Photobucket had recently made a very dick move by disabling all third-party embedded pics unless I pay $399. I've been blogging for 13 years and have 2000+ embedded pics across 650+ blog posts, which are now all unviewable. I'm working on moving my images to a new host, so until then, please do bear with me if you cannot view any images on my older blog posts.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chp 327. Traveling to Mizoram: A tourist guide

I’m not sure if my Mizo and non-Mizo readers will agree to this, but what I have realized in my 7 years as a blogger is that, when it comes to blogging about Mizoram (from a tourist perspective), it is more helpful to read the blogs of non-Mizos than us locals.

I don’t think there is a single Mizo blog out there with in-depth details about tourist location in Mizoram that can help others who are interested in visiting the place. Hope I’m mistaken.

First of all, many of us Mizos blog in our own language so that doesn’t help people who want to learn more about Mizoram tourism. Secondly, those of us who do write in English, hardly write about tourism.

And thirdly, even if we do write about our experience at a tourist location, we write as a local, as something we’re doing out of fun and leisure. We tend to miss all the small minute details, purely because we are from that place and are used to such sights. Pretty much like the saying, “Don’t know what you got, till it’s gone.” To us, it is something we see every day and we feel there is nothing great in writing about such stuff.

However, from the eyes of a tourist who is visiting Mizoram for the first time, things are very different. He or she will notice a lot of interesting things about Mizoram that many of us tend to miss out, and suddenly one realizes that those small minute details we have missed out are sometimes the things that matter the most!

Even when it comes to photography, there are many Mizo photo-bloggers now, and many of them post really amazing photographs of different tourist locations across Mizoram. Yet what is missing are the descriptions and also important information like how to get there, where is the nearest hotel from that place, how to hire cars to get there, how much does it cost, are there any good restaurants nearby etc, because like I said, such posts are not written for a tourist audience and many authors assume Mizos who visit their blogs don’t need to know about such information.

In today’s internet age, it is a known fact that most of us do our little research first before buying a new product or visiting a new place. Apart from expert’s advice, we also like to know the feedback of people who have actually used that product or visited the place.

When it comes to online search, people look at various travel and tourism sites, and even UGC (User Generated Content) discussion forums like Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor and Trek Earth, or more India specific forums like Ghumakkar, India Mike and Kunzum. Information on such sites are reliable.

But the end of the day, what people want to read is more about first-hand experience of those who have taken the particular trip (and not some brochure of a travel agency filled with flowery language). And that is where blogs come into the picture. When it comes to travel-blogging, yes there are quite a number of tourists who have visited Mizoram and blogged about it.

In this post, I would like to list out five recent blogs that I came across, that were written by non-Mizos who traveled to Mizoram. I have selected the five people, not just because they were all recent (after all, who would want to read about an old experience at a location that may probably not exist now) - I selected them because they all came from a different background.

In brief, the five people are:

  1. A traveler from Cochin who planned to visit the entire country to appreciate the diversity and magnificence of our great country.

  2. A hiking enthusiast from Coimbatore who took part in a YHAI (Youth Hostels Association of India) trekking program in Mizoram.

  3. Two brave backpackers from Hyderabad who decided to tour the North East on a shoe-string budget of less than 150 bucks a day! Unbelievable.

  4. An American who came to India to coach players and other coaches about basketball, and suddenly decided to include Mizoram in his itinerary too.

  5. A family from Delhi who are currently staying in Saiha. Most tourists in Mizoram limit their visit to Aizawl (and its neighboring areas). Through their eyes and words, you can see the beauty of Southern Mizoram that’s rarely visited by tourists.


Five people from different parts of India (and abroad), coming to Mizoram for different reasons, each with an interesting experience along the way. Reading about their journey will be enough to answer most of your queries if you are looking forward to visiting Mizoram.

Here are their stories…



1. Suresh Joseph – The Railwayman Who Sold His Maruti.

The name of his blog is a takeoff from “The Monk who sold his Ferrari”, which I believe is quite apt for what he is currently doing – traveling across the country in his Santro visiting every state and rediscovering the finer things of life.

