September 2017 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

ZenFone 3s Max: Powerhouse Travel Phone

Unboxing the ZenFone 3s Max phone, a powerhouse for travel

As a traveler, what do you look for in the phone that you want to carry on your travels? Is it a great camera? Is it lots of storage capacity? Is it good entertainment capabilities? Or do you simply want a sturdy, good looking phone?

As a traveler, travel blogger and travel photographer, a great phone is akin to being a lifeline for me. A phone doubles up as a camera for me at many times. And it is possibly the device that I use most often to stay connected. These are the things that I usually look in a phone that I want to carry on my travels:

1) Powerful Internal Mechanics – From capturing high quality videos and photos to playing games, listening to music and watching movies and TV shows during long travels and layovers and from using the phone for all online content consumption and fulfilment to using it as my permanent travel companion, I usually put my travel phone to its fullest test. And that is why I look for phones with solid technical specs, like a great processor, high clarity full HD screen and decent RAM memory.

2) Long Lasting Battery – At most times during my travels, I find smartphones run out of battery. I do carry a battery backup, but I always yearn for more. I cannot reduce my use, but always love a device that can last longer.

3) Decent Camera – There are times during my travels that a moment goes by before I can pick up my big DSLR camera. At such times, I find a phone camera come in super handy as they are able to capture that fleeting moment. And that is why I prefer phones with good cameras so that not only do I have it for memory sake, but I can leverage it as a high quality image. Manual modes and long exposure modes are great features to have.

4) It should be Inexpensive - Contrary to most of my friends and travel companions, I prefer to carry an inexpensive phone with me on my travels so that if I lose it or drop it, it isn’t a deal breaker.

5) Dual Sim - On my international travels, I almost always keep my India number active and hence prefer a dual sim phone to allow me to use the local sim (international) in the same device.

Now, you know what I look for in my travel phone. I am always in search of a phone that keeps helping me make the most of my travels. For the last few months, I have been using the newly launched Asus Zenfone 3s Max phone and I have to say that I am seriously impressed with its technical capability, functionality, powerhouse battery and overall bang for the buck. And what’s even better is the fact that the price of the phone has been slashed to INR 12,999 in celebration of the upcoming festival season.    
This detailed review is based on the experience of using the Asus ZenFone 3s Max phone in many situations: from bustling city markets to remote forests and mountains.

Heavy Duty Battery
The first thing that I noticed about the phone is its powerhouse of a battery that allowed me to stay unplugged for days in spite of my insanely high use. This incredibly long lasting 5000 mAh battery provides upto:

1) 34 days of 4G standby time

2) 28 hours talk time on 3G

3) 25 hours of web browsing over Wi-Fi

Not only do these incredible battery specifications allow you to travel unplugged, it also allows you to leverage this battery as a power bank through its reverse charging facility. Basically, what I am trying to say is that, there is no more battery related worries especially if you going on those long mountain treks, long train journeys or simply travel in places where you can’t find the opportunity to charge your phone. It’s super saving and power saving modes even allow you to stretch this battery capability to even much longer, which comes in super handy during those emergency situations that we do see from time to time in our trips and journeys.
Strong battery for the Zenfone 3s Max phonePower Saver mode of Asus ZenFone 3s Max phoneLong lasting battery - perfect for long treks and trips

What I also like about the battery of the Asus ZenFone 3s Max is that in spite of the high capacity, it doesn’t add much weight to the phone. In fact, at 175 grams, the phone feels perfect in my hand and its lightweight presence is hardly felt in my hand, pocket or bag.

Stunning Camera Capabilities

Monsoon holiday in Meghalaya

While the powerhouse of a battery is definitely the top feature of the Asus ZenFone 3s Max phone, its camera capabilities are not too far behind. With a 13 megapixel PixelMaster camera and a sensor that handles apertures upto f2.0, the phone camera captures excellent details even in low light conditions.

I used the camera at day, at night, while stationary and while moving and in cold and hot conditions and I have to tell you that the camera focussed fast and clear and captured excellent details in all conditions. The Asus software in the camera app and the good camera specs work like a beautiful 1-2 combo and the results are so good that sometimes I wonder if I really need to carry my professional DSLR. And not just that, the 6 super helpful photography modes of the camera allows you to take your phone travel photography to a much higher level.

These are the 6 modes that I am referring to:

1) Super Resolution Mode

Stunning Akbar's tomb at Sikandra, Agra

This mode allows you to capture gorgeous high-resolution landscape photos that are as big as 52 megapixel. In spite of the camera having just a 13 MP camera, the phone’s special image processing technique ensures that clarity and detail are not sacrificed and noise is kept to a bare minimum.

