Holyland Trip Report - Jordan - Mount Nebo, Madaba - Day 1

We signed up for a 9-day all-inclusive Holyland package tour in early April this year (2011) at a local tour-company (Royal Omania). The timing was based on the kid’s summer holidays (April-May) rather than on any particular touring season. June through September is the peak season with the three months on either side labeled the “shoulder season”. Pricing was Rs 60.5K (~$1350) for an adult with a Rs 5K (~$110) discount for children between 5 and 12. Compared to similar tours from the Western US and UK priced in the $3K range, this is less than half, but then so is the distance (below 3K miles compared to around 8K miles). Tour companies offering similar tours galore in Kerala, so competition probably helped.

The day before the trip, a Royal Omania representative reminded us to carry umbrellas as light rain was expected during our trip. The rep mentioned to meet at the airport three-hours before the flight time but was unable to provide a contact number. A kit handed out at the airport included electronic ticket docs, a name-badge, and a baseball cap. Group check-in worked well at Nedumbassery Airport and that too with individual bag tags. It took nine hours to get to Jordan and the service level of our carrier, Gulf Air was OK. The wing to Bahrain took 4.5 hours and from there to Amman was another 2.5 hours with a two-hour break. Breakfast was served on both the flights and the Amman flight had the interesting option of fol – refried fava beans with no meat.

The flights were on time and we reached Queen Alia Airport in the southern outskirts of Amman on time at around 11:30 AM. The visa procedure went smooth – group visa with an arrival stamp in the passport. We had to while away 90-minutes at the airport before the group from Chennai could join us. A tour guide from Al Thuraya Travel and Tours escorted us to the tour bus (Volvo type low rise with AC). First stop after departure was at the Assa Mosa restaurant near Mount Nebo – Middle Eastern Buffett lunch with chicken, lemon rice, salads, pita bread, and dessert. Adjacent to the restaurant is a curio store (Uyun Musa Hand Craft) where good mosaic art pieces were upwards of $25. The view across from the restaurant is fantastic - the Promised Land, Moses Springs (Uyun Musa), and the Dead Sea.

After lunch, we proceeded to Mount Nebo, ten minutes west of Madaba (the city of Mosaics – Roman Byzantian Town). Mount Nebo is where the Hebrew Prophet Moses was shown the view of the Promised Land, God was giving the Israelites as mentioned in the Bible (Deuternomy 34:1):

And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho.

Jews and Christians believe Moses was buried on Mount Nebo by God Himself although the location of his final resting place is unknown. The site is also revered as where the Prophet Jeremiah hid the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant in a cave as mentioned in the Bible (2 Maccabees 2:4-7). A 2009 book named the “The Temple at the Center of Time” by David Flynn claimed evidence had been found that the Ark is hidden at Mount Nebo. We stopped by the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George in Mount Nebo. The church houses the 6th century original mosaic map of the Promised Land. The Map was originally around 90 square meters but only about a quarter survived. The current church was built in 1896 AD, following the discovery of the Map. A church was first constructed here in the 4th century to commemorate the place of Moses’ death. The mosaic contains the earliest extant representation of Byzantine Jerusalem and provides important details of the 6th century landmarks with the central colomnaded street and the Holy Sepulchre. At the far corner of the church, there is a vantage viewing area with a large structure featuring the serpentine cross sculpture atop Mount Nebo (Brazen Serpent Statue - Serpentine Cross – metal decoration designed by Giovanni Fantoni). It symbolizes the bronze serpent created by Moses in the wilderness, as mentioned in the Bible (Numbers 21:4-9):

The Israelites left Mount Hor by the road that leads to the Gulf of Aqaba, in order to go round the territory of Edom. But on the way the people lost their patience and spoke against God and Moses. They complained “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this desert where there is no food or water? We can’t stand anymore of this miserable food!” Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many Israelites were bitten and died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Now pray to the Lord to take these snakes away.” So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord told Moses to make a metal snake and put it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and be healed. So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten would look at the bronze snake and be healed.

A new church was being built in the area at the time of our visit (April 2011). Pope John Paul II visited the place in 2000 AD – he planted an olive tree near the Byzantine church as a symbol of peace. A small museum in the property features mosaics from the Kayanos Church from the Byzantine period along with other mosaics. Abu Badd, the rolling stone used as a fortified door of a Byzantine monastery, a memorial stone for Moses, and a large stone with carvings remembering Pope’s visit are other sites of interest within this property.

Our next stop was the Virgin Mary Church and the Archaeological Park of Madaba. A large number of mosaic monuments were rediscovered in the northern part of the city, giving it the name “City of Mosaics”. The area crossed by the colomnaded Roman road (cardo) has the Church of the Virgin Mary, the Church of Prophet Elijah with its crypt, the Church of the Holy Martyrs (Al-Khadir), the Burnt Palace, and the Church of the Sunna’ family. Some mosaics found in the Church of the Virgin and the Apostles depict an assortment of flora and fauna and general life scenes – one that really caught our eye was the progressive depiction of people from all races (whites, blacks, etc) killing wild animals followed by their domestication, and finally using them in transportation. A short walk took us through several shops selling mosaics and other curios where we took a 10-minute shopping break.

Our first night's stay was at the Amaken Plaza Hotel, a 3-star hotel at the end of Queen Rania Al-Abdullah Street. It is located on a busy street – rooms facing the road can be quite noisy while the inside ones are fine. Welcome drink and bell service went flawless. Buffet dinner had a good selection (chicken, pasta, salads, soufflé, jello, etc.) although service was a bit indifferent. Buffet breakfast the following morning also had a varied selection (mashed potato, gravy, pita bread, egg, ham, cheese, olives, oj/coffee/tea, cake, sour cream, etc.).

The following day started with a 2-hour journey to the Israeli border crossing Jordan River at Sheikh Hussein Bridge. The process of crossing the border was smooth but time consuming – as one has to remove all baggage and go through security twice (Jordan and Israel) - it took additional time on the Israeli side for some people when they did some extra checking for people with US passports living in India but working outside India. A new tour bus and guide was waiting on the Israeli side of the border and we proceeded with the next item in our itinerary. All in all, the Jordan portion of the tour was lovely although we felt it was much too short.

 Related Posts:

  1. Holyland Trip Report - Jordan - Mount Nebo, Madaba - Day 1.
  2. Holyland Trip Report – Israel - Yardenit, Tiberias, Tabgha, Cappernaum, Ginosar, Sea of Galilee (Day 2).
  3. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Nazareth, Cana, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Bethlehem (Day 3).
  4. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Jerusalem (Day 4).
  5. Holyland Trip Report – Israel – Jerusalem, Jericho, Dead Sea (Day 5).
  6. Holyland Trip Report – Egypt – Red Sea, Sinai (Day 6).
  7. Holyland Trip Report – Suez Canal, Cairo - Day 7.
  8. Holyland Trip Report - Old Cairo - Day 8.
  9. Holyland Trip - Gotchas to avoid.  
  10. Holyland Trip - Jordan - Other Sites
Last Updated: 12/2012.

Aden - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

Aden, a seaport city in Yemen has a population of around 800,000. The area came under British influence when Sultan Muhsin bin Fadl ceded 75 square miles including Aden to the British. It was part of British India until 1937 when it became a crown colony. The city along with the Aden hinterland and the Hadramat areas became the Aden Protectorate (Southern Yemen) – Great Britain signed treaties of protection with local rulers of the areas. Southern Yemen became independent as the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen on November 30, 1967 and Aden became its capital. South Yemen unified with North Yemen (Yemen Arab Republic) to form the Republic of Yemen on May 22, 1990.
Philatelic Profile:
As a part of British India, Aden used colonial Indian stamps until it became a crown colony on April 1, 1937. Stamps of India used in Aden are identified by the ‘124’ postal cancellations assigned to Aden. The first stamps of Aden were a set of twelve stamps (Scott #1 to #12) in denominations of half anna to ten rupees issued on April 1, 1937. The set catalogs for around $750 MNH and around $580 Used. The design showed a Dhow in different colors. A set of thirteen stamps showing architecture and history of Aden soon followed between 1939 and 1948. That set (Scott #16 to #27a) is also sought after and catalogs for around $55 MNH and around half that for Used. The designs show Aidrus Mosque, Camel Corpsman, Aden Harbor, Adenese Dhow, Mukalla, and the Capture of Aden of 1839 (landing of Royal Marines at Aden to occupy territory and stop attacks by pirates against British ships to/from India).
Other issues of Aden enjoying good philatelic interest include:
  1. A set of eighteen stamps issued between 1953 and 1959 showing local scenes. The set (Scott #48 to #61a) catalogs for around $60 MNH and around $35 Used. The designs show Minaret, Camel Transport, Crater, Mosque, Dhow, Map, Salt Works, Dhow building, Colony badge, Aden Protectorate Levy, Crater Pass, Tribesman, and a depiction of Aden in 1572. Overprints commemorating significant events on existing dominated the stamp issues of Aden during the period till 1966. The overprints are not that expensive although rare varieties such as double and inverted overprints fetch a huge premium.
  2. A set of eleven stamps issued in the Kathiri State of Seiyun but valid for postage through the protectorate of Aden issued in 1942. The set (Scott #1 to #11) catalogs for around $45 MNH or Used. The designs show Sultan Ja’far bin Mansur al Kathiri, Seiyun architecture, Minaret of Tarim, Mosque at Seiyun, Palace at Tarim, South Gate of Tarim, and Kathiri House. The Qu’aiti State of Shihr and Mukalla and the Qu’aiti State of Hadhramaut also issued stamps inscribing the name, the ruler, and local scenes starting in 1942. This was a compromise by the British government as the sultans of the area objected to having KGVI heads depicted in the stamps of Aden.

