Saturday, July 29, 2023

Empowering Palates and Communities: Nilza Wangmo The Woman Entrepreneur Behind a Local Cuisine Sensation

Sonia and me, with Nilza Wangmo Mam (centre) at Alchi Kitchen, Alchi Ladakh

Self discovery

Those who have read the book Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, would remember the profound realisation which draws upon Siddhartha after decades of life experiences that he didn't necessarily had to leave his home in search of spiritual enlightenment. Through his life experiences, Siddhartha understands that true enlightenment and spiritual fulfilment can be found in everyday life and in the present moment, rather than through external pursuits or ascetic practices. 

Drawing parallel from this quest for seeking enlightenment, we do see the quest for seeking success, also sets sail for so many Siddharthas (metaphor) pushing them far away from their roots into a lifetime spent in a distant world. 

Only a handful Siddharthas transform into Buddha, so does very few Siddharthas attain meaningful success at their roots, by breaking the norms of work related displacements in today's globalized world economy. 

I came across one such Siddhartha during a family holiday in Ladakh - her name is Nilza Wangmo a resident of Alchi.   

Life's journey

Alchi is a remote village on the banks of river Indus, surrounded by the mighty Himalayan mountains, about 70 kms to the west of Leh district. It's the home to one of the oldest monastery in Ladakh, build during the 11th century. 

Nilza had lost her father to a critical illness when her Mom was carrying her in her pregnancy days. She was raised by her mother in Aamei Khampa, her maternal grandparents residence. Financial struggle was a constant factor in her life, as her mother did her best to raise her with a meagre earning she made at a NGO. Nilza studied in a missionary school and then moved to Jammu city for pursuing a college degree. She was forced to quit her degree mid-way and to return home, due to financial crisis. Battling depression and overcoming it, Nilza went to Alchi (her father's village) asking for her equal rights on her father's home for sustaining herself. She and her mom, was turned away by her uncles without any help. 

Stranded in Alchi, no where to go, no money in pocket, her grandfather (maternal) stepped in to help and they managed to secure a small accommodation to live. 

Women Entrepreneur 

The twists and turns of life, forced Nilza to become an accidental entrepreneur. She took a loan of Rs 8 lakh, to start a home-stay business for tourists. This is when she stubbled upon an idea "Why not introduce tourists to the world of Ladakhi cuisine?" With her conviction in this idea, she changed her business plan of constructing a home-stay to building a kitchen (restaurant).

Through the year 2015, Nilza's mother and her aunt got into a relentless brainstorming session for curating the Ladhaki menu for her restaurant. They decided to curate a special tea - Apricot Tea (apricot fruits grows in abundance in Ladakh) and 'Tashi Tagye' tea. They experimented trying out different flavours and options for the beverage segment. Among food, they introduced the world to Khambir (local Ladhaki breads), Mok Mok (Dumplings), Chhutagi and Skyu (pasta stew) just to name a few. It was a project of culinary conservation of sitting together with the women of the local community and archiving their recipes in an era of fast food. Her restaurant Alchi Kitchen opened in the year 2016.

Nilza proudly says, she didn't go to any formal training school but self-taught herself by observing and learning from her mother passionately cooking food. Alchi Kitchen has even opened up new branch in Leh. Nilza employees women and trains them to cook, serve and manage restaurant. She encourages girls to become self-reliant by taking up a profession and making a career. 

Success and Community Impact

Fast forward to today, Alchi Kitchen is featured on National Geographic and Nilza Wangmo is recipient of Nari Shakti Puraskar from the President of India 2020 (highest civilian honour for women in India), recipient of Vogue Women of the Year Award 2020, Nilza is featured in various magazines like India Today and Vogue. Alchi Kitchen has turned out to become a must visit place for tourists visiting Ladakh. It draws international tourists from South East Asia, Europe among travelling Indians and celebrities.

Nilza Wangmo and her Alchi Kitchen is a shining example of one such Siddhartha who discovered her entrepreneurship, success and community impact by going back to one's roots, reviving the lost tradition, instead of uprooting oneself in search for success. 

Personal Anecdote

I had the privilege of meeting Nilza Mam, when we visited Alchi's Kitchen for lunch during our trip to Ladakh in May 2023. What struck me was her simplicity and hands-on approach. In spite of all the success and recognition, she was personally involved in taking orders and helping out the cooks in kitchen. During intermittent free time, we even struck a conversation with her. When I enquired about her mother, she shared her Mother, her life-long companion is no more in this world. I could feel the grief inside her as she choked while talking about her mom. Nilza - "These are all my mother's recipes, she taught us everything and she was a friend and constant support to me in this journey. I miss her a lot." As more customers poured in, she jumped into her duty of hospitality and introducing them to Ladhaki cuisines. After our heartfelt lunch, she obliged to our request for a photograph with her. We left Alchi Kitchen with special memories of local cuisine and of meeting a special person.         

Written by drawing upon my personal interaction with Nilza Wangmo and articles in India Today and Vogue.


Receiving Nari Shakti award from President of India:

Nilza Wangmo Vogue Women of the year 2020 Message to Women Entrepreneur:


Saturday, July 15, 2023

Movies That Will Motivate You - Pursuit of Happyness


Image credit: Sony Entertainment

Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis the brilliant mathematician born in France in 1792 (the time of French revolution) is credited for introducing the term 'WORK' into the lexicon of modern day science and society. 

