Month: November 2010

Story of

Building India’s Largest Bus Ticketing Company: Co-founder and CEO Phanindra Sama 


Day 07 – Missouri

We left at around 10 in the morning and headed towards Oklahoma City downtown. We could hardly see anything as the entire city seemed to be under construction. We visited the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, which had two walls separated by water. After driving for several 100 miles we reached a point that was at the trisection of three states – Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. It seemed like the 3 state marker was ignored by all three states. It certainly didn’t look like a tourist attraction, and was in a corner on a muddy side street. We were happy to see such a place, however.

We took videos at all 3 state lines, and hope to make a longer video from all the snippets. It was dark by the time we reached St. Louis. It looked like a mix of Boston and Chicago. We went to the most popular attraction, The Arch, which is a huge steel arch one can see from any point in the city. After seeing it up close, we decided to get a few pictures of the Arch with the bridges in the area, so we headed out across the Mississippi river, stopped the car on a side street. Saket climbed over the car, and got some good shots. We felt like having some Indian food, so went to Rasoi. We were in for a fun time there, as the middle aged Indian guy spoke a very funny accent, and we had trouble controlling our laughter. He seemed like a strict but helpful man, and was very proud of the city and its hospitals and airports. When we told him about our trip, he asked us not to drive at night, and gave us more tips just like dads do. The food was excellent and so was the ambiance, so we left happy and full. The mood was a little somber as the next day would be our last hop of the trip, Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Day 04 – Arizona

We said our goodbyes to Vegas, and headed towards Arizona. It was a nice drive, with plains on both sides, mountains at a distance, and one could see miles ahead on a bright day. On the previous evening, we inquired about tours operating at the Grand Canyon, and met a cordial Trinidadian who was selling day trips to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. We asked his opinion on what we should do since we were driving ourselves, and he quite surprisingly told us that we must definitely see the South Rim. The reason being that it was the most popular spot, and though the West Rim has the world famous Sky Walk (which has great statistics, like it is made out of 4 inches thick glass and can hold 17 fully loaded 737s!), the views are nowhere as great as at the South Rim. He patiently explained to us how to get there, and also told us about helicopter tours in the Canyon. So, we decided to take his advice and call up the helicopter service in the morning.

The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided gorge carved...

Image via Wikipedia

We called Papillon, which seemed to be the only helicopter tour service in the area, and they had a 25-30 minute tour at 4 pm which was ideal for us. We reached Tusayan, which is a town just outside the canyon, had a quick lunch and went to a National Geographic tourist information center. The lady there gave us maps of the area, and explained to us how to make the most of our limited time, as the sun would set soon after our helicopter tour. We headed out into the Grand Canyon National Park, and went to Yaki Point. This was our first view of the canyon, and it was breath taking. We were amazed at the shape and formations of the rocks, and the gigantic expanse they covered. At one point many many years ago, the canyon was under water, and pushed up by tectonic activity under the Colorado river, it went on to become 18 miles from the north to south rim, and 1 mile deep inside the water. The river looks quite insignificant now in comparison. There was a nice cloud cover, and a reasonable amount of sun light, so we got some decent pictures. We did not spend too much time, and headed towards the Grand Canyon Airport, where we were supposed to check in with Papillon. They checked our weight, and gave us cards with our seat numbers, after working out the seating arrangement to distribute weight evenly on the copter.

In a separate room, we were asked to watch a mandatory safety video. We yawned our way through it, and then were given life jackets to attach to our waists. Next, it was time to enter the helicopter The pilot mentioned that it was very windy, but we should be able to get in and out without trouble. None of us had flown in an helicopter before, so it was very exciting. As we moved up, we saw sparse forests, with some snow fall, and soon reached the canyon. The huge expanse of rock is quite exhilarating to watch, and we tried to just soak in everything. It was pretty windy, and the ride was bumpy at times, but well worth it for what we got in return. The pilot guided us into the Dragon Corridor, which is the longest and widest part of the canyon. The canyon has varying textures at different points, some with snow, and some very dry, and different colors give it an amazing hue in the sunlight. He played Chariots of Fire as were flying over the canyon, and it was quite apt to match the serene atmosphere outside. Everything seemed to slow down, though we were moving at a few hundred miles an hour. Then, we flew along the Colorado river for sometime, while we clicked pictures and took videos. I was trying to understand the different readings on the control panel, but decided not to worry about it. As we flew, the sun began to set slowly, and that created some amazing views. Towards the end of the ride we went over a water treatment plant, which was supposed to be the most photographed plant on earth! It supplies water to the canyon and surrounding areas. We landed safely and didn’t have too much time to talk about the ride, as we rushed into the car, to head back into the park. This time we went to Yavapai point, which had many vista points to click pictures from. It is difficult to explain in words, the beauty of the setting sun at the canyon. Hopefully, our amateurish pictures will be able to capture some of it.

