Monday, September 28, 2009

Sunset at Kovalam

Sunset from Kovalam, Kerala, India.

View Larger MapKovalam, Kerala, India

© 2009, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sparsa Hotel, Kanyakumari

There is no dearth of hotels in Kanyakumari. A search on any of the Indian travel portals like,, etc... reveals lots of hits. Most of the hotels however are clustered around what could be called downtown Kanyakumari, and are a mix of the very basic and those offering more upmarket facilities.

View Larger Map - where most of the hotels in Kanyakumari are, east of the national highway 7

Sparsa is a new hotel, launched only sometime in late 2008, and has come up on Beach Road. It is probably the best hotel in Kanyakumari now, and with pricing that is also reflective of its premium positioning. Off season rates run between Rs 4,000-5,000 a night. It also has a restaurant with a decent menu.

You can see the Sparsa hotel in the map below. As of Sep 2009 this map seems to be a bit dated, since the hotel compound is now fully landscaped.

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There is not much development yet on Beach road, so this hotel enjoys a fair bit of serenity. Also, it is right at the beach, so to get to the shore, all you have to do is cross the road. The view point tower is a ten minute walk from the hotel.

© 2009, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Swami Vivekananda Rock Memorial, Kanyakumari

One of the three must-do things when visiting Kanyakumari is to visit the Swami Vivekananda Rock Memorial, built atop a small island half a kilometer out into the sea. The other two things are to watch the sunrise, the sunset, and to visit Thiruvalluvar's statue.

The island also has a small temple dedicated to an incarnation of Goddess Parvati, Kanya.

Vivekananda Rock Memorial
Vivekananda Rock Memorial is a sacred monument and popular tourist attraction in Kanyakumari, India. The memorial stands on one of two rocks located about 500 meters off mainland India's southernmost tip. It was built in 1970 by the Vivekananda Rock Memorial Committee in honour of the visit of the great spiritual teacher Swami Vivekananda to Shripada Parai during the month of December 1892 for deep meditation and enlightenment. He swam to this rock and meditated about the past, present and future of India. It is said that he attained enlightenment on the rock, and henceforth became a reformer and philosopher.

© 2009, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Mathur Aqueduct

If you are visiting Kanyakumari or Trivandrum, the Mathur Aqueduct should be on your itinerary. It is an aqueduct, a hanging aqueduct, the tallest in Asia, and thankfully, not yet overrun by hordes of tourists. You will however still see the occasional tourist bus make its way there.

Wikipedia has an informative writeup on this aqueduct:
Mathur Aqueduct or Mathur Hanging Trough, is an Aqueduct in Southern India, in Kanyakumari District of Tamilnadu state.
Mathur Aqueduct itself carries water of the Pattanamkal canal for irrigation over the Pahrali river, from one hill to another, for a distance of close to one kilometer. This Aqueduct is necessitated due to the undulating land terrain of the area, which is also adjacent to the hills of the Western Ghats.
Mathur Aqueduct is a concrete structure held up by 28 huge pillars, the maximum height of the pillars reaching 115 ft. The trough structure is 7 ft in height, with a width of 7.5 ft. The trough is partly covered on top with concrete slabs, allowing people to walk on the bridge and also see the water going through the trough. Some of the pillars are set in rocks of the Pahrali river, though some of the pillars are set in hills on either side.

As you descend down to the river, you can see rubber trees planted, with rubber sap extraction in process. It is a pity that I was not patient enough to snap a photo of a drop actually falling... There is not likely to be a next time any time soon I am afraid.

© 2009, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sunrise at Kanyakumari

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The view point can be seen in the bottom left corner of the map above, while Thiruvalluvar's statue and the Vivekananda Rock Memorial can be seen in the bottom right corners.

It is the trick of under-exposing when metering that allows for such spectacular shots. The reality is closer to the photo below, which is nearer what someone would actually see:

© 2009, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Annotated Sherlock Holmes

Spotted this very interesting looking book at the Landmark book store in Bangalore recently.

Many have read all the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, including the short stories as well as the novels. These have been published as hardcovers, paperbacks, anthologies, are available online, and more. So there is not much left to entice the customer to purchase another book on the famous detective's adventures, is there?
So what's a Sherlock Holmes fan to do?
Come out with an annotated edition. This is actually quite a thick tome, with loads of notes, descriptions, and photographs that help the reader get some sort of a geographical and historical bearing on the fictional events and places described in the book. The price of this hefty book is some Rs 1700, about the same as its price on

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Looting of America

The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It

Surprisingly good read, explains financial WMDs quite well, though thin on any in-depth analysis, and with a somewhat jarring and unneeded liberal bias.

The book gives a good un-complicated overview of the financial crisis underway (New York Times article, Global financial crisis of 2008–2009 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and Financial crisis of 2007–2009). It begins with the financial mess that the Whitefish Bay school district in Wisconsin found itself in because it had purchased synthetic CDOs without understanding them, from someone whose only claim to understanding these instruments was a two hour session on these instruments he had attended. The book then proceeds into a brief history lesson on money, and then goes into more modern territory, delving thereafter into the financial instruments at the heart of the financial meltdown. His prescriptions for fixing the mess are along familiar lines, like a steep progressive income and wealth tax rate, a tax on financial transactions of all kinds, a cap on executive compensation, etc... all are popular remedies, but how practical remains to be seen.Some are likely to see them as idealistic suggestions divorced from the reality on the ground, while some will see them as the vocalization of a leftist, liberal agenda, and some others will see them as watered down suggestions that don't go far enough.

Chapter Three traces the beginnings of barter, of money, paper money, of interest, and of mortgages. And you have to go back more than a couple of thousand years here. While people may know their history here, it was quite instructional to read that

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Drunkard's Walk

Four Stars
The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (Vintage)

Bit confusing and muddled beginning, but shines thereafter. Very readable, non-technical introduction to probability, randomness, and statistics, and more so of the people at the heart of the development of this science. However, the book does suffer somewhat as a result of this deliberate dumbing-down. For example, no formulae on how to calculate variance, standard deviation, or conditional probabilities. Even if the average reader never uses them or never even reads these formulae, it would still be of benefit to some at least to read these and try them out. Consider "Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences" as an excellent companion to this book. Again, a non-technical book, but with slightly more advanced examples. Read Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (my review, and on and Stumbling on Happiness (my review, and on for a better understanding on why and how people make mistakes when attempting to make decisions under uncertainty and on Kahneman and Tversky's research in behavioral economics Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.