Tourism Business in the Middle of Nowhere

Sanghamitra Jena talks about setting up a touring business in Orissa, against all odds

Published: Feb 19, 2010 12:08:09 AM IST
Updated: Oct 3, 2011 04:58:36 PM IST
Image: Anup Mohapatra

Name: Sanghamitra Jena
Profile: Founder of touring company, Eastern Treasure India Tours
She says:Every time someone threw a stone at me, I picked it up and made it a part of my foundation.
In life, you have to always look at what is left.

My flight from Kolkata landed in Bhubaneswar at night and we stayed there overnight. Next morning, we left early by road. For the first three hours, it was a comfortable ride on the national highway until we turned into a single-lane motorway across a vast flat land all the way to the Bay of Bengal. It is winter and a haze mellows the sun; as far as I can see, there are freshly harvested paddy fields. Two giant rivers, the Bramhani and the Baitarani converge here.

Soon we see the expanse of the rivers. There is the occasional boat ferrying people across. We are headed to a point little known to the world; it is called Dangamal.

This is a tiny village bordering 672 sq. km. of luxuriant mangroves that are home to the giant Indian saltwater crocodiles. It is an unbelievably beautiful and relatively un-spoilt place. There is the usual forest rest house here, but for the real enthusiast, there is tented accommodation of commendable quality run by a first generation woman entrepreneur named Sanghamitra Jena. I am here to see her.
“I was born in 1968. My father was a public works department engineer and he used to get posted to various places to supervise road construction. We are a brood of five girls and a boy. I am the eldest. I studied in Oriya-medium schools and finally finished with an honours degree in history. After that I did my B.Ed. but found that I did not like the way the system requires us to teach. In the meantime, I was married off and went to Kolkata.

“There, one day while watching television, I saw a programme on tour guides and a woman-guide was conducting a group of Westerners somewhere in Mumbai. I was fascinated. I felt I could do that. After some years, when we came back to Bhubaneswar, I contacted the government-run tourist office to check if they ran courses for would-be tour guides. There was a three-month course coming up and I signed up after paying a fee of Rs. 200.

“The course done, the difficult part began. No one wanted a woman as a tour guide. Finally, I joined a local travel company for Rs. 700 a month and started showing tourists in and around Bhubaneswar. Conducting overnight tours was out of question. One day, an American woman named Lyle Lawson asked me if the temples and ruins around Bhubaneswar were all that was there to Orissa.This led to a long conversation. I told her about the fascinating world of textiles, of tribal folks in faraway places, of nature away from the beaten track. The next day, she asked my company to custom-create a tour for herself and a companion — me. My colleagues tried to dissuade her, saying that it was risky; many places were uninhabited and potentially dangerous. How could a woman guide her? She would have none of that. She retorted that they were insulting her in calling me a woman. So, off we went and that is how I started conducting specialty tour groups that focused on tribal culture, nature and such like.”

But how did you end up becoming an entrepreneur?” I ask. “It was a story of adversity,” she says. “After many years in the same organisation, I had to leave because of disagreements with a new supervisor. For a moment, I was at the crossroads. To my surprise and delight, it led to a flood of offers from other tour operators who had known my work. Seeing that, I told myself that these people are reaching out to me because they have confidence that I could bring them business. So why wasn’t I doing it for myself?

“I had a saving of just Rs. 40,000. I bought a laptop and started sending mails to people I knew from a cyber-café. Eastern Treasure India Tours was born. Clients started coming, I took them on my off-the-beaten track tours to not just places in Orissa but also Pelling, Gangtok and Kaziranga. Word spread. Business grew. Then one day, I felt I should have a product that enables the nature-lover to enjoy a place like the mangroves of Dangamal by living in a completely rural setting. So, I came to this village and I leased a plot of land for five years. I started a high-quality, tented accommodation, complete with Western-style toilets and clean food in a completely rural surrounding. I built a make-do Web site so people could check out the options and pay online.”

You make it sound so fairy tale. Was it really all that simple?” I ask. “Of course, not. To begin with, being a woman was a challenge while dealing with people in a male dominated industry and then there was always the issue of dealing with forest officials and the labour inspector and the police. But I always found someone who was willing to support me. Sometimes, I had real adversities. But every time someone threw a stone at me, I picked it up and made it a part of my foundation. Along the way, there were personal setbacks and sometimes serious business problems. In life, you have to always look at what is left.”

I am not in Mumbai or Bangalore. This is Orissa. This is not a land of enterprise. For girls, there is a cul-de-sac called marriage. Yet, here is Sanghamitra who has built a business in the middle of nowhere.
Before we leave for the creeks to see the giant crocs basking under the mangroves, I ask her the size of her business this year.

She is bashful for a moment. Then she replies, “I will touch a crore this year”.

Subroto Bagchi is Co-founder & Gardener, Mindtree Ltd.

