3 Sisters’ Mission to Transform Nepal’s Mountain Guide Industry
In the Nepalese Himalayas, the Chhetri sisters are empowering local women and revolutionizing the trekking industry—one female guide at a time.
In the early 1990s, following the death of their father, Lucky, Dicky and Nicky Chhetri moved from India to Nepal. In the central Nepalese city of Pokhara, a gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, the Chhetri sisters opened a restaurant and lodge to serve those trekking in the Himalayas.
At the time, men dominated the local mountain guide industry. In Nepalese society, women were and, in many communities, still are expected to stay home. It was unheard of for a woman to be adventuring outside her home, let alone leading treks in the mountains.
In running the restaurant and lodge and meeting women from around the world, it didn’t take long for the Chhetri sisters to see that something had to give with societal beliefs and the male-dominated mountain guide industry.
As tourists passed through Pokhara, Lucky, Dicky and Nicky too often heard stories about male guides abusing their position with female tourists. Lucky says, “Some women were having bad experiences with their guides. These women were frightened and would tell us it felt unsafe to continue trekking with them.”
The more the Chhetri sisