Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Expedia Flight Booking - Currency Scam - Beware!

While booking on Expedia, please be aware and make sure you have a screenshot of every page you visit while booking. I would rather encourage people not to book via Expedia, because if there are issues, then you will have to reach out to their support and trust me, it is one of the worst support centers where the representatives don't have much insight or authority and cannot help you at all, except stating "we will escalate this". So better, choose trusted airlines websites or any others that have been working for you.

In short,  Expedia website displayed prices in SGD but on the last page after I entered my credit card details, the booking was confirmed and I received an email with receipt in USD (of same number of dollars). So in effect, I am charged 808 SGD while the ticket price was 574 USD; and even as I type this, on 23rd mid night, the prices are still about 600 SGD for the same route.

On Aug 17th, I booked a couple of tickets to Bali from Singapore. Here is how the booking was done (All screenshots attached below):
1. Open google chrome in Incognito mode
2. Type "Expedia" in the search window and enter
3. The first website that is listed is "expedia.com.sg" - click on that and move on to the flight search page; even if I would have typed "expedia.com", it would redirect me to local website with a pop up (and I just tested this); so there is no possibility that I would have gone to to expedia.com because my incognito window always redirects me to SG website.
4. Enter source as Singapore and Destination as Bali for Aug 25th as starting date and Aug 30th as return date.
5. Continue with the selection of flights; I choose Scoot and Garuda Indonesia (no additional charges for returning flight). The total cost displayed was 287SGD as on Aug 17th, but I took a example screenshot on Aug 22nd, which shows 294SGD (about 7 SGD increased)
6. On the final page, the total bill was 287 SGD * 2 which is 574 SGD plus additional 14 SGD for card charges
7. I booked the ticket and only realised that they charged me in USD 574 after 5 days.

I called up Expedia Support Center (Singapore) and they said, the booking is with Expedia US and they cannot help. I tried to explain them that I did the booking indeed through Expedia Singapore and prices were in SGD; they said they will update me in 3 days.

I talked about it on twitter and twitter handle @expedia requested details about booking. They said the same thing that I did the booking through US website and hence the price. I asked them to provide the fare listing of the particular route on Aug 17th at around 9 PM, when I booked. They said that they will not have this insight and they need to escalate. One of the customer support folks asked me to check if the credit card that I used is charged in USD or SGD. I looked into my credit card and it is even weird - half the journey is charged in SGD and half the journey is charged in USD. I asked them, how is it possible; even then they refused helping stating that it is still US booking and hence USD were deducted. 

I, then, checked on US website (which I never visited before for SURE) to even check the price listing for the same route, date and time. The USD price was much lesser that what I was charged; why did they charge me 574 USD plus, is a mystery. I can understand that the flight charges may vary but this is unreasonable. I believe there is some bug in their system that is creating this problem but the worst part is Expedia support is not even attempting to look into it. 

Simply, they can check the price listing for that particular day (they should be having this data for sure, being such a big company), and at least respond about that. There has been no response. I searched on google, whether someone else also faced similar issue and there you go; I was not alone. Someone else posted on one of Singapore forums here:

https://www.allsingaporestuff.com/article/beware-expedias-pricing-scam

There might be many more who are affected by this. 

If you have read through this, all I can say is that stay away from Expedia - because there are bugs and even if it is something else you need help with their support, they are just PATHETIC. 























Even if I type, expedia.com on the browser, it always gets redirected to expedia.com.sg:


































Credit card billing (half in SGD and half in USD); and I have no idea why they charged me twice on return ticket while I did a single transaction:




Friday, March 1, 2013

Kabini Wildlife

Recurring sweet music of Common Cuckoo-Hawk; Picturesque grass lands; several stretches of thick bamboo vegetation; Sun rays piercing through the precious woods of the forest; beautiful spotted deers grazing by the road side; shy Sambar deers running away into the bushes; Malabar giant squirrel jumping from tree to tree in search of food; herd of elephants nonchalantly moving around in the pristine forest; foggy early mornings and the kiss of the mist - Rajiv Gandhi National Park has left an everlasting impression on me that makes me visit the place again and again.

