Matheran Endurathon- Beauty of a Trail

Two weeks after 80 Km Tuffman Shimla Ultra Mashobra, on July 07, 2018, I  packed my running gear and was off to Matheran– a hill station in the Raigad district of Maharashtra. I need not introduce Matheran to Mumbaikars and Punekars, for the others- Matheran is the smallest hill station in India and is located on the Western Ghats range at an elevation of around 800 m (2,625 feet) above sea level. It is about 120 km from Pune.

Matheran [ means “forest on the forehead (of the mountains)”] is an eco-sensitive region and  Asia’s only automobile-free hill station. You have to park your vehicles at “Dasturi Car Parking” and hike up or ride a horse about 2 kilometers to reach Matheran.

We started early morning as finding a place to park the car is the biggest (perhaps the only) challenge at Matheran. This day was special though, the excitement caught on the moment we started driving-  it had been raining in Pune for couple of days and the road to Matheran was flooded. There were sctions on the way where the car felt like a boat.

Drive to Matheran

I still had pain in the knee ( though not as intense) from the injury I had picked up on June 4 trying to negotiate a tactical downhill . It was a niggling pain that intensified when I tried climbing down stairs. I was resting and mobilising my knee. Rational decision would have stay home and rest for a few more weeks.  Also, this was the 3rd edition or Matheran Endurathon and I had run 25km and 50km in the previous 2 editions- the Charm of Matheran was calling. “I will take it easy”- I promised myself.

My wife loves the hills of Matheran, and this is the trail which beckons her to do the 10km. As she says it is the nature that makes her move, considering she has not taken to runing and does not like to run in the city.

On July 08, 2018 I finished the 50 Km Matheran Endurathon in 7 Hours 8 Minutes- 1 Hour 14 Minutes slower than my 2017 timing. It was #Fail run for me, as far as timing goes, however,  there’s more to running Matheran Endurathon than timing.

Matheran Endurathon Results

In this blog I will NOT share my run, rather I will share got me to run the  3rd  Matheran Endurathons inspite of injury and 5 reasons that make this is one of the most beautiful trails in India.

Matheran Endurathon is organised by Run Buddies a team lead by Arvind Bijwe and Nikhil Shah. Here’s the Matheran Endurathon story from the horse’s mouth- That’s kind of funny in this context and the Race Marshal is on a Horse at Matheran:

Here are the top 5 things that make Matheran Endurathon “Charming’ for me.

1. Mesmerising Matheran : Matheran  is an easy 3 hour drive from Pune. Matheran starts to cast the spell as soon as you are parked at Dastuti Parking and buy entry ticket. About 200 meters from the gate is  Aman Lodge the (now) starting train station for the famed “toy ( narrow gauge) train. The train meanders through the steep slope with mesmerising view of the valley.

The Neral–Matheran Light Railway was built between 1901 and 1907 by Abdul Hussein Peerbhoy and financed by his father, Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy, at a cost of $160000.  A feat of Indian engineering and testimony of Parsi entrepreneurship.

Matheran has around 38 designated look-out points, including the One Charlotte Lake, Tree Hill Point, Louisa Point, Hart Point, Monkey Point, Porcupine Point, Rambgh Point, Panorma Point that provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding area . Each look out point is more mesmerising than the other.

Matheran is full of eateries and you do want to indulge in the fare after a hard days work. The street food tastes super special at Matheran be it the corn, wadapaw or Maggi noodles. One of my favorites is Chocolate Walnut Fudge- a great pre run breakfast.

chocolate Walnut Fudge
Chocolate Walnut Fudge

2. Matheran Endurathon is a mud fest: You can’t run the matheran trail and finish in shining running gear for the selfies. You have to go all in to tame this trail- and reach the finish line in a mud pack. Your running socks will need 2 washes and shoes will never get the pre endutharon look!

Remember Vijay Chauhan and abduction fight scene from Agneepath?

Matheran Endurathon is organized in the peak of monsoon and the trail is full of puddles. There are sections where you feel like you are running is a stream or doing an obstacle run. As a first time endurathon runner you try to keep your soles dry for the first 15-20 minutes however, you soon realize its futile fightling the mud and puddles- running becomes easier once you start enjoying them.

 

Puddles- Matheran Endurathon

 

Jump Puddles- Matheran Endurathon

Funny Fact: In the 2017 run, one runner lost his shoe in the first 10 minutes of the run and continued to finish the race!!

 

3. Race Route – Matheran Endurathon is a 12.5 Km out and back route passing through 8 lookout points. For a 50 Km run you have to run the trail rwice. You will want to stop at each of these points for photo opportunity, however, the runner in you will push you to continue. I find Charlotte Lake pretty interesting. You are running across a dam/ barage! There are not many visitors around the lake in the morning ( first 25 out and back) however, in the second round you have to push your way through 100s of selfie obsessed visitors. Some of them will ba amused on seeing the runners and may have a few not so polite comments for you.

