A great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu says a good man always remembers and respects the contributions of early generations and glorifies their work before the young. “You should get down from your carriage when you pass through your hometown. This is necessary not to forget one’s origin to overcome challenges. When you see a tall tree, you should go forward and look up to it. This tells one should respect the elderly.”
As Yogendra Sakya organized a program to celebrate the 92nd birth anniversary of the founder chairman of Hotel Ambassador late Basanta Bahadur Sakya, a renowned jeweler of Kathmandu of his time, he narrated the 42-year old history of Hotel Ambassador in the presence of his friends, colleagues and former prime minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, all his family members. Among the listeners were his uncle Karna Sakya and daughter Parmita Sakya and son Rahul Sakya and other members of his family.
“The story of Shree Basanta Bahadur Sakya and Hotel Ambassador is of ‘resilience’ ‘change is opportunity’ “bounce back” and 3rd generation adding on the foundation laid down by the 1st” read Sakya. “Hotel Ambassador stood unnoticed for 39 years until former prime minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai sent his bulldozer to tear down a part of the hotel for the road expansion in the year 2013. Though we initially did not appreciate this move, it actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Thank you honorable Dr. Baburam Bhattarai because of you, Hotel Ambassador now has an opportunity to tell the story and history of the 42 year years.”
Today (6th March) is also the 92nd Birth Anniversary Celebration of its founder chairman late Shree Basanta Bahadur Sakya (my and Sajan’s father and grandfather of Parmita and Rahul Sakya), he said.
Yogendra Sakya with his family
Lao Tzu had remarked, “nothing in the world is as soft as water. Yet nothing is superior to it in overcoming the hard. The soft overcomes the hard, and gentle overcomes the powerful. Everybody knows it, but few can put into practice.”
As Sakya is soft and gentle, he always overcomes the hard. In hotel business, Yogendra Sakya has faced most difficult times including the demolition of the hotel but his strength is turning the challenges into opportunities. In his statement, what Shakya has shown is he can put to practice what he knows.
Story of Late Basanta Bahadur
Although late Basanta Bahadur Sakya, who had immensely contributed to the promotion of tourism in Nepal and established reputation in Indian jewelry market as certified jeweler to certify quality of gem and diamond from Nepal, he died quietly never boasting about his individual work.
Late Sakya’s journey started from gold craftsmanship to the hospitality business. Sakyas of Kathmandu Valley have been known for their expertise in the jewelry business.
Late Sakya was continuing the lineage of jewelry business and had a store at Ason of Kathmandu until early 1970s. When he turned color blind, he gave up his ancestral profession.
When this scribe interviewed late Basanta Bahadur Sakya in 1999 in his residence in Naxal, he shared about his family business, the quality of his father and himself to identify the value of diamond and jewel testing through naked eye. In 1950s and 1960s, late Basanta Bahadur and his father Siddhi Bahadur Sakya were regarded as certified jewelers of Nepal for jewelers of Bombay and Calcutta. They gave up traditional business following the color blindness.
Given the current growing jewelry business with a turnover of over 40 billion rupees in gold, diamond and gems, there is no match to Sakya in craftsmanship and integrity.
Yogendra Sakya (left) with uncle Karna Sakya: The Old Memory
Jeweler To Hotelier
With the death of father Siddhi Bahadur Sakya, the responsibility of bearing the children and family fell upon late Basanta Bahadur Sakya. As traditional jewelry business did not bring enough money to sustain the big family, late Shakya constructed a bungalow to rent it in Lazimpat.
The founder chairman of Hotel Ambassador late Sakya turned a residential bungalow into a ten-room hotel at the center of Lazimpat, the diplomatic enclave which was then popularly known as Lodging Path. Flanked on all sides by embassies, the Ambassador became the ideal choice for all expats.
Yogendra Sakya recalls, it all started in the year 1954, the same year that I was born. My grandfather, Siddhi Bahadur Sakya, a jeweler from Ason Tole, brought a Khet (land for cultivation in Lainchaur. Siddhi Bahadur Sakya left for his heavenly abode at a shoulder of his elder son, 35 years old Basanta Bahadur Sakya. His younger brother, Karna Sakya was 19 and I was just 8. The income from the jewelry shop in Ason was not enough to give good education and decent life to the 17-member family. Hence, he built a bungalow on the Lainchaur khet, to earn an extra income. Thus, began his building and reconstruction yatra and the art of leasing business. The first tenant of the bungalow was Mr. Bell from the British Embassy and they rented the bungalow for 12 years.”
