Trekking the Himalayas with an Amazing Nepalese Woman
My travel buddy Christine and I were at the end of our one-year experience of teaching English abroad in Thailand. We were preparing ourselves for all that lay ahead of us in America, but we knew we wanted to go out with a bang. We had been saving money for months for one last trip, and we decided on Nepal. There was something in the prayer flags and snow-capped Himalayas that held an irresistible lure for both of us; the possibility of action and adventure mixed with the spirituality and mysticism of the Hindu culture.
The caste system ensures that the possibility of upward mobility is near impossible. Each person in Nepalese culture is born into a particular caste, and you cannot, under any circumstances, become part of another caste.
We were determined to do a trek and get our very own up-close-and-personal experience with the famed Himalayan mountains. After all, why go to Nepal if you aren’t going to traipse around the most famous mountain range in the world? However, we were two young women traveling alone, and although that had never stopped us from chasing new experiences, we had always prided ourselves on being safe and aware. Knowing we didn’t want to end up in one of those huge tour groups (we like to move on our own schedule and do what we want) I began researching alternatives. Lo and behold, my Lonely Planet book saved us again, and I found a company that was perfect: 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking. This company is groundbreaking for several reasons.
Nepal and India are both fascinating countries, in part because they have an archaic social stratosphere called a “caste system.” The caste system ensures that the possibility of upward mobility is near impossible. Each person in Nepalese culture is born into a particular caste, and you cannot, under any circumstances, become part of another caste. Nor can you marry someone outside your caste. They range from the highest caste (doctors, lawyers, etc) called Brahman, to the lowest caste, unfortunately called the Untouchables. There are many castes in between, none of them equaling each other and all of them preventing people in Nepal and India from having so many of the freedoms that we in the west take for granted.
Women in particular do not have many opportunities for employment and independence. When I researched the company and found that their entire goal was to “promote and empower women through adventure tourism,” I was delighted and inspired. Needless to say, we soon were signed up.
It was one of the best experiences of my life. Our guide was a tiny yet precocious 23-year-old named Yashoda. We quickly realized we were all extremely close in age (Christine, 22, Yashoda, 23, and me, 25) and the trek became less of a guided activity and more like three friends taking on the Nepalese wilderness.
Yashoda was an inspiration to me the entire trip. She had overcome so much adversity in her life to be where she is today—working as a tour guide for a groundbreaking company and going to school on the side for sociology. Quite a lot to balance! Her mother became pregnant with her before getting married, which caused her to be shunned by her family. Yashoda’s father was not present in her life, and in Nepalese culture, that is a source of shame. Rather than let this setback negatively impact her life, she set out to make a difference in other women’s lives. And since I’m writing this article, it’s obvious that she succeeded.
To see this tiny woman determinedly trekking up the side of the Himalayas, and to know what she was doing for women on and off the mountain, put a lot of things into perspective for me.
As a westerner, it’s easy to take all of the privileges we are endowed with for granted. As western women, we were born with a level of independence and possibility that most other women in the world, including Nepal, could only dream of. To see this tiny woman determinedly trekking up the side of the Himalayas, and to know what she was doing for women on and off the mountain, put a lot of things into perspective for me. I had never had to fight for my independence and ability to succeed…..she does every day. Not only that, she does it with a huge, heartfelt smile on her face. Thank you Yashoda, for embodying the true spirit of what it means to be a strong woman.
Tip: When considering trekking options in Nepal, it is advised for women not to travel alone with a male guide. If you are interested in going with the company mentioned in this article, visit their website here.