Numismatic Profile:

The East African Shilling became the currency of Aden replacing the Indian Rupee in 1951 and that currency was in use in British controlled areas of East Africa between 1921 and 1969.

Collectible Memorabilia:

Original historical photographs are a good collectible item from the area.

Last Updated: 12/2015.

Tracking Berkshire Hathaway's Investment Portfolio

Berkshire Hathaway’s investment portfolio has quite a following as many consider it as the Holy Grail in investing. Part of the interest can be attributed to curiosity over what Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett is doing with the stocks in the portfolio. But there are countless investors trying to mimic Buffett’s actions in their own portfolio in an attempt to realize superior returns.

Read more at Seeking Alpha...

Related Articles:
  1. Tracking Berkshire Hathaway's Investment Portfolio - Part 1.
  2. Tracking Berkshire Hathaway's Investment Portfolio - Part 2.
  3. Tracking Berkshire Hathaway's Investment Portfolio - Part 3.
  4. Valuing Berkshire Hathaway Stock

    National Presto (NPK) - Stock Analysis

    National Presto (NPK), a housewares and small appliances company that diversified into defense and absorbent products was founded in 1905 to manufacture industrial-size pressure canners. Read more about National Presto's intriguing history, business issues, finances, Quantitative OFB Rating, Summary & Recommendation at Seeking Alpha.

    Abu Dhabi - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

    Abu Dhabi, an emirate of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a total land area of 26 square miles and a population of about 900,000. It is a T-shaped island and is the capital and the second largest city of the UAE. The area is known to have been inhabited since around 3-millenium BCE with the current ruling family’s (Al Nahyan) migration into the area dating back to 1793 AD. The area was a British Protectorate in the 19th century – part of The Trucial States, a group of sheikhdoms that signed the Maritime Truce agreement with United Kingdom in 1853. The British administered the area as princely states of British India until India gained independence in 1947. Abu Dhabi became part of the UAE in December 2, 1971 when the constitution was established as a federation of seven emirates.

    Philatelic Profile:

    The first stamps of Abu Dhabi were a set of eleven stamps issued on March 30, 1964. The set (Scott #1 to #11) catalogs for around $120 MNH and around $50 for Used. The designs show head portrait of Sheik Shakbut bin Sultan at Nahyan, Gazelle, Oil Rig and Camels, and the Palace. The set was followed by another set (Scott #12 to #14) of three stamps in the Falcon theme on March 30, 1965. That set is also sought after cataloging in the $90 range for MNH and around $35 for Used. The designs show Falcon Perched on a Wrist, Falcon Facing Left, and Falcon Facing Right.

    The Gulf Rupee (100 Naye Paise = 1 Rupee) was replaced by the Bahraini Dinar as the areas currency on June 6, 1966. The first stamps with the new denomination (1000 Fils =1 Dinar) were a set of eleven stamps that were overprints on the first issues from 1964. That set (Scott #15 to #25) catalogs for around $275 MNH or Used. The first original issues with the new denominations were a set of twelve stamps issued on April 1, 1967. The set (Scott #26 to #37) catalogs for around $90 MNH and around $35 Used. The designs show head portraits of Sheik Zaid bin Sultan al Nahayan, Crossed Flags for Abu Dhabi, Dorcas Gazelle, Falcon, and Palace.