Suresh Joseph is from Cochin, Kerala, and is a proud father of two. He is currently still in Mizoram, as per his latest blog post, and will be on his way to various other places across India. Here are some of his posts. Please click on the links to read the entire posts.


DAY 47 – Silchar to Aizawl

From the Mizoram border to Kolasib the road was good. After that the condition was bad, particularly the road to Sairang. Just short of Kawnpui I had my first accident of the trip. A biker took a longer loop to negotiate a curve and I was blinded by bright sunlight. There were a few huts by the side of the road and I expected them to aggregate at the site of the accident. No such thing, as would happen in Kerala, where every passerby would have his opinion on the accident. The damages on either side were negligible. Hence, we parted amicably. At Thingdawl there is a church of St Alphonsa.


DAY 48 - In Aizawl

The Mizo society is virtually free of caste distinctions and women appear liberated; they smoke openly and are quite westernized in their preference for clothes. Women are also very visible in the work place, whether in offices or in shops. The Mizos have two main meals, the first by 9 am before they go to office and the second by 7 pm. During the ‘lunch break’ they have tea and snacks.

By 6 pm, I was taken to a view point near Thuampui. It is one of the most glorious night views of a city that one can see. From the view point, Aizawl looks like a city of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. I mentioned yesterday that the hills have been completely built upon. The properties are not less than three storeys high. They look like huge skyscrapers in the night when the lights are on. Those of you who plan to visit Aizawl must definitely factor in an evening at the Thuampui view point close to the “Pushpak House”; it may not feature in most tourist guide books.


DAY 49 - Aizawl to NE Khawdungsei

Me: How long will it take to reach Imphal from the border of Mizoram?
He: It depends, Sir.
Me: It depends on what?
He: It depends on how fast you drive, Sir. You will reach early if you drive fast, Sir.
Me: How long do you take when you drive to Imphal from the border?
He: It depends on when I start, Sir. If I start early, I reach early, Sir.

At this point I forced a smile and turned away for fear of losing either my sanity or temper, and in all probability, both.

(lolz! )


DAY 50 – NE Khawdungsei to Manipur border and back to Ngopa

Thomas confirmed that the Young Mizo Association (present in every village) and the Synod (in Aizawl) are the most powerful influences on society and politics. The YMA collects Rs. 30 as contribution from every family annually. When a member of the family passes away, YMA makes available the coffin and the burial is done by the Church without any cost to the family. The cemeteries are common; unlike the practice elsewhere, all churches provide a common burial ground. Every earning member in a village contributes a tenth of the earnings to the Church as tithe. The Church accounts, published annually, mentions all the contributions made. Besides, the Church also collects voluntary contribution of rice from families, auctions it and replenishes the church coffers.



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2. Senthil Subramaniam – The YHAI dude.

Senthil hails from Mettupalayam in Coimbatore district, not very far from where I did my BE in Computer Science – PSG Tech. He’s taken part in a YHAI trekking expedition, and as I publish this post, he is still updating his blog with new posts about the trek in Mizoram.

Even I used to be a YHAI member a long time ago, and YHAI conducts trek like this many times across the country. It is for the true trekking enthusiast only, and not for those of you looking forward to a nice cozy and plush hotel room with hot shower and 5-star room service. If you love adventure and itching to explore the unknown, then you better sign up with YHAI and wait for the next trekking and caving expedition in Mizoram.

What I love about Senthil’s journal is that, he has got a lot of facts about Mizoram correctly, based from mere observation alone, and everything is written down so simple and straightforward.

Here are his posts so far. Please click on the links to read the entire posts.

Mizoram Trek-YHAI

The airport was small and beautiful and people were found to be already in very relaxed mood. On the road to hostel, I found the terrain and the weather much similar to western ghats. The houses were small and mostly made of bamboo. People reside mostly near to roads and it was a nicely built road by Border Road Organization (BRO). The whole Mizoram have lot of maruti 800 and no wonder Aizawl is called as city of Maruti.