Apart from his famous contribution in meteorology which is known as 'Coriolis Effect', he was keenly interested in Table Billiards, dedicating hours in research while playing it. His research published in the book Theorie mathematique des effets du jeu de billiard, is still invoked with biblical solemnity by aficionados of billiards descendants, snooker and pool. 

In 1828, when describing the process by which energy is transferred from an arm and through a cue to send billiard balls scuttling around the table, Coriolis first introduced the term 'Work' to describe the force that needed to be applied to move an object over a particular distance.'  

This term 'work' caught the imagination of all scientists and it was used to describe the key concepts of Europe's Industrial Revolution (workings of steam engines, water wheels, automotives etc).

'Work' is now used to describe all transfers of energy, from those that occur on a celestial scale to at a subatomic level. 

Science now recognises that the creation of our universe involved colossal amount of work. 

Also work, differentiates living things from dead things. Living things actively harvest and use energy (Work) which sustains them. When they stop doing (work) with no energy left they die. Put in another way, to Live Is To Work.  

At the intersection of Anthropology, Science and Technology, human beings relationship with Work has constantly evolved from it's hunter gatherer days, through industrial revolutions to today's fourth industrial revolution. 

The closest thing to a universal definition of 'work' - is that it involves purposefully expending energy or effort on a task to achieve a goal or end. 

We work to live and live to work. We are capable of finding meaning, satisfaction and pride in our jobs. Our work also defines who we are, determines our future prospects, dictates where and with whom we spend most of our time, mediates our sense of self-worth and moulds many of our values.  

The French word for work, 'Travail', has a poetic quality in it absent in many other languages. It connotes not just effort but also Suffering. This does resonates with our modern day culture - TGIF (Thank God It's Friday), Monday Blues, Burn-out....the other aspects of humans-work relationships. 

To counter these negative emotions through this Blog series, we are putting forth Motivation through movies, whose stories are based on work and work-place. The Hope is that you find the inspiration, motivation and lessons in them, to change your work engagement from TGIF to TGIM (Thank God It's Monday), Monday Blues to Monday Rainbows and Burn-out to Positive Energy.  

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) makes a remarkable commentary on how happiness can be attained only when someone pursues it while going through the ups and downs in life. While the film dramatises the professional life of Chris Gardner, The Pursuit of Happyness lays a huge emphasis on the need to trust your own self when you are to make a difficult decision. You always begin a new journey with experiences from your past, and it is these experiences and skills that will help you succeed in life. All you need is a dream, a dash of grit, and a bit of courage to take that leap of faith.

"The Pursuit of Happyness," directed by Gabriele Muccino and starring Will Smith, is a biographical drama film based on the true story of Chris Gardner. The movie highlights several valuable lessons that can be learned from Chris Gardner's inspiring journey. Here are some of the key lessons:

1. Perseverance and Determination: One of the most prominent lessons from the film is the power of perseverance and determination. Chris Gardner faces numerous challenges and setbacks, including financial difficulties, homelessness, and the responsibility of caring for his young son. Despite all the obstacles, he remains steadfast in his pursuit of a better life and never gives up on his goals.

2. Belief in oneself: Chris Gardner possesses a strong belief in himself and his abilities. He consistently demonstrates confidence in his skills and refuses to let others' opinions or negative circumstances define him. We learn, Believing in oneself and maintaining a positive self-image is crucial when facing challenges and striving for success.

3. Sacrifice and Hard Work: The film emphasizes the importance of hard work and sacrifice. Chris Gardner takes on unpaid internships, endures long hours, and makes sacrifices in his personal life to create opportunities for himself and his son. The story reminds us that achieving our goals often requires dedication, perseverance, and a willingness to put in the necessary effort.

4. Pursuing Passion and Goals: Chris Gardner's ultimate goal is to secure a stable job in the competitive field of stockbroking. His pursuit of this goal represents the importance of following one's passion and striving for personal fulfillment. The film encourages viewers to identify their own aspirations and pursue them with determination and enthusiasm.

5. Resilience in the Face of Adversity: Throughout the movie, Chris Gardner faces numerous hardships, including financial struggles, homelessness, and personal setbacks. However, he maintains his resilience and refuses to be defined by his circumstances. The film reminds us that setbacks are a part of life, and it's essential to develop resilience and bounce back from challenging situations.

6. Never Settle for Mediocrity: The film challenges the notion of settling for mediocrity and encourages viewers to aim for greatness. Chris Gardner refuses to settle for a life of poverty and unhappiness and strives for a better future. It serves as a reminder to continuously push ourselves beyond our comfort zones and strive for personal growth and fulfillment.

7. Importance of Parenthood: "The Pursuit of Happyness" also explores the significance of parenthood. Despite his struggles, Chris Gardner prioritizes his role as a father and works tirelessly to provide a better life for his son. The film underscores the importance of being present for our loved ones and the impact that positive parental influence can have on a child's life.

If it's been a while you watched this movie, may be it's time, for another weekend watch, to seek inspiration for your pursuit of happyness!


Work (a history of how we spend our time) - James Suzman (Bloomsbury)

Movie: Pursuit of Happyness