The Marketing Funnel at Baapu Market Jaipur

On a recent roadtrip, we went shopping at the famous Baapu Market in Jaipur. Its a bazaar with lots of small shops selling similar stuff mostly fabric, bangles, jewellery and the likes. One is also told to bargain hard when shopping here.

While my wife was excited about the amazing collection of fabric, jewellery etc , I was intrigued by the interesting model that these shopkeepers had adopted.

Baapu Bazaar Jaipur
Baapu Bazaar Jaipur – photo credit Eric Parker/Flickr/MakemyTrip.com

In most shops there were three different types of roles that the owner and staff were playing:

  • The Marketers – One or two people who were stationed outside the shop, about 15-20 steps away. They would shout out loudly about their speciality bangles or suit-pieces or sarees. I felt the idea was to get the attention of the people who were walking around to move towards their shop(s). They essentially brought more attention/traffic to the specific shop. Like many marketing campaigns, there focus was on increasing reach, hence they would spread in a wider catchment area.
  • The Call-to-Action – Then there was this one guy who was right at the entrance of the shop. Now, most shops here have some of their wares displayed right on the footpath. This guy would observe what me or wife were showing interest in, and would try to nudge us in saying there’s an amazing collection inside that we should check out. This is a critical step in their sales cycle. My assumption is that they have figured out that if you step inside the shop once, chances of your buying something increase multifold.
  • The Convertors – Now comes the most interesting part. In most shops (especially those dealing in fabric) one would be expected to remove shoes and sit down for the guy inside the shop to show the collection. I feel that the removing of the shoes and sitting down is like crossing a certain conversion hurdle. The prospect is now almost committed. This person(inside the shop) would be a very calm and relaxed one, who would have the utmost patience of showing us all that we asked. Its easy for one to feel bad for not buying from him since he had spent so much of his time on us. But the fact is, that its we who invest our time and end up feeling its better to buy from here, given that we have spent so much time checking out so many options. Interestingly, these guys came across as very easy to trust and in the absence of brands, its their personality and conduct that drives that trust.

Maybe I was seeing patterns where none exist.

Let me know if you visit this market and see (or fail to see) what I have just described. Will be interesting to hear from you.

Why do we sometimes go quiet during roadtrips?

Found this in my notes from a road trip taken almost 10 years back in Dec 2005.

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Road trips silent

In the last few months I have discovered a passion to travel, but what I havent learnt so far is why I love it? What gets me excited to just get out of “here” and be out “there”?

The more I think about it, the more it adds to my confusion.

I have been noticing my thoughts during these road-trips and its just amazing how the human mind is capable of such a diverse set of emotions and reactions, in seemingly similar situations.

I am yet to figure out any dominant patterns. Each trip, each journey seems to be a unique experience. How they add up? I  am not too sure. Not sure if they even add up.

What captivates me is the journey, more than the destination. The road trips are like the time spent in a planetarium, the whole universe seems to change every now and then. And the only thing you can do is shut up and watch.

Or maybe not !

I think while I am quiet outside, theres a lot that goes inside the head. But to be honest, I can’t remember what all came to my mind during my last road trip.

And looks like its not just me.

So why do we become all quiet when on a road trip?

Is it that we run out of things to talk?

Or is it that the steady pace of changing scenery somehow soothes the mind and forces all our senses to relax?

Or is it that most of the things that we intend to talk about somehow seem irrelevant and non-consequential once we are away from the hustle-bustle of our daily lives?

I feel that a change in the immediate landscape around us, forces our minds and hearts to shift gears. the vast expanse of nature all around us in its amazing beauty, forces us to think about more fundamental things.

TripAdvisor feature – add professional profile and ratings

What makes TripAdvisor a preferred choice in the process of identifying a hotel to stay at is the rich guest-feedback and reviews for most of the listed properties. The stuff about getting addresses, details, baking in a booking engine has been done by very many, but where TripAdvisor leads the pack is this recommendation layer built on top of this aggregated data.

This recommendation layer is what helps us in not only discovering but also deciding on the hotel/restaurant we want to go to. It also gives you a place to comeback and share your own views – which hopefully can influence future decisions. Which gives us a sense of being in control, of being an influencer of sorts

TripAdvisor’s recommendations product is indeed a very mature offering. They have baked in reviewer’s authority, social graph ( it shows reviews from your network clearly marked) etc.

