Yeshi Gyetsa - Founder & Partner
The driving force behind Khampa Caravan is Yeshi, with his breadth of cross-cultural experience and international management experience. He comes from a local family which has been deeply involved in the development and management of this area for generations.
Educated at a top US college, he worked in the financial industry in Switzerland for many years before founding Khampa Caravan. Yeshi began his career with a trading company in New York. He was instrumental in pioneering Sino-American joint-ventures in Tibetan areas, setting up a handicrafts enterprise in Lhasa, and building a resort hotel in Gyalthang. He has also led numerous treks and cultural tours in Nepal and Tibet for renowned international tour operators. Portrait
Dakpa Kelden - Founder & Partner
Dakpa oversees Khampa Caravan's tour operations. His extensive tour-leading and operating experience, and his close relationship and commitment to his communities, is what gives Khampa Caravan its unique signature.
Dakpa spent his early years as a monk in India, undergoing a traditional monastic curriculum. He had a notorious knack for memorizing sutras - while his monk friends fretted trying to memorize the Prajnaparamitha, Dakpa chose to trek for miles to watch Bollywood movies and play cricket.
Following his return to Gyalthang, he worked in the Religious & Cultural Affairs Commission of the Dechen Prefecture (Yunnan). He was involved with Gyalthang’s travel industry from its infant days, going on to manage operations for a major local tour operator. His appetite well-whetted by travel, he went on to study at the Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management in Salzburg, and studied English at the University of Oklahoma. Dakpa speaks - and sings - in Lhasan, Kham-Tibetan, Mandarin, Hindi and English. Gifted artist and raconteur, Dakpa has an innate passion for the outdoors. A better travel companion you will not encounter on the plateau.
Lobsang Tenzin - Founder and General Manager
Zealous in caring for all his group members, Tenzin is Khampa Caravan’s crucial link to many of our adventures in the remote regions of Kham and Amdo. Tenzin manages our staff and oversees our trek operations and training of our guides.
From a nomad family in the sacred Genyen valley of Lithang, Tenzin like most Khampas knows the land like no one else and has a remarkable ability in sharing the subtleties and insider knowledge of local culture and the land he lives in. He has travelled widely thoughout Kham and Amdo, first as a loyal attendant to the chief abbot of Genyen monastery, and later as a professional guide serving an international clientele.
Tenzin studied briefly in India, and speaks several eastern Tibetan dialects, Lhasan, Mandarin, and English, and can pull off some surprises when he gets his hand on a good horse. Besides being our in-house photographer, Tenzin is also a self-taught herbalist who is happiest in the wilderness, weathering storms, horse-riding, hunting for herbs or picking mushrooms. Indoors, he is captive to a computer play-station. Portrait
Lobsang Dolma – Manager, Sales & Operations
Born and brought up in a remote valley tucked deep along the
Mekong , Lobsang Dolma’s life took a dramatic turn when she was selected among a handful from Gyalthang to study English at
Xining thousands of miles away. Being the youngest in the family and just a teenage girl at that time, it was a difficult decision to leave the protective surroundings of family, community and loved ones and the familiarity of Gyalthang.
After thinking of the common plight of young girls in her village and the rare opportunity to learn, Dolma and her family decided to take on the challenge. Dolma’s outward journey began one fine morning after hugging her parents goodbye on a long train journey for several days to the big city of
Xining . Not knowing what to expect, Dolma was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed into a diverse family of young students from every corner of coming from varied backgrounds and experiences and a desire to learn.
Dolma would spend four full years in
Xining learning, communicating and exploring ideas that she never would have experienced in her hometown. To top it all up, she and her classmates were surrounded by a group of teachers from all over the world who inspired them with new ideas, new subjects and new methods of teaching that taught them to think independently and understand one’s own worth. With classes in sociology, world literature, ethnography and anthropology, Dolma learned to question the existing norms even in her own village such as position and workload of women which deprived them of education.
Lobsang Dolma joined Khampa Caravan in 2006 winter after graduation, her desire to learn is unwavered. Dolma's on-the-job duties duties addressing the communication and service needs of clients from all over the world has been an eye opener. With the hands on experience she has gained over the years dealing with all kinds of issues and problems, Dolma is now the Manager of our sales and operations.
Sonam Geleg – Caravan Leader
Sonam Geleg was born in a little village in Chatreng county and from a very young age was greatly influenced by the staunchly Buddhist culture and the simple values of a small Khampa village. His parents always taught him the virtues of doing the “right” thing – he grew up to become a model child in his little village.
Upon finishing primary school, Sonam was sent to attend boarding school in where he excelled in his studies learning English and then attending university where he studied commerce. Those formative years at boarding school further defined a young gentleman steeped in religion and prayers and a sincerity and softness rare among rough and tough Khampas.
Sonam Geleg returned to Chatreng in the summer of 2005 to later join Khampa Caravan as a tour guide. His introspective nature, intense interest in Buddhism combined with his desire to serve has made him an engaging companion for travelers who follow our wide range of itineraries in the Tibetan world.