We were welcomed by YHAI Mizoram state secretary Mr Sailo and the President. We were the first to report and they were giving suggestions around Mizoram to view. We had 3 days to spend before we start trekking. They were suggesting to go to Ridhil lake. This lake is supposedly sacred for ancient Mizos, where they believed all souls will reach this lake after death on their journey after death. Also this lake is in Myanmar and we can cross the border without a Passport! It is about 225 KM from Aizawl. YHAI booked everything for our journey and Mr Sailo was very helpful. We were required to take a bus to Champai by 5 PM.


Mizoram – Continued

All over Mizoram it was amazingly calm and peace. Most of the places women work and very few shops had men working. Mizo is a open society and they give equal status to women. I found few condom disposal dustbins inside a college, which surprised me. There are a lot of HIV patients in Mizoram. They are well educated but not in English. They are very clean and I have seen people washing the floor even at night. There is quite lot of traffic in Aizawl but they don’t honk like other places in India.

Women smoke in public and there are dustbins all over the place. Even small villages have dustbins and people throw their garbage only there. Same is the case for urinals. There are a lot of public toilets and people use them. Each house has facility for rainwater storage. Even Mizoram receives lot of rain and because of the terrain there is scarcity of water. So people have really big rain water tanks in front of their house. They love music and are highly fashioned. There are a lot of Yamaha bikes too. It’s very difficult to spot old people. Do they look young or they die early? People are relatively short compared to other Indians.


Mizoram Trek Days

We had lunch on reaching the road. After lunch, we were following the main road to the Ailwang village. We gave few chocolates to the children in the village. The village was small and few people enquired about us. We followed to the top of village and a water tank. The campsite was near to the water tank. We were welcomed by the camp leader with Tea and hot bondas. After everyone reached the campsite, we were taken to the cave.

The cave has a story. The cave was considered as evil by the Mizos at old time. The first person who explored the cave had lost his hair when he came out of the cave and later died mysteriously in few days.


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3. Ajay and Inder - Hitchhikers with a difference.

We met through Twitter when they were about to embark on a noble journey of traveling across the North Eastern states on a budget of less than 150 bucks per day. Their twitter hashtag #150aday was quite popular too.

They were looking for people across each NE state who could guide them etc, and when it came to Mizoram, my name came to their attention. Even though I was in Mumbai, I did manage to arrange some contacts for them. My friend Mazami in Aizawl did a great job showing them around and making sure they had a great time. And at the end of their journey, it was really nice of them to thank all of us for making their trip successful.

Here are some of their adventures while they were staying in Mizoram. Please click on the link to read the complete post.


Journeys in the Land of the Highlanders (Mizoram)

Can you help but feel that you are in paradise when you have views such as this one, every morning you wake up? I still remember what Nicolitta said in “One crazy ride”, something about how paradise or heaven is always described as a place above the sky and how she had actually seen it on her trip. I can say that about every morning we woke up in Aizawl.

We landed in the city from Silchar late in the afternoon – about 3pm or so. And what do we see – tons of school kids! Of course, we had already read that Mizoram is the second most literate state in India (literacy rate nearly 90%), but seeing is another thing. After washing up, we thought we would go out for a stroll and see the city and we got another surprise. Most of the businesses close early in the evening – by 6pm almost everyone is home and the streets are empty. We found the reason a few days later – they open very early too – it gets bright by 5am and the markets are full by 6am.


YMA

We got an opportunity to see how YMA helped rural communities first hand when we visited a couple of villages on our way back from Tamdil lake. They were building a community recreation center for the residents of the nearby areas. Generate employment and at the same time build something useful for the community! In addition to looking out for each other, Mizos also treat their guests with a lot of respect too. I think a simple thought put into action properly can make a lot of difference – and YMA is doing exactly that!


Back to School in Mizoram

But, the experience from meeting the Principal (of Govt. Higher Secondary School) is the best we could get. He was so supportive in what we are doing and when he said that he was envious of what we are doing, we were over the clouds. When we told him that we are heading to Arunachal Pradesh next, he became nostalgic and shared with us that he studied there and he still has friends near Itanagar. What’s more, he gave 1000 Rupees as pocket money to us!


Postcards from Mizoram

(I’m hot-linking this directly from their site. Please visit the link above for more photographs such as this.)



Journey from Aizawl to Guwahati - Trucks and Trains!

Our stay in Mizoram had been amazing thanks to the ever hospitable Mizos. Alas, all good things must come to an end and we travelers had to move on to our next destination. After getting rejuvenated in Mizoram, we thought we should go to Arunachal – the most touristy of the north-eastern states. We were ready for the arduous journey ahead – nearly 800km – going down from the hills (Mizoram) to the plains (Guwahati) and climbing up treacherous roads in the hills (to Bomdila and Tawang) again.


So long and thanks for all the fish

After exactly one month of starting, our hitchhiking trip comes to an official end today. This trip would not have been possible without the help of friends we made. The following list may not be comprehensive, but is an attempt to thank all those who helped us –

Mizoram:
  • Mr. Kima (Mumbai)
  • Ms. Mazami
  • Ms. Ruth
  • Mr. Ngaihtea

( Thank you thank you Ajay and Inder. Hope you guys do something like this again in the near future.)


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4. JD Walsh - Slam dunking the funk in Mizoram.

JD Walsh is a former University of Maryland basketball player and founder of JD Walsh Basketball School. Founded in 1998 with the simple intent to teach local kids in the New York metro area, it has now evolved into a global enterprise that has operated in eight countries, on three continents and has touched over 18,000+ lives--and counting.

JD Walsh has been associated with India for 3 years now. Two weeks ago, after continuous requests from one of his students from Mizoram - KC (who also happened to be my friend and teammate during my basketball days), JD Walsh finally came to Mizoram!

What’s even more surprising was to see so many other friends I used to play basketball with in his videos! Lolz. They are all coaches (or training to be coaches) now. Here are some excerpts from his blog. Please click on the link below to read the complete post and view the photographs and videos.


JD Walsh: Mizoram

The mountains were truly breathtaking and it was refreshing to see there no Ashrams, or westerns walking around in maroon robes, no 7 star Oberois, no McDonalds, and no Thomas Friedman’s — there world here is still ROUND and I suspect remain unchanged for a long time. I kept thinking where am I ?

During the drive, host Charla was singing the Beatles “long and windy road” when Mala’s cell phone would ring (that like every 2 minutes) ring tone Kanye West “stronger” as we rode the windy roads. I kept thinking where am I?

The topography changed distinctly as I entered into the city limits.

Mizoram is very different than any I have traveled to in India. I saw no one dressed in kurta, very few Hindu statues or banners with politician’s faces. Very Few cars honked as they sat in traffic. It is the # 2 most literate state in India and a dry state. The Mizos have an Asian type look and are very up to date with American fashion and music.

A lot of hilly walks, the traffic is so bad here – best to take a two wheeler – um, down THAT hill? The shower had hot water for like 18 seconds (and it took me two days to figure out how to get it started) but after the Westerness rubbed off I realized — this place is AMAZING! India always brings me back to a sense of humanness.

After a short respite in a modest hotel – with amazing chai (some of the best in India!) We hit to the courts.

What I found was what the Mizos lacked in height, they gained in endurance and speed. There basketball were worn, there shoes were worn – these guys loved to play! Unlike all my India stops, I can see from the initial ball handling drills they have seen them all before and the have been practicing.




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5. Roshni and Nimesh – A home away from home.

Last but not the least, we have two bloggers Roshni and her husband Nimesh from Delhi who are currently staying in Saiha. What is unique about their blogs is that, unlike most outsiders who write about Aizawl and places close to the city, Roshni and Nimesh focus on Southern Mizoram, a place that not just outsiders but many Mizos from the capital have not visited yet.

My memories of Saiha are quite foggy now as it’s been around two decades since I’ve been there. But reading through their blogs really brings back a lot of memories.

They blog about the daily life in Saiha and its surrounding areas, both as a local and an outsider at the same time, hence making sure that some of the important details are not left out.

Since their blogs are filled with their experience in Southern Mizoram, I will not be highlighting specific posts and instead link their entire blogs.