But there is one huge opportunity which is clearly missing – Individual Professional profiles for the hospitality sector.

Let me explain this in detail.

We all know from our past experiences that the key to a great experience is much more than the architecture, luxury, ambiance etc- it is the staff which finally brings all of these together to give us a great stay. Right?

There have been times when I stayed in a great property but the staff just failed to step up to the expectations. On the other hand, some of the best times I had was when I was backpacking and staying at guest-houses and probably half star rooms in Rajasthan. The human connect is absolutely critical.

If this assumption is valid, shouldn’t we help build reputation for the hospitality sector professionals by sharing our feedback? Maybe we should avoid writing it when its an overall negative experience, but why wouldn’t I do it for a great manager/waiter?

A recent experience confirmed the need for this.

We were out on a road trip to Agra/Mathura/Vrindavan and my brother found this incredible property in Vrindavan (and not through Trip Advisor). We checked out the next day and in the whole confusion of getting all 11 people and their stuff together, my brother forgot his wallet at the reception.

We were on our way and almost back on the highway when the manager called to tell us about the wallet. On his own he checked where we were and sent out his guy on a bike to deliver the wallet. Kept calling us to check if we got it or not. When my brother called him up to say ThankYou, he just asked if we would write a positive review on TripAdvisor.

We did, but guess who gets the 5 star rating? This manager got mentioned, but he would get drowned in the list of fresh or helpful reviews that would float over my brothers review of the property.

trip-advisor-ratings

Look at the image above from Dusit Devarana’s page. These are the top 2 reviews showing and one can see Varun Kutty being mentioned – unfortunately one guest got the name wrong. Many other reviews don’t mention Varun. Wouldn’t Varun love to have a small place on TripAdvisor which shows a summary of only those reviews which mention Varun. That would be a personal trophy for him – one that keeps getting bigger day-by-day !

Also given the churn in the hospitality sector, this manager would probably move to a new location and while he might dig out the review and show it during interviews, it might not be a compelling argument in his favor.

What if,

  • TripAdvisor allows hospitality sector professionals to build Linkedin kind of profiles
  • A guest who is reviewing a property can also mention the specific staff members who influenced their experience
  • Maybe we would want to keep the personnel mentions for positive reviews only- hence trigger the prompt or tagging option only when the rating is 4 or 5.  I would want to do this to keep the negative reviews out, which are rarely written objectively.
  • Aggregate the reviews/ratings mapped against the professional and show it as a summary. Also show this in combination with the property or brand they were associated with at that point of time.
  • This profile could also be used as a proxy for background/reference checking. Hospitality sector suffers from a very high level of CV fraud and most of those pertain to prior experience.
  • This would also get the hospitality staff fully integrated to the TripAdvisor platform. They might not feel the threat of competition right now, but this would help build a very strong hurdle against any future threat.

In my opinion, this would also motivate the staff to invest in each interaction they have with guests. The gap is that this would end up catering to the front-end staff only and miss out on the back-end folks. Very few people ask for the chef’s name at a restaurant if they have had a great meal.

Pottery – clay coming alive

The bazaar is one place I enjoy a lot. Especially in small towns, where the concept of air conditioned malls hasnt intruded yet. Here in the bazaar amidst all the noise and commotion, I usually find interesting stories, subjects for my photos or sheer inspiration.

I was in Muzzafarnagar, a small town in UP, attending a marriage function, when I sneaked out to see the local bazaar. Armed with my camera, i ventured into the crowded lanes to discover the town.

pottery

After the usual grocery, bangles, footwear, woollen shops, came across a house which had a very old and rusty look to it. At the front were piled earthen-pots and what we call “kullads” – the clay tumblers which were so common in Indian rails almost a decade back.

Through the crack of the door, I found this old potter working on some earthen jugs and tumblers. I asked him if I could come in and watch him do his art. He not only complied but gave me a crash course of sorts – taking a new lump of clay and showing me how “simple” it is.

Pemayangtse Monastery Pelling Sikkim

Pelling (in Sikkim) is home to one of the most beautiful monasteries I have ever seen – the Pemayangtse Monastery.

Pemayangtse Monastery

Founded by Lama Lhatsun Chempo in 1705, it is one of the oldest and premier monasteries of Sikkim. Also interesting is the fact that this was a monastery specially built for “pure monks” (ta-tshang) meaning “monks of pure Tibetan lineage“, celibate and without any physical abnormality. This practice is still retained.

History apart, you are sure to love the bright colors that adorn the monastery walls, the amazing views from here and the calm peaceful atmosphere inside. Dont miss the amazing 7 storied woodden structure on the first floor of the monastery.

T42 says hello, in his style

Tiger census has gained a lot of public attention thanks to the Aircel Campaigns sharing that there were exactly 1411 tigers left in India.  Many in India, have questioned the authenticity and the reliability of the census figures and maybe even the methodology. Even an ignorant like me, had a point of view.

Mounting pressure and public attention has now resulted in census no longer being a forest-department only exercise. It seems the management at National parks now actively seek volunteers who can witness, contribute and validate the census. And may be become a tiger activist or a conservationist one day. Thanks to all these previous efforts of very many people, I got my first chance to spend one full day (yes thats 24 long hours) perched on a machaan, in a jungle that the Tigers call home !

Machan at Ranthambore Tiger Census

My friend registered my name as a volunteer for this and I was thrilled at the opportunity. I took a morning bus on Saturday to reach Jaipur. The next day we drove out early morning to Sawai Madhopur and reported at the Ranthambore National Park”s  main office. It was total chaos. More than 50 jeeps, 10-15 canters (long open roof mini-trucks which can seat 20 people used for the safari) and more than 200 guards, volunteers (one could easily identify them from the sheer excitement on their faces), members from Press and professional photographers (this is the category I identify with Bazooka lenses) were all eagerly waiting for the day to officially begin.

We were issued our areas and given our supplies – huge water campers, first aid kits, packed food and the census form. I am told that Ranthambore NP covers around 430 sq kms and is split into multiple zones. We got the Qualji area, which is almost 30 Kms away from the main zone. We drove out to the forest office at Qualji and waited for the rest of the troops to join us. After 3 rounds of somewhat bitter Rajasthani tea, we had the required quorum for the Ranger saab to initiate the proceedings.

We picked our supplies, took out the daris, the cameras and climbed onto the jeeps to head into the forest. The ranger saab stopped at the first machan , which was built on a not-so-tall babool tree and provided splendid view of a large waterhole infront of it. It was surrounded by thorny bushes (hopefully that was the deterrent for animals to come close) and there was nothing blocking the view for almost 270 degrees. I got down with my stuff, but saw that two gents were already there. I had briefly met the duo who were part of the Gujju gang from Ahmedabad. They requested me to take up another post as the friends wanted to be together. My friend, who had told the ranger to allocate me a nice spot, told me to go ahead and take this one, but I decided not to.

So I told the ranger that I am fine with any other spot, so long as the chances of a tiger visit are high. A guard I had befriended during our chai session told me he knew the perfect spot along the river. He said its right where 2 tigers and a leopard have been spotted very many times. I trusted the fellow and said lets go.

We drove down the tracks to the river bed and then hiked about half a km with our stuff towards the machan. Our machan was on a thick white tree, some 30ft off the ground. On our right was the riverbed, somewhat dried which forked the shallow river into two streams. Our side of the riverbed rose into a mud hillock some 15 ft up, which meant the machan itself was just 15ft away from the ground.

We were supposed to spend one full day on the machan and keep a log of all animals which came out to this watering hole. The empty sheet had clear rows for tigers, leopard, bear, jackal, fox, wild dogs,peacocks, sambhar, chinkaras, cheetals and a few more. We took our positions around 3 pm and started the vigil. The sun was so bright and strong, that we only focused on keeping ourselves hydrated and trying to build a shade with some dari. Around 5, my companion RajKumar decided to climb further up on the tree to get a better view. By the way, did I tell you he is a master black belt, commando trainer who looks really intimidating. Even at 47 years he climbed up the tree like some young recruit fresh out of army boot camp.