2) Low Light Mode

Traditional fire dance at Laxmi Niwas Palace, Bikaner

The place where I have found phone cameras lack the most is in lowlight conditions. But, I was surprised at the low light capability of the Asus ZenFone 3S Max phone. Apparently, its low light mode increases the light sensitivity of the sensor by up to 400%, allowing for crisp pictures at fast shutter speeds. This means that one can easily capture those dim lit dinner events or simply any kind of night photography

3) Panoramic Mode

A feature that is found in most cameras these days, but nonetheless a super helpful feature is the wide panorama. This camera mode allows you to pan the camera to automatically capture different frames while seamlessly stitching them into one spectacular panorama shot for you.

4) Backlight HDR Mode

The insides of the luxurious Golden Chariot train

Another useful night photography mode is the backlight HDR mode, which intelligently adjusts the exposure of your frame by brightening the dark areas and lightens the bright areas. This makes for great pictures.

5) Beautification Mode

Sadhu baba snapped in his element at Orchha, Madhya Pradesh

For all those selfie lovers and portrait fanatics, this phone’s beautification mode allows you to smooth skin tones, thin cheeks, enhance eyes and other cool features that help you create an eye popping portrait or selfie.

6) Manual Mode

Trek to the living root bridges of Meghalaya, India

Long exposures, background bokeh and some DSLR like features can be replicated on mobile phones these days. Sounds fancy, but pretty easy to use. Such is the flexibility of the manual mode feature that if you have a gorilla pod for your phone, you could even try your luck at capturing the star studded skies in the mountains and the deserts.

Gorgeous Build and Design

The Asus ZenFone 3s Max phone looks slick and sleek from the outside and definitely catches the eye. From the inside, it is packed with serious power. Powered by an Octa-core processor 64-bit processor, 3 GB of RAM, a Mali T860 graphics processing unit, a LTE category 4 sub-system and a 5.2 inch high definition IPS display, using this phone is a smooth experience. Whether I am playing a game, recording a full HD video, watching HD movies, downloading content, browsing the internet or simply multi tasking through different apps on the phone, the phone is always super responsive and extremely user-friendly.

With a best in its class, 75% screen to body ratio, consuming content on it is an absolute pleasure. The in-built blue light filter is a blessing for all nocturnal users like me. Even in the audio department, the loudspeaker produces good clarity sound. The in-built Audio Wizard allows you to customize the audio settings based on your choice of music or video and hence a pretty useful feature. With good quality ear or headphones, sound quality is even better.

Oodles of Storage Space

When we travel, we tend to go berserk with clicking photos and videos and it is a shame that we have to delete some of them for lack of space. After all, each one of those photos and videos count towards our rich travel experiences and I personally hate deleting them because my phone is full.

This is where I like the Asus ZenFone 3s Max phone, which comes with an in-built 32 GB memory that is expandable upto 2 TB (Terabytes). This means no more deleting of captured travel memories. I am not just talking about one single trip, but may be many trips. I can store ebooks, music, movies, TV shows and more in addition to my travel photos and videos.

Dual Sim

When I am at home, I use only one sim, but when I am traveling outside of India, I prefer to opt for a local sim as they are much more cost-effective. For such international travels, I prefer carrying a dual sim phone instead of 2 different phones. That way, I get to leverage all the content stored in the device while staying connected (data and voice – local and roaming) on the same device. This is not an essential feature, but having it saves so many headaches for me. 

Runs on Latest Android

For Android power users like me, I love the fact that this phone runs the latest version of Android – the Nougat. This gives me a familiar interface and the best of the breed Android features. I am not usually one who likes a UI layer on top of my Android, but I kind of like the helpful features provided by the ZenUI 3.0 interface like the ZenMotion Touch Gesture and the GameGenie. Regular Android users will definitely find a lot of use for these handy features.

Verdict: Value for Money Powerhouse Travel Phone

After having using the phone on my travels and having put to the test in real life conditions, I can safely say that the Asus ZenFone 3S Max phone is great value for money and is a high power and low budget phone that packs a punch with its battery and camera. I would definitely continue to use it in my travels and I would recommend that you give it a look.

After all, it address my travel phone needs beautifully. Don’t you think so too?

