Avalabetta Peak – Half day trip from Bangalore

Avalabetta hills or Avalabetta peak is another weekend getaway around 100 kms from Bangalore. All said and done, probably it isn’t wise to go there on a weekend? Just like Nandi hills, maybe it’s crowded. I would always visit this place on a weekday.

What is different from Nandi hills which is around 30-40 kms closer going from Bangalore?

For one, the trek to the top is challenging while you don’t trek at all in Nandi hills. You just park your car, take pictures and leave in Nandi hills. No, that’s not true. Nandi hills have a few other things to offer as well. But let’s concentrate on Avalabetta for now. At Avalabetta, they have the entrance gates closed. So you park your car/motorbike and walk up. Say 3-4 kms? Feels quite long if you are unprepared (which I was). Compared to Nandi hills, it’s more dangerous. No safety rails and the rocks are easily accessible. You just need to be careful. I too climbed the rocks and I’m still alive, so just be careful. If your gut feeling says that you are stretching your luck, you stop right there. Also make sure there is someone to help you if you are going to climb these rocks. Friends, other tourists. It’s a tricky place to easily get stuck.

There are good views and you can easily manage to get a couple of good photographs early in the morning. Nandi hills security check-post opens only at 6 am which is kind of disappointing because the sun is already out by the time you reach the top. I’m not sure if Avalabetta hills have any such security measures. I hope it doesn’t.

So go there on a weekday. You can trek, you can take pictures and you can see lot of monkeys. There is a temple at the top and fantastic views on both right and left side of the temple leading to the rocks.

Last but not the least, the drive to the place is nice. Around 80 percent of the drive is on NH with good roads and the rest not so good village roads. Motorbikes can be fun, but I did it in a car. Starting early can help you beat the summer heat, also get you some good pictures. Some members of tripadvisor reports that the security guard asked for money. I didn’t see any security guard, though there were people selling water bottles, fruits and butter milk. Also there were reports of restrictions due to safety issues, again I’m unaware if that exists now.

A view from Avalabetta hills

 

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Koh Mook – Another island worth a visit

If Koh Kradan was oreo then Koh Mook would be something like 50-50; sweet and salty. My next stop was Koh Mook which was another wonderful island, larger an island than Koh Kradan, but still Koh Kradan is just wonderful. Koh Kradan is just like the lazy river of that amusement park you visit. The only thing you need to do is snorkel and laze around. Unlike Koh Kradan though, there are quite a few things you can do on this island.

Long pier at Koh Mook

The name of the resort I had to check in was ‘Koh Mook Nurse House’. This is around 20 mins walk from the pier where the long tail boat drops you. Located in the middle of fishermen’s cottage, this place looks less like a resort. For a second, I wondered if I made the right choice booking the resort. I had no reason to complain though, the stay was cheap. The room was small, bathroom was not that great and location was not in favor either for this place.

Koh Mook Nurse House

 

 

 

 

 

But in fact I really took a liking to the place. The people running the place (also run a restaurant next to the resort) were amazing. The food was above average but the hospitality was mind-blowing. I really felt at home.

Meeting Alphons and his family was another wonderful experience for me. They were a couple from Vienna, Austria who ran a family restaurant, now on their annual vacation. I spent a lot of time chatting with them.

Getting there:

If you are coming straight to Koh Mook, then you may use tigerline ferry services or any of such agencies to get you there. If you are island hopping, there are long tail boats from one island to another for as much as 300 THB/person.

Where to stay:

There is charlie’s beach resort which is nice. Most of the tourists on our boat were going to Charlie’s beach resort. It’s also expensive. From the pier, it’s 50 THB/person for taxi to take you to Charlie’s beach resort ie if you are going from Koh Kradan to Koh Mook. Tiger line ferries stop near Charlie’s. They have their bookings also from the long tail boat station which is next to Charlie’s beach resort. Enough of Charlie, moving on there are other good resorts like the Sivalai beach resort which is also nice. The sunset view from their private beach is just amazing. The other places to stay are Mookies Bungalow, Coco lodge, Koh Mook Nurse house and so on.