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(This story appears in the 05 March, 2010 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Ashutosh

    Dear Madam, It\'s give me immense happiness to be able to write a mail to a great ladu like you. Keep on doing the good work. You are an ideal for many people. If I ever plan to visit some places over there, I shall be more than happy to be a part of this group. I would like to go to Bhitarkanika and Similipal at least once in my life. Looking forward to meet you some day. Thanks. Best regards, Ashutosh

    on May 20, 2013
  • L N Mohanty

    Dear Sanghamitra Mam.. u r really done alot for our odisha tourism. mam i am in airforce and i have a lot of plan for developing our odisha tourism in large scale after my retairment.ur guidance and support may boost our tourism.

    on Oct 27, 2012
    • Sanghamitra Jena

      Dear Mr. Mohanty, Thanks a lot for appreciation. Pls. be in touch whenever you need any support from my side.My email ID is tours@easternindiatours.com. . My websites are www.bhitarkanikatour.com and www.treasureindiatour.com . With regards, Sanghamitra

      on Jan 12, 2013
  • Abhishek Tripathy

    A story about a wonderful journey, told so well. Mr. Bagchi, the stories that you write about, are inspring. Having grown up in Bhubaneswar I know what you mean and imply when you aer telling the world tales such as these. Real people, real situations who have triumphed against all odds. Ms. Jena, you are a role model for a lot of us. Best wishes for the road ahead.

    on Apr 11, 2012
  • Shaikh Liyakath Ali

    Congratulation to Sanghamitra. I would love to see this lady as I am going to start a Travel Consultant office in BBSR and I need her for my corporate clients from USA, UK and Canada. Appreciate if you can provide me her contact.

    on Apr 24, 2011
  • Bichitrananda Samal

    Being a woman entrepreneur she has proved the world that "if there is a will ,there is definitely a way to move forward."

    on Aug 14, 2010
  • Arijit

    Commendable job done.You have shown n inspired that if you have patience & dedication, miracle can happen.

    on Jul 12, 2010
  • Jeevan

    Great story. Truly touching and inspiring. Thank you sir for publishing.

    on Feb 19, 2010
  • Jean

    Quote: "I am not in Mumbai or Bangalore. This is Orissa. This is not a land of enterprise. For girls, there is a cul-de-sac called marriage. Yet, here is Sanghamitra who has built a business in the middle of nowhere." Very true. In Orissa, for women it is pretty difficult to set up a business. Cudos to your Ms. Jena.;-)

    on Feb 19, 2010
  • Omkar Sahoo

    Great post. She is a Gem.

    on Feb 19, 2010
  • Sajag Banerjee

    Women is Orissa like West Bengal are oppressed a lot. Typically it is a male dominated society and women do not get the recognition they deserve - bar a few instances in politics. <br /> <br /> It is important that they get into the mainstream soon to have a better society. <br /> <br /> Bengal, a state, which was used to respect women a lot, has lost that for some time and a state which respects women goes a long way.<br /> <br /> Thanks for sharing the post.

    on Feb 19, 2010
  • Arvinder Singh Sahni

    The Story of Ms Sanghamitra Jena is very inspiring and vividly shows her Journey

    on Feb 21, 2010
  • Sucharitra Jena

    Thanks a lot to Mr Bagchi to have discovered an exemplary talent from the remote area of Odisha.As a sibling of Ms Sanghamitra, I have seen and believed how in life we must always look at what is left and go on.........

    on Feb 22, 2010
  • Kitty

    Thank you Mr.Bagchi to recognise Ms. Jena's talent which is very encouraging for the women of our generation. Expecting more

    on Feb 22, 2010
  • mail.harikrishna@gmail.com

    A role model to many want to be entrepreneurs, Sanghamitra Ji needs better recognition and publicity so that she can inspire many more such stories and actually guide the people who are standing at the door and still thinking whether to get in or not. well knowing Bengal and its hospitality industry, she is an eye opener to many and to the government itself.

    on Feb 23, 2010
  • Essman

    Terrific example of entrepreneurship. She did this in Odisha. I have visited her website i.e. www.bhitarkanikatour.com.Nice feedbacks as well photos. I will surely visit the little known (no more now) place. Nature Camp at Bhitarkanika will be my Next Eco-Destination. She is a example for a long time to come.

    on Feb 23, 2010
  • Kaveri Sahoo

    Ms Sanghamitra Jena no doubt has infinite courage, caliber and confidence... You are certainly a source of inspiration and encouragement for all ... Keep going Ma'm !!!<br /> Thanks a lot to Mr. Bagchi for recognizing her potential and publishing

    on Feb 24, 2010
  • S M Jena

    Keep your head high. Somebody will always be there to cheer you up when you feel sad and encourage to move ahead. Keep going !!!

    on Feb 24, 2010
  • DR. MAHESH KUMAR DEY

    Thank you for the article on Ms. Jena's profile as a woman entrepreneur. She was my classmate, a true friend, and very bold, adventurous and confident on her own. She has proved herself against many odds and hats off to her. Best wishes to her future adventures as an enterpreneur. <br /> My next destination during summer may be her tent in Bhitar Kanika & Dangamaal.

    on Feb 27, 2010
  • saroja behera

    Dear I basically belong to Sambalpur, Orissa, but now i am putting up at New Delhi. Please i want to work with you, I have passion to explore India, I love photography, i want to show our India in a way. Please let me work with you.

    on Mar 4, 2010
  • Dr (Miss) Aditi Pant

    When I wanted to vist Orissa I went onto the internet and came up with 2 or 3 possible tour operators. On receiving replies from them all I realized that one company was run by a woman called Sanghamitra, and that's how I chose to visit Orissa. It was a superbly organized tour and we were very satisfied indeed with the quality of service we got. <br /> I have every intention of re-visiting orissa and you may bet on it that I shall travel with sanghamitra Jena again! Indian women are amazing. I don't know why more are not in public places like Sanghamitra. Thank you for the above article. I have learnt a great deal of Ms Jena's life from it. Congratulations to her and her team.

    on Mar 5, 2010
  • Soumya

    Great post. Entrepreneurship in spite all possible hurdles - highly apathetic central govt. of India, no power, electricity, education...<br /> <br /> Kudos to you Ms. Jena ...

    on Mar 12, 2010
  • Vijay. M

    Great post on commitment and dedication towards ones' passion!

    on Mar 13, 2010