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Assam’s Mishing Tribal People: A Photo Series

Master weaver artisan of Panbari mishing tribal village wearing her mekhla and chador creation

North East India is one of the best places in the country if you are interested in unique cultures. These 7 states house more tribes than the rest of the country. And the best part is that these tribal people still follow their ancient traditions and that offers a fantastic experience for a rural tribal holiday with them. One such tribe is the Mishing tribe of Assam. These meat and fish loving Hindus who live on the flood plains of the Brahmaputra river are known for their artisan weavers, their house on stilts, their delicious food, their hospitable nature and their many amazing traditions.

I had the privilege of staying with them in their village and watching their life from close quarters. I liked this rural experience so much that I want to return there at the earliest and explore more of their unique cultures and traditions with them. It is from this rural holiday in Assam that I bring this photo series. I hope these photographs of the Mishing Tribal people egg you on towards this part of Incredible India.

Above Photo: The women of Assam are known for their colorful traditional apparel called the Mekhla and Chador. This woman in picture is a master artisan weaver and the Mekhla Chador that she is wearing has been hand woven from her.

Mishing Tribe man and his traditional rain hat called Zaapi 

This Mishing gentleman is wearing a traditional hat called the Zaapi. This Zaapi comes in extremely handy to beat the sun and the rain while they work outdoors.

Elderly Mishing tribal man weaving a basket, Assam

While younger men work in the farms, the older men work inside the home. This 60+ year old gentleman is weaving a bamboo basket here. The work is slow, but the final products are very rugged.

Local women working in the tea gardens of Assam, India

In addition to weaving, the women of the Mishing tribe also work in the tea gardens and the neighbouring forest. In this picture, they are returning with a head load of firewood from the forest.

Mishing tribal woman learning the art of weaving at Panbari, Assam, India

Here, a Mishing tribal woman is being trained on the latest weaving techniques. The Indian government arranges such training to create sustainable livelihood for them.

Mishing tribal woman working in the tea gardens, Assam, India

The Mishing women work in the tea gardens and farms as well. In this picture, the woman is returning home with some greens from the forest.

Mother and daughter - a beautiful moment at Panbari Mishing Tribal Village, Assam, Kaziranga, India

This is a mother and a daughter from the Mishing tribe of Assam. The daughter was all smiles after chomping on a chocolate biscuit and the mother cannot stop but feel happy for her daughter.

Portrait of a man from Mishing tribal village, Panbari, Assam

Work for Mishing tribal men is strenuous as can be seen from the weather beaten face of this middle aged gentleman.

Portrait of Mishing tribal woman weaving on her traditional loom, Panbari village, Assam

A Mishing Tribal women is weaving on the traditional loom in front of her house. As a thumb rule, women weave once they are done with all the house chores. They try and weave for a few hours every day.

Smiling kids of Panbari Mishing Tribal Village, Assam, India

These kids are all smiles as I train the camera lens at them while interacting with them in their traditional bamboo stilt homes.

The bemused look of a Mishing tribal woman, Panbari, Kaziranga, Assam

This Mishing tribal woman with her big red bindi gave me the smirk when I was photographing the weaving training facility in the village.

Traditional loom being prepared by hand by Mishing Tribe woman, Assam

A Mishing tribal woman wearing a colorful Mekhla is preparing the comb for the traditional loom.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Lepakshi: Off Beat Temple Day Trip from Bangalore

A side view of the gorgeous pillars of Veerbhadra temple, Lepakshi

When it comes to the temple riches of the Vijayanagara empire, there is no better example than Hampi, whose mystic charms and rich history are known the world over. But, there do exist a few temples from the empire that share the same exotic quotient and that stand in full glory. One such temple built by the governors of the Vijayanagara empire in the 16th century is the Veerabhadra temple that is built in the shape of a tortoise at Lepakshi, Andhra Pradesh. And given that this temple is only 120 kms from Bangalore, it offers the interesting prospect of an off-beat temple day trip from Bangalore either during the week or the weekend.

A wide angle view of Lepakshi temple's pillar beauty

Now, you might be wondering why I am recommending a small temple so much. Even though it is small, it packs quite a punch with its many beautifully decorated and designed elements. The one that catches everyone’s attention and that is the highlight of a visit to this temple is the hanging pillar. A beautiful work of architecture, this massive stone pillar hangs in thin air while being surrounded by other gorgeously carved pillars. The other aspect is the very large Nandi bull that is carved out of a single piece of stone and that is considered as one of the largest of its type in the world. And then there is the pillar garden, the inner sanctum housing three main Hindu gods, the rock chain, the Vastu Purusha, the Lepakshi Saree designs and so much more.