Things to do:

One cannot miss the Emerald cave. It is just one of those places you would love. If you are staying at Charlie’s beach resort, rent a Kayak and go on a treasure hunt. This cave has a narrow tunnel and one has to swim through it.

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Gopro image, Emerald cave from the outside

I tried the Emerald cave (Morakot cave) half day tour which includes snorkel around the corals, then swimming to Emerald caves, gazing star fish and a round of the entire island. In the process you also see Big cave and couple of other beaches.

During the night time, you can go to Ting Tong Bar which is close to Mookies Bungalow. I spent my evenings tasting variety of food.

Also you have the option of renting a scooter to roam around the entire island. English is not widely spoken here and communication can be a bit of hassle if you are staying in the local communities like I did.

Best time to visit:

Same as Koh Kradan, November to March would be the best time to visit.

Things to carry:

Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Mosquito repellent, GoPro (maybe), swim suits. If you are snorkeling, you may rent the masks and fins.

Sunset at Sivalai Beach, Koh Mook

 

Koh Kradan: A little island in Thailand

Three years back I visited Thailand, but that was Phuket, Phi Phi and other crowded parts (link). Times have changed, life has changed and my choices as well. This time I preferred the opposite. Thailand has a bunch of islands, some bustling with tourists and some not so much.

Finally with some help, I came across Koh Kradan. An island 3 kms long and with nothing to do, perfect. With 7 resorts/hotels sharing the spoils, this place is tiny. Yet I absolutely loved this place. Everything that I wanted an island to be. Minimum tourists, only basic facilities, zero Indians (this was not a criteria, but a fact), good place to swim/snorkel.

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Getting there:

All I did was book a Nok Air flight from Bangkok to Koh Kradan, which means Bangkok-Trang Airport(flight)- Trang pier(mini-bus)-Koh Kradan (ferry)+ a long tail boat to the shore (50 THB extra per person). I used this only as a means of transport to get to the place. There are definitely better options. I will suggest going to Trang airport and checking with all the tour operators you may find. This might even be cheaper, definitely cheaper. In case of Thailand, online is expensive. Also I’m sure there are options from Krabi.

Tigerline ferry has transfer services from Trang province to Koh Kradan, Koh Mook and lots more. I have been hearing negative reviews about them but I can say it is alright. Tigerline partners with Nok Air, so I had to travel to and fro in their ferry, minibus.

Let me a post a useful link from tripadvisor which I went through. link

Also let me add, Nok Air was one of the sweetest airline I have traveled in.

Nok Air flight
Nok Air flight

Where to stay:

From what I have heard, the island has only seven resorts. I stayed in ‘Paradise Lost’ resort which is in the middle of a forest. One km to the inside from main beach, luckily from the hotel they send someone to pick the luggage on a trolley. They have a few bungalows aka huts, small ones and slightly bigger ones. Bathroom is shared and Wifi is available only in common area.

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My little hut

 

Few names of resorts I heard were: The seven seas resort, Kalume resort, Paradise Lost resort and on the cheaper side, Ao Niang Beach resort.

Best time to visit:

Nov-Mar

There might be no electricity during the nights in off season (Apr-Oct). Make sure you read the terms and conditions before booking your resort.

Things to do:

Go snorkeling :

In the morning when the sea is low, corals are easily accessible. Pick up your snorkel masks and swim around.

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Ao Niang Beach has a lot of corals as well. Sunset beach as name suggests has a great sunset view. The white sand is great, the beaches are clean and overall it is great fun.

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Main beach

Things to carry:

Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Mosquito repellent, GoPro (maybe), swim suits. Snorkel masks are available at resorts for a rent.

Hope you all enjoyed the post. Happy travelling!

A view of Ao Niang Beach at sunrise
A view of Ao Niang Beach at sunrise

Reasons to drive through Valparai and a belated Happy New Year!

Hello All, 

Happy New Year 2017 (belated)! I hope this year fills up your life with colors of joy and peace.

-From a dying blog 


Last new year day was also well spent with a trip, this year as well. Next year, let’s see. Moving on…

A bit of retrospect…

10 years ago, my family (minus me) staying in Tirupur decided to visit Kerala. I joined them, my brother dropped out and after a lot of chaos we decided to go to Kerala. My brother took a train and we (‘me’ included) were left with his car. I was strictly banned from driving, we all know how our parents trusted us back in those days, so we had someone driving us.

