FACETIME- Stylin': Taming horses to taming manes

Tashi Dolkar and Gyaltsen Sangpo Druknya

How did two native Tibetans, one of whom lived a nomadic existence, wind up owning a fashionable hair salon on the Downtown Mall? The journey from the so-called "roof of the world" to the Virginia piedmont has been a long and winding road for Gyaltsen Sangpo Druknya and his wife, Tashi Dolkar.


Dolkar, 38, arrived first. Born and raised in Dharamsala, India– site of the exiled Tibetan government and home to the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans' spiritual leader– she came first to Santa Fe, New Mexico to join a large Tibetan resettlement community of 1,000 families. Even with very little English, she began working at the deli of Whole Foods in Santa Fe.

After hearing about Charlottesville from other refugees who had visited Virginia, Dolkar arrived in 1995. But although she enjoyed a strong support group, jobs at Bodo's and at UVA's Darden School, and an encouraging sponsor, her future was uncertain.

Hoping to learn a trade, she began researching apprenticeships, which is how she met John Carden, the musician, actor, and Segway-driving crime fighter whose distinctive voice makes waves around town– and plenty of waves in hair at his Carden Salon on the Downtown Mall. Carden had an active apprenticeship program at his business.

Following a similar track, Druknya, 33, arrived in Charlottesville in 2001 as a political refugee. Druknya grew up in a nomad family in the mountains of northwest Tibet, an area he calls "very similar to this area." There he lived among all sorts of animals– horses, sheep, and yaks– so it was an easy transition to work as a rider at the Braeburn Training Center in Crozet. Through the Tibetan community, he met Dolkar, and they were married shortly thereafter.

With the encouragement of Carden, Druknya also became an apprentice at the shop, and before long the two had become so integral to the operation that Carden hatched a novel plan: he would sell them the shop and continue to work as their employee.

"John came to our house to ask if we would like to take over the business," Dolkar says, still marveling, and soon– in August 2007– they will mark the second anniversary of the sale and role reversal. This spring, the new owners changed the name to Salon Druknya, but other than that, the business is the same. The two still offer the apprenticeship program that gave them their start, and they are seeing the business grow as word of their skills spreads.

"They're great bosses," Carden reports. "I love working for them!"

For Druknya, hard work and dedication to a job are second nature. "He's a great guy," says Pat Nuesch, general manager of Braeburn. "He's a kind and genuine person, wonderful with the horses."

While the uneasy political situation in Tibet means that the couple cannot return to the Himalayas, they still have many relatives there to whom they hope someday to be able to introduce their children, Namkhai, two, and Chuki, ten months.

Meanwhile, they're happy to be at home at the foot of a different chain of mountains, taming manes of a different sort.