In Conversation with Rigzin Lachic Wangmo, Entrepreneur

By Stanzin Dasal Leh, Oct 16, 2023
Leh :

Q. Brief us about yourself.

I was born in Leh but never really got a time to spend my childhood days in Ladakh as my father was serving in the Airforce, and we had to move around with his postings. I spent my school days studying in different parts of India. I pursued IT Engineering in Delhi and worked in Tokyo in a typical corporate setup and later at a startup in Delhi. I spent all my life outside Ladakh and used to visit every year during summer vacations. My grandmother is the one who inspired me and kept me connected to the place. In 2017, I came back to Leh because I always had it in my mind and realized the purpose of going back home. I spent my initial days in Ladakh by traveling and exploring every nook and corner of Ladakh. All those trekking and places, meeting people taught me so much about the place and reconnected me to my roots.

Q. Share the story of your venture, the idea of ‘Dolkhar’ and ‘Tsas by Dolkhar’.

I always wanted to work for Ladakh and its people, but to do social work, you also need capital. Thus, I came up with the idea of a tourism-driven business model by integrating traditional practices. This is how the idea of setting up a boutique property came up, and we restructured the 150-year-old ancestral property into a space that values sustainability and also refreshes my memory of old Leh. I named the property "Dolkhar" after my grandmother, and the front building of the property is the replica of our old ancestral house. When we dismantled the old house, we reused the bricks, wood, stone, and all other materials, resulting in less waste compared to modern buildings. This experience taught me that traditional construction methods are eco-friendly, and I decided to use natural materials as much as possible while constructing Dolkhar.

Dolkhar is made of locally sourced materials using traditional construction techniques. It is rooted in Ladakh’s people, culture, and practices. The villas are built with compressed stabilized earth blocks, local wood, traditional columns, and beams that showcase Ladakhi craftsmanship. The whole developmental process aims to create a zero-waste and zero-plastic ecosystem.

Tsas by Dolkhar is a vegetarian restaurant associated with Dolkhar. It showcases Ladakh’s culinary traditions while incorporating innovative approaches. The recipes are designed to reduce kitchen waste. The inspiration behind opening Tsas was to offer guests a unique dining experience that celebrates Ladakhi culture, local ingredients, and sustainable practices. Tsas supports local farmers and producers by sourcing ingredients directly from them.

Q. You have been supporting local artisans along with promoting Ladakhi culture. Share more about it.

During my initial days in Ladakh when I was exploring the region, I came across many artisans such as straw basket weavers, potters in Likir village, a coppersmith/silversmith from Tsogsti village, a resident of Turtuk village who practices stone carving work, and many more. I felt that all these skills and craftsmanship need to be valued because they might be the last generation of its kind. That’s where the idea for 'Hatti,' a shop where these traditional artisans can sell their goods to both locals and tourists, came into being. There is a good response, but due to demand and supply issues, we are facing challenges.

Q. What is your view on sustainable tourism in Ladakh?

When it comes to tourism, achieving 100 percent sustainability may not be possible, but we can strive to balance it out and reduce the impact. Sustainability involves not only environmental aspects but also social and economic impacts. We can contribute by constructing energy-efficient buildings, reducing waste, being mindful of our waste generation, and conserving water. In Dolkhar, we have just 7 energy-efficient rooms with eco-friendly products, and the limited number of rooms is deliberate to reduce the overall environmental impact, save water, and maintain economic viability. The goal is to embrace modernization without losing the essence of traditional knowledge and practices.

Q. You have been honored with the prestigious ‘Forward Thinker in Travel’ title at the Inspiring Women in Travel-Asia (IWTA) 2023 awards. What do you have to say about it?

I never expected to win this title considering there are so many experienced women who have done incredible work. Winning the title for a project in Ladakh, which is relatively small when compared to others in Asia, overwhelmed me and made me realize that local Ladakhi initiatives can also be valuable. I hope this award helps people recognize the value of traditional knowledge and practices because, in Ladakh, we often don't appreciate our own local products and traditions.

Q. How do you see the tourism sector in Ladakh? What are the challenges and actions needed?

I believe there's a need to change the mindset of all stakeholders in the tourism industry. Instead of focusing solely on one's own business and property, we need to step back and think about the whole of Ladakh. Tourists come to Ladakh for its uniqueness, landscapes, natural beauty, rich culture, and tradition, not just to stay in hotels. Therefore, we must preserve these assets to ensure the growth of individual businesses.

Additionally, some tourist destinations in Ladakh are overpromoted, leading to only a few benefiting. There's a need to explore and promote many other destinations so that everyone can benefit.

Message to the readers

“In a world where self-centeredness is prevalent, we need more empathy and compassion, even in business. An empathetic approach, considering the environment, society, and the economy, can help create a better world. Every individual's small contribution can make a significant difference.”