Pioneering woman guide in Ladakh

Hill star

Pioneering woman guide in Ladakh

Thinlas Chorol has created a new wave in the tourism industry of Ladakh with her dual-forked innovative measures of better tourism and woman empowerment, finds out Vimla Patil

 

Whatever the social arithmetic of the region, Ladakh has become a trekkers’ dream and a mountain lover’s destination because of its beautiful mountains and snowy, silent valleys. The greatest industry of this region is obviously tourism which has been promoted actively for the 40 years by the Indian government. In the past few years, a new phenomenon has brought fame to Ladakh. This is the emergence of women guides who take visitors on treks to the beautiful hills and vales of the region.

 An active tourism professional

Among strident activists is Thinlas Chorol, a petite woman dressed in typical Tibetan style that went one game-changing, unique step ahead, and became the first woman to own a company for travel and trekking in Ladakh. Says Thinlas, “I was born in the small village of Takmachik near Leh. After finishing my 10th, I joined the Students’ Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) and started my professional career as a guide, though the industry was dominated by men. I faced rejection at various levels.

But that only made me even more determined to become totally professional in my work. I completed a mountaineering course and leadership training. Soon I founded the Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company. Despite the fact that women are looked at as inferior in Ladakh, I recruited women guides and trained them to do an excellent job with safety and skills combined in the right proportion. LWTC also taught all guides English, knowledge about local flowers and fauna, mountain trekking and rock climbing.”

Changing the face of tourism

An alert Ladakhi woman, Thinlas realized that camping was not a comfortable mode of staying for visitors due to the weather. “I changed the whole system and made home stay the norm in the region,” she says. “This way, the local women became financially independent and side by side, became aware of various cultures in the world. I am happy that I could get together educated but unemployed women in Ladakh into the industry of tourism. To further realize their potential, I plan to start my own ice hockey team in Ladakh.

I am a bronze medal winner in the national ice hockey championship in 2006. I also won the Charkha’s Ladakhi Women’s Writer’s Award in 2008. I believe social status, financial self-reliance, and confidence are the rights of all women. By making women in Ladakh skilled enough to reach these goals, I have tried to change their lives dramatically. Women in Ladakh have now become game changers because of their new status.”

Game changer, award winner

Thinlas, who received her award at a glittering ceremony held by the Ladies Wing of the Indian Merchants’ Chamber recently, said she felt ‘honoured’ to win the prestigious Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar 2013 for entrepreneurship and that she would use the prize money of Rs 3 lakhs to empower more women in Ladakh to become self reliant and to train more women for jobs in Ladakh’s burgeoning tourism industry. Thinlas has thus become the first Ladakhi woman to cross several barriers as the first woman star guide for tourism in Ladakh in 2009 and is now the owner of an all-women company for tourism at the young age of 31! 

Empowering local women

Thinlas has, most importantly, changed the perception of women in this Himalayan region. “Ten years ago, no one would have dreamt of a woman guide taking around groups of foreigners in Ladakh’s snowy landscape. But with proper training – Thinlas trained at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi and did a wilderness course at the National Outdoor Leadership School, Ranikhet – women can contribute to the prosperity of Ladakh. 

Says this fiesty lady, “Today, we train our own guides but we could do with more women candidates as tourism increases. As in other industries, women leave to marry, to have babies, and to move away with their families. But recruitment and training are on all the time. I am proud that I have been able to achieve my goal in Ladakh and bring positive change in the lives of our women. But certainly, more can be done.” 

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