Roshni: A Year To Myself

Nimesh: Mizoram Samrakshan


Trust me, you will enjoy going through their blogs, regardless of whether you are a Mizo or non-Mizo. And there are a lot of photographs on their blogs too, all depicting the life in Southern Mizoram.


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To sum it up, I really hope this post saved you a lot of time from Googling, especially when all these damn travel sites use certain search keywords you would use, hence making your search a futile attempt.

If I have left out any blogs that are similar to these, or if you think there are certain blogs that should be highlighted here too, please do notify me and I will do the needful.

All in all, if you are looking forward to visiting Mizoram, I really hope the posts I have linked above answered all your queries. In case of any other doubt, do get in touch with me via twitter: @Mizohican or mail me at silv_kim[at]yahoo[dot]com



Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chp 326. Targeted Ads versus Privacy

...exactly how far are you willing to go when it comes to invading the privacy of others? Or is invasion of privacy nothing but a natural outcome of our “tell-all, bare-all” attitude in the online world?


Behavioral targeting, reality mining, contextual advertising, semantic targeting… these are all what digital marketers of today are talking about every day. To keep it simple – these are the ways in which advertisers are reaching you as you sit in front of your computer screen browsing through various websites. In tomorrow’s online world, no longer will you see random banner ads about a product you are not interested in. Instead you will see a product that is relevant and more importantly, one that appeals to you.

Unlike TV, print and radio ads, digital marketing can be tailor-stitched to meet your exact whims and fancies.

For example, IP based advertising (known as Geotargeting) had been in practice for many years now. Have you ever visited one of those “shady” sites, you know, the ones that require you to click a button to enter only if you are above 18 (yeah riteee, like anybody’s gonna click the “I’m sorry, I’m not above 18” EXIT button! )

Once you’re in such a site, suddenly a pop-up button appears from below with the face of a hot semi-nude babe and she is crying out to you, “Hi, I’m Neha and I am from Mumbai (or whichever place you’re from). I’m feeling lonely tonight. Wanna chat?”

And of course many gullible surfers exclaimed, “How the eff does she know I’m from freaking Mumbai? Shit, this is so genuine, I am totally going for it!” And clicking that chat link takes them to probably a malware infected website or a porno site where the more desperate ones actually use their credit card to register and get scammed.

That is how people use Geotargeting to make a quick buck. And this has been implemented for many brands too, for example, if a particular brand goes for a PPC (pay per click) banner campaign whose target is only a population of a specific location (India, or even more specific like Mumbai).

Of course this method is a complete #FAIL if you are using IP scramblers, proxy servers etc. Still, the percentage of people who do that is miniscule compared to the number of netizens online.

And then you have the ever important contextual advertising. Take your Google Ads for example. If you insert a Google adsense code in your blog, the ads that appear there are relevant to your blog topic. Click on a different post of yours, and you will see different ads that are again relevant to your blog topic of that page.

Hence the logic is that people are reading your blog post because they like the particular topic, and hence they are more likely to click an ad on that page because it also talks about a similar topic as the post they are currently reading.

Likewise, search engines like Google use contextual advertisements not just on websites, but even on search results. Search for dogs on Google and apart from the results about dogs, you will also see a couple of ads for dogs at the side.

Of course the downside to this is that the article can have a completely different context, which may turn out to be a disaster for the advertisement in the end!

Example:



I too have seen wrong contextual ads a couple of times on my blog, hence the reason I have removed them now. Below is a print-screen of my blog many years ago . Click on pic to see the ad.



To solve this, many people are shifting to semantic targeting now. Unlike contextual ads, semantic targeting uses the semantic web (a web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines). Hence it will try to analyze the context first using various filters and parameters and understand the entire sentiment of the content before throwing up appropriate ads.

Wiki clearly defines it:
A key difference between semantic targeting and contextual advertising system is that, instead of scanning a page for bidded keywords, a semantic system examines all the words and identifies the senses of those words, hence avoiding the potentially brand damaging occurrence of, for example, an airline advertising alongside a story about an air disaster.


Behavioral targeting - Now this is what opened the Pandora’s Box! Depending on your online behavior (your browsing history), you will be bombarded with ads that are similar to the pages you have visited. (Creepy, naw? )

All of us leave digital footprints whenever and wherever we go online, and it’s just a matter of cookies tracking our movement. Many people again consider this a breach of privacy and it has seen its fair share of controversy.

