“After an abusive marriage, I found release through an adventure sports company”
Bogamati, a small village in Assam, is nestled among scenic hills close to the Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary. With a river flowing along, it is the perfect destination for many adventure seekers.
In the area, a company named Green Trek Adventure offers activities like zip lining, jungle trekking, rafting, outdoor camping, parasailing, bird watching and more.
But it’s not a regular adventure sports company. The story of her birth, thanks to the efforts of the founder Julima Deka, is that of overcoming several difficulties to establish the place of a successful woman in a predominantly male profession.
With endless determination
“I was born second among five daughters in a conservative family. My father Girindranath was in the army and always taught us to be brave,” Julima told The Better India.
In 1997, Julima got married when she was only 14 years old, due to the family’s financial situation. “I couldn’t finish my studies, but I went back to them after the wedding,” she says.
Soon her husband lost his job and became addicted to alcohol, she says. “His habits affected me mentally and emotionally. Sometimes he would become physically abusive. In 2011, I decided to cancel the partnership for the safety of my children and to return home permanently,” she says .
Julima started living with her parents and decided to build a new life for herself and provide for her children’s future.
“I hadn’t finished graduate school until then, and immediately enrolled in a graduate degree in sociology via distance learning. During this time, I explored adventure sports and took a 10-day mountaineering course in adventure tourism at the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship of the Ministry of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE)” , she says.
To make ends meet, she started working as a correspondent in local media. However, his trainer at the mountaineering institute advised him to take an advanced mountaineering course.
“He believed in my skills and saw my love for adventure sports. So I took a mountaineering course with the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) in 2012. I decided to further develop my skills and to start an adventure sports business. I became a member of a local adventure business in Bogamati and learned aspects of ziplining, kayaking, rafting and others,” she says. “J applied for loan of Rs 7 lakh under Assam Vikas Yojana.”
However, the banks refused to approve his loan. “I was rejected by five banks. Later, I took a job at a local school to feed my family and earn money so I could raise the capital needed to fulfill my dream,” she says, adding that in 2013 and 2014 she participated in expeditions to Lahaul-Spiti and Assam-Nepal. .
After several unsuccessful attempts, a bank finally agreed to provide financing.
This is how in 2015, she set up her company by surrounding herself with her best friend, Purna. “We bought a raft with the money from the approved loan and set up camp along the Barandi River, next to the Indo-Bhutanese border. By introducing hiking and rafting, we ended up diving into other adventure sports,” she says.
Julima says she was the first woman to start an adventure sports business in her area. “We were also pioneers in setting up a zip line in the region. It is 350 meters long and is the longest in the state,” she says.
In 2017, his company won the MSDE Young Entrepreneurs award, recognizing his courage and efforts. “Later I won Best Rural Tourism Project Award from Assam Tourism followed by Tata Institute of Social Services Award for Rural Entrepreneurship in 2019. In 2020 I was awarded the Territorial Award Bodoland for extraordinary services,” she added.
She quit her permanent job in 2017 and became a contract teacher at the same school. “I started making a good living and found it difficult to balance my business and my job. But today, I am earning up to Rs 5 lakh per year, an income far above my previous salary,” she says.
Upen Chakrabarty from Guwahati, who recently visited the site with his family, says: “My family really enjoyed our stay at Bogamati – we indulged in rafting and other adventure activities. The local food was delicious and the hospitality and services provided by Julima were impressive.
Julima has hired four permanent employees, but during peak tourist season the number increases to around 30. “They get training and contributing to our business helps them earn extra income,” she says.
For a stable future
Through her business, Julima recently launched an NGO named Helping Hand to help women who have experienced domestic violence. It also provides a home for elderly people abandoned by their families. “Currently, ten members live at the shelter. I use profits and donations to help the poor,” she says.
Speaking of the challenges, Julima says, “I encountered obstacles at every step of my journey and had almost no support. People believed that a woman should obey societal norms and follow a conventional way of raising children. They resented my presence in a male-dominated business and doubted that I could ever succeed.
She adds: “My family was the only one to support me through thick and thin. I preferred to ignore their criticisms. I channeled my energy into starting and running an adventure sports business in one of the remotest parts of India, and I was successful.
Julima plans to extend her activity by creating several campsites. “My 18-year-old daughter and my 15-year-old son have accompanied me to all the adventure camps since the very beginning. I am convinced that this company will secure their future and provide them with a stable life. I hope they take my company’s legacy to new heights,” she says.
Edited by Divya Sethu