Kabini, a part of Rajiv Gandhi National Park, had been on my list for a long time and by the time I decided to visit the place, there was ban on tourism in the Tiger reserves across India. However the ban was lifted recently. There couldn't have been a better occasion than the birthday of my wife to plan a first trip to Kabini. We spent a day in Kabini River Lodge situated along the backwaters of Kabini Reservoir. We had a great experience watching rich wildlife on both evening and morning safaris. It included a beautiful Tiger sighting as well, though an opportunity was missed (again!) to capture the perfect photo of the Tiger. 

There will be many more trips to this place in future for sure. Here are a few pictures of our first trip to  Kabini.

1. Indian Gaurs grazing along the dried up water body


2. India Gaur

3. Gaur looks on as a tusker approaches the grass land


4. We met a family from Kuwait who were on a tour across India and who seemed to be extremely excited about the wildlife here

5. Green bee eater

6. A pair of elephants approaching the backwater 

7. During summer herd of elephants graze along the Kabini river and backwater of the reservoir. The animals arrive to this point from both Bandipur and NagarahoLe.

8. As the Sun was setting to go down the horizon, we saw herd of elephants, Gaurs, and deers getting together along the backwater.

9. Do you see the Tiger? If it wasn't a great sighting eye of our guide, we could have missed to sight the striped beauty who seemed to be camouflaged inside the bush. 


10. It was perfect end for the day. Just 5 minutes before the Safari ended we had a Tiger sighting and one last look at the elephants with Sun set in the background.


11. A Sambar deer crossing the pathway inside the national park. During summers the forest department sets up controlled burn along the forest roads to prevent the likelihood of hotter fires.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Adventurous Trek and Camping - Kodachadri

Walking in the middle of the forest, taking treacherous winding roads with excitement and fear at every step, hearing the chirping of birds and watching few others fly around, feeling submerged in the passing clouds at the higher altitudes, experiencing the kiss of the breeze as the legs struggle to climb up the steep hills - the greatest pleasures of trekking won't come without risk or struggle. 

After a long time a bunch of friends decided to trek and this time setup a camping too and the place chosen was Kodachadri, a part of Western Ghats in South India. I have always felt proud and fortunate to be belonging to Karnataka, because so far the greatest pleasures I got out of treks/travels were from Karnataka, be it Kumar Parvata or Mullayyanagiri or Kudremukh or any other place. The vast landscapes and the versatile wildlife here always amuse me. Kodachadri was no exception. The mountain peak surrounded by the dense forest is approximately 1343 meters above the sea level and is a habitat for versatile wildlife which includes highly venomous snakes! The place is around 425 kms from Bangalore. More information here: Kodachadri-Wikipage

We had rented the tents from Bangalore and had made all the arrangements for a successful camping. We left on Friday late evening to make sure we reach early in the morning to the starting point. We checked in into a hotel at Hosanagara ( after Shimoga ) to freshen up before we start to trek. Just a few kilo meters before Nittur, there is a starting point for trek through Hidlumane water fall to the Kodachadri Peak. The plan was to start from there and camp at the peak; next day morning trek down from the other side towards Kollur. We hired a guide for 300 RS who showed us the way till the peak. The way up was exciting as with every previous trekking spots. The trek path was mixture of different types of landscapes - cultivated fields, thick forest range, rocks along the water fall, the grass lands on the hills and then finally the jeep track till the peak. On the way we were greeted by a couple of hosts of the jungle, Pit Viper snakes. Without knowing that it was a Malbar Pit Viper (Yellow Morph) and it is highly venomous, we sat a couple of ft away from the snake and clicked plenty of snaps till the snake got bored of posing and moved away. The difficulty level of trekking is moderate but still it became very difficult for the souls who were doing it after such a huge gap. Trekking 20 kms up/down is not an easy task especially when you know you are grown 3-4 years older than when you trekked last time. We took plenty off breaks before we finally reached the Bhattar Mane at the top of the hill.