Colorful sarees liven up the monotones of Lepakshi Temple, Andhra Pradesh

Once you have parked your vehicle and make your way up to the temple entrance through the maze of shops on either side, you might be greeted by the many monkeys that have made Lepakshi’s Veerabhadra temple their home. So far from the outside, the temple looks simple and like any other temple of South India, but once you climb those black granite steps and enter the first chamber of the temple with all its pillars, carvings and sculptures, that is when the true beauty of this temple dawns on you.

Dancing Lady on the walls of Lepakshi Temple, Andhra Pradesh

Considered by Skanda Purana as one of the divyashetras, the Lepakshi Veerabhadra temple is an important pilgrimage site of Lord Shiva. As you make your way straight to the shrines of Shiva, Vishnu and Veerabhadra (fearsome form of Lord Shiva), you cannot stop noticing the well preserved fresco paintings from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas along with the giant sculptures and the jewellery and saree designs on the pillars.

Maha Vishnu statue carved on the pillars of Lepakshi temple

The temple that you have just entered can be broken down into three parts: the assembly hall or mukha mantapa or Natya mantapa where you are standing, the Ardha mantapa and finally the Garbhagriha or the sanctum sanctorum. While the Mukha Mantapa is made up of beautifully decorated pillars, it is the Ardha Mantapa and its fresco paintings that keep you spell bound.

Maze of beautiful sculptures on the pillars of Lepakshi temple, Andhra Pradesh

One of the Ardha Mantapa fresco paintings is said to Asia’s largest and it has the frescoes of 14 Avatars of Lord Shiva.  This fresco painting is so beautiful that you can almost always see guides pointing their flashlights here and explaining the different Avatars to the visitors. While this fresco painting adorns the top, the bottom is covered by stunning amazes of divine beings, saints, musicians, dancers and Avatars of Shiva.

Mythological creature and warriors on the walls of Veerbhadra temple, Lepakshi

If you see figurines of Goddess Ganga and Yamuna flanking the entrance, that means you are entering the garbhagriha or the sanctum sanctorum where the presiding deity is a large statue of Lord Veerabhadra, fully decorated and armed with skulls. As you walk clockwise in this chamber, you will also see a linga installed by Sage Agasthya here, the sanctum for Lord Shiva and a statue of Goddess Parvathi as you exit the garbhagriha. If you look up, you will notice paintings of the regally dressed builders of the temple.

Posing amidst the iconic pillars of Lepakshi Temple, Andhra Pradesh

All of this carving, painting, sculpting and design magic lies in a very short area. But, this is only a small portion of the temple. As you re-enter the Mukha Mantapa with the pillars and make your way clock-wise around the temple, you will notice that this temple has been indeed built on a rock mountain. And as you keep going forward you will come across another beautiful part of this temple, which is the huge granite carving of a coiled multi-hooded serpent providing an umbrella like cover to a Shiva Linga.

Relaxing amidst the beautifully carved pillars of Veerbhadra Temple, Lepakshi, Andhra Pradesh

Along this shiva linga, you will see a row of pillars, which might have been a place to house devotees. Right behind the Shiva Linga is a big rock carving of Lord Ganesha and once you cross it, you will come to the pillar garden of the temple, easily the most photogenic parts of the temple. This pillar garden looks like it was either the prototyping ground for the main temple or the remains of the pillars from the main temple were kept here. Either ways, one can enjoy them in different shades and glows as the light traverses across and on top of them unlike the pillars in the main temple that are housed in total shade.

Stunning sculpture on the pillars of Veerbhadra Temple, Lepakshi near Hindupur

These pillars, similar to the pillars of the main temple, are made up of decorated Lepakshi saree designs, beautiful sculptures of figurines, dancers, gods, jewels and much more. I would totally recommend spending a lot of time in this pillar garden and may be exploring it from all angles.

The coils of the Lepakshi Naga and the color tones of the South Indian Saree

The exploration of the temple is not complete even as you finish the clock-wise circle of the temple and find yourself outside the temple amidst the maze of shops. The huge granite monolith Nandi bull bedecked with garlands and bells and that faces the statue of the serpent in the precincts of the temple at about 200 metres from the temple is another of the gems surrounding this temple. This Nandi monolith is considered as one of the largest of its kind in the world.

The famous decorated pillars of Veerbhadra Temple, Lepakshi, Andhra Pradesh

Finally, make your way to the top of the hill that overlooks the temple. Not only can you see the tortoise shape of this temple, but you can soak in the entire landscape of this region. The best time to climb up this hill is either during sunrise or sunset.