    Following the formation of UAE, the Dinar was replaced by the Dirham (1 Dirham = 0.1 Dinar) in December 1971. The first issue after the currency conversion was a Green surcharge overprint on the 50f Sheik Zaid issue of 1970 (Scott #60). The stamp (Scott #80) is sought after and catalogs for around $85 MNH and around $65 Used. The issue was followed on June 3, 1972 by the last issue of Abu Dhabi before UAE stamps were adopted – a set (Scott #81 to #83) of three stamps showing different views of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The set (Scott #81 to #83) catalogs for around $155 MNH and around $35 Used.

    Numismatic Profile:

    The Indian Rupee was the currency used in Abu Dhabi until 1966 when it was replaced by the Bahraini Dinar. The Dinar was replaced by the UAE Dirham in December 1971. As such, there is no currency or coins specific just to Abu Dhabi.

    Collectible Memorabilia:

    Souvenir Postcards, themed ceramics, airline plane models, etc form the popular collectible souvenirs of Abu Dhabi.

    Last Updated: 12/2015.

    Media disservice– CNN Coverage of Berkshire Hathaway’s new stake in Dollar General (DG)

    CNN Money ran an article on 08/15/11 titled “Buffet Adds $58 Million Stake in Dollar General” with the opening line “If you want to invest like Warren Buffett, start by adding Dollar General to your portfolio and offloading shares of Kraft”. Anyone glancing at the headline and the first lines would gather Warren Buffet to be mighty bullish on Dollar General and bearish on Kraft. The complete truth however went largely missing. There is no denying $58 million is a solid chunk of change – but it pales in comparison to Buffet’s investment portfolio size which towers at over $115 Billion (~$48B Cash, ~$67B Equity). This brings the value of the new stake in Dollar General to be just 0.05% of his total investments. It is also a fact that Buffet bid adieu to six million shares of Kraft during the second quarter. The article conveniently omitted to mention that his remaining stake of 99.5 Million Shares of Kraft is valued at around $3.5 Billion which is around 3% of the value of his total investments. The naked truth is that Berkshire Hathaway’s current stake in Kraft is valued at over sixty times the value of his new Dollar General stake. The article naively implies getting rid of Kraft and buying Dollar General is a sure bet to be an investor like Buffet.

    Rather than quoting large numbers, let us cut to the chase and compare how changes in the share price of Dollar General and Kraft will impact Berkshire Hathaway’s overall portfolio value. The task at hand is to have a 1% impact on Berkshire Hathaway’s investment portfolio, and for that the overall portfolio value has to increase or decrease by around $1.15B. The table below shows how Dollar General’s (DG) and Kraft’s (KFT) stock prices should move to have the 1% impact on Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio:

    Stock Berkshire Hathaway Holdings ValueCurrent Price per ShareProjected Price Per Share for 1% Performance Imapct
    Dollar General (DG)$58M$32.19$670.44
    Kraft (KFT)$3.5B$34.68$46.07

    Dollar General’s price per share has to go up to $670.44 from the current share price of $32.19 for Berkshire Hathaway’s Dollar General Holdings to have a 1% positive performance impact on the overall portfolio. By the same token Kraft’s price per share only needs to go up from $34.68 to $46.07 to have the same impact. To summarize, the CNN articles’ premise is completely misleading - the portfolio adjustments in the second quarter 2011 are very minor compared to the overall portfolio size to warrant any such judgment call. Furthermore, Berkshire Hathaway’s 2nd quarter 2011 adjustments may have nothing to do with Warren Buffet’s stock selection. It is highly likely that the Dollar General (DG) pick was by Todd Combs, the hedge fund manager Buffet tapped in late 2010, as the amount involved is comparatively little. While the article by CNN Money did a disservice to the investing community, articles from Bloomberg and Morningstar did convey reputable information. Readers can also find the information by comparing Berkshire Hathaway’s latest 13F SEC filing with their previous filing.

    Giant Interactive (GA) - Stock Analysis

    Giant Interactive (GA), an online game developer and operator founded in November 2004, pioneered the free-to-play revenue model in China. Read more about Giant Interactive's current product portfolio, business issues, finances, Quantitative OFB Rating, Summary & Recommendation at Seeking Alpha.