So while RajKumar was giving me a count of all the deers and peacocks he could see from his new “seat”, I decided to stretch my legs and save my energy for the night vigil. Darkness fell and my excitement started increasing, coz suddenly I could hear so many more sounds. I feel our ears hear better when we are not distracted by the sounds. While it was the night after a full-moon, it was still very dark due to a thick cloud cover.

Around 8.30pm the guards came to our machan in their jeep, with packed dinner. RajKumarji climbed down (he knew I would find it much tougher than him to climb down and back up, ha ha), collected the food and came back on the machan. The guards called out to me, and told me “Wribhuji the first machan that you were supposed to be on, was lucky. The tiger was there for almost 80 mins before sunset.” And my reaction was, something better would happen now.

The guards had left for only 5 mins and Rajkumar had downed 2 pooris, when we heard a clear roar, somewhere down the river. The roar gradually started getting louder as if the cat was moving down the river towards us. We became really quiet, lest the tiger should decide to move away. It was so dark, that while the roars were telling us that the tiger was somewhere right below our machan, we could see nothing. I managed to take out my phone, and start its voice recorder. Kept it under 3-4 layers of a thick towel, so that the light doesnt go out and disturb the cat.

T42 Tiger at Ranthambore

While we were sitting very still and enjoying this amazing experience, Rajkumar ji pointed to the mound infront of us. i could see nothing and after a few seconds we were back to looking down at the river bed, trying to figure out where the tiger was.

Suddenly we heard some shuffling on the mound and then a deafening roar. And we saw the outline of a tiger on the mound moving fast towards us. In a matter if 3 seconds, the tiger roared twice and charged at us jumping in the air, but deciding to stop almost 5-6 ft away from us. Many asked us, if we were scared. Truth is, it happened so fast that I could hardly react. The tiger then stepped back and lay still. We were equally still and quiet. For the next 15 minutes neither we moved nor the tiger. All we could see was its faint outline, not even sure if it was looking in our direction. After 15 minutes we saw its shadow bolt into the jungles on the left and we heard a distant roar.

All this while, the tiger under our machan at the riverside was silent. It roared again a few times and the roars grew faint and finally could not be heard. We realized we had the great opportunity to be in the presence of two tigers. We heard them both, but only one showed up to say hello !

In the morning when we recounted our experience to the ranger, he told us that the tiger that charged was T 42 who was on its way to the riverbed to meet his girl friend T37. The two have been trying to mate for the last 3 days and we spoiled it for him on that night. I could suddenly understand why it had charged at us :-).

Feedback, suggestions and views on Indian Armed Forces Coffee Table Book

I have been thinking of working on a coffee table book which brings a closer look into the lives of our soldiers and officers. And before I start taking steps towards this goal, I wanted to get your insights and feedback.

Tiger Hill
Tiger Hill As seen from Drass

Background: I had almost joined the NDA after my class 12th but destiny had other plans.   I have also noticed how the current generation of civilians, has no idea of fauj or  insights into a fauji’s life. I guess its coz they have too many distractions and the armed forces fail to compete with their attention.
I want to do a series of stories, wherein the lives of our men in uniform is covered , something where the the narrative is very personal,insightful . In the process inform the people about the role the armed forces play and how they can look at it as a possible career option.

My current plans: I have been thinking about this and have this approach as of now:

  • Reach out to one of the wings (of the armed forces) and discuss this idea with them. I am hoping that this will appeal to them as a way to increase visibility. I am told that the officer applications have steadily declined.
  • Ask the fauj to host me and help with the logistics. I would ideally want to cover multiple locations, units, types of careers, stories both famous and unheard and come up with 5-6 stories every week. I understand that some or most of it might have to go through some kind of sanitation check due to security issues.
  • Once there is some clear direction and traction, would approach a possible publisher for the print (coffee table) version of this.

Your inputs: You can help me with some constructive feedback on

  • How else I could structure this
  • Whether you would be keen to follow such stories on the blog
  • Any contacts/leads in the army/navy/air-force which can be tapped for this
  • Possible collaborators (if the official channel doesnt work). Would you be willing to talk to faujis in your neighbourhood/network and collectively work on this.

Will be great to hear from you. Thanks in advance.

