Not many people know about Sanghamitra Jena’s tour de force. Reckoned among Odisha’s most trusted guides and famous for her nature camps, she also happens to be the only woman tour operator in the state.
After working as a tour guide with a travel agency in Bhubaneswar for ten years, Sanghamitra decided to start her own travel company—Eastern Treasure India Tours in 2004. It was only after she managed the company successfully for a couple of years that she executed another unique idea that could draw people from world over—nature camps.
The first Nature Camp Bhitarkanika Retreat was held in 2008, followed by Nature Camp Konark Retreat in 2012. The camps provided accommodation with basic facilities and food.
“I involve people from the villages where the camps are located so that the local community benefits too. And this is the reason why my camps have been so successful,’’ says Sanghamitra. The camps are held in tents made of canvas with individual rooms and even a dormitory and a dining hall. Fondly called ‘mitra’ by most, Sanghamitra’s success did not come easy.
Braving odds in her initial days, Sanghamitra, now in her 40s, has created her mark in a field that is primarily male-dominated. A homemaker, she was drawn to tourism after watching a TV show about a lady guide from Mumbai. “That was the moment I decided to become a guide. Despite discouragement from everyone, except my parents, I completed a three-month certificate course conducted by the Ministry of Tourism in Bhubaneswar,” she says.
“Adversity helps a person make tough decisions and I believe it’s completely up to us to prove the decision right or wrong. I was pleasantly surprised to find people respecting my work and my abilities as a tour guide,” she says.
Quitting her job later and starting afresh was no mean feat either. “It was born out of disappointment. I decided to start from the scratch. A year later, I registered it as a private limited company. Later on, more people joined me,’’ says Sanghamitra.
Now she has a wide range of tour leaders and companies associated with her. “I believe in sustainable tourism. Most of my clients are referenced. I operate in India, Nepal and Bhutan. My association with big companies in the sector and my associate offices help me organise visits all over the country. The trips are based on the interest of the clients and I ensure they go back with fond memories,’’ she says.
Her trips are mostly based around nature treks, village walks, fishing and water sports. Ask her about the finances and she says, ‘’My business is managed with the brain more than the money.’’ Starting her venture with just `40,000, Sanghamitra is candid enough to admit that she was supported by travel agents who paid her in advance. “My business in the first year was around `40 lakh. But the profitability worked till 2012 with an upward trend in the industry. But problems in south Odisha tribal belt and restriction imposed by Department of Tourism led to a decline in the profit graph. This year I hope to pull the graph upward again,’’ she beams.
Sanghamitra says despite immense potential, the government is not interested in promoting tourism in the state. “Being an entrepreneur in the tourism industry in Odisha is like fighting a bad war. The inbound tourism in Odisha is going in a negative way but the government provides all sorts of purported statistics,” she says.
Sanghamitra says when people laud her efforts, she knows she has been successful. “At the end of the day, I get six to seven hours of good sleep and that is what matters.’’