After construction of the bungalow, late Shakya entered to the hospitality industry with the Kathmandu Guest House. “Most people in the industry think that Basanta Bahadur Sakya entered the hospitality industry with The Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel – it actually started from here, Lazimpat,” said Sakya, former president of Hotel Association Nepal.
Newly constructed building of Hotel Ambassador has a long history, squeezing its land in the process of expansion of road. Since 1961 till 2013, the hotel’s land was encroached for the expansion of road. Hotel Ambassador lost big chunks of its original land in road expansion in 1961, 1978 and finally in 2013. However, Shakya appeared more resilient and vibrant in business.
After the construction of the bungalow and renting it, Sakya family entered into the new hospitality business. “While 1961 was a very important year for the Sakya family’s entering into the renting business, the year was also a historic year in Nepal. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth paid her first Royal State Visit to Nepal on the invitation of His Majesty, Late King Mahendra Bir Bikram Saha Dev. The Nepali monarch wanted to impress the British Monarch, driving her from the “Gau Charan” airport (now Tribhuwan International Airport) to Sheetal Niwas (now the residence of the President of Nepal) at Mahrajgunj. As the Lazimpat road to Sheetal Niwas was too narrow for the impala limousine that the first time Hotel Ambassador succumbed to the road expansion for the prestige of the King and country,” narrates Sakya.
In 1978, the hotel had lost a part of its front land. “Like his father His Majesty late King Birendra wanted to impress the British Monarch with a six horse carriage driven from the Royal Guest House to the British Embassy Via Hotel Ambassador. Unfortunately, the carriage couldn’t make a U-turn to the British Embassy the front nose of Ambassador was protruding out. Hence, they cut it off to ease the horses to make a U-turn, the second sacrifice for the King and country,” said Sakya.
Former prime minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai
Widening drive of the road did not last here. In 2013, the government decided to expand Lazimpat road. The government sent a bulldozer to demolish a portion of the hotel building. In the two road expansions, Yogendra Sakya and his father stood as witness.
Late Basanta Bahadur Sakya with his family
All three generations, late Basanta Bahadur Sakya, Yogendra Sakya and grandson Rahul Sakya saw the widening of road and demolition of portion of the old building of Hotel Ambassador. However, Basanta Bahadur Sakya died before the completion of new Hotel Ambassador.
“It was but natural for my father to feel sad that the building he built during his most difficult times in life was being brought down. Basanta Bahadur Sakya witnessed the tearing down of the old Ambassador. I wish he was alive to see the new iconic Hotel beautifully decorated by his grandson. He would have been so happy and proud. I would like to thank my architect Amul Manandhar and his assistant Bindisha Joshi whose Nepali fusion design has caught the attention of many architects and engineers.”
After entering the hotel business through Kathmandu Guest House and as the demand of hotel room grew, late Sakya turned the bungalow into the hotel. “By 1978, hoteling bug had already bitten many Kathmanduties, hence it was natural for Basanta Bahadur Sakya to convert the bungalow to Hotel Ambassador. He did not dismantle the bungalow but sandwiched it with two blocks on either side to make 32 rooms. Basanta Sakya had already gained a great experience in converting old dilapidated building into beautiful properties by restoring them,” said Yogendra Sakya.
As Sakya, chairman of ACE Hotels, organized the program to celebrate the rebirth of Hotel Ambassador and 92nd birth anniversary of his father late Basanta Bahadur Shakya, traditional jewelry business is in the command of daughter and son in law and hotel is under command of son and grandson.
Despite change in the business landscape, Ason’s old Jewelry shop is now operated by late Basanta Bahadur Sakya’s daughter Kalpana Sakya,a graduate of Padma Kanya Campus, and son-in-law Dilip Shakya, who holds Master in Science in Geology. Shakya,60, whose family also also in traditionally a jeweler business, had started his carrier as Communication Of at Civil Aviation Authority in Nepal selected through a open competitive examination Civil Service Commission.
Daughter Kalpana Sakya (left) and her husband Dilip Shakya
"My wife insisted me to resign from the government office and back to the traditional business to carry the legacy of father-in-law's family business," said Shakya, whose many of colleagues retired up to reaching special class. There is a change in time but the jewelry continues to retain the goodwill before the new generation of old clients.
For Kalpana Sakya, it is a matter of satisfaction to continue business started by grandfather and father. Though many new jewelry shops have opened, Kalpana has her own customers who have relations with generations." I feel proud to give continuity to my family business with my husband," said Kalpana.