Kerala, as we all know, celebrates hartal/strike/bandh every other day. Things were worse then than it is now. Palghat (Palakkad) which is the passage from TN to Kerala was celebrating bandh that day. Long story short, my family that evening took Valparai route to enter Trichur (Trissur) and then continue on the NH47 to our place.

If it were today, we would have never been allowed. But then, there was not much emphasis on safety and we were allowed to pass an unpaved forest road with wildlife and more than 60 kms to cross, after 7 pm. We saw porcupine, wild boar and so on in our lonely drive, no vehicles to keep up with and no vehicles to overtake.

Will that place be any different now? This question would always pop up. 10 years down the line, I drive to find out…

A little about Valparai (my humble opinion)

‘Drive is the reason, destination is just an excuse’ sums up Valparai.

I stayed a night at Valparai in a small hotel, the place is nothing more than a small junction where three roads meet. One of them takes you to Sirukundra, the opposite of which takes you to Aliyar dam and subsequently to Pollachi in TN, the third route which intersects them in the centre takes you to Sholayar, a high range forest road and Kerala. Valparai is smaller than the main junction in my village and there is nothing fascinating about spending a night.

Sirukundra road leads to Nirar dam. The road by itself is very gorgeous with twisties, tea plantations and well-paved tarmac as a cherry on the top. The Sirukundra bungalow is a famous romantic getaway, with tents/wood houses and bungalows to choose from. But good luck finding a sign board which points you towards this bungalow. I found it though, hence such a sign board exist.

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Panorama of the tea plantations enroute Nirar Dam

And you may avoid Nirar dam, unless you want to drive those well-paved roads because the roads after forest check post (towards the dam) is damn. 4 kms (one way) of hell for

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Nirar Dam

Aliyar Dam has 43 tight hairpin bends from Valparai. Due to time constraints, I could not explore this region but I pretty much remember the long snake like roads. Lot about these roads have been shared in other blogs.

The final mention is the sholayar- forest roads-Kerala. Let me expand this further.

Exit Valparai towards sholayar and you will find forest check-posts of both TN and Kerala. This is after 18-20 kms. Once you are done with the formalities, you are treated with 60 kms of forest roads out of which 10-15 kms are good (not great), rest of it is wonderfully paved. The roads are narrow which makes it highly risky as it is two way traffic. (pic attached)

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Malakkapara to Vazhachal

In Kerala, you can either choose to visit Vazhachal waterfalls, Athirapally waterfalls and few others. For me the best part of this trip were those roads, I drove to and fro. Mission accomplished!

Travel tips through the forest road: (Red shows the start of forest roads)

My route : Cochin-Angamaly-Mukanoor-Athirapally-Vazhachal-Forest road-Malakkapara-Sholayar-Valparai
My route : Cochin-Angamaly-Mukanoor(Ezhattumughom road)-Athirapally-Vazhachal-Forest road-Malakkapara-Sholayar-Valparai
  1. The allowed passage time is between 6 am- 6 pm. The officials wont allow you passage to either side after 4 pm (Kerala check post). For people who want to enjoy these roads all by yourselves, go early. 7 am in the morning must be a good time (especially on a weekday).
  2. Carry your car docs, license and make sure you have enough supplies of you are travelling with a toddler. ‘Good’ shops or hotels just doesn’t exist there.
  3. As you can see from the pictures, the roads are narrow. Imagine confronting an SUV on a blind corner. Drive within your and the vehicles limit. Trust me, this is quite hard. Especially with a lot of bikers and some coming at you. Also there are old KSRTC buses on this route. Hence beware.
  4. Plastic is strictly banned. Please do not carry plastics and do not litter the area. Also you will not be allowed to carry inflammable materials (fuel in small bottles included) into the forest. This is to prevent forest fire.
  5. Finally, have fun…take loads of pics, make sure you take plenty of stops and enjoy the nature. Also a few view points enroute, those will make your trip worth.
Vazhachal waterfalls
Vazhachal waterfalls
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The roads be like this every mornings, perfect for a drive through the mountains!
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Athirapally waterfalls (a sneak peak)

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So the answer to my question: Will that place be any different now?, is simply yes. It has underwent a lot of changes, much to my liking. The Kerala side of changes (aka roads) look better than the TN side. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s true for once. For once Kerala proved me wrong. *slow claps*

I hope you all enjoyed the pictures like I did clicking them. Let’s see where the wind takes me next 😉

Again wishing everyone a wonderful year ahead filled with lot of road trips, adventures and fun.

