Sikkimese women have always been emancipated and enjoy a far better position compared to women in other parts of the country. The first girls’ school in Sikkim was set up in 1913. Despite this, the journey has never been easy for Dekyi Yangchen Dolkar Gyatso, one of the most prominent entrepreneurs in Sikkim. The Biksthang Heritage Farmhouse owned by her is one of the most well-known tourist retreats in Sikkim. She is currently the 14th generation of Sharkahlon in Sikkim. In an exclusive conversation with Eclectic NorthEast, she speaks about her fascinating entrepreneurial journey.
The history and heritage of Sikkim has always been a priority in both her paternal and maternal family. The History of Sikkim written by Maharani Yeshi Dolma was translated to English by her great grandfather Kazi Dawa Samdup in 1908. He also wrote the first Tibetan-English dictionary in 1919 and his services were also utilized by the then Political Officer of Sikkim in the Shimla Convention of the Indo-Tibetan border in 1914 which defined the McMahon line.
The Entrepreneurial Journey
With her keen interest in history and tradition, Dekyi realized that the only way to do something about it was to give up her comfortable desk job and start something that she was passionate about. She was then working at Axis Bank, Gangtok as a Priority Relationship Manager. She had worked at the bank for about two years (2007-09) before she decided to become an entrepreneur.
When asked what triggered her entrepreneurial journey, she said, ‘My late Uncle and Aunt had planted the idea in my head to eventually go back to my paternal village and “take charge” of the property there as I was the only child. But it was a relative (Agya Topchen) who finally convinced me to quit my job and in his words “you only have till you’re 30 to do something with your life- to try as many things as possible and more importantly to make as many mistakes as you can, but after you hit 30- you have to get serious”. Being a girl and an only child, I was expected to get married and settle down by 30’. Although she took his advice, Tekyi had bigger plans than matrimony.
Biksthang Heritage Farmhouse was the outcome of her decision to come up with her own venture. ‘Thankfully, I found a partner who is as dedicated and passionate about the place as I am. The support of my Guru and my parents is also invaluable’. ‘Working transparently with guests and well-wishers alike has been vital in our set up and our growth’ she adds.
She had to face many a challenge while setting up her business and a lot of it had to do with the fact that she was a woman. Recalling her initial days, she says, ‘Well, as a woman, you are always taken a little lightly initially, however, not for long though. It is especially harder in the villages because no one wants to take orders from a girl. I remember my father tell me long ago that he felt sorry for me sometimes because he knew that if I was a son instead of a daughter, I wouldn’t have had to work as hard; he prepared me before I returned to the village in 2010. I knew I would probably have to prove myself thrice as much.’
‘When I initially started the construction of my traditional cottages- I was on my own in the village with 25 local labourers (all males) sent by the same relative – I had to unlearn and learn, build and break down, learn the exact ratio of cement, sand, stone chips mixture and calculation of timber among others; of course first they will try to bully you and play the stubborn mule(s) for being a girl in a man’s area of expertise but I am glad for all the lessons I learnt. Ignorance was bliss for me because I laid the foundation of all 8 of our cottages at the same time for I had no idea how hard the process was going to be. If I had worked on each cottage individually, I would not have had half as many cottages, but because the foundation was built, we had to complete every one of those cottages. Now, we are putting the finishing touches to the last cottage,’ she added.
Dekyi is glad that more and more women are taking up entrepreneurship and other male dominated professions. ‘For the first time in Sikkim, we have had women occupying the post of a Chief Secretary, the Chairperson of the Public Service Commission and the Speaker of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly; we have many women Cabinet Ministers and Zilla Adakshyas. There is an urgent need for women to come to the forefront in the decision-making process if they are to make any tangible progress in society’. And, for that they can definitely take a cue out of the book of Dekyi Yangchen Dolkar Gyatso.