March 24, 2017 12:09 PM NPT
Nepali Travelers started funding solo women travelers to instill confidence in them as well as encourage them to become independent. The project started when Pemba Sherpa, an avid traveler himself, sat down with his friends and came up with the concept. “Our aim is to build a travel culture in the country. We have a lot of mountains and other beautiful places, but nobody wants to go camping,” he said, revealing that that’s exactly the kind of thing he wants to change.
Isha Upadhyay talked to some women who won the competition and went on trips in the previous years to learn about their experiences traveling solo.
Being from a Newar community, I had never been too far from home for any length of time. I participated in the competition through an organization called Women Lead so I didn’t have to battle it out with other people. My initial plan was to go for the ABC trek, but as I talked to more people, I ended up including Ghandruk, Gorkha and Barpak too. I went after the earthquake so I visited places that were most affected by the earthquake and being a social science student, I used this opportunity to do some research on the Gurung community as well.
My 14-day trip started out on a bad note when the conductors on the bus from Pokhara to my ABC entry point, Kande, harassed me and kept asking me for my number throughout the journey. The woman sitting next to me thought the boys were my friends and were just teasing me. It didn’t even cross her mind that I could have been traveling alone. It was only when I got off the bus with her, before my destination arrived as I was too scared to go alone, did she realize what was up. She helped me get a lift from her stop to my destination, but I was already shaken and rethinking my decision to travel alone. But, when I reached Kande, I met four Australian girls who were out trekking by themselves and they motivated me and reminded me to not let a few people stop me from doing what I wanted to.
During the trek, there were a lot of times I wanted to give up. I injured myself and had to make do because I didn’t know the right way of doing things, but I kept meeting people who inspired me to keep going. Seeing me struggle with my backpack, a man from Hungary helped me out and taught me how to tie knots and carry my backpack properly. He stayed with me for a whole day, and it was nice to have someone to share the experience with. But he also made me realize that I came out of the house to do this by myself and we parted ways. Looking back, I realized that I did a lot of things I wouldn’t have if I had gone with friends. Traveling by yourself is a journey of self discovery and there will be moments where you have to step out of your comfort zone to find yourself.
After the ABC trek, I went to Ghandruk and Barpak, where I lived with host families and learned a lot about their lifestyles. I was a shy introvert when I went on the trip but I came back as a confident girl. I am glad that I didn’t let my initial setback come in the way of my journey.
I went to South India on a 24-hour challenge set by Pemba Sherpa. We were just hanging out, talking to a traveler from Chennai when I happened to mention how I have wanted to visit the southern part of India. When asked why I hadn’t been there yet, I said I didn’t have the money for it. Pemba offered to sponsor my trip but there was a catch: I would have to leave in 24 hours. In the next 24-hours, I had to convince my parents, make an itinerary, do some research about the place I wanted to visit and pack.
Looking back, I wish I had more time to decide on my routine. I ended up spending a lot of time on the buses and trains, with one journey that exceeded 55 hours on a train. If I had the time to plan things carefully, I would have allotted more time to immerse myself in the culture of the places I visited.
I first went to Lucknow from Nepalgunj and then proceeded to Cochin, Kerala. From there I went to Kanyakumari, Bangalore, Ooty and then came back to Bangalore again, from where I returned to Kathmandu. Looking back, 12 days were surely not enough to get the feel of all these places. Although India is thought to be unsafe for girls, the only place I felt uncomfortable was at Lucknow. Wherever I went people kept staring at me. Even when I checked into a hotel and booked a single bed, the owner repeated several times that I couldn’t have a ‘visitor’ since it was a single-bed room.
The wait staff and all the other people at the hotel too wouldn’t stop staring. The hotel I stayed at while in Kerala had a guy from Sikkim working there and I felt the true joy of running into someone who speaks your language when you are away from home. This is probably why I felt most at home when I was there. I realized through this experience that although there are many setbacks for women in our society, there is still nothing we can’t achieve when we set our minds to it.
I was in the US when I saw the challenge on Facebook and decided to give it a shot. I wanted to challenge myself and do something so out of the way that I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for the travel challenge. This is why I chose the Dolpa route – a trek so remote that I had to carry my own stove and tent because the villages were spread apart and there was a very real possibility that I might have to camp out in the open. I didn’t think I would be chosen but when I was I got so scared that I thought about backing out.
At last I steeled myself and went on my 21 days journey, with a map in hand because as remote as the trail was, there was going to be no signal for telephone services, let alone Google maps.
I faced a lot of challenges along the way. I have trekked for 13 hours straight while I had fever because I misplaced my map and got lost. All the people I met during the day would tell me to go back the way I came from because it was too risky for a girl to walk alone in those areas. I was in such remote areas that a war could have broken out and I wouldn’t have known.
I definitely felt stupid at times for choosing such a hard trail for myself. One man, in particular, was shocked that I was being funded to put myself through so much. His exact words, something that I will never forget, were “Yeta ko Manche garib bhayera dukha garcha, tapai chai paisa bhayera dukha garnu huncha”. [People here struggle for money, and you struggle because you have money.]
I am someone who has been lucky in life and feel empowered right where I am, but with the trek I realized I rely on my friends and safety network here. When I was out there, I was the only one I could rely on, the only one who could help me. For a man, the only concerns they have are physical ones and safety from wild animals. I met women who would tell me outright that I might be raped because I was traveling alone. But instead of scaring me it acted as a motivation of sorts. I was doing something that not only few people did but something people were actually scared to do.
I learnt so much about myself that despite the challenges I faced, given a chance, I wouldn’t change a thing. The sweat and tears I put into the trek made me realize who I really am and what I am capable of.