The people around warned us not to put up tents as it is prohibited by the forest department and they shared with us some recent incidents of drunken people harassing some women. After such tiring effort to reach the top, when you hear such threatening stories, you would think twice before putting a tent. Also when we were in the middle of our dinner at around 7 PM (served in the house at the peak), the hell broke loose, and it started pouring as though it was going to smash the roof. Our hope of putting a tent, which already seemed a remote possibility, completely vanished when those rain drops appeared to pierce through the roof. We requested the caretaker of the temple to accommodate us in already crowded place. He asked us to sleep in the kitchen for which we agreed, but then a moment later he didn't allow us that either as there were a plenty of his guests arrived. So again, we had to make a decision and as the rain appeared to slow down, we all took a brave step of climbing further and setting up the tent at the peak. We climbed up the hill in pitch dark and before we could freeze with the cold we managed to fix two tents on a flat surface which was just a couple of steps away from the edge!!

It was one of the memorable nights, sadly because of a bad situation. The wind picked up the speed as the late evening approached the midnight. Hadn't realized it would be so heavy and such a recurrent wind; close to 2 am in the night, one of the flexible poles of the tent broke because it couldn't withstand the wind; and after a while the broken parts pierced through the top sheet and tore it off. It appeared as if the wind would pull off the whole tent and take us away from the edge of the hill which was just a few ft away. I have literally prayed that night, for the wind to stop its torture; and every time I prayed, the wind became heavier, faster and more threatening. Feeling helpless, whole night we couldn't sleep properly; holding the broken pole in hand I tried to doze off but only for a short while because I was woken up as soon as the pole skipped off my hands.

When it was close to 6 am in the morning, I was the happiest person not because I was able to experience a beautiful sunrise from the peak but I could come out of the tent and pack it up. We saw that one of our 2 tents was smashed from one side. Thank God the extra pegs tied to the wooden log saved the tent and us.
We had breakfast at the caretaker's house and geared up to complete the trek.  Though few jeep drivers influenced us to hire the jeep to reach the foot hill, we were adamant that we will trek down and complete the adventurous trek. Climbing down wasn't too easy as we had thought, but because of the pleasant morning and tremendously beautiful landscape views it went fine. Out of 10 kms, 5 kms stretch was a thick forest route, which was the best part of the trip. We heard the calls of woodpeckers and hornbills but couldn't sight them. The Great Malbar Squirrels entertained us with their call and sightings. When we reached the main road, our tempo was waiting there which was such a great relief. We went to Kollur to finish off lunch and freshen up. From there it was a journey back towards Bengaluru with a stopover at Veerappa Nayakana Kote (Fort) in Nagar which was like a dessert after a meal; we got to experience a wonderful sunset from top of the fort, with lush green fields and a giant lake around.

We were back to Bengaluru in the wee hours of Monday morning and before the Monday blues hit us, we had enough memories from this trek to sail through the busy week ahead.

Photographs:

1. Uphill towards the Kodachadri Peak

2. Trek path near Hidlumane Water Fall

3. Hidlumane Water Fall 

4. Hidlumane Water Fall in monochrome
5. Bunch of friends bathing under the Hidlumane waterfall 

6. "ID me please?" - A snake found in the bushes on the way up to Kodachadri
7. Malabar Pit Viper (Yellow Morph); spent some time near this beauty and it posed too

8. Grasslands atop the hill
9. Vast landscapes, a part of western ghats
10. Someone was really in hurry to spoil my frame ;-)
11. Candid moment - Jeep track on the way to Kodachadri Peak
12. Gamblers in the tent; fun-filled moments before the nightmares :)
13. Crimson backed Sunbird - Kodachadri
14. Shivappa Nayakana Kote, Nagar

15. Sunset viewed from the fort at Nagar


Friday, November 4, 2011

"Seven Heaven" Ride - Dal Lake, Kashmir

(...Continuing with Destination Leh and "Ladakh, Landscapes"..)
With a couple of days left in 10 days long eventful journey, there was one small treat waiting for us before we ended the trip. It was Srinagar, where we had one morning to be spent before we could board the flight to Delhi. And obviously the famous Dal Lake was fitting well with the morning plan.

