The inspiration for starting Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company came from asking the question “When so many people can travel, why can’t we?” tells co-founder and social entrepreneur Thinlas Chorol when photographer Kishore Amruth meets her in the touristic North of India.
Teaching women in leadership
Around three hundred thousand tourists visited the mountainous region in 2018. In the land of high passes, it’s easy to find a male trekking guide, in fact, Thinlas was turned away from a job at a travel agency because of her gender. She was a freelance trekking guide herself when she observed two developments in the community: “Many Ladakhi women were interested to be a guide or consider an opportunity to take as a helper and that’s how we slowly ventured in this stream and slowly started to empower people across. The results were great, we have been able to form a team and constantly help people trek.” The fact that women run the company means there is a constant urge to prove the worth. Founded in 2009, Thinlas says: “The growth pattern is not inclined to the business alone — but also helps in fighting social issues, social abuse, harassment and bring to notice the community to tackle. We help women in teaching leadership so they become confident and strong”.
Their biggest entrepreneurial challenge lies in getting the right people to run the show. “Women are very shy initially to join the company and it takes a lot of effort and family convincing to let them for a trek, through social stratification and responsibilities that are associated such as taking care of the family, being a parent, feeding result”, Thinlas explains. They train their staff thoroughly, in particular, trekking route education, English language and hands-on instructions during the journeys.
The social entrepreneur continues: “Even though Ladakh is accessible for 4 months a year, people also travel in winter to do the snow leopard treks, we plan that also. And together with a few women, I’m associated with a group called Ladakh Women Welfare Network, to take care of internal community activities and do volunteer work.” The agencies employees number has increased tenfold in ten years, from three to twenty women guides and support staff. And with the new situation in Kashmir, even more tourists will probably find their way to explore the region in the future.
Photos: Kishore Amruth
Text: Kishore Amruth and Sanne Breimer