Sound and light show @ Amer Fort, Jaipur

I have been to Jaipur a lot, but had never managed to see the sound and light show at Amer Fort.  Its a shame that I had missed it for so long. Fully recommended.

I managed to catch the 1900 hrs Hindi version which had Mr BigB’s voice and some amazingly well articulated narration . The audience was thin, given that it was a cold night on a weekday.But it was a perfect setting with an almost full-moon giving us a sense of our surrounding hillocks. The audience sits facing the Amer fort with back towards the highway that runs parallel to the fort. The story is about the life of Amer fort- how it had seen the rise & fall of not just the local kingdoms but of the mighty Marathas and the Mughals.

Not just the script or the story, the musical notes & the technical work done by the light guys is worth a standing ovation – and thats what they got from the 25 odd people gathered there that night.

Pls do make sure you take time out for this on your next trip to the pink city.

3guys,New car,2000 kms,No itinerary and Loads of fun

The best trips are the ones we dont plan- and so it is, yet again.
I had been after my friend- Vigyaan- who runs a rural tourism venture- to do some justice to his venture and spend some time on the road- exploring Kutchh and other beautiful places on the way. After almost 3 weeks of cajoling, taunts and mild abuses, we were on. The trip was initially to be over the weekend but then the 3rd guy-Ritesh- wanted to bring his new ride for this highway trip across Rajasthan & Gujarat. So he got his new Swift serviced on Saturday and we were to start from Jaipur on Sunday morning.

I took the night bus into Jaipur and managed to freshen up at my friend’s place before we hit the roads at 7 a.m. We made our first stop in Jaipur for chai-maska. I dont know where exactly we stopped, but apparently this chai-wala baba has a reputation- one which made people queue for tea/bfast at 6.30.
We started from Jaipur and Vigyaan managed to get himself behind the wheels, when Ritesh lit his first one. And we soon realised that you cant risk putting a guy who drives an automatic, behind the wheels of a manual drive- esp on the highway. Twice in the first 30 mins, Ritesh had to remind Vigyaan that the car had a 5th gear too !

Now Ritesh, is a wildlife enthusiast- or so we discovered. And he started convincing us slowly but surely, that if we are headed upto Kutchh, might as well go to Gir Forests and try our luck at Lion sightings. He had me on his side, when he said that this would mean another 200-300 kms. Vigyaan was worried about getting back to work on Monday (he didnt realise that Monday was not happening, even if we were going till Kutchh).
So by the time, we crossed Ajmer and reached Udaipur, we were trying to fix a place at Gir for us to stay. Couple of minutes on Google & Lonely Planet and we realised that this was the “off-season” – something we would hear a few more times on the trip. Ritesh was sad and i had to sell what was waiting for us at the Kutchh – dried river beds, villagers in colorful attires, flamingoes and wild ass.

So after a really spicy lunch, we set our coordinates for Ahmedabad via Himmatnagar. Great thing is, Ritesh is not too enthusiastic about driving and Vigyaan prefers to catch up on his beauty sleep whenever time permits. So yours truly was behind the wheels most of the time and i was enjoying it completely. We were cruising at almost 100-120 kmph averaging 80-90kmph and it was hard not to appreciate the amazing quality of roads. The weather was also good, with a nice cloud cover and the only two things one could complain about were toll-plazas and quality of tea.

When we had just crossed Himmatnagar and taken the turn towards Ahmedabad, Ritesh took out the Lonely Planet and started reading about Kutchh and which town to head into. He found a guide’s number and dialled his number to be told, that this is not the season for Kutchh. We insisted, it doesnt matter, whats the worst that would happen, no flamingoes- right? we could live with that. But the good man that this guide was, insisted that the roads that go into Kutchh are flooded and there is no way we are seeing even the salt-beds or the wild-asses (not even wild ass !!!!)