One of our guides with the “highest mileage” and track record, Sonam’s highlights have been treks into the
Salween region, the Khawakarpo range and the ancient caravan route to
Lhasa . These long trips requiring delicate team work on the ground cannot be a success without the team spirit and endurance that is naturally imbued in Sonam’s personality. He harkens back the old days when a small team of Khampa muleteers took on the 3-month trek to
Lhasa with hundreds of pack animals as a routine rite of passage.
Thupten Tsering - Caravan Leader
After seven years of tour guiding, Thupten Tsering can very well boast of being tops in among Gyalthang’s emerging crop of elite English speaking guides. Thupten has a travelling personality that embodies the spirit of adventure and hardwork of our legendary Khampa lados (muleteers).
In the seven years he has been with Khampa Caravan, Thupten is a seasoned guide and has ably led trips to the most remote of regions (and often with the most difficult rating) in the Tibetan highlands including Tibet Autonomous Region, Sichuan and Yunnan. Besides being passionate about new experiences and seeing new places, he is always focused on his clients and considers each trip a challenge in delivering service and care in addition to the knowledge of a place and culture.
Not surprisingly, Thupten’s first journey was a personal one when at the age of 20, he returned for good with his own father to settle in Tawo in Sichuan Province. Until then, Thupten lived in Darjeeling in India where he went to school and where his father traded for a living. From a very young age, stories of his father as a young trader in Tawo and would capture Thupten’s imagination and he longed to see the land as well as the family his father had left behind.
After spending several years teaching English privately in Tawo, Sichuan, Thupten moved to join Khampa Caravan in 2003. Through hard work and dedication and the opportunities to guide some of the most difficult trips, he has evolved into a guide who can lead and serve no matter how big a group or how difficult the trek. As a second generation born with Lado genes and instincts, Thupten is in his comfort zone when he is in the wilderness. Besides being a doer, he is never shy and can launch himself into a Bollywood ballad anytime (at the end of a high pass or after a good dinner in the wilderness) to express a sentimental side to the Lado spirit.
As if by fate, Thupten recently married Amo, a Mekong girl he met on one of his Khawakarpo treks. He and Amo live in Gyalthang and have a four-year old son.
Tamdin Yangzom - Guide and Office Assistant
As a little girl growing up herding animals in Gyalthang’s mountains, one of the first lessons Tamdrin Yangzom learnt was that the cattle should never be left in one pasture alone. Besides moving from pasture to ever greener pastures, cattle should be led progressively higher in altitude as the summer unfolds.
"Besides having the healthiest yaks and providing the most milk, a good herder can be judged by the mere appearance of the animal’s fur; a shiny, rich black texture separates them from those that have languished in the lower valleys,” says Yangzom. “
Almost by the same token in 2006, Yangzom’s life took a drastic turn into vastly different pastures when she was seventeen. As she boarded a bus one cold winter day for her first journey out into the world and bid farewell to her loved ones, Yangzom could not control her emotions and wept. She was nervous and afraid of the unknown.
For the next four years, Yangzom’s life would be spent in Xining city as a full time student, sitting in classrooms and studying English at the Qinghai Normal University. Life could not have been more different as she lived in dormitories with young Tibetans from all over the highlands, each speaking a dialect she had never heard before and had trouble understanding at first. Her teachers also came from as far as America and Australia.
After a nervous start, Yangzom gradually settled into her new life in the classroom as she devoted her time to learning, education, reading and writing; something she had never done before. A new world seemed to open up and with the help of her teachers and friends. Before she knew it, she would become a new person with new ideas and new convictions. As Yangzom returned to her family and community in Gyalthang with the newly acquired knowledge, perspective and confidence, she feels better prepared to take on the challenges of her community and development issues they must confront.
As a little nomad girl, one of the most vivid memories that never ceases to go away is the sweet scent of fresh grass and herbs in high pastures and the natural beauty of the wild flowers that came out each summer. It is these intimate experiences with nature that sets Gyalthang apart not only for Yangzom, but for her ancestors as well. They are single-mindedly attached to belief in the sacredness of their land. Legends of sacred protector mountains, and protector water spirits (Nagas) abound even to this day.
In her absence, a new airport, better roads, and national parks have brought benefits and convenience for both tourists and local communities. But in the end, for Yangzom, it is the sacredness of the environment and the cultural heritage that needs to be preserved for countless generations. Tourism and guiding can contribute in a big way and Yangzom is determined to use her new skills and knowledge towards bridging this gap of serving and educating the visitor, and protecting the integrity of host communities. Yangzom joined Khampa Caravan in December 2009.
Sonam Dolma - Guide and Office Assistant
Khampa Caravan’s Sonam Dolma hails from the village of Nishar (Rising Sun), a region well known as a Buddhist stronghold and a centre for traditional arts and crafts. Besides its pottery work, Nishi’s craftsmen carve out the most exquisite altar tables and other traditional furniture that adorn the homes of many of Gyalthang’s households. The region also abounds in folklore and music and tales are sung of Tang Princess Jincheng, who legends say, passed through Nishar at sunrise, on her journey to Lhasa to wed Tibet’s king Trisong Detsen.