As elder son Yogendra Sakya and daughter Kalpana Sakya are carrying the business left over by their father, younger son Sajan Sakya is in solar power business. With the guardianship of elder son Yogendra all the family members had come together to commemorate the contribution of late father.
Kalpana dealing with her customers
Showing his graceful respect to uncle Karna Sakya, Yogendra Sakya has shown in practice that great man always bows down before the old.
In his three pages long statement, Sakya spent his time paying respect and expressing gratitude. However, Sakya is not a new name in the Tourism Sector. Having spent his entire career in tourism business as an hotelier, Sakya knows the ins and outs of tourism in Nepal. Pioneer entrepreneur of tourism and former president of Hotel Association of Nepal, Sakya also worked as coordinator of Nepal Tourism Year 2011 targeting to bring a million tourists in Nepal.
His target to bring a million tourists was fulfilled last year and a new slogan came up with 2 million in target. However, Nepal’s target to bring two million this year has been shattered following the spread of coronavirus and it is likely to send a drastic setback for Nepal’s tourism sector.
The Ambassador's journey started in 1963 as a residential bungalow converted into a ten room hotel. The Ambassador now stands tall at the center of Kathmandu but, while the building may be new, it still carries the legacy of providing guests with an unparalleled hospitality experience for an unprecedented value.
Sakya gained the expertise from 1970s as professional hoteliers remained intact with him. He got started in the business since his school days.
Sakya with architect Amul Manandhar and his assistant Bindisha Joshi
Ace Hotels and Resorts, as mid range hotels, a move from the image of budget hotel and Club Himalaya Resort is the signature hotel that assisted this transformation. Sakya says that he took the challenge as an opportunity and only the time will tell that it is for the better.
Promoter of reputed hotels including Club Himalaya, the Ambassador Hotel and the Marcopolo Business Hotel, Sakya, a Hotel Management graduate. holds the strong conviction that tourism development is possible only if the government and private sector join hands.
Sakya, who has made notable contributions to the development of Tourism Sector in Nepal, also served as the National Coordinator for Nepal Tourism Year 2011.The number of tourists coming to Nepal shot up in the years following Tourism Year 2011. However, it suffered a major setback due to devastating earthquake. It started to rebound in 2017 and enthusiasm has also grown among investors and lending banks with the significant rise in tourist inflows.
At 65, Yogendra Sakya, who also served as the president of GAA (Godavari Alumni Association), has been carrying his family legacy and business. His softness and down to earth approach make Yogendra Sakya a respected personality in business and industrial sector.
"The ACE Hotels is planning to expand its investment on Hub Lumbini and Hub Nagarcot in next two years. Hub Hotel is not only a hotel but also a hub of shopping Centre, apartments, and movies in it. Hub projects will be launched with JV between ACE Hotels and CE Construction," said Sakya.
Having completed his school from St. Xavier's, Godavari and Jawalakhel, he completed ISC from Amrit Science College (ASCOL), one of the highly reputed colleges of Kathmandu, just a batch junior to Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and late Dr. Upendra Devkota. Having decided to go for bachelor in engineering, Shakya accidently joined Hotel Management Course.
“Today, I am not faking my smile. I am truly happy to have taken that risk. May be the old Ambassador was not visible because it never had a catchy story. Once again thank you honorable Dr. Baburam Bhattarai for sending bulldozer. Hotel Ambassador was not only about rebuilding but now with a beautiful story of resilience, change being the opportunity to bounce back, and grandchildren carrying on the torch that Basanta Abrader Sakya lit in 1961. A big thank you was long overdue to the British Embassy who leased the Bungalow for 12 years to help young Basanta Bahadur take care of his family and enter into the hospitality business,” said Sakya.
Like any other Xaverian, he is proud to be a part of St. Xavier’s and respects all that he has learned from his Alma Mater. With modesty and simplicity in his behavior, Sakya, chairman of ACE Hotel Group, is facing the new crisis of coronavirus in tourism sector. As he narrates his story of Hotel Ambassador’s resilience, change and opportunity, Sakya seems to know his way forward.
Yogendra with his son Rahul during the construction period
"The resilience of the Sakya clan reflected in the 30ft banner that covered the dismantled face of the old Hotel Ambassador “Change is Opportunity,” said Yogendra, the elder son of Basanta Bahadur leads Hotel Ambassador now and he has the challenges of maintaining the legacy alive.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu says softness is greatness. This is what Sakya’s written statement shows.