Cheers!


 

6 amazing roads to drive in UAE

It’s no news that Dubai and Abu Dhabi in UAE are well known for tourism. From a tourists’ point of view, the attractions don’t seem to end. Starting from Burj Khalifa, the world’s largest skyscraper to the long list of shopping malls to Ferrari world in Abu Dhabi.

Another thing that interests most people and me especially is the number of super cars UAE has. Super cars need super roads as well which UAE is blessed with. As an ex UAE resident, I have spent more time on the roads than any shopping malls. Cheap fuel, wonderful cars and amazing tarmac makes you want to go on a drive all the time.

The best time to hit the road is definitely winter (Nov-Apr). Some of my favorite roads in UAE are as follows:

6. Al-Lisaili, Al-Quadra, Bab-Al-Shams, Al Maha Forest

Once you hit the E66 (from Dubai to Al-Ain), you can find an exit to Al-Lisaili and from there you can drive on arrow straights to Al-Quadra where you will find the oasis of Al-Quadra and Al-Quadra lake. Drive ahead from Al-Quadra through Bab-Al-Shams and along the sides of Al-Maha forest reserves till you reach back on E11 (Sheik Zayed road). The drive is relaxing and the oasis is definitely worth a visit.

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5. Jebel Hafeet, Al-Ain

Out of the few mountain ranges that are actually accessible by cars (not SUV’s, proper road cars), Jebel Hafeet is one. Depending on the car you are driving, you can climb Hafeet in 10 mins or in 30 mins. From Dubai, take E66 (Dubai- Al-Ain road) and keep an eye for the brown colored board notifying the exit to Jebel Hafeet. Make sure to visit the Green Mubazzarah (hot spring) at the base of Jebel Hafeet while you return.

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Detailed post here.

4. Khor Fakkan, Fujairah

Khor fakkan beach needs no introduction. Jet Skiing, Parasailing and a good place to go with family, the roads through the mountains are heaven, just as one would expect of UAE; hence one of the best driving roads for me in UAE. Travelling on E611 (New Emirates road) you will find the exit to Khor fakkan. Following the road signs will lead you to the place.

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Detailed post here.

3. Al- Taween, RAK

Taween is one of those hidden gems. The only reason someone would visit Al-Taween is for the beautiful drive. Steep inclines of 30-40 degrees and steep inclined hairpins make it such a challenge. Unpredictable sand/gravel on the roads, steep inclines and steeper hairpins keeps the driver engaged and leaves the car struggling for traction. There is nothing more than a view at the top yet one of my favorite destinations for a quick drive.

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Detailed post here.

2. Kalba, Sharjah

Oh Kalba, what took you so long! A place close to my heart. A place I have been to so many times but still would love to go again. The road leading to Kalba is similar to Khor fakkan, but better. Some deviations make the drive even more memorable like the deviation to Hatta/Oman road on Kalba. Just a pleasure to drive.

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1. Jebel Jais, RAK

In the evening over the weekends, there are huge traffic jams on the roads leading to Jais. Instead try going on a weekday or even weekend early morning. The climb to Jais mountains is pure thrill. Technical roads with hairpins, some fast corners and some blind corners; this place will get your heartbeats raised. I have been there god knows how many times but for me, this is the best driving road in UAE.

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Detailed post here.

Do you think there are better roads in UAE than the ones I mentioned above? Have you driven on any of the above mentioned roads?


Chapter 6 – Baden Baden aka Black Forest

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I was trying to get the best picture of the lot but I can’t make up my mind as to which one would be the best suited as a cover for Baden Baden.