Suppose you view a couple of videos on YouTube, then the next time you come to the site, you will see a couple of “recommended videos” which are quite similar to the videos you have watched earlier. And this happens even when you are not signed in!

At least when you are logged in, your viewing history gets recorded in your account (similar to what last.fm and many others are doing). But when you are not signed in? How could that happen?

Again… cookies. YouTube too cleverly stated: “Remember, you will get better, more specific, and more consistent recommendations by logging in” on one of their help pages, hence, not denying at the same time either that you will still get recommendations even if you are not logged in

So now you cannot hide what you watch from your colleagues even when you’re not logged in, unless you know how to disable cookies etc. And when the boss comes over to your desktop to discuss work and she types YouTube on your browser to show you something…. Ooooooh embarrassing it can get!

[Related link you might find useful: How to delete your YouTube cookies without clearing all your other cookies]


Speaking of “cookie marketing”, I was a little surprised by this “invasion of privacy” though – committed by ClearTrip.

I’ve always respected the brand and they offer a really good service. And I am really impressed by their social media division, and how they would get back to complaints or conversations via their facebook and twitter accounts very promptly. Hence when I say this, I say it with good intentions -

The other day I was buying my tickets via ClearTrip. A direct flight from Mumbai to Aizawl. After that, whenever I visit other sites and I come across a ClearTrip media banner, I see the same “Book your flight tickets from Mumbai to Aizawl” shouting out to me!



Just wondering, what if I was booking my ticket slyly and didn’t want my Company to know about it (like, what if I was planning to elope to Mizoram with our Company coffee vending machine?) Anybody who uses my computer will see the banner, and since I am the only one from Mizoram, they will know it was me the ad was trying to target…

Whether it’s about simply deleting or blocking cookies or the fact that most organizations do keep a record of what their employees are doing anyway (just for argument’s sake), I do NOT feel comfortable at all seeing “Mumbai to Aizawl” ClearTrip banners at every site I visit (even if only people from my computer can see the banner).



[Click pic to enlarge]


But leave all that aside. I think the biggest controversy when it comes to behavioral targeting and privacy issues is faced by Facebook.



Based on your likes, dislikes, profile details, fan pages or groups you’re a member of etc, you will only see ads that are relevant to you. To cut a long story short, it has been revealed that even if you set your privacy so that your details do not get indexed, you will still see ads that are relevant to you! How so? Well, based on your friends’ data! If 10 of your friends like to play basketball, then there is a high chance that you too will like to play basketball, hence the reason why you are seeing the ad about basketball, even though you have “secured” your privacy settings!

Though you can no longer search for people based on sexual orientation, you can still find the sexual orientation of others even if you are not on their friend list through Facebook’s very own “targeted ads”.

And remember the recent “Sensitive information of 100 million Facebook users leaked” incident? Though it turned out to be nothing but somebody collecting the public info of Facebook users using a script, it was enough to give many a scare. And the day that “leaked”, the file (almost 3GB in size) was up on torrent within a few hours! And it still is.

Of course one simple solution to all this is – STOP giving out sensitive information about yourself online. But then, in today’s narcissistic age of online activity where we love shouting out to the whole goddamn world about what we had for breakfast, which pub are we currently at, the color of our lingerie, or even the fact that we just got dumped and are single and ready to mingle again, does it seem a bit like we really DO deserve to have our privacy invaded?

Ah… in times such as this, tell me where we should draw the line between respecting other people’s privacy and advertising. Or should a line be drawn in the first place at all? After all, everybody’s main aim is to monetize and earn as much as possible via advertising (unless you are working at a place called Twitter ). Google is about to generate $2.5 billion per annum through its display advertisement while Facebook is close behind with a $2 billion 2010 revenue.

To end it all, here’s a pretty good article that was written two years ago, which still makes sense today: Behavioral Targeting – Where’s the Fine Line?

Cheers.


