For twenty years the 3 Sisters Trekking Agency has been training female guides and porters. They empower Nepali women by enabling them to work and they show men that they belong on the treks too. How important their effort is I was shown on my twelve days trek to Annapurna Basecamp.
Puspas face lights up with pride when I ask her about how she became a trekking guide. “My parents, especially my father, were very much against it”, she tells me. “But I always saw the trekking groups passing through our village Ghorepani and wanted to be part of this world.” When Puspa heard of the 3 Sisters Trekking Agency, a female owned company that organises guided treks in the Himalayas and traines women in being trekking guides, she knew this was what she was loking for. “I didnt tell my parents but just went for an interview – and got a place in their training” Puspa has now been a guide for eight years and knows every stone of the popular trekking routes – when she set out to Annapurna Basecamp with me this April it was already her fourth time going up there that year. And her parents? Puspa smiles: “First they were very unhappy. But now I think they are also a little bit proud.”
Yet even though the three sisters Lucky, Dicky and Nicky Chhetri have been in the trekking business for almost 20 years now and have trained dozens of female trekking guides, two weeks on the trail to Annapurna Basecamp (about which I wrote more here) showed me that there was still a lot of work to be done.
Apart from my guide Puspa and my porter Sujata I met only one other female guide, also trained by the 3 Sisters. A lot of customers still prefered male guides, I was told, because trekkers feel that in an emergency a man could carry them down the mountains better than a woman. And talking to some of the male guides about the 3 Sisters, they seemed to appreciate the effort the 3 Sisters make for women in Nepal, yet they also found it a little bewieldering. “Yeah, they try do do some women power thing”, one guide told me, grinning at the very idea. “I don’t know”, he added a little embarassed at my questioning and probably slightly appalled look.
Women out of the house in an business dominated by men is still something frowend upon in Nepal. This is what the three sisters want to change. “In Nepal, women belong inside. Into the house, maybe into an office, if they must work”, they explain to me at their trekking agencys office. “We don’t only want to empower women and give them the opportunity to work. If that was all we wanted to do, we could train them in office jobs. But we want to change the conception about women’s role and place in Nepal too. Which is why we put them out there – really out there onto the treks.”
Not only do they want to change men’s conception about Nepali women, but they change the womens conception of themselves too: “After our trainings our girls are more self-confident and feel that they are entitled to work and to make their own decisions”, the sisters tell me. Meeting the younger porters and the older guides I get the confirmation: They are a lively bunch of giggling girls, yet strong and responsible as soon as they set their feet onto the trails.
And how well that works I was shown during my twelve days on the trek: Puspa took great care of me, knew the trek and its dangers such as avalance sites, knew which few guesthouses might have a single room and half decent food, knew what symptons to look out for in case of altitude sickness and other health issues and also knew a great deal about the culture and wildlife of the region we were trekking trough. She and my porter Sujata were never exhausted or in a bad mood and always with a smile came after a break their call: “Jaam, Didi” – Let’s go sister!
3 Sisters Adventure Trekking Agency was founded by the three sisters Lucky, Nicky and Dicky Chhetri in 1998. Their office is located in Pokhara and they provide guides and porters for group treks or individual treks in the Annapurna region, but also in the Everest, Langtang and Mustang regions, and even in India, Bhutan and Tibet. They won various awards, including a National Geographic Award in the Geo-Tourism Challenge. They also run a guesthouse close to their office, a nice place to relax and refresh before and after a trek. The three sisters not only run the trekking business but also founded a non-proft charity to empower women in Nepal. Volunteering is possible.