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Day 06 – Oklahoma

We woke up late, had a nice breakfast. Our waitress was cute but curt, so I didn’t think everyone was pleased. Later, we roamed around the place and checked out their facilities. At the concierge, we inquired about the things one could do around the place. Also, since it was Thanksgiving, there were many people around. The hotel had arranged for a Red Indian tribe to perform song and dance and talk about their culture. We checked out at noon and headed towards Santa Fe. It was similar to Old Town but bigger, and we looked for an authentic Mexican place to get some lunch. La Fonda had a nice buffet, and we enjoyed the meal.

We roamed on the streets, clicked a few pictures, and also found bandannas to wear that made us look like the Che Guevara gang. We started our drive towards Oklahoma City late in the afternoon. Along the way, we had a slight scare as were low on gas, and all the gas stations in the surrounding area seemed to be closed for the holiday. Finally, we found one that was open, and filled up. During the long drive ahead, Saket decided to ask everyone about their most embarrassing moments in life, and all of us had many stories to tell. We all would agree that he himself has the funniest incidents of all, “kaand” as he calls them. After a long list of such moments and laughing out loud at ourselves, we reached the Arizona-Texas border. We got down, though it was dark, and also ignored Rama’s repeated warnings about it not being safe, shot  a quick video under the Welcome sign and moved on. Kartik decided to check if his favorite Marriot Springhill suites were available for us to stay over for the night at Oklahoma City. He was happy to find one, so we grabbed a quick dinner and reached the hotel. I guess by now everyone felt that the checking in and out of hotels everyday was getting a little repetitive, but then it was necessary. We talked about getting out early, see a bit of the city and move towards our next stop, St. Louis in Missouri.

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Day 05 – New Mexico

Rama and I woke up early to finish up some office work. Then we all had a quick breakfast and headed towards a meteor crater site, about 40 miles from Flagstaff. The approach roads and surrounding areas were a great sight, but the meteor crater turned out be a dud in comparison. It was much smaller than we imagined, and felt it was over hyped. Nevertheless, there were a couple of cool meteor and comet games that we had fun playing. We still had a fair distance

Barringer Crater, Arizona where the Canyon Dia...

Image via Wikipedia

to cover in Arizona, so we left after a watching an interesting video on meteors. We were slightly relieved upon leaving the state border, as we had heard rumors about people being asked to show all their immigration documents by the police, just in case we were caught speeding or anything else.

Since the drive was long, we decided to play a few car games. We started with 20 questions, and before we knew it we had a covered a few hundred miles. Upon entering New Mexico, we did our customary state-entering video, and Rashmi was happy to see the welcome sign showing a huge chilli. Entering Albuquerque was like going back to the architecture of Harappa/Mohenjadaro, with houses made of mud and clay. We walked through an area called Old Town, which was a very quiet and a peaceful little area with a small park, a church and shops selling nick knacks and memorabilia. We then drove through the city’s downtown, and the University of New Mexico.

Tired from the day’s activities, we headed towards our hotel in Bernalillo. It was a resort which stretched out for miles, and getting there in the dark was a little eerie as the roads were narrow and had tall grass on either side. We decided to check out the restaurants at the resort, and went to one which looked classy but was empty. To add to it, they didn’t serve any vegetarian food, so we looked for another place. After a heavy dinner which took ages to be served, we planned the next day out, and then crashed.

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Day 02-03 Nevada

Yes, you all know it – What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but we will tell you everything. We left Bakersfield, CA early in the morning and had a 6 hour drive. The desert and the mountains were great to watch and they reminded us of the song Hairat in Anjaana Anjaani. Of course, Priyanka Chopra was nowhere to be seen. As we approached Nevada, we stopped at a welcome center sign board. Here, we shot a video of us crossing over from CA to NV. We plan to do that at every state crossing, hopefully in 10-12 different ways.

We had lunch at a well known place for Mexican food called Cafe Rio, and also did some shopping for basic amenities. Soon, we were able to see the city from a distance, and few of the taller buildings like the MGM, Paris, Monte Carlo etc stood out. We had booked a year-old hotel called the Vdara, and were quite excited about staying there. Just walking through the lobby, looking at the classy bar and lounge, it seemed like we were going to have a good time. We che

A view of Bellagio and Caesars Palace from the...

Image via Wikipedia

cked in, and after getting into our room, it was like kids at a candy store. We had a great view of the city from the 54th floor. Inside, everyone was checking out the bedrooms, shelves, cupboards, refrigerator and so on. It was a shame that we could not get the curtains to open, only to find that there was switch to do it automatically. Of all things, Rama found a notepad very attractive. We are sure he flicked it. I guess we all agreed that having a house like that would be a dream.

