There are many women making the difference for society around the world and one of them is Thinlas Chorol. Thinlas, born in 1981 in Ladakh – India, is a social entrepreneur and the first female trekking guide in Ladakh. In 2009, she opened the Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company – the first female owned and operated travel company in Ladakh and has since then worked on empowering the Ladakhi women. In 2014 she co-founded the society “Ladakhi Women’s Welfare Network”. Thinlas also writes articles about tourism and social issues and her work has been awarded the “Sanjoy Ghosse Ladakh Women Writers’ Award” by the non-governmental organization Charkha Development Communication Network.
We loved the idea of empowering the Ladakhi women and for this reason, we booked our trek through the Indian Himalayas with Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company. We spoke with Thinlas at her travel company about her initiatives.
Why did you decide to open a “women only” travel agency?
First I would like to start with the fact that the world of trekking guides is dominated by men, there are very few women in this field. When I started trekking as a guide, there were many people happy to see a female guide. I received comments from tourists that they haven’t seen female guides in any other part of India. Other female tourists told me that they have had bad experiences in the past with their male guide. I remember one woman saying that she even had to cancel her trek due to the behaviour of her male guide. She also stated that if I were to continue working as a guide I would have many female tourists interested in trekking with me.
There were many Ladakhi women interested in becoming a guide and asking me if they could join me on the treks to learn the job. I realized that many women were interested in working in this field but there was no place where they could learn or work as a guide. This motivated me to open Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company.
Going to the past, since when are you trekking in Ladakh?
I’m trekking through the mountains ever since I was a child, normally on my holidays with goats and sheep, and I always loved it. But I started to trek more professionally when I was in college, around the year 2000. After my tenth grade, I went to SECMOL, an organization that aims to improve the educational system in Ladakh. They organized many different camps for the youth and there I got the opportunity to trek many different routes and learn about the profession. They received many volunteers from all over the world and I met a lot of international people that encouraged me to become a professional guide. I saw many guys becoming professional guides and I wanted to become one as well.
What did you do when you left SECMOL?
After my years working at SECMOL, I went to several travel agencies in Leh looking for a job. I got rejected multiple times because I was a woman, the travel agencies were not used to that. Some wanted to hire me to do cultural tours, with a car through the monasteries, for example. But I don’t know anything about monasteries, I know about the mountains and I’m very confident about the trekking routes!
Did this rejection from the travel agencies discouraged you?
No, not at all, and I decided to do mountaineering courses and work freelance. After completing those courses I opened Ladaki Women’s Travel Company.
Talking about Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company, how many women do you employ?
This season we counted twelve guides, seven porters (on internship) and two office employees. There were twenty-three women interested in working here this season, but unfortunately, we cannot hire everyone.
Are you responsible for training your staff?
Yes. We try to hire around 7 new women a year (depending on how many we need in the season) from different parts of Ladakh and we really look for the ones that want to become a professional guide. They start as a porter for at least one season where they trek as many different routes as possible to gain experience. At the beginning of the season, we teach them basic English, the routes, about the monasteries and the different things that can happen during the trek (for example, what to do when someone gets sick). When they go trekking, they see how the professional guides behave during their work and they also improve their English. We always ask for feedback from our clients on the guides and porters. If the porter wants to continue to become a guide and the clients and guides were positive about her, she can continue the following season as a training guide. The clients that are willing to trek with a training guide get a discount. After two seasons they are ready to trek as a professional guide.
How is the solo female traveller’s demand?
It’s pretty high actually. We sometimes try to form a group of solo female travellers so that the trek can be a little bit cheaper for them. We also have a good demand for travelling families with children and of young couples. We do not accept solo male travellers, men always have to be with their female partner or friend. Sometimes it happens that a couple books a trekking, but when they arrive in Leh the woman gets sick due to the high altitude and cannot trek. In those cases we consult with our guide if she accepts to trek only with a man, the decision is up to her.
How is the feedback on the female guides?
The feedback is very positive and my clients are also very happy with the cultural interaction they have with the female guides, especially families with children. Also, the women at the homestays are very happy with the female guides. Imagine that at many homestays the man leaves with his horses to generate income for the family. So the women at the homestays feel more comfortable hosting a female guide and are very happy to see women working in this field.
Do you have other ideas to empower the Ladakhi women?
Yes. Women in Ladakh have been suffering from many social issues. We are trying to come up with other concepts that can help Ladakhi women getting an extra income, becoming more independent and confident. The trekking season in Ladakh is very short, so our idea is to vary in business. We are opening the Ladakhi Women’s Cafe very soon so that women also can work during the off-season period. We will also offer that space to female artesian to sell their handcrafted products.
I’m also president of Ladakh’s Women Welfare Network, an organization that since 2013 supports Ladakhi women. We have more than a hundred members that voluntarily help women with their personal issues and educate them about their legal rights.
Ladakhi Women’s Travel team and agency in Leh.