LADAKH, INDIA: Thinlas Chorol
If I may be honest, trekking in Ladakh is rough. In fact, our attempt to finish Markha Valley trek was incomplete as our guide fell ill and we had to walk out of the trail mid-way into our trek. Luckily, my attempts to meet Thinlas Chorol was easier than that. Thinlas Chorol is the founder of the Ladakhi Women's Travel Company in Leh. It's the first female founded trekking company, as well as, the first company in Leh to employ women as guides and porters on the mountain trails of Indian Himalayas.
As part of the mission of empowering women, both hikers from western countries and the local women in the mountain areas of India, and on behalf of my social enterprise, Peak Explorations, I personally sought out the opportunity to speak with the founder of the Ladakhi Women's Travel Company. I was intrigued that in such part of the world, Thinlas, who grew up loving the mountains, took the initiative to create her own enterprise. What motivated her to do this? Her story resonated with mine in that because of the lack of visibility and employment opportunities for women, she and I created our own means of paving the way for women to partake in leadership roles in the trekking tourism industry regardless of the challenges and the critics of such notion.
Thinlas is a pioneer in empowering women in Leh. Her enterprise was established to create opportunities for women to gain training and employment on the mountain trails which normally are much more available to men. During the interview, Thinlas noted her own level of hardship when it came to accessing opportunities as a guide. Luckily, she explored options for herself such as taking advantage of the opportunity to attend the mountain trekking course through the American program called National Outdoors Leadership School (NOLS). After getting certified through NOLS, more local Ladakhi operators took notice of her ability as a guide even though they continue to perceive her skills as "less" compared to her male counterparts. She gained more opportunities as a freelance guide but realizing the need for more women to get involved in the trekking tourism industry, in 2009, Thinlas decided to become an entrepreneur and create her own travel company to cater towards hiring of local women to become porters and guides.
Since then, Thinlas' enterprise has been noted for its work to empower Ladakhi women which resulted in women gaining more independence, self-sufficiency and having the means to alleviate instances of domestic violence in their lives. Thinlas has gained several awards for her endeavor and has spoken at a TED event about her company and mission. Because of her company, the views of women in the trekking tourism industry have changed and women are now seen as a regular part of the industry. They now play a crucial role as guides or porters on the mountain trails. As Thinlas notes in her interview, more work is required to equalize the roles of local women and men at a more domestic and personal level, but nonetheless, progress is here to stay and continue - thanks to Thinlas and her crew of women who are leading the way on the mountain trails.
It was a true honor for me to meet her in person and share a moment of camaraderie in a world where women leaders are few and far between. You can read more about Thinlas on Wikipedia and her company website.
What follows is a recording of our conversation at her office in Leh. I apologize in advance for the audio quality as the town of Leh is a rather busy place; hence, the background noise. As in any of my features, I'm all ears to any comments or questions. Let's continue the conversation and learn in the process. Enjoy.