Thinlas Chorol had to break several barriers when she decided to become a guide in Ladakh – a place whose rugged terrain demands extreme physical endurance for trekking.
Chorol, Ladakh’s first woman guide, in 2009 set up a trekking firm Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company (LWTC) – the first and only travel company in Ladakh owned and operated by women.
Besides being run by women, Chorol’s company is also famous for arranging homestays in remote villages to give the tourists a closer look at the region’s culture.
“We use mainly homestays. Instead of camping in tents, we stay with Ladakhi families while trekking. The homes are often maintained by women, and for our guides – all Ladakhi women – it is easier to communicate with them. And the tourists are very fond of it,” the 31-year-old said
Strange as it may sound, but Chorol was once, on a trip during the initial days of her career as a trekking guide, mistaken for a foreigner. The villagers were trying to talk to her in English as they could not, in their wild imagination, guess that a Ladakhi woman can be a trekking guide.
Born in a farmer family, Chorol says she has been an eyewitness to this 10-year-long transition in Ladakh’s acceptance level for women guides. “A decade ago, the concept of a woman guide did not exist. Today the villagers seem to like us and they know us. I am so happy to see that more and more women want to join us now,” the pioneer guide said.
Chorol’s hobby of trekking goes back to her college days when she was associated with an NGO Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh. “I met a woman in the NGO who had a bad experience with some male guides. She asked me to be her guide and I casually accepted it. It was an astounding experience,” she said.
Her fine experience made Chorol look for a job in the sector. But it was difficult for her to break the ice as trekking agencies in the region do not hire women. “It was just not culturally acceptable,” she said.
Chorol then pursued various mountaineering related courses at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi. She also did a course in wilderness training at the National Outdoor Leadership School, Ranikhet.
When she came back to Ladakh in 2009, she started her own company. “Things had changed in Ladakh till the time I came back. People had started accepting women as guides,” she said.
“It is difficult to find trained women guides in Ladakh, so we train our own. They join us as interns and later we make them assistant guides and finally guides,” said Chorol, adding that there are still fewer guides in her company in comparison to what they actually need.
“Even if we train many, some leave, some get other jobs, some get married and some find the job too difficult. We still turn down many clients since we don’t have enough guides,” she admitted.
Chorol, however, is proud of the fact that all the guides in her company are well trained.