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My friend had left, so it was a trip just between me and the generator powered BMW. For the first time, I felt lost and a bit lonely. I think I got more comfortable with having someone to cover my back and that day was different. That was the last day before I bid adieu to Stuttgart.

Since the BMW had GPS, I was in less trouble…sort of…though not having Internet in my phone was a major drawback. I set off…majority of the drive being on Autobahn, I happened to see areas with no speed limits. That means sport mode, paddle shifts and almost 240 kmph speeds. Once you shift to sport mode, the exhaust note changes and so does the eagerness of the car to leap forward. The drive was comfortable despite having stiffer suspension. I’m sure it will make for a good car to many of us, who love diesel. The car is around 190 hp but it’s pretty heavy in terms of weight for a coupe. I could feel the weight while doing high speeds.

I reached Baden Baden (Black forest) in around 1 hour and 15 minutes (or a bit more). Then it was all blank. I had no clue as to where to go. Shops were closed due to a public holiday on that day. The ones that were open had irritated shop keepers because they had to open their shops on a public holiday and it’s not a great idea to mess with pissed off Germans. So I went back and sat in my generator powered car browsing through the places and then I found Lichtentaler Allee, which is a walk (or kind of a beautiful garden). So I walked. The first pic is from Lichtentaler Allee.

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This is the car in question…

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With beautiful eyes…

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And a not so bad looking nose with well detailed body

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After this I drove around and reached a wine yard. This was somewhere inside and I had no clue how I reached there, all I remember was closing my eyes and selecting a place from the drop down list in GPS.

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I was eating my lunch; a Pretzel and thinking about what next! By then I had fallen in love with Pretzels. Then after Pretzel lunch, I started fiddling with the GPS and found Merkur. Yes, I had seen Merkur in trip advisor when I was reading up about Black forest. So Merkur mountains was my next and final destination in Baden Baden, after which I planned to return to Stuttgart and give away my rental car ahead of time.

Right before Merkur, my lunch break

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Base of the mountains, absolutely mind blowing. It keeps getting better.

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Winch to the top. I was in no mood to walk 4 kms to the top.

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The mountains, the city and a parachute man.

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Finally I started my journey down. Though I had a ticket to go back in the winch, I decided to walk. A good decision.

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On my way down, I met a retired German Engineer and his wife. We spoke a bit about life and work. He retired 5 years ago and now he was in love with Photography, mainly in portrait pictures of his wife. He spoke about his son and lot of things. It was a wonderful experience. They stopped in the way to click some pictures, I carried on.

I aimed to get back to Stuttgart but then an idea occurred. Tubingen which is on the way to Stuttgart is a place I didn’t visit, so I planned to pass by Tubingen.

The outskirts of Tubingen

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Tubingen is one of the most beautiful places near Stuttgart. I’m glad I stopped at Tubingen.

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The river that ran towards the university. People enjoying their day in rafts.

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The beautiful tunnel in Tubingen. Lovely piece of art.

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A house with a rooster at the top.

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Finally, a parting picture of the little 2 series coupe.

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I went back and returned the car. Picked up my luggage and checked in a hostel nearby and the next day morning, I was on my way back.

Before ending this post, I would like to mention a few more things.

  1. Sixt rentals were pretty good. Excellent customer service at the 24 hour centre which is opposite to the central station. The one is railway station was a joke. A not so friendly young lady. I would go back to Sixt but only at the 24 hr centre. Check their website here.
  2. Driving in Germany can be tricky. Especially for Indians. There are lot of rules and even if you follow them, you most probably might end up pissing off a few Germans. That’s unavoidable.
  3. Use GPS while travelling on a rental vehicle. It really helpful
  4. Finally, stay safe 🙂

This post marks the end of my German journey. Indeed, I would to go back and stay there if I get a chance in the future. It’s such a wonderful place. I envy those who stay in Stuttgart and nearby, it’s a wonderful city. Perfect mix of a city within a country side.


 

Chapter 5 – Porsche Factory visit and Porsche Drive.

Day 5 was only Porsche drive. Porsche factory I did on Day4, but I’ll keep it short anyways. I’m sure this is going to be a boring post.