We relaxed for sometime, and then chalked out the plan for the night. First, we rented a limousine for an hour that drove us through the Vegas strip. Next, we went to the Crazy Horse Paris show at the MGM. Later, we hit a nightclub called The Bank, at the Bellagio. Though we had passes, the guy at the entrance was putting up his price. He made us wait, so Saket tried a trick. He slid a $10 bill under his ID, so that it was visible to him. As expected, the jerk’s eyes lit up. He began to let us in, and right then Saket hid the bill in his other hand, and the guy was left gaping! We all loved it. Great music was playing, and we had a good time. We got back to the hotel only at 4 am! The city looks even more beautiful from the top at night.

We woke up the next morning quite early as we had to finish up office work. It’s amazing how one can wake up with minimal sleep when there are things to do. After working for a few hours, it was early evening east coast time (office hours), so we decided to venture out and see as many hotels/casinos as possible. We went to the Bellagio to have the popular brunch buffet. It was a huge spread, and everyone gorged on it. We left feeling heavy, and it was a good time to walk around the city to feel better. We saw the Bellagio’s fountain show, twice upon Saket’s insistence. We visited the Mirage, Caesar’s palace, Venetian, Monte Carlo and a few others. It was then time for another show called Zumanity at New York New York which was pretty wild. After that we were too tired to do anything else, and just hit the bed.

We had a great time in Vegas, something that we will always remember. We were completely overwhelmed by it’s beauty and power.

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Day 01 – California

This day began with Saket and I going back to SFO airport to pick up our rental car. We rented a Chevy Suburban which is a pretty big SUV, and we were excited to get our hands on this beast. We picked up Santosh, Abhishek and Rama from the hotel, and headed towards the biggest attraction of SFO – The Golden Gate Bridge! Rama and I were experimenting with our DSLR cameras, and hopefully we would have clicked a few decent pictures.

As we moved towards downtown, we came across the popular sloped streets of SFO. It was quite a roller coaster ride, at 10 mph though. Next, we went to the crookedest street in SFO, which is Lombard street. It’s a very steep, twisted road and cars can barely manage to get down without scraping the sides.

Next, we headed towards Santa Clara to pick up Kartik and Rashmi. Lunch at a local Indian restaurant, Mazzbaan was delicious, and we headed out to get down to business. The drive to Big Sur scenic coastal highway (route US-1) began, and we stopped by a few times to take pictures. We happened to spot a beautiful rainbow, nice bridges and got great views of the ocean and rocks along the way.

Getting past Big Sur in day light was good as it started raining and got dark pretty soon. Next stop and stay over was Bakersfiled, CA. It was a pretty uneventful drive, though we encountered really narrow, curved roads and thick fog for a stretch, that slowed us down a bit. We checked in at the Marriot in Bakersfield. We reviewed the day’s pictures, and Rama tested everyone’s patience as he explained in detail the light conditions and unlimited settings used in the clicking of his photographs. He then proceeded to display his bed-diving (this will be a new entry in the urban dictionary soon) skills on the poor bed in our room. Bed-diving involves a dash and jump (like a high jump) that could also include a twist and a turn while in motion, where one ends up thumping into the bed, coming pretty close to breaking the bed, in addition to dislocating one’s shoulders. After his enthusiastic show came to an end, we got a good night’s sleep, all excited about heading towards SIN CITY!

Day 0 – Massachusetts, California

We took a Virgin America flight from Boston, MA to San Francisco, CA. Santosh, shockingly managed to get his shaving kit including a razor through security. So much for the body scanning at Logan airport. After a little disappointment about the possibility of a delay, we were relieved to take off on time. We quickly grabbed a few snacks and boarded. Saket did his customary flight checks, which include making sure that the wings are attached, the engines are not on fire, and that the luggage compartment has been closed. 6 hours of watching some in-flight entertainment, random conversations and irritating our guys sitting in the front seats, we landed in SFO on time. We took a shuttle from the airport, after seeing off Kartik and Rashmi who would stay at Rashmi’s sister’s place, and checked in at the Hilton. Tired from the flight, we all crashed and woke up to begin DAY 01!!!

Cross Country Road Trip USA

This trip has been on our mind since 2 years. We were jobless (though still in university) as recession decided to hit just as we would graduate, hoping to find something by the end of the year. Our idle minds started considering the idea of a cross country trip, and then leave the country for good, if we didn’t find any work. But, it so happened that we all managed to get our hands on some sort of a job, and these plans were put on the back burner for a while. Until we realized that time was flying and people would move on to different phases of life such as getting married, relocating or just getting older, we had to do something about the little idea we had a few months back.

Thus began several sessions of detailed planning, such as flights, car rentals, routes, things to do (and not to do), which states to cover, what car games to play, how many bags to carry and so on. A month from the trip, we would meet every other day for several hours, plan and re-plan the above. We put up a huge USA map on a wall, and would mark way-points everyday, or just sit and stare at it. At the end of it all, we decided to fly from Boston, MA to San Francisco, CA, pick up our rental car, and start a 9-day drive back to Boston. Each day is now documented, including the places we saw, the food we ate, and the funny/interesting/wild stuff we did/happened to us.