An interview with Tashi Gyalpo, the founder of Omalaya for Radio Free Asia

Sikyong award

‘If You Make a Good Business Plan You Will Always Be Successful’

On September 2nd this year ‒ Tibetan Democracy Day ‒ Gyalpo Tashi, the founder of Omalaya (formerly Tendrel Travel), was presented with an entrepreneurship award by the Central Tibetan Administration. Here, in an edited version of an interview with Radio Free Asia, Tashi explains his company’s origins and his plans for the future.
Radio Free Asia:
Tashi Delek to all listeners of Radio Free Asia. I’m Tsewang Ngodup.

My guest today is Mr Gyalpo Tashi, who was born in Jangthang, Ladakh. He attended Upper TCV School in Dharamsala and is an alumnus of the University of Delhi. Tashi is among the first businessmen to establish a Tibetan company ‒ Omalaya ‒ in Ladakh, along with a Ladakhi partner.

This year, on Tibetan Democracy Day, four outstanding Tibetan entrepreneurs were awarded seed money by the Tibetan Entrepreneurship Development Programme of the Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA’s) finance department. Tashi was amongst the winners and was presented with Rs 400,000 by the CTA’s political leader, Dr Lobsang Sangay.

The award was made possible through the support of the Dalai Lama Foundation, Montreal, Canada.

Tashi, please explain to us how you came up with the idea for your travel company.

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GyalpoTashi:  I once visited France and met some French people who, upon learning that I was from Ladakh and had worked as a guide and interpreter of Buddhism, said they wanted to visit the country. They asked me to arrange a tour and this is how the company was started.

In 2010, I ran a tour programme for three groups and in 2014 we hosted 25 groups. 2014 was special, because we arranged for the groups to meet a shaman, join Introduction to Buddhism sessions, as well as touring in and around Leh.

RFA: Omalaya is based in Dharamsala and receives groups from around the world, especially France. Besides Ladakh, do you visit other sites in north India?

GT:  Our main programmes are in Ladakh, as the landscape, culture and pilgrimage sites are very similar to those of Tibet, which is more difficult to visit. We also run tours from Dharamsala to Bodhgaya and Nepal. Next year, we also plan to take a group to Bhutan.



RFA: You’ve said you were proud to win the award ‒ to be encouraged to develop your business so that you can give more service to society.

GT: At the beginning, I didn’t have a big business plan ‒ I just had to arrange so many groups per year. Having received this award, I must take a wider perspective. Firstly, how can I develop the business? Secondly, how can I help the Tibetan community, especially in generating work for unemployed youth?

In the past two to three years, the number of tourists visiting Ladakh has increased but it is very rare from them to visit Tibetan settlements. Tourism has not helped to develop the settlements. I have promised to strive to change this, and this is why I received the award.

We would like to arrange Tibetan home stays for foreign tourists, focusing especially on hosting exchange students for one to two weeks. I plan to focus on the Tibetan settlement in Leh, as it offers access to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Temple, the Tibetan settlement offices, schools and old people’s homes, etc.

We plan to include Introduction to Buddhism sessions, and meetings with high lamas, yogis and shamans. We will also take the tourists to Tibetan homes to show them how prayer flags are printed and how to make tsa tsas. It’s like a local learning tour ‒ not just for sightseeing but to learn as well. We will also introduce Tibetan culture and history, as well as the political situation in Tibet.

We have managed to rent an office in Leh city, and plan to hold discussions on Buddhism and the situation in Tibet every week, on Lhakar (White Wednesday).

We also plan to give more work to local Ladakhi and Tibetan taxi drivers. There are almost 100 Tibetan taxi drivers in Ladakh whose vehicles are not registered in their own names.


Tashi with tibetan monks

RFA:  Omalaya plans its tours a year in advance. This must create big potential for profit but also pose big risks as well.

GT: There is a risk. Last year, we ran a big Kalachakra initiation tour package in Ladakh, which we marketed on the international arena. The tour was well received and we hosted five groups. This year we planned for the 2016 Kalachakra initiation but it was postponed so that was a big risk. We had already paid an advance for the hotel in Bodhgaya, so there have been some difficulties. But if the Kalachakra takes place in 2017 in Bodhgaya, there will be no problem.

Our biggest challenge is that we have to look after groups from the moment we receive them at the airport until we see them off to their home countries. There is always a big risk that we will face problems due to climate or the political situation.

RFA: You mentioned that, if you have a good business plan, you have a chance to do great business in India, and so Tibetan youth should not think only about going abroad. You also say that good business plans will benefit not only the individual but our society as well.

GT:  I have visited many foreign countries, especially the USA, where I lived for almost two years and gained a lot of experience. But I have confidence that, in India, if you make a good business plan you will always be successful. There is nothing special about going abroad.

Further, the introduction of the Tibetan Entrepreneurship Development Programme will give great encouragement to young entrepreneurs. If a Tibetan youth manages to make a good business plan in India, it should be successful within one or two years ‒ especially startups in the field of technology. This will benefit the Tibetan community. We need to think as individuals and also take up opportunities offered by the CTA.

RFA: Thank you, Tashi, and thank you all for listening to our programme.

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