    Ryukyu Islands - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

    Ryukyu Islands are a group of over 100 islands between Japan and Formosa separating the East China Sea from the Pacific Ocean. The islands stretch southwest from the Japanese island of Kyushu and extend almost to Taiwan. Ryukyu Islands were an independent kingdom until 1372 AD when it became a tributary of the Ming Dynasty. In 1609 AD, Shimazu Tadatsune invaded Ryukyu and from that point on the kings of Ryukyus paid tribute to both the Japanese and Chinese rulers. Tribute relations with China were terminated in 1874. Chinese interest was formally terminated in 1895 with the Treaty of Shimonseki following its defeat in the Sino-Japanese War. Ryukyu Islands were occupied by American forces following World War II and the Americans controlled the island until it was reverted to Japan on May 15, 1972.
    Philatelic Profile:
    The first stamp issues of Ryukyu Islands were a set of seven stamps issued on July 1, 1948. The set (Scott #1a to #7a) is sought after and catalogs for around $550 MNH and around $425 Used. The designs show Cycad, Lily, Sailing Ship, and Farmer in single color multiple shades. The issue was followed by a by a second printing on July 18, 1949 and that set (Scott #1 to #7) is comparatively affordable at around $25 MNH and a little less for Used. This latter set is distinguished by white gum on white paper compared to yellow gum on grayish paper for the first printing.
    Other issues of Ryukyu Islands include:
    1. A set of six stamps released on January 21, 1950. The set (Scott #8 to #13) catalogs for around $70 MNH and around $35 Used. The designs show Tile Rooftop and Shishi, Ryukyu girl, Shuri Castle, Guardian Dragon, Two Women, and Sea Shells. A few overprints from this set appeared during the period till 1952 and many varieties exist. Some of them are very rare and valuable. A First Day Cover was also released soon after on February 12, 1951 to mark the opening of Ryukyu University and that (Scott #14) catalogs for around $60 MNH and around $25 Used. A variety of the cover featuring an imprint block of six is very rare cataloging for around $450.
    2. A set of two stamps released on September 1, 1964 to mark the opening of the Ryukyu Islands to Japan microwave system carrying telephone and telegraph messages. The set (Scott #122 to #123) is inexpensive and catalogs for under $2 MNH or Used. The designs show Shuri Relay Station and Parabolic Antenna and Map. The set is significant in that the issues were released with a ‘1964’ black overprint over 1963 which is struck out – the overprints signify the fact that the station was open in 1964 as opposed to the targeted 1963 date. Missing overprints are known to exist and they are very rare and valuable cataloging in the $3.5K range. Inverted overprints and other overprint shift varieties also exist. Similar overprint errors are also known to exist on a few other issues including Scott #192 (issue to mark the 70th anniversary of Ryukyu-Hawaii emigration led by Kyuzo Toyama) and Scott #190.
    3. A set of three stamps released between 1964 and 1965 in the ‘Karate’ theme. The set (Scott #125 to #127) is also inexpensive cataloging in the dollar range for MNH or Used. The designs show ‘Naihanchi’, ‘Makiwara’, and ‘Kumite’ stances. Karate along with the martial art forms of Tegumi and Okinawan Kobudo originated in the Ryukyu Islands.
    Numismatic Profile:
    The first coins of Ryukyu Islands date back to 1450 when Akugani (copper) coins were created. Mintages are low for coins of the period. Chinese and Japanese coins were also used in Ryukyu. This included the Bitasen coins of Japan that were re-minted and circulated on a string in quantities of 50 to 100 in Ryukyu. By 1879, following the annexation of the Ryukyus by Japan, Japanese currency replaced local coinage. Following World War II, Ryukyu Islands used a Military Scrip called ‘B yen’. The ‘B’ designation comes from the fact that immediately after WWII, a different scrip called “A type yen” was used exclusively by the US military. The B yen was replaced by the US dollar on September 16, 1958.
    Collectible Memorabilia:
    Kimonos, Okinawan Koza Yaki and other handmade Pottery, Themed Sake Decanters, etc form some of the collectible memorabilia from the Islands.

    Last Updated: 12/2015.

    R2I Living - Purchasing a new car

    At the time of our relocation (May 2010), we owned two vehicles - a Honda CRV and a Lexus LS400. The Honda was the workhorse and the commute car while the other was mainly driven around the island. They both served us really well with minimal maintenance though the Lexus had quite a thirst for higher grade fuel. In fact, when considering options for a vehicle after relocation, the first choice was for a vehicle along the lines of the Honda CRV. Alas! SUVs command a huge premium in India. The Honda CRV we purchased new for $21K in the US is almost at triple cost ($55K) in India. Given this huge pricing discrepancy, we steered clear of the higher-end vehicles. The only vehicle with comparable US pricing was the Toyota Innova, a popular minivan that can be had for around Rs 12L ($27K). We decided against it for we were never been big fans of minivans and the extra-room to accommodate eight people would be largely wasted on us, a family of four.

    The type of transmission is definitely an issue to be addressed when buying a car. If one’s driving experience is mostly in the US, it is only natural to be comfortable with auto-transmission. By the early 2000s, automatic vehicles had become the norm in the US so much so that we were asked to wait a week or so, if we needed the stick-shift variant of our Honda CRV. For those in this situation, it is worth knowing that there are only very few choices in the small car hatchback segment with automatic transmission – the automatic variant of Hyundai I10 is fairly popular for around Rs 5L. Choices are aplenty in the sedan and higher segments for automatic cars in India. They are generally priced about Rs 75K more compared to the stick-shift version. Fortunately, we did not have to sweat over the transmission type.

    Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, which are low-end models in the US are considered uppity sedans in India. Pricing is also fairly high with the Toyota Corolla 1.8VL Altis and the Honda Civic 1.8V AT priced at around 14.5L ($32K). Sedans, considered a step-up from hatchbacks, are priced upwards of Rs 1L more compared to a similarly powered hatchback. We settled on going for a bigger hatchback as we could not justify the need for a bigger trunk-space. In that segment, our choices were the Honda Jazz, Maruti Ritz, and the Maruti Swift. Web reviews made it clear that Honda Jazz was overpriced and we were hard-pressed to find them on the roads. We wavered between the Ritz and the Swift but the Indus dealers took care of that as there was a 2-3 month wait period for the Swift. As we needed a car yesterday, our only choice was the Maruti Ritz Vxi. It also helped we were blissfully unaware of some of the popular hatchbacks in the Indian roads like the Hyundai I20, Ford Figo, Fiat Punto, etc at the time of our purchase. The spreadsheet below details the base pricing, optional equipment, and tax details:

    After we were set on the vehicle the dealer had in stock, the rest of the process went very smooth – we had to provide ID proof and proof of residence and the vehicle was ready the next day. A minor glitch was the goof-up by the RTO office whereby the Date of Delivery and Registration was off by a month – it took a month to correct it. Maruti offers a number of rebates for certain car models which we were not able to cash in on. With a little flexibility, one should be able to avail a rebate in the 10K to 30K range - festive offers are usually higher. Of the optional equipment we purchased, the only thing we sort of regret is going for alloy wheels for Rs 20K. For it was not an upgrade – rather, they gave us the old wheels and installed the alloy wheels in the vehicle – we ended up giving the original 5 wheels back to the dealer for free (in hindsight, this was a mistake - one could easily sell it back in the after-market for a good price). Also, we did not know at the time of purchase the availability of a 4th year extended warranty – we ended up going for this just before our first year anniversary at a slightly higher cost (Rs 3349 vs Rs 2800) compared to purchasing that option at the time of vehicle purchase.

    The ownership experience during our first year was stellar and since then has been fairly satisfactory - however, the Indus service level has gone down and pricing has gone up substantially in the last four years. Highway mileage is outstanding at around 17.5 kmpl and falls to around 13 kmpl for city traffic. We have had no complaints to speak of so far – a few minor issues were handled satisfactorily by the dealership. The first free-service was totally free – we chose to add additional floor matting for Rs 1750. The second service (6-months) came to Rs 650 for Wheel Balancing and Alignment. The third service (12-months) came to Rs 1900 Engine Oil/Filter change, Wheel Balancing and Alignment, and Smog Check certificate. The several nicks we had in the first few months were handled transparently by the Indus dealer and the Maruti affiliated insurance, Royal Sundaram (Rs 500 deductible per incident). HDFC Insurance called us a month before the car insurance expired offering to renew our insurance at Rs 8200. On double-checking with the Indus dealer, it was made clear to us that the insurance offered is not cashless – claims have to be paid upfront and a claim made to the insurance company. Royal Sundaram’s renewal offer was quite a bit more expensive at Rs 9966, but we decided to go with that anyway – they offered a couple of customer loyalty coupons (Rs 500 each) as a Thank You for the renewal.

