing his honest views. Nice read.

And yep, don’t miss the full catalogue of photos taken by the gang from which I shamelessly lifted all the photos mentioned here. Not surprisingly, most folks had high end Nikon and Canon cameras, befitting their tag of travelbugs.