This was crisis! We had just driven 600 kms and Kutchh was out. We cleared our minds with another round of tea and did a you turn. Ritesh and Vigyaan insisted we should go to Mt Abu and that was one place I wasnt keen on going. We reached Himmatnagar by-pass and asked for Abu Road- and while we were trying to get there, we found ourselves at Mota Ambaji. Now I know a lot of places- religious and otherwise and I had never heard of this place.Apparently its a very famous temple of Goddess Durga and the whole town & its economy revolves around pilgrims- much like Shirdi.
We were glad to have discovered this place, spent 2 hrs in line and when we were finally out of the temple, it was almost 8pm on our first day on the road. We decided to spend the night at one of the hotels in town and also managed to catch the 9.30 movie at the local theatre – Lamhaa.
The movie was a complete disaster, but the hotel staff was amazing. We were told that the kitchen closes at 10.00 pm and we would not get anything anywhere in town after the movie. Ritesh, the smooth talker that he is, managed to convince the hotel staff to get our dinner for us at the theatre during intermission- how many of you have had dinner brought to a cinema hall.

By next morning, I had convinced the duo to go to Jaisalmer, my logic was that I had never seen the real desert- sand dunes et al. So plan was to drive through the day and somehow manage to reach Sam in Jaisalmer district. We drove past a nice stretch of road that connects Mota Ambaji to Abu Road and from there to the NH. By the time we hit our first toll plaza, Ritesh was low on adventure and probably nicotine too. He insisted that Jaisalmer in this season is not worth the additional 900-1000 Kms we are planning to drive. Guess the lack of sleep had made me weak, but I soon conceded to his not-the-right-season logic and we stopped to decide where to go. Vigyaan pulled out his laptop to check with uncle Google for options, I dished out my LP and we had options ranging from Mt abu,Haldi Ghati, Chittorgarh, Udaipur to what not. It went on for almost 15 minutes without any clarity on our next destination, so i decided to take matters in my own hands. MtAbu was vetoed and i started driving straight ahead saying they could decide where we need to go until we make our next stop on the same road- which was at SawaiSagar lake near Udaipur. So we drove for the next couple of hours, by when Ritesh had proposed that we go to Sawai Madhopur. He mentioned that the Ranthambore National Park would be closed, but there was a white river bed stretch where one could see crocs- so Sawai Madhopur it was!
Ritesh is a regular at Ranthambore (claims to have visited it more than 50 times) and by the time we settled into his regular resort, he had figured out that there was a male tiger which had strayed from the park boundary into the nearby sanctuary and had been sighted there for the last 2 days. So we decided to say a little prayer and go on a safari the next morning- into this small sanctuary which was open when it was off season everywhere else. And bingo, there it was – a male tiger lounging in the mud!

My first sight of the majestic creature, and all i wanted to do was get a closer look. Unfortunately our driver didn’t share the same passion for closed-range viewing and hushed my requests mid-way. For the next 25-30 minutes the cat looked at us, ignored us and slept while we took turns clicking and looking through the zoom lens. We then decided to take a quick tour of the rest of the jungle and come back for the stripey. So a couple of wild boar, jackal and buck sightings later, we headed back to the same spot- but as luck would have it, we were shooed away by the rangers. It seems they had been trying to tranquilise this tiger (T12) for the last 18 months and today was a great opportunity.
Though we were outraged at not being allowed the magnificent view, we were told how lucky we were to have sighted T12 in the first place. It seems the male tiger’s territory is much bigger and hence its tougher to locate/sight.

We came back to the resort, rested and started on our way back to Jaipur- thanking Ritesh for the first tiger sightings of our lives. While tracing our path back via Dausa, Vigyaan found his opportunity to prove that he runs a tourism venture. According to him, if we took a de-tour of about 30 kms, we would be able to see India’s biggest baori (waterwell) which was made famous by the Shahrukh movie- Paheli.
So off we went to Chand Baori at Abaneri (you can read about it on GoPlaces). The magnificent structure needs to be seen with one’s own eyes as I am not too confident of doing justice to it with my words or shots.

From Abaneri we went off straight to Jaipur to finish a roadtrip which had taken us almost in circles around Rajasthan and Gujarat- a trip where luckily no one insisted on making plans or sticking to them. Travelling just for the sake of being on the road.

Life on the Edge – A Trek To Gidara

It all started after I posted on facebook that I am free for at least one week during June and would like to go for a trek. Surprisingly, by evening I received two suggestions regarding possible trekking routes that are doable in June from friends who were equally frustrated with mundane city Continue reading “Life on the Edge – A Trek To Gidara”