The gorgeous pillars of Veerbhadra Temple, Lepakshi, Andhra PradeshAs you can see, this off-beat temple location from Bangalore packs quite a punch of cultural riches with its many magical design elements. Hope you enjoy this Vijayanagara temple beauty as much as I did!

The maze of carved pillars - a highlight of Lepakshi temple, Hindupur, Andhra Pradesh

How to reach here:

The rock cut Ganesha at Lepakshi temple, Andhra Pradesh

The nearest airport is Bangalore, which is well connected by both domestic and international flights. Hindupur is the closest railway station and from there you can catch a bus, autorickshaw or taxi to the Lepakshi temple.

The shiva linga protected by the Nagas at Lepakshi temple, Andhra Pradesh

By road, Lepakshi is located about 120 kms from Bangalore. One can either take the 4 lane Hyderabad National Highway NH 44 to Kodikonda and then turn left to Lepakshi or you can take the quieter alternate route of NH 9 via Yelahanka –> Doddaballpur –> Gauribidanur –> Hindupur and then turn right towards Lepakshi.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

People of Vietnam: A Photo Series

Souvenir shop in the old quarter of Hoi An, Vietnam

The thin long South East Asian nation of Vietnam is not only known for its astonishing landscapes, cheap beer, delicious food, extremely cheap shopping avenues, but also for its gorgeous people, who I feel are very photogenic. Right from the tropical Mekong river delta to the cooler climes of the North, these beautiful people are fantastic subjects for people, street and travel photography. Their conical hats, their tribal cultures and their day-to-day lifestyle all make for stunning frames. Here are some photographs from my collection on the ‘People of Vietnam’. I hope you enjoy seeing them as much as I enjoyed interacting with them in person and actually clicking the pictures.

Above Photo: Hoi An river side is an action packed street with many colorful shops. This is one such shop at Hoi An’s old quarter.

An iconic Vietnam countryside moment

Like most of South East Asia, Vietnam too grows a lot of rice. And these paddy fields can be seen all around the countryside especially if you are exploring the country on a bicycle or a motorcycle. I clicked this picture somewhere near My Son.

Street vendor at Old quarter of Hoi An, Vietnam

Selling fruits and vegetables, this Vietnamese lady was all smiles when I asked her if I could take her photo. The location is Hoin An riverside.

Iconic conical hats of Vietnam - a perfect way to beat the heat

Vietnam is a country where the women work all kinds of jobs. In fact, when you explore the country as a tourist you will come across a lot of working women especially at restaurants, shops, mobile street shops and at many other places.

Old quarter of Hoi An, a traveler's paradise in Vietnam

A local Vietnamese lady is seen cycling the streets of Hoi An in Central Vietnam. She is wearing the iconic Vietnamese hat to beat the tropical heat.

Old Women make a living by rowing boats at Hoi An

Blessed with umpteen rivers, Vietnam enjoys a strong river based economy. Fishing and boating go hand in hand.

Beautiful Apsaras dancing at My Son, Vietnam

Did you know that Hinduism spread its wings to as far away as Central Vietnam. This is a Vietnamese version of the apsara dance. I clicked this photo at My Son, the ruins of the Hindu kingdom.

Local photographer Vietnamese lady and her boat, Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Gorgeous landscapes and lush green paddy fields make for great photographs. This lady on the boat is all ready with her camera to help the tourists capture their best moment of their holiday.

The famous foot rowers of Tam Coc river, Ninh Binh, Vietnam

One of the few male rowers at Tam Coc village, the getaway to the amazing cave systems, limestone karsts and stunning natural beauty.

Vietnamese lady and her foot rowing boat at Tam Coc River, Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Tam Coc and Ninh Binh region is famous for people who row their boats with their feet. Rowing with your hands is already quite a difficult task. Rowing with one’s feet is in a different league altogether.

Tribal women of Sa Pa and their outfits

The mountainous region of Sa Pa in north western Vietnam is known for its different tribal cultures. In this photo, you can see 2 such tribal women dressed in traditional attire and carrying a woven basket like a backpack (this is something pretty common in the mountains here).

Vietnamese Chinese Checkers being played on the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam

This final picture is of a group of elderly Vietnamese gentleman who are sitting under the shade of a tree in Old Hanoi and are playing a game of chinese checkers while a local cop intently watches them play. This picture kind of depicts the laidback lifestyle of the people of Vietnam, especially the men.

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