Thinlas Chorol is a trekking guide, social entrepreneur and the founder of Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company (LWTC), a company both owned and operated by women. Since the company’s inception in 2009, she is working to educate more women who want to be a part of the trekking industry.
She is the co-founder of Ladakhi Women’s Welfare Network (LWWN), a recipient of the Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar in rural entrepreneurship and a bronze medalist in the National Ice Hockey Championship of 2006. We are very privileged to have a conversation with her.
Deachen Angmo: Could you tell us a little bit about your childhood and when did the interest in mountaineering develop?
Thinlas Chorol: I come from a farming family in Takmachik. I attended school – first in my own village, then the neighboring village of Dhomkhar and finally in Leh. I used to go with my father to the mountains for collecting grass since I was a child.
Later on, I used to take goats and sheep for grazing during summer and winter holidays. Since then, I like going to the mountains. I also attended the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) as a foundation student. I got a chance to go to different trekking routes in Leh.
DA: What led to the establishment of the first Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company owned and operated fully by women?
TC: I knew that there were women in Ladakh that wanted to work in trekking and I also knew that there were women travelers travelling alone who wanted female guides. By starting the company, I could connect the two groups together. I also wanted to encourage women to enter the trekking industry.
DA: How is burgeoning tourism sector in Ladakh helping women in terms of providing them with employment opportunities? How is it changing the workforce which is mostly male dominated?
TC: With a larger tourism industry, there is more money coming in to Ladakh, which leads to more jobs over all. Women get some of them. There has been little change when it comes to the male dominance in the trekking industry. As for tourism as a whole, it is might be getting better, but I don’t know because I am mainly involved in trekking.
DA: With the expansion of the tourism business there is also a great threat to environmental degradation; how is the practice of ecotourism and home stay that your company promotes helping sustainable tourism?
TC: It helps providing and growing alternatives to more damaging options. For example, people staying at homestays are getting water that has been boiled instead of buying several plastic water bottles during a single trek.
DA: Besides being the founder of LWTC, you are also the co-founder of Ladakh Women’s Welfare Network (LWWN). How did that come into being?
TC: There was a gang rape in Khalsi. The survivor was from my village. I could not help her during that time. I know very well that she is still suffering. And a few women met and discussed it. We decided that there needed to be a society to offer help to women in such situations. So we started LWWN in order to help women.
DA: There is a general consensus among Ladakhis that women are safe here, contradicting the numerous cases of harassment and even rape. What are the problems that businesswomen in specific have to face?
TC: We do not face any extra problems that other women do not face. But there are certain things that are problematic if we want to do business. For example, if we have a business that requires us to stay in office or shop till late at night, even if our home is at a walking distance, some women feel uncomfortable walking home at night. Hence businesswomen will close their shops early.
DA: You have strongly spoken out against the system of caste. How prevalent and deeply entrenched is the caste system in Ladakh?
TC: It is a very horrible system. I have seen it since I was a child. My neighbor belongs to a non-dominant caste. I was friendly with them especially with their grandfather. He used to encourage me. I feel very bad about how the villagers treat them.
DA: You have received your education at SECMOL, which was formed in 1988 by a group of young Ladakhis. How important is an alternative education and how did your experience at SECMOL shape you in your path?
TC: This is a very individual question depending on the goals of the student. There is no one answer. For me, being at SECMOL was very useful since I learned many things and got exposed to different things. I learnt what I need to do in my life here. For example, it was at SECMOL where I first started leading foreign volunteers on treks which was the beginning of my career.
DA: How do you see the way forward for women in Ladakh?
TC: It is a bit unclear for me. Women have more jobs now, but new issues are coming up. At LWWN, we have noticed that women have various problems at home. Having a child without the father taking responsibility or if they get divorced, they have to face several problems since some of them don’t have much income themselves.
But compared to men, women are getting higher degrees. Because many men who fail in school exams then join the Army. So in the future, there might be more women in higher posts doing better.
Also Read: For The Women Who Want To Travel In India
Featured Image Credit: Outlook