    Below is a look at our maintenance expenses in the first 5+ years of ownership:
    • 2010 - around Rs 10K insurance & around Rs 1K for insurance deductibles at Rs 500 each time,
    • 2011 - around Rs 10K insurance &  Rs 1.5K for first paid service
    • 2012 - around Rs 7.5K insurance & Rs 13K for services (includes 5K deductibles & upgrades - beading, rain-guard)
    • 2013 - around Rs 7.9K insurance & Rs 12K for services (includes 4.5K deductibles)
    • 2014 - around Rs 5.5K insurance & Rs 43K for services (includes 20K new tires, 4K battery, 12.5K Indus service plan)
    • 2015 - around Rs 5.2K insurance & Rs 8K for services

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    Puerto Rico - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

    Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States located east of the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Sea has a total land area of 3515 square miles and a population of over 3.7M. It is an archipelago consisting of the main island of Puerto Rico and a number of smaller islands – significant among them are Vieques, Culebra, and Mona. Puerto Rico was under Spanish colonial control for over 400 years before it was ceded to the United States in 1898 following the Spanish-American war.

    Philatelic Profile:

    The first stamps of Puerto Rico were a set of three stamps issued in 1873 showing the head portrait of King Amadeo in different denominations. The set (Scott #1 to #3) is very valuable cataloging for around $450 Mint and around $25 for Used. On cover versions sell at a sizable premium over used values. Prior to this issue, Puerto Rico used stamps of Cuba during the period between 1855 and 1873. The issues with identifiable Puerto Rican overprints sell at a good premium over regular issues. The first original designs were a set of five stamps released in 1877 showing the head portrait of King Alfonso XII. That set (Scott #13 to #17) catalogs for around $100 Mint and around one-third that for Used. A number of other issues portraying King Alfonso XII and King Alfonso XIII dominated the Puerto Rican stamp issues during the period till 1898. One exception is the 1893 issue (Scott #133) showing Landing of Columbus in Puerot Rico to mark the 400th anniversary of the event. That stamp is sought after cataloging in the $200 range for Mint and around $50 for Used.

    The first stamp of Puerto Rico under US Administration was a Ponce Provisional Issue of July, 1898 with a basic typeset numerals design. The stamp is very rare and used copies are known only handstamped on envelopes. This issue was followed in August of 1898 by another provisional issue, also with a typeset numerals design. That stamp (Scott #201) is also very valuable cataloging upwards of $650 Mint depending on variety. The first regular issues under US Administration were a set of five stamps issued in 1899 that were ‘Porto Rico’ overprints on issues from the Great Men Set of the United States from the turn of the century. The set (Scott #210 to #214) catalogs for around $80 Mint and around $30 Used.

    Numismatic Profile:

    The first coins of Puerto Rico were Spanish Colony Countermarked Coinage (100 Centavos = 1 Peso) Bronze Centimos released in 1884. These were countermarks on Spanish 5 Centimos (KM# 674) issues. The first issues are valuable cataloging in the $175 price range for F. Several other countermarks on Spanish and US bronze and silver coins of the era were issued during the period till 1896. Catalog values are generally consistent for these issues with higher values cataloging for somewhat more. Decimal Coinage debut in 1896 with the issue of 5 Centavos Silver coins (KM# 20) featuring Denomination in Obverse and Crowned arms between columns in Reverse. That issue has a mintage of 600,000 and is valued in the $225 price range in UNC.

    Collectible Memorabilia:

    Collectible memorabilia of Puerto Rico include vintage postcards, souvenir trinkets, vintage Ads in coke bottles and other spirit bottles, etc.

    Last Updated: 12/2015.

    Romantic (1815-1910) Era Music – An Introduction

    The paring down of the clunky music in the Classical period led to the emergence of expressive and personal music by Romantic composers. Melody played loud and clear as artistic freedom triumphed. The composers probed several subject matters including an array of emotions, higher powers, distant places, mystique, and nature in all its various glories. The Germans so dominated the music that composers felt the need to break away and promote nationalism which they did by way of folk tunes, local dances, and legends.

    Industrial Revolution of Europe led to sophisticated instruments with better tuning and easier playing, which in turn paved way for the blossoming of the Orchestra. The growing middle class audience greatly inspired the ‘writing music to be heard’ trend. Composers reached deeper and brought forth enriched harmonies, passionate melodies, increased the use of dissonance, chromaticism, and expanded orchestra. Sonata, impromptu, romance, prelude, nocturne, ballade, intermezzo, and rhapsody became the rage.
    Programme music (music with a story), concert overtures and symphonic poems (one-movement orchestra pieces), incidental music (to set the mood), suites, concertos, art song (vocal musical work), technical virtuosity, shaping of music (recurring themes) are noteworthy contributions of this era. Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Wagner, Berlioz and Strauss are the more famous Romantic composers who took composing to a higher level with their exceptional pieces.

    ComposerThumbnailISBNBest PriceDescription
    Beethoven (1770-1827)Complete Beethoven Edition Box SetB004HGQXB8$118.0885 Audio CDs. Released May 31, 2011. Complete – Covers everything that Beethoven ever composed.
    Schubert (1797-1828)Schubert: The Piano Sonatas Box SetB00004SA8A$34Performer: Wilhelm Kempff. Seven CD Set that includes all of Schubert’s piano sonatas, fragments, and completed masterworks.
    Berlioz (1803-1869) Berlioz: Requiem; Symphonie funèbre et triomphale B000GYHZ6M $16.07Two CD Set. Performer: Ronald Dowd, Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Colin Davis. Includes Requiem and Symphonie F – Grand Symphonie funebre et Triomphale.
    Mendelssohn (1809-1847) Mendelssohn: Piano Trios Nos. 1 & 2, Opp. 49, 66B0030IIZ2O $12.80Performers: Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Az, Itzhak Perlman. To commemorate the Mendelssohn bicentennial in 2009, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Emanuel Ax, and violinist Itzhak Perlman collaborated together for this project.
    Schumann(1810-1856) Schumann Anniversary Box SetB003B30GSY $70.1725 CD Set by various artists released May 18, 2010.
    Liszt (1811-1886) Liszt: Piano Sonata in B MinorB004NWHVD0$14.98Performer: Marc-Andre Hamelin. Includes Fantasie und Fuge uber das Thema B-A-C-H, Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude, Gondoliera, Canzone, Tarantella, Lento Assai, Andante Sostenuto, Allegro Energico, Allegro energico-Piu mosso, and Andante Sostenuto.
    Wagner (1813-1883) Wagner: Die Walkure Box SetB004NCLKJG $16.85Three-disc set released May 3, 2011. Performers: Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek, Christa Ludwig, Jon Vickers, and Thomas Stewart. Orchestra: Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Conductor: Berislav Klobucar.
    Verdi (1813-1901) Verdi - La Traviata / Cotrubas • Domingo • Milnes • Bayerisches Staatsorchester • Carlos Kleiber B000001G5W$21.87Conductor: Carlos Kleiber, Ochestra: Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Performer: Ileana Cotrubas, Placido Domingo, and Sherrill Milnes.
    Chopin (1810-1849) Ultimate Chopin Box SetB000ICMF5S$15.165-CD Set. Conductor: Charles Dutoit, Orchestra: Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Performer: Jorge Bolet, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Claudio Arrau, Zoltan Kocsis. CD 1 Jorge Bolet, piano & Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal Charles Dutoit, conductor CD 2/CD 3 Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano CD 4 Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano CD 5 Claudio Arrau, piano.
    Smetana (1824-1884) Smetana: Complete Orchestral WorksB0012OVFIY$14.613-CD Set. Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Theodore Kuchar.
    Brahms (1833-1897) Brahms: The Symphonies Box SetB0000041Z5$20.66Orchestra: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Georg Solti, Composer: Johannes Brahms.
    Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) Tchaikovsky: The Complete Symphonies Box SetB00008PW4A $23.29Five Disc Box Set. Orchestra: New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Conductor: Leonard Bernstein.
    Dvorak (1841-1904) Dvorak: Slavonic DancesB00005YD5H$7.93Orchestra: Cleveland Orchestra, Conductor: George Szell.
    Grieg (1843-1907) Grieg: Complete Music with Orchestra Box SetB00005KK4O$26.886-CD Set. Performers: Carl-Gustaf Holmgren, Urban Malmberg, Hakan Hagegard. Orchestra: Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Neeme Jarvi.
    Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade; Stravinsky: Song of the NightingaleB0006PV5VC$7.99Orchestra: Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Fritz Reiner. Two works: Scheherazade, symphonic suite for orchestra, Op. 35 and Chant du rossingnol (The Song of the Nightingale), symphonic poem for orchestra.
    Elgar (1857-1934) Elgar: Cello Concerto; “Enigma” VariationsB000BDGWF8$6.99Orchestra: London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra. Conductor: Daniel Barenboim.
    Mahler (1860-1911) Mahler: The Complete Works – 150th Anniversary Box SetB003D0ZNWY$46.2516-CD Set. Orchestra: Berliner Philharmoniker, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Simon Rattle, John Barirolli, Otto Klemperer, Klaus Tennstedt, George Szell.
    Richard Strauss (1864-1949) Richard Strauss: 5 Great Tone PoemsB000004198$12.55Orchestra: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Conductor: Bernard Haitink, Eugen Jochum. Two-CD Set.

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