Matheran Endurathon

Matheran Endurathon is a rolling trail with about 1000 meters elevetion gain and loss. There are a multiple tactical uphill and down hill sections.

Matheran Endurathon - Route

The excitement on this route starts with the briefing. The organizing team and the race director do the final reccee the evening  before and the brief includes instructions like:

1 Km fromthe start there is a tree that has fallen on the route, do not return from there, jump across or crawl under and continue

Fallen Tree on Matheran Endurathon Trail

 

4. Ever walked on the clouds? Here’s your chance to run.

Need I write more? Let the photos do the talking!

Matheran Endurathon- Run in the clouds

Matheran Endurathon- Run in the clouds

Matheran Endurathon- Run in the clouds

 

5. Race support and team Run Buddies

Team RunBuddies are a great bunch of people with a mission “to make India run’. They organize runs across India and their events events are super charged and designed for runners.

Matheran Endurathon- Horse Marshall

I had a conversation with Arvind this year and he mentioned that Matheran Endurathon is a logistical nightmare for him and his team. They have to ferry everything (from Tshirts, medals to water up) on  horses  to Matheran. Here’s Arvind speaking about the logistics to the press.

Organization  and race support is Amazing at Matheran Endurathon. The race Marshall is on a horse, there are guides at every turn and water, energy drinks and aid is available every few kilometers.

 

Kudos! to Team Run Buddies on pulling off Matheran Endurathon year after year!

Signing off note for Matheran Endurathon:

Here’s my run on Strava:

 

Arvind, Nikhil and Run Buddies- Matheran Endurathon is a wonderful event and kudos to you for the amazing planning and execution. Look forward to the 2019 run.

The message on the T-Shirt this year was ” Pain is Temporary Pride is Permanent”  Here’s my suggestion to 2019 T-Shirt message:

Matheran Endurathon T Shirt

 

 

 

Jeff Bezos- One reason why Flipkart, Snapdeal will never be Amazon of India

Amazon is the fastest company to reach $100 Bn in Annual Sales and is cruising along to gain leadership position in the Indian Ecommerce Space. Meanwhile AWS reached $10Bn in annual sales, even faster. There primary reason why Amazon will be the Amazon of India is Jeff Bezos clarity of thought and leadership- Very well articulated in the letter to shareholders-

1. “Customer Obsession”
Both were planted as tiny seeds and both have grown organically without significant acquisitions into meaningful and large businesses, quickly. Superficially, the two could hardly be more different. One serves consumers and the other serves enterprises. One is famous for brown boxes and the other for APIs. Is it only a coincidence that two such dissimilar offerings grew so quickly under one roof? Luck plays an outsized role in every endeavor, and I can assure you we’ve had a bountiful supply. But beyond that, there is a connection between these two businesses. Under the surface, the two are not so different after all. They share a distinctive organizational culture that cares deeply about and acts with conviction on a small number of principles. I’m talking about customer obsession rather than competitor obsession, eagerness to invent and pioneer, willingness to fail, the patience to think long-term, and the taking of professional pride in operational excellence. Through that lens, AWS and Amazon retail are very similar indeed.

2. The culture of Failing Fast.
One area where I think we are especially distinctive is failure. I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there. Outsized returns often come from betting against conventional wisdom, and conventional wisdom is usually right. Given a ten percent chance of a 100 times payoff, you should take that bet every time. But you’re still going to be wrong nine times out of ten. We all know that if you swing for the fences, you’re going to strike out a lot, but you’re also going to hit some home runs. The difference between baseball and business, however, is that baseball has a truncated outcome distribution. When you swing, no matter how well you connect with the ball, the most runs you can get is four. In business, every once in a while, when you step up to the plate, you can score 1,000 runs. This long-tailed distribution of returns is why it’s important to be bold. Big winners pay for so many experiments.

3. Amazon is in India to win.
India is another example of how we globalize an offering like Marketplace through customer obsession and a passion for invention. Last year we ran a program called Amazon Chai Cart where we deployed three-wheeled mobile carts to navigate in a city’s business districts, serve tea, water and lemon juice to small business owners and teach them about selling online. In a period of four months, the team traveled 15,280 km across 31 cities, served 37,200 cups of tea and engaged with over 10,000 sellers. Through this program and other conversations with sellers, we found out there was a lot of interest in selling online, but that sellers struggled with the belief that the process was time-consuming, tedious and complex. So, we invented Amazon Tatkal, which enables small businesses to get online in less than 60 minutes. Amazon Tatkal is a specially designed studio-on-wheels offering a suite of launch services including registration, imaging and cataloguing services, as well as basic seller training mechanisms. Since its launch on February 17th, we have reached sellers in 25 cities.

4. Amazon is it’s own competition
Just over 10 years ago, AWS started in the U.S. with its first major service, a simple storage service. Today, AWS offers more than 70 services for compute, storage, databases, analytics, mobile, Internet of Things, and enterprise applications. We also offer 33 Availability Zones across 12 geographic regions worldwide, with another five regions and 11 Availability Zones in Canada, China, India, the U.S., and the U.K. to be available in the coming year. AWS started with developers and startups, and now is used by more than a million customers from organizations of every size across nearly every industry – companies like Pinterest, Airbnb, GE, Enel, Capital One, Intuit, Johnson & Johnson, Philips, Hess, Adobe, McDonald’s, and Time Inc.

AWS is bigger than Amazon.com was at 10 years old, growing at a faster rate, and – most noteworthy in my view – the pace of innovation continues to accelerate – we announced 722 significant new features and services in 2015, a 40% increase over 2014.

Many characterized AWS as a bold – and unusual – bet when we started. “What does this have to do with selling books?

IPL (Insulted Pakistan League): as the story unfolds

To begin with here’s my stand on the issue:

1. I  like  Cricket and I like Pakistan Cricket on days they are not in their self destructive best (if you read ‘fixed’—I did not mean it!).

2. Probably IPL could have avoided the negative press by excluding the Pakistani Players this year from the auction. ( I’m not sure how ICC would have reacted)

Let’s move on to my story:

I find the reaction of the Cricketers, Politicians, bureaucrats and Indian Media to the IPL auction amusing, to say the least.  I would usually not care about such things however, every newspaper I read, every news channel I viewed and website I visited in the last 24 hours was carrying the same story.

I can’t but question what I’m reading and hearing  as the story unfolds.

(P.S. I have picked up these statements from the news websites- IBN Live, NDTV, CNN. All credits to them.

The portions I picked from media is in red, My questions in blue)

1. Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik on 2010 January 20:

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Wednesday said that India “doesn’t seem serious” about resuming dialogue, and that “respect is important for relations to improve.”

“Sportsmen are ambassadors of peace, and India should respect Pakistani sportsmen,” said Malik.

My Question: To quote you Sir from a year earlier

Malik, speaking to reporters, said Pakistani authorities had charged eight people with providing the Mumbai attackers with cell phones and helping them reach the city’s shore by boats from Pakistan. Among them is the mastermind, a man who lived in a rented apartment in the city of Karachi.

“The incident has happened in India and part of the conspiracy has been done in Pakistan and therefore (the charge) will be aiding terrorism,” Malik said.

Mr. Interior Minister  Your citizens held Mumbai at Ransom for 3 days and we were almost denied IPL. Finally IPL had to move to South Africa in 2009 to survive. What have you done for our dignity and respect? What have you done to show you are serious?


2. Earlier, a group of Pakistani parliamentarians canceled their forthcoming tour to India, in protest against Tuesday’s IPL auction where none of the teams bid for any Pakistani player.

My Question: Sirs, What was on your agenda? Both countries save some money. Is there opportunity lost here?Am i missing something?

3. Afridi told NDTV that it was a very negative signal. He pointed out that sports, especially cricket, helped get countries closer and that cricket was a religion in India and Pakistan. As a world champion team we expected to be a part of the IPL. Most of the franchises wanted to take us but may be because of the pressure on them by the government that they overlooked us finally. It is a very negative signal and should not have happened this way. We have a huge fan base in India and they love to see Pakistani cricketers, he said.

My Question:

a. Mr. Afridi, here’s a video from IPL 2008 . Do we see a world champion here?

b. What is the basis of your conviction that franchisees under pressure from Indian Government?

4.  Khan called on the government to boycott all sports activities with India. Khan alleged that India was treating Pakistani players and artists in an “insulting manner” while the government remained silent.
He said India was earning crores of rupees from Pakistan through its films, the screening of which should be banned by the government.

My Question: Mr. Khan don’t you think letting you film makers make good films and the population watch movies is a better solution? and may be you could develop a rival PPL ( Pakistan Primer League)

5. Face The Nation, Sagarika Ghose IPL auction: Is civil society ostracising Pakistanis?

My Question: Madam Sagarika, I acknowledged you are a firebrand journalist however, is it necessary to sensationalize everything? Is it for the TRPs or the Stock Price?

Sports Minister Ijaz Jakhrani made the master stroke and is my player of the day. I bet no one can beat this one..

6. Sports Minister Ijaz Jakhrani was also too critical of the treatment meted to the Pakistani players.

“The way India behaved with us is highly condemnable. We will give a befitting reply to them. When there is a question of Pakistan’s pride, we are united,” he added.

My Question: Mr. Sports Minister what do you intend to do next? Do you plan to send the ‘Team’ on ‘Boats’ with ”GPS and ‘Kits’ for IPL?