Monday, November 08, 2010

Chp 325. Lonavala: Creative Weekend Getaway

Ask people who work in the advertising industry what their favourite TV show is, and many would say “Mad Men”. Well I don’t wanna sound clichéd but Mad Men is one of my favourite TV shows too (although my no.1 show is still “Criminal Minds” after all these years).

For those of you who haven’t watched Mad Men yet, the drama serial is about an American advertising agency (Sterling Cooper) set in the 60s. The show revolves around the Creative Director Don Draper and how the company would deal with clients and briefs (and their personal lives) during that era. The show deservingly won the Golden Globe Award for best Television Series (Drama) – 2008, 2009 and 2010 [List of awards Mad Men won].

What I love about the show is the way Don Draper would tackle briefs, so much so that whenever I get a new brief and am not able to “crack” the brief properly, I seriously ask myself – “What would Don Draper do?

Mad Men
[Click on pic for higher resolution]

Another thing I love about the show is how these Ad people in the show would be chain smoking and drinking right in office as they discussed about work. Such things are not possible today for the obvious reasons (Oh here’s a trivia – In the TV show Mad Men, all the people smoke all the time, but since they (actors) are not allowed to smoke cigarettes in the film studio according to California Law, they are actually smoking herbal cigarettes on the sets!)

Recently, I wrote about how I went directly to Lonavala from Mumbai airport after flying back from Delhi. Well, that is when Mad Men kinda happened...

It was one of the most memorable weekend vacations I ever had.

Memorable, because it was different.

Unlike other weekend getaways, this particular trip including the transportation, lodging, food and booze were all sponsored by my company – webchutney.

What we did too, was not just about fun and enjoyment. At 10am in the morning, after inhaling the pristine Lonavala sunrise mist, we had a briefing by our CD and ACDs over coffee and tea. They told us about all the briefs and what we were supposed to conceptualize.

The daily list consisted of around 6-7 big clients/pitches. And so all of us (the Creative Department) went to our happy places - our rooms, by the pool, on the staircase, in the loo etc. alone to think of ideas for the briefs.

Then at 2pm we had a group meeting and all of us individually shared our ideas for each brief with everybody else. There were feedbacks, counter arguments etc for every concept discussed.

After lunch, around 6pm we all met again to finalize the concepts for the respective clients and then the night party started.

The next day, the same routine took place again, for different clients and briefs.

What I loved the most was the fact that we could do anything we want while discussing or thinking about our concepts. Total freedom. And with freedom comes more uninhibited overflowing thoughts of raw ideas.

Eventually, with the entire Creative Department pitching in and bombarding all of us with new ideas and concepts, we had enough “ammunition” to handle our clients/briefs. And sometimes, luck does set in. For example, there was this really awesome idea contributed by one of our junior copywriters, but the idea just didn’t seem to fit in with the particular client/brand. And then our ACD said, “Wait a minute... why don’t we just change the logo?” And that was it – Voilà, we had an amazing concept for another (completely different) client of ours!



Here are a few pics of that memorable weekend. Workshops like this really should take place frequently. Not only was it refreshing, but we ended up doing a lot of important work too. Two birds with one brain, you know.

Click on the pics for higher resolution.


Set I. Pics courtesy Asha Edwin.

[Group briefing]

Lonavala Morning briefing 01


[Individual thoughts]

Thinking 01

Thinking 02

Thinking 03

Thinking 04

Thinking 05

Thinking 06

Thinking 07


[After Dark discussions followed by dinner]

Night discussion 01

Night discussion 02

Night discussion 03

Night discussion 04

Night discussion 05

Night discussion 06

Night discussion 07

Night discussion 08

Night discussion 09


[Daytime discussions]

Afternoon discussion 01

Afternoon discussion 02

Afternoon discussion 03

Afternoon discussion 04



SET II. Pics courtesy my Samsung Galaxy S.

My Lonavala 01

My Lonavala 02

My Lonavala 03

My Lonavala 04

My Lonavala 05

[Bonus: Lonavala The Land of Chikki!]

Lonavala Chikki


SET III. Pics courtesy Ram Singh

Morning stress

[Bonus: A little animation never hurts.]

Discussion in animation


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