Major Rinchen Dolma Kolto has inspired the youth of Ladakh by being one of the first of her kind
Ladakh, the land of high passes and the gateway of the silk route is rich in its culture and traditions and highly protective of the same. Most cultures, sensitive to preserving their heritage and beliefs, are rightfully conservative in nature. They are cautious about exposing their youth to modernization and fast-paced tourism, both of which are counterproductive to preserving their value system.
Ladakh has always been a patriarchal society, and the sociocultural structures that exist in Ladakh are still evolving and adapting to the inevitable progressive changes. To balance this, people steadfastly hold onto the culture, wearing traditional outfits, and practicing traditional farming techniques, food habits, and festivals.
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In this scenario, gender equality has taken a back seat. Women in Ladakh look after the household as well as the fields and cattle. Most of the men seek work outside of serving in the army, engaged in tourism, or absorbed with monastery affairs as monks, etc. There is no space for a young girl to find her passion and fight the traditional norms to follow her dreams. Yet some do dare to dream, spreading their wings and bringing in laurels too.
One such dreamer is Major Rinchen Dolma Kolto. Her fight has opened new pathways for the new generation of girls in this Moon land. Born in Leh, her father worked as a civilian driver with the air force, and her mother worked as a homemaker. Maj Rinchen hated being tied to her chair and much preferred the outdoors and sports. Always a backbencher at her Leh school, her family really didn’t expect the future to hold much promise. She grew up a tomboy, seeking challenges, and it was due to her insistence, she was admitted to a boarding school in Dehradun. She loved it there, pushing boundaries and trying new sports. She completed her graduation from Punjab University and played baseball at the National Level.
She craved to do something out of the box. She witnessed her parents struggle to get her educated, and she wanted to make them proud. The Kargil war has left a deep impact on her and fuelled her desire to join the armed forces. But cracking OTA was not easy for a Ladakhi girl with no army background. She did a basic mountaineering course in 2007 and went on to scale a few peaks like Friendship Peak and Mount Thelu.
This is when the tides turned in her favor. She had always been a part of the NCC team in her college, and her mountaineering course gave her an edge. For a lady to enroll into the Army the only academy is OTA Chennai. There are three ways to apply: 1. CDS exam conducted by UPSC 2. Technical entry (after an engineering degree you can sit directly for the SSB interview) 3. NCC entry (after obtaining a C certificate, you can sit directly for the SSB interview) This was the route she chose and the competition was fierce since there are only 6 vacancies through NCC.
It was not easy being a woman in the army, especially coming from a civilian background and entering a male-dominated territory. Coming from an all-women’s education background, training with competitive men was a real challenge. Her batch mates also assumed that her Ladakhi genes gave her added strength and endurance to perform better than the others. This added to her anxiety. Others would bully her for her oriental features. Dealing with unwanted physical advances was another issue. Yet nothing deterred her dedication. The more she was pushed back, the more she was spurred to take up the challenge and prove them wrong.
Chasing adventure, she wanted to be a paratrooper but the doors would not open easily. She never gave up and one day in 2012 she got a call for skydiving. She took it up as an opportunity to prove her potential. Every jump added to her confidence and with experience came the adrenalin rush that told her she had finally found her calling. She then went ahead and joined the Army adventure skydiving team.
Accolades followed and she was awarded with Brig DD Oberia Trophy in 2012 & 2014 for best Woman Adventurer in the Army Ordnance Corps. She was also awarded a medal by GOC-in-C, ARTRAC in 2014 for her Skydiving exploits.
The mountains called to her soul and she underwent an Advanced Mountaineering course at Siachen (Army Mountaineering Institute) in 2017. She scaled Mt Mumusthang’s shoulder and was also part of two Expeditions: -Mt Bhagirathi II and Mt Stok Kangri in 2018 ( -50 temperature) successfully summit. She was the first woman Deputy Leader in the Mt Bhagirathi II Army expedition.
Her team performed Yoga at an altitude of 19,022 ft and registered their name in the LIMCA BOOK OF RECORDS.
Major Rinchen proudly recollects her days in the Army, “The experience of wearing my uniform with stars on my shoulders, was a dream come true. Apart from all the rigorous training days, there were plenty of positive moments during the BOM (basic ordnance Management) and AMM (Advance Material Management course) days. The camaraderie between coursemates is an experience rarely matched. The outdoor camps, adventure activities, being part of mountaineering expeditions, skydiving on special occasions, mentoring younger colleagues, and walking around in uniform gave me immense pride.”
Each moment in the Forces carries the weight of training and learning. Major Rinchen felt she was enriching her life under the guidance of all her seniors, learning nuances of leadership and man management. In spite of being from Ladakh, one of the toughest terrains to survive in, she experienced how to be free-spirited despite living in harsh conditions and under stringent rules and regulations.
Following a career in the Army doesn’t restrict one from leading a normal life. Cupid played its part and Major Rinchen got married in 2017. He was also an officer who was her senior, however not a Ladakhi. This was another hurdle she had to cross. She feared her family wouldn’t accept this proposal. But, parents always want what is best for their children. They accepted that having a fellow army officer as a life partner would be the best choice for her. Allowing her to marry a non-Ladakhi was yet another breakthrough moment for this Ladakhi girl.
Major Rinchen has a tremendous sense of humor and a childlike positive zest for life. She accepts every challenge, to prove to herself, to her family, and to the people of Ladakh, that times have changed and the women are ready to play on equal grounds. And succeed too.
After commissioning, she tried skydiving to conquer her fears, and the thrill had her hooked on this sport. The passion continued and she kept enrolling in one competition after another. In 2012, she went to Dubai and joined an advanced skydiving course, paying for it out of her own pocket. She obtained the ‘A’ license in solo jumping and was the first woman officer from the Indian army to do so.
She was also the first female Skydiver from Ladakh. To date, she has done 54 jumps at various places in India and Dubai.
After serving in the Army for over a decade, Major Rinchen decided to resign and focus more on her family life as well as follow her passion for skydiving. She aspires to get a D Level Instructor license and take up skydiving professionally. She has become a role model for the coming generations of Ladakhi girls and boys.
She wants to send a strong message to the youth, “Come out of your comfort zone. Think and do something out of the box. Nothing is impossible. We Ladakhi are the children of the soil which means we have the willpower to do anything. Nothing comes easy. Hard work pays off and you just have to believe in yourself. If I, who used to be a backbencher during my school days, can reach these heights, then I vouch that all Ladakhi youth can do it too.”
Major Rinchen, today, stands tall as the first known lady Army officer from Leh and the first to be a skydiver. She has opened doors for Ladakhi youth to take up skydiving and join the army as a career and make the traditionally conservative Ladakhi ancestors proud of them.
The only words that do justice to describe Major Rinchen Dolma Kolto-are “ Role models demonstrate their commitment to a desired goal and are willing to invest the necessary time and effort to achieve success. They don’t give up easily and they persevere when confronted by obstacles. Their passion for success inspires youngsters to follow through and reach the goals they set for themselves”
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