Bogamati, a tiny village in Assam, is nestled amid picturesque hills, located near the Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary. With a river flowing alongside, it makes for the perfect destination for many adventure lovers.
In the area, a venture named Green Trek Adventure offers activities like zip line, jungle trekking, white water rafting, outdoor camping, parasailing, bird watching and more.
But this is no regular adventure sports company. The story of how it came to be, with the efforts of founder Julima Deka, is one of overcoming several hardships to establish a successful woman’s place in a male-dominaed profession.
With unending 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 tells The Better India.
In 1997, Julima got married when she was only 14 years old, owing to the family’s financial condition. “I could not complete my studies, but resumed them after marriage,” 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 get physically abusive. In 2011, I decided to call off the partnership for the safety of my children to return home for good,” she says.
Julima started living with her parents and decided to build a new life for herself and secure her children’s future.
“I had not completed higher studies until then, and immediately signed up for a graduate degree in sociology through distance learning. Meanwhile, I explored adventure sports and took up a 10-day mountaineering course in adventure tourism at the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship under the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE),” she says.
To make ends meet, she began working as a correspondent with a local media house. However, her coach at the mountaineering institute advised her to pursue an advanced course in mountaineering.
“He believed in my skills and saw my love for adventure sports. So I completed a mountaineering course with the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) in 2012. I decided to develop my skills further and set up an adventure sports company. I became a member of a local adventure company in Bogamati and learned aspects of zip line, kayaking, white water rafting, and others,” she says. “I applied for a loan of Rs 7 lakh under the Assam Vikas Yojana.”
However, banks refused to approve her loan. “I was rejected from five banks. Later, I took a job with a local school to feed my family and earn so I could raise the capital to achieve my dream,” she says, adding that in 2013 and 2014, she went on expeditions to Lahaul-Spiti and Assam-Nepal.
After multiple failed attempts, one bank finally agreed to grant her funding.
And so, in 2015, she set up her company by roping in her best friend, Purna. “We bought a raft with the approved loan money and set up a camp along the river Barandi, adjacent to the Indo-Bhutan border. By introducing treks and white water rafting, we eventually took a plunge into other adventure sports activities,” she says.
Julima says she was the first woman to establish an adventure sports company in her region. “We were also pioneers in setting up a zip lining in the area. It stretches 350 metres long and is the longest in the state,” she says.
In 2017, her venture earned the Young Entrepreneurs award from MSDE, recognising her grit and effort. “Later, I bagged the Assam Tourism Best Rural Tourism Project award, followed by the Tata Institute of Social Services Award for Rural Entrepreneurship in 2019. In 2020, I received the Bodoland Territorial Award for Extraordinary Services,” she adds.
She quit her permanent job in 2017 and became a contractual teacher with the same school. “I started earning well and found it difficult to balance the business and my job. But today, I earn as much as Rs 5 lakh a year, an income much higher than my previous salary,” she says.
Upen Chakrabarty from Guwahati, who recently visited the site with his family, says, “My family thoroughly enjoyed our time at Bogamati — we indulged in rafting and other adventure activities. The local food was delicious, and the hospitality and services offered by Julima were impressive.”
Julima has hired four permanent employees, but around peak tourist season, the number increases to around 30. “They receive training, and contributing to our business helps them earn additional income,” she says.
For a stable future
Through her venture, Julima has recently started an NGO named Helping Hand to help women who have suffered domestic abuse. It also offers a home to elderly people abandoned by their families. “At present, ten members live at the shelter. I use the profits and donations to help the poor,” she says.
Speaking about the challenges, Julima says, “I faced obstacles at every step of my journey, and had virtually no support. People believed that a woman should obey societal norms and follow a conventional way of raising children. They did not appreciate my presence in a male-dominated business and doubted if I could ever succeed.”
She adds, “My family was the only one to support me through thick and thin. I preferred to ignore their criticism. I channelised my energy into setting up and operating an adventure sports company in one of the remotest parts of India, and succeeded.”
Julima plans to expand her business by establishing multiple campsites. “My 18-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son have been accompanying me to all the adventure camps since the very beginning. I am confident that this business will secure their future and ensure a stable life for them. I hope they take the legacy of my business to new heights,” she says.
Edited by Divya Sethu