I enquired about both Merc Benz and Porsche factory tours. Merc Benz replied me stating that they had stopped factory tours due to safety reasons. Porsche on other hand were very welcoming. It wouldn’t be wrong if anyone said that I spent some percentage of my time around Porsche.

From the Porsche Stuttgart site, you can email the Porsche factory tour team expressing your interest to be a part of their factory tour and the required language along with the date. They will confirm your request via a reply. Check here for more details.

Since they don’t allow camera inside, not even mobile phones….I don’t have a picture of Porsche factory or anything inside. Some quick facts about the tour as I can recollect…

  • Stuttgart is Porsche’s headquarters and they make all the sports car here. Some of the not so attractive models like Cayenne, macan and Panamera might be built and assembled in their other factories but even then the heart (engine) is strictly from Stuttgart. Every single Cayman or 911 is made in this factory and shipped out world wide, from wherever they receive an order.
  • The factory has 3 main buildings, the center one being the main assembly line and the parts + body shell are fed into the main assembly line from either sides.
  • It takes Porsche 5 days to build an entire car from scratch.
  • Porsche make 200 + engines and tests them in a single day. Each and every day they have targets mentioned on a board in the workshop.
  • Each engine goes through cold testing and if they find a leak or a failure in the engine, they take it out and repair it. Then the failed engine goes through cold and hot testing. Cold testing is where the system is pressurized at a set pressure above operating pressure and checked for its functionality and leaks. Hot testing is when the engine is run at a set rpm and all the systems are checked for its functionality and leaks. About the testing that I mentioned here, this is my best memory and I didn’t have a notepad to jot down some more info from that day. They also mentioned that the leaks are mainly related to some hoses or something very minor.
  • Some of the vendor supplied items may be excluded from the test since they are tested prior to delivery at the vendor factory. Probably Porsche makes sure that it is tested with a FAT (Factory Acceptance Test) certificate is my best guess.
  • Most of the repetitive works are automated. I’m sure everyone can guess that, but it is amazing to see a robot taking reference, measurement of the frame and then comparing it with the measurement of windshield which is held by the robot in other hand and then finally fixing the windshield. Everything happens under 5 mins, both front and back. Very impressive system.
  • The warehouse where they store the raw materials is quite interesting. Whenever the main computer receives a requirement in terms of raw materials, the red light over the rack where this material is available lights up. The automated vehicle aka robot goes there and picks it. There are a few people monitoring it but otherwise it’s all automated. The entire process looked very impressive.

The guides (2 of them) who came along for the factory tour were students doing part time job and were wonderful chaps. A five by five to them for being friendly and taking time to explain things to me. I had the weirdest of questions like ‘What pressure do you cold test your system?’ To which they didn’t have an immediate answer but finally managed to put a number, which is around 1.5 bars for the hoses, smaller stuff and around 7-10 bars for the engine block and the tougher lot. I’m not sure about how right or wrong it is, but the point is that they were bang on with their explanations. I would have loved to do their job. I think that is the coolest part time job to have.

So let’s move on with Porsche Drive now, which I have already posted. Read about it here.

Later that day, I went to Rhittersport chocolate museum. Unless you are a chocolate fan or you take interest in making of chocolates or reading about the vast history, I would recommend you to chuck this. The entry is free, but it’s quite a distance from Stuttgart. Actually it’s near Tubingen which is 25 kms away from Stuttgart.

I could have avoided it but no regrets. Coming back I spent some time at the Schlossplatz which is walking distance from Stuttgart central stataion. My friend was leaving the next day morning and hence we met up there to pick up dinner and our little BMW from Sixt at the 24 hr depot near central station.

 

Pic courtesy: Google search. Credits to respective owner.
Pic courtesy: Google search. Credits to respective owner.

There is a nice walk around the fountain, with a palace in front. It’s good to spend a couple of hours in the evening with your family or your loved one. Unfortunately I was tired from all the running around from the morning but still we managed to get some dinner and we proceeded to Sixt to pick up the car.

To my utmost frustration, for the 2nd time, I didn’t get the car I wanted. 😥 Despite of booking a manual geared petrol car, they gave me an automatic diesel. *sob sob*

Pretty frustrated, we drove back to our room in that generator powered car.