Sonam Dolma attended primary school and, from a young age, grew up with strong traditional values and a farmer’s work ethic. Her schooling, however, was interrupted for six long years, when she was forced to herd animals and farm work with her grandmother. There were just not enough hands in her family.
It was one one evening at the Trinyi Community Centre when she was called to dance with other villagers, that fate would seal her involvement with English, tourism and guiding. With the support and help from a Thai businessman (who was a guest at the Community Centre that evening) Dolma would spend half a year in Bangkok being trained in service and housekeeping. The throbbing metropolis, the new country and environment was intimidating at first, but later with the help of the host family and a positive attitude (typical of a Gyalthang-ba), Dolma would begin learning English and her engagement with the outside world. Dolma realized the importance of language and communication and the immense possibilities it opened up between peoples of different nations and cultures. From a little village girl who only knew the mountains that overlooked her community, a new world opened up.
After her return to Gyalthang, Dolma won a scholarship to attend Qinghai Normal University where she would major in English for the next four years. Although she would have difficulty adjusting back to classroom study, with the help of her Western teachers and her own iron will, she would graduate in 2009 and subsequently joined Khampa Caravan.
Dolma's unique experience as a foreigner in Thailand and learning English with international teachers has imbued her with a new confidence that is rare among rural folks, especially women folk. She is also sharply aware and emphathises immediately with the needs and wants of visitors.
"Visitors come to Shangri-la from all over the world with a feeling of friendship and curiosity in their hearts. If we can return that gesture by making them feel at ease and show them the real Shangri-la, our job is done," Dolma says confidently.
Sonam Dolma's languages (English, Chinese and Tibetan), her outgoing personality and a thorough traditional upbringing make her an ideal companion to experience Shangri-la and the region with a community focus.
`Numey` Sonam Phuntsok - Driver
Numey is the embodiment of patience and cares for all who sit with him in his van. After almost a decade of truck-driving on the narrow logging trails of Kham and transporting logs to Kunming and Chengdu, he knows the driving terrain in this part of the highlands inside out.
With the government ban on logging in 1998, hundreds of local truck drivers lost their main source of livelihood. After a year of helping out in his fields in Trinyi village and a few summers of mushroom picking, our “younger brother” (that’s what “Numey” means) joined Khampa Caravan in 2003 with an unblemished safety record. He now drives our international guests knowing the twists and turns as well as the great spots where one can catch the best views of the gorges and mountains of which there are plenty.
Numey is well versed in traditional dance and song and has also accompanied clients to many of the remote trekking trails as an assistant cook. When he is given the reigns to cook, Numey can produce the best “Thukpa” (noodle soup) in the wilderness.
`Adro` Kesang Dhondup - Chief Cook
Hailing from Tari Gyab village adjacent to Lake Napa, Adro has lived to see and do much. He is the real Jack-of-all-trades but has a delightful personality to top it all off.
In the early 1970s Adro was sent to the Salween valley as a laborer on the 156 km road-building project to Gongshan. With the gradual opening of China after 1976, he returned to Gyalthang and opened the first shop in Trinyi village selling basic supplies to villagers.
When the Matsutake mushroom trade took off in the 1990s, Adro was in big demand for his self-learned accounting skills, his hardworking nature and his contacts in the remote villages. A big trader employed him, during which time Adro was commissioned to collect mushroom in Yangthang and Trinyi villages where he had a good community following. However, with the collapse of the Japanese economy, the mushroom trade was also short-lived and by the year 2000, he joined a restaurant run by an Austrian couple in Gyalthang. There, he added many Western dishes such as pasta and some great potato dishes to his already rich repertoire of Tibetan and Chinese cooking.
Adro is notorious in town for his distinguished puffy hair-style and his odd suits. He is also known widely to be an obsessive hygiene freak which is a rare but precious disorder for a Tibetan. When Adro is not trekking, he can be found at his home, gardening or scrubbing the floor. He is married and has a son, Kesang Dorje, who attends Kindergarten.
Senga, Cash Manager
Tucked warmly inside her father’s fur Chuba (Tibetan gown), Senga was brought to Lijiang on horseback by her father when she was barely five months old. She joined her childless and widowed aunt there and remained there until completing her schooling.
Natives of Chatreng, Senga's parents and her numerous uncles and aunts moved around actively with the trade caravans linking Lijiang, Gyalthang, Chatreng and Bathang. In Lijiang the big city, it was thought Senga would find a brighter future than her two sisters back in Chatreng who led hard lives typical of a farming family.
After completing her schooling in Lijiang and then continuing her education at Kangding Accounting School in Dartsedo (Sichuan) in the late 90's, she spent a few years working as a cashier in Lhasa for a government guest house. In 2002, when she was just 22, her father decided it was time for her to return to Chatreng and be married off, still a common fate faced by many girls in this somewhat Macho town. She resisted and instead moved to Gyalthang where she joined Khampa Caravan to apply her cash-management skills and to hone her flair for numbers.
Senga finds it a challenge reconciling the numbers in a field where every little expense is disbursed in cash and often with no receipts to show for them. While she revels in this task, she is also game on sharing her inside knowledge of Chatreng for future tours and trekking programs.