The Mountain Guy
Most of the times, optimism plays a great role in deciding about the future. For Rajan Simkhada, it was never a question of “What ifs” it was rather about “Why nots?”
Born in a remote village called Darkha, near Ganesh Himal, Rajan Simkhada spent his childhood in the lap of the Himalayas. Occasionally, he would see trekkers pass by his house. It was only a matter of time that he understood that the mountains, such an important part of his home, was a place of serenity for foreigners too.
“I still keep a photo of my village in my office. It may not seem like it, but that is where my entrepreneurial journey began,” says Simkhada. The image of a group of trekkers wandering his backyard would be imprinted on his mind, gently pushing him towards a career in tourism.
Simkhada came to Kathmandu at the age of 16 with a dream to become a Chartered Accountant. Having moved to the city on his own, he did many odd jobs in his youth. Influenced by friends, he played roles in comedy TV shows.
“Somehow I always used to get the role of a tourist or a foreigner with a camera around the neck,” he recalls. Later he got a job as a receptionist in a hotel in Thamel. He quickly learnt the trade and got his first gig as a tour guide in 1996 after completing a course from a hospitality training center. Coming from a place where mountains are such a big part of every-day life, the tour guide found himself getting more immersed into the tourism industry.
He recalls watching the sun set in the mountains from his house during his childhood and the feeling of serenity and peace that came with it. Simkhada was certain that this sense of wonder was what he wanted to sell to the tourists.
Following his passion, he has guided numerous treks in many mountain routes, especially the Annapurna circuit. “My clients always tell me that I turn into a different person in the mountains,” he says. After having worked for several years as a trek guide, Simkhada opened his own travel agency, Earthbound Expeditions in 1997.
Today his company operates tours in and out of the country. Always prompt to address the need of his clients, Simkhada’s Earthbound Expeditions won Tripadvisor’s Excellency Award in 2011. His love for meeting new people is a plus point when it comes to his business. With his talkative and optimistic behavior it isn’t difficult for him to make acquaintances. He has a way of getting along with anybody and if given the chance could go on talking with them for hours.
As is with an opportunist who seeks new chances with every open door, Simkhada decided to open his own hotel in Thamel after having established a travel agency. Today, Thamel Eco Resort also has a branch in Pokhara. “Business is innovation, you create business and once you start you cannot seem to stop” he says “I always seek to push forward. I like the fact that my businesses are helping in one way or another to create jobs. That’s at least a fraction of less youth going abroad. Many of my older employees have gone to open companies of their own. I’m happy about that.”
Moving ahead with passion and vigor, the idea for his next venture came after a few guests asked if he know a place for yoga retreats. Then it struck him that there was a lack of professional yoga instructors who could cater to tourists. With that in mind, he recently opened a Yoga Retreat in Chhaling, Bhaktapur.
Set in a peaceful location near Nagarkot, it is everything he has dreamed of. “Just think about it, who wouldn’t want to practice yoga in the place where it originated? It could have such a spiritual significance as well.” In collaboration with a local Ashram, the Retreat recently organized a rice plantation ceremony in July with hopes of promoting agro-tourism.
Now, having opened several other businesses in the tourism sector, Simkhada is looking at getting into the food franchise. He recently opened Momo Hut, a restaurant picking on the versatility of momos. From the green paneer momos to chocolate momos, he has been able to recreate the classic dish in an innovative way.
Although it opened for business only about five months ago, Simkhada’s Momo Hut has become popular among both locals and foreigners. “The success of my recent venture has more to do with the place it’s located in.” he explains. Situated in a building at Narsingh Chowk, the center of Thamel, it is pretty easy to spot the location of the restaurant.
“The place was offered for rent for quite some time but nobody bothered to take it because the cost was higher than the usual rent in Thamel. But sometimes you have to make some sacrifices to get better results.” he says. As is in his nature, Simkhada likes to get involved with his clients and hence he has found many loyal customers for Momo Hut who have been asking him to open a branch in Pokhara as well.
But for Simkhada, he has already cast a wider net. “I want to take this to foreign countries as well and build it along the models used by popular food franchises around the world. If KFC and McDonalds can make it, why can’t we? Besides our momos are a lot healthier because they are steamed and not fried.” he argues.
Simkhada says his enterprises in tourism and the mountains are a dear part of his life. But he’s worried about the future for mountaineering. After the Everest Avalanche Incident in April, most of his clients cancelled their bookings.
“It was a hard hit in the tourism industry but it also reminds us that climate change is taking its toll and we haven’t been responsible enough to do something about it.” According to Rajan, each tourist that comes in provides economic opportunity to 13 people most of them still opt for mountaineering.
“If tourism doesn’t flourish here, it will not flourish anywhere else.” he declares, “Our country is a treasure trove that we haven’t exploited enough. We have all the elements for any sort of tourism.” With his positive outlook in the diverse ways by which tourism can flourish in Nepal, he believes that the country has nothing to worry about.