The Story of ‘De Khambir’

Many of us, myself included, have had the fantasy of someday being proud owners of a restaurant situated in a beautiful and serene place. Well, it seems some dreams can be turned into reality and our Social Work Alumni, Radha Shrestha, has proved it to be so. Radha is the proud owner of ‘De Khambir’, beautifully situated in the laps of Ladakh. For this feature, we spoke to Radha to know about her story and the initiation of ‘De Khambir’. Here’s what she has to say about her journey from Thames and how ‘De Khambir’ came to be.

“While I was at Thames, every year we volunteered in different social initiatives and organizations. The experience helped me learn how to work with the community and understand them,” says Radha. Her years at Thames allowed her to become equipped with social skills which later helped her build and continue her dream restaurant. Her interest in cuisine along with her previous interest in food helped her create a pathway for her to pursue it moving ahead. 

After graduating from Thames, she worked in a non-government organization for three years. During her professional journey, she noticed a wide gap in terms of opportunities and environmental care, especially in remote areas. She realized the need to find sustainable solutions and create opportunities in the Himalayan Region. That led her to join Naropa Fellowship, to learn about sustainable entrepreneurship which is centered on enabling people to solve the problems of the Himalayan region. The year-long fellowship focused on entrepreneurship, culture, community, and communication skills. Her interests were further nudged and supported by the entrepreneurial mindset that she built during the Naropa Fellowship.

When she first went to Ladakh in 2018 for the fellowship, she was excited to explore the local culture and cuisine. She went to many local eateries around the town; however, all she could find was similar food (Momo, Chowmein, or Paratha) which can be found on every street in Nepal and North India. It took her a while to learn and understand Ladakhi food and how it is produced and made after visiting different villages in Ladakh. Finding out about the gap in the food market of Leh encouraged her to turn it into an opportunity.

She also met her business partner at the fellowship where they shared and learned about each other’s work and were able to work on the same vision towards the end of the fellowship. “We started De Khambir, a traditional Ladakhi restaurant based in Leh, Ladakh with a vision to promote Local Cuisine and preserve it”, said Radha. De Khambir is run by an all-women team which is contrary to the men-centric work culture of the region. Likewise, most of the raw materials like local cheese, herbs, spices, and nuts are directly sourced from a different region of Ladakh. Some of the ingredients are foraged from the mountains by the different rural communities. In this way, the food is not just authentic but the process also ensures that local produce is brought into use.

“Embarking on our entrepreneurial journey sounds fascinating; however, it is not easy. Although I had many skills, every day there were many things to challenge me. I had to learn to unlearn and relearn many things”, remarked Radha on her experiences. “My experience made me realize that in the end, the only thing that matters is how much work you put into it and how consistently you are doing it. The biggest inspiration for me was to witness the outcome of the work that we put into it. And seeing our progress from how it started to how far we have come is inspiring.”

“When we go to new places and have the same food, buy the same things that we buy elsewhere, then what’s the point of traveling? Local produce is always healthier for us and for the environment”, said Shrestha as one of the reasons why she is so drawn to her work. She has found fulfillment and meaning in preserving the local culture, the unique cuisines along with its close relationship with the environment and passing it down to further generations. Her experience working closely with the local community of Ladakh has made her even more environmentally conscious and has led to questions. When we purchase or consume goods as we travel, we seldom ask “Where and how was it made? Can I find a local alternative to it?” 

‘De Khambir’ is open only for about six months of the year and closed for the remaining months due to the harsh weather conditions. If you do choose to visit the restaurant, make sure to visit during the summer months! 

Radha has proved to us that it is definitely possible to remove stereotypes and break conventions of how work should be done and the kind of work one can pursue. “All our small choices are important. Every day we have a choice to determine how we want our life to be.”, said Radha. So, what is your dream story?

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