Dal Lake is the second largest lake in the northern most state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. The shore line of the lake is about 15.5 KM which is encompassed by a boulevard lined with numerous Mughal Gardens, Houseboats, beautiful parks and hotels. As with any lake I always believe the best time to visit is the morning and that too before the Sunrise. I was desperate an evening before visiting Dal Lake to get up early in the morning and to never miss this opportunity, because we just had one morning there. Like we planned, we got up early on a pleasant morning and headed towards this lake. As we were walking along the lake to find an entrance an elderly gentleman approached me and asked "Sir, aapko Shikara chahiye?" ("do you need a boat ride?") - Initially I ignored him and tried to walk off from there but then the gentleman followed me and showed me his ID provided by the J & K tourism dept and told me that he would charge me nominal price. We thought it was a good deal (400 RS) for 2+ hours and we agreed. We then followed Ali Bhai to his Shikara which he had gracefully named as "Seven Heaven"!

As we closed in, we sighted plenty of Kingfishers doing what they do the best, fishing. It was amazing to see them dive into the water and pluck the fishes out of the lake in a split second. The Sun was slowly rising up the horizon as the Shikara moved along the lake. The eyes witnessed majestic view of the lake against the backdrop of giant hills. The houseboats built with inspiring artworks, lined up along the lake kept our eyes wondering . Pied Kingfishers, in their typical way, hovering over the lake before making a vertical dive bill-first to capture the fish, kept the visitors amused. Flowers and vegetable sellers on the boats cruising along the lake appeared to be a decoration on the lake. In the middle of all this, school going kids taking their daily transport, Shikara, to go on to the other side of the lake brought smile on our faces. It was truly turning out to be a remarkable morning experience. Ali Bhai was extremely generous giving us plenty of time whenever we wanted to click some snaps and whenever we wanted to spend more time at some part of the lake. He also gave some historical details about the lake. He then went on to show us the places and the boats on which movies from 1970's to till date were shot. He took us to the floating gardens and something called as "Chalta firta Khet" on which they grow vegetables. The floating gardens blossomed with lotus were delightful to watch. Chai served from a shop in the midst of the lake tasted good. It was one long ride for more than 2 hours and as the Shikara was heading back to the starting point, eyes were still gazing at the silhouettes of the hill ranges against the sun with the reflections in the Dal Lake lighting up the faces. That truly justifies why this lake is nick-named as "Jewel in the crown of Kashmir" or "Srinagar's Jewel".

As opposed to what I thought the visit to Srinagar changed my opinions about the place. The people (from Lodge manager to the Chaiwalas) were extremely helpful. And no one tried to exploit the tourists by charging hefty prices in shops or on the streets. This place requires a few more visits for sure.

Following details can be useful:
Lodging/Stay/Accommodation: (Clean, luxurious lodge)
Hotel Victoria
Phone: 0194-2478233
Mobile: 09419077579

In case you have any complaint against anyone like taxi driver, restaurants etc, you call up the below number and they will immediately help you.

J & K Police for tourism: 01942477224

Photographs (18):

1. Ali bhai, the owner of "Seven Heaven" Shikara starting a ride

2. Houseboats at Dal Lake
3. Kids going to school look at the visitors with curiosity
4. I would prefer a wide angle for this but at that very moment, I had 55-250mm hooked into my Canon 450D
5. Another shot of children going to school; these kids appeared to be engrossed in some thought
6. How I wish she had turned her face towards the camera
7. Magical morning - Hills, Shikaras, fog and mist, Sunrise
8. Flower sellers cruise along the house boats


9. Floating gardens blossom with lotus, which bloom during July and August

10. The lake is habitat for a lot of ducks and water birds

11. Small blue kingfisher observes the movement in the lake before it hunts a fish
12. "Morning Prayers?" - Common Tern appeared to be resting on a pole.
13. Nehru Park situated along the Dal Lake

14. We bought a lotus from a lake side flower seller 

15. Though it appears dirty but note that they are the "Chalta firta khet" (Moving fields) where the vegetables are grown

16. Trail of Pigeons' flight
























17. Kids waiting for their Shikara

18. Colorful Shikaras lined up on the shores; it turned out sunny after we had soothing Shikara ride at Dal Lake.