In our younger years, it can be challenging to understand what ‘identity’ and specifically, our identity, means. Its potential to shape us even in our later years is immense and oftentimes we underestimate that. By virtue of the word itself, identity defines who we are. How our identity is formed, however, has so much to do with where we come from, how we were loved, what we ate, and a collection of seemingly arbitrary things that amount to your whole self.
Rigzin Lachic was rather young when she migrated out of her homeland of Ladakh. Each year as she returned for the summer, her grandmother would ask whether the education she is receiving will help give back to the people of Ladakh and of ‘their land’. As someone who now runs a boutique hotel that ‘integrates a little piece of Ladakh with the rest of the world while keeping central its values of conscious, sustainable, and contextual travel’, Dolkhar, she is well-versed with navigating through one’s roots. Tsas by Dolkhar is its culinary counterpart, whose practices and food also stem from the love of the land.
In conversation with her, she talks to us about Ladakh as her home, how she ties in the regional identity into her ventures, and what she hopes people will take away from it.
Tell us a little about yourself and your journey to the hospitality business.
I spent all my life outside of Ladakh, first studying in different parts of India and then working first in Tokyo and then in a startup in Delhi, and somehow I never quite felt satisfied with my life. It was only after the sudden demise of my grandmother that her question came back to me. It made me introspect and I realised that my purpose really lay in going back to “our land”. I came back to Ladakh in 2017 and I know now, as I did then, that it was the best decision of my life.
When I came here initially I knew the tourism industry, if moulded in the right direction was a very lucrative business idea. I also realised that although our water crisis, waste management problems, and sewage problems are attributed to tourism, it is not tourism itself but the lack of an eco-system that can sustainably manage the influx of tourists that causes these problems. The exponential increase in tourism that we are witnessing now is great for Ladakh’s economy but it is also dangerous if not executed consciously, in the context of Ladakh- the land and its people.
Dolkhar is a boutique hotel that integrates a little piece of Ladakh with the rest of the world while keeping central its values of consciousness and sustainability; allowing for responsible travel. Dolkhar was my answer to what tourism in Ladakh could possibly look like if it was built around love and respect for Ladakh, its people, and the planet.
I named Dolkhar after my grandmother in aspiration of sustaining the space in a way that she would have imagined and nurtured it.
What was the motivation behind Dolkhar and where did the idea for blending luxury and traditional identity begin?
I believe that the years I spent living a hectic corporate life taught me a lot but it was only when I was working on creating an impact and connecting with my identity that I was genuinely satisfied with my life. It was in pursuit of purpose that the idea of Dolkhar was born. Back when I first arrived in Ladakh I realised that traditional forms of architecture, food and craft were on an alarmingly sharp decline and the need for intervention was critical. I also realised that as Ladakh developed radically over the last few decades the value placed on our arts, architectural techniques and crafts got frozen in time. I believe, for the survival of these softer aspects of Ladakhi life we must integrate them with more modern perspectives and in doing so we must also value it in the context of the world and not in the context of just a trans-Himalayan valley. It is with this idea in mind that we married luxury and traditional identity.
How important is it to you to incorporate local practices (as you have through your ceramics, textiles, and other building resources) in Dolkhar?
We believe that practices cannot really be sustainable if they are not local. The state of local craft and food is a great indicator of how disassociated a place is from its cultural origin. We wanted to take tourism in Ladakh into the future without leaving behind anything that truly made Ladakh, Ladakh. Therefore, the assimilation of local craft and architecture into Dolkhar’s core identity.
Structures at Dolkhar are made out of locally sourced materials using local techniques of construction and by local artisans. For instance, we have used the compressed stabilised earth blocks [CSEB] for the building, local willow and poplar wood for the roofs, traditional columns and beams for structural support and we have collaborated with over forty Ladakhi craftspeople from different villages on embellishing the interiors with the use of local materials. The whole developmental process aims at creating a zero waste and zero plastic ecosystems.
Tsas by Dolkhar merges modernity with the traditional food of Ladakh, and is also plant-based. How do you find the balance in managing these three big factors?
Tsas, incorporates produce from Dolkhar’s kitchen garden and local, ethical, sustainable producers to showcase re-imagined modern Ladakhi cuisine that is built on immense respect for nature and seasonality.
For us, these three ideas of tradition, modernity and being plant-based are not factors to balance but blocks that build our identity. They are so primary in their importance to us that it is equivalent to asking us how people balance breathing, eating and blinking together.
When people visit Tsas and Dolkhar, what do you expect them to take away from the experience?
Both Dolkhar and Tsas are an expression of Ladakh.
We want people’s experience of Dolkhar and Tsas to be synonymous with their experience of Ladakh. We want our spaces to blend in as naturally as a wildflower on a mountainside. We also want people to leave with an appreciation or even just an awareness of Ladakh as its beautiful architecture, woollen knits and weaves, its carved metals, its ceramic pots baked in glazes from hot springs, its lovely range of local ingredients and its beautiful people.
Find Dolkhar here.
Find Tsas by Dolkhar here.
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