I rest my case..

E-Commerce in India- where’s the Tipping Point?

India is a $1.2 trillion economy (2008 estimates) and various studies and reports (let me correct myself there are not many!) peg the e-commerce Industry size between Rs.9, 000-10,000 Crores (i.e. Rs 90 -100 Billion which is about US $ 2 Billion)

India e-commerce Market Size
India e-commerce Market Size

On the other hand US is a $14.2 Trillion with the B2C ecommerce Market estimated at $ 220 Billion end of 2008 and is expected to shrink about 1.5{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} in 2009 and grow about 7{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} in 2010.

US B2C e-Commerce Market Size
US B2C e-Commerce Market Size

It does not take a more than elementary school mathematics to figure out e-commerce to the GDP ratio is not proportionate. Indian economy is about 7{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} the size of US economy and the Indian e-commerce market is only about 1{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} the size of US B2C e-commerce market.
e-commerce has not taken off in India for sure.There are questions abound. Why e-commerce in India not catching up with the other markets? Why a technology savvy population abstaining from the Internet? Is there money to be made in India’s e-commerce space?
Here’s a shocker take out online travel and Indian e-commerce market is about $400 million a mere 0.3{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} of the US B2C e-commerce market.

Do the likes of EBay India, Rediff, Indiatimes, Future Bazar, Bigadda.com have a viable business model? ‘Build it and they will buy’ certainly does not work in India. A quick research on Alexa shows no significant increase in traffic for bigadda.com in.com or eBay.in in the last 6 months.

2009 Jan-June Traffic
2009 Jan-June Traffic

Elsewhere in the world various models of online commerce (comparison shopping, community shopping) is being tested. India is still waiting to reach the critical mass. What would be that killer e-commerce format for India?

I believe viable e-commerce models in India need 3 major paradigm shifts. Moving from ‘Caveat Emptor’ to ‘Trust the Consumer’ Mindset, Partnering and not challenging the Local Brands and Coming out of the American mindset.

Moving from ‘Caveat Emptor’ to ‘Trust the Consumer’ Mindset.
In India, unlike the west, Consumer’s Rights and Buyer Protection Laws are non existent. It is very difficult to return purchased goods. This is true for all formats of retail, virtual or real world. Not many stores have defined Return Policies and the default policy is ‘do not trust consumers’. Once a product is out of the store why bother if the consumer is unhappy.
e-commerce formats that go against the norm and ‘Trust the Consumers’ will definitely have an edge.
There are some very simple rules to follow to trust the consumer:

  • Share all product/ service information and avoid ‘need to know’ approach.
  • Look at things from consumer’s perspective.
  • Provide for misuse of trust by a fraction of consumers.
  • Go the extra mile to exceed consumer’s expectations.

Partnering and not challenging the Local Brands.
Mobile Telephony was the success story of the last decade. Organized Retail was touted as the Industry of this decade; however; none of the organized retail brands and formats are in the Green or anywhere close to projected Reach. Reliance Group, Future Group, Aditya Birla Group all included. After the initial euphoria of buying vegetables in Air Conditioned environment consumers are back to buying from the round the corner vendors or cart pushers. I see 2 primary reasons for the reverse migration, the Quality was never addressed the air conditioners went off due to power outages.
In the packaged food category the store labels (sold at discount) and bundled in promotions have not managed competing with the local brands.
This is a not post on the retail formats and I will not dwell further on their business models however e-commerce is a subset of commerce and I believe successful e-commerce models have a learning here. Partner Local brands!

Come out of the American mindset when H1 expires.
Most e-business in India are promoted or run by Successful Entrepreneurs and Professionals of Indian origin who have returned to India after their H1 (or whatever Visa class) expired or their employer saw a goldmine waiting to be tapped in the BRIC nations or when they decided to migrate back to expose their kids to Indian values.
These accomplished Entrepreneurs and Professionals bring with them years of experience in running e-business and try to recreate the success in India without an appreciation of the Indian dynamics. I call it the sub-domain approach. Take www.anyecommercemodel.com add the Tricolor and voila you have a running business www.india.anyecommercemodel.com.
That simply does not work!
Once these models do not succeed and the entrepreneur starts running out of funds they use their Network to rope in a successful back from the US Indian origin Venture Capitalist.
After the PowerPoint honeymoon is over that partnership is a recipe for disaster. 2 individuals that have multiplied capital 100x in their earlier ventures more often than not do not have the willingness and skill to nurture a 5x business in India. If only these guys could work on www.indiacentricecommercemodel.in !

To conclude I believe, model that addresses these three challenges will certainly manage to address the other stated drawbacks of the Indian system: ‘consumer’s want to see touch and feel’, payment infrastructure, broadband availability etc. The e-commerce entrepreneurs are experimenting with various formats and technologies. I believe the Tipping point is not very far off.