Nepal’s female guides prepare for trekking season

Eighty women enrolled in the Nepal Mountain Academy’s training for trekking guides this year, more than double the number last year. No doubt some had heard that the demand for female guides is so high that they can earn more than men.

Till now, female guides have been a rare sight in trekking and mountaineering, even though Nepal’s first female-run trekking company, Three Sisters, was founded 20 years ago in Pokhara. Of the total 17,164 licensed guides in the country only 886 are female, but their numbers are growing faster than male guides.

Lhakpa Bhuti Sherpa, President of the Nepal Mountain Academy (NMA), remembers when male colleagues asked what was the point in training women as trekking guides when they couldn’t obtain a license. “Why not?” she recalls replying.

Indeed, as women get more educated and travel more, they see opportunities in being guides. Many trekking groups are all-female or have many women among their members and they prefer women guides, who seem to understand their needs better.

Today, guide training draws women from all walks of life. “We have women here who have climbed Everest, conservationists, financial managers, graduate students and even homemakers. I feel very proud to see them getting the confidence to join,” says Sherpa, who adds that having a course dedicated for women makes participants more empowered and motivated.

Besides 35 days of intense training, prospective guides must complete field work and classes. Some of the practical training includes rock climbing techniques, emergency response, environmental awareness, and learning about the cultures and habits of the various countries their trekking clients come from.

“I cannot wait to lead my first trek,” says Sunita Dahal, 28, who is married and has just finished her guide training.

Shanti Rai was awarded a fellowship in 2018 for Solo Women Travellers, and the experience convinced her about what she should do with her life. “After my 90 days travelling alone through Nepal, I felt what I had seen and experienced was so authentic that I wanted to share these stories and journeys with the rest of the world, and to inspire other travellers like me,” says Rai. She adds that being a licensed trekking guide is a perfect way to combine her love for Nepal’s great outdoors with earning a living.

Deurali Chamling, 35, climbed Mt Everest in 2018, but says society is always putting limits on what women can and cannot do. She thinks being a trekking guide gives her both the freedom to travel and economic independence. She says: “I can travel to places, earn and meet a whole range of interesting people from all over the world -- there are so many advantages.”

The government has now allocated Rs1 million yearly to promote female guide training, in part to prepare women guides for Visit Nepal 2020.

“Today female guides are in high demand. This is the only sector where females can earn more than males because they are so few and the demand is high,” says Lakpa Bhuti Sherpa of NMA, who started our as a porter, kitchen worker and then a guide. She says the number of trekking agencies run by women is growing, and so are the number of female guides they hire.

Phunjo Jangmo Lama, a resident of Tsum Valley, is the first female helicopter long line rescuer and an Everest summiteer and is convinced she is now more confident and independent, adding that women guides can understand the needs of clients better than male ones.

She says: “Mountains and trekking know no gender – it is the strength of an individual that matters. If female are given any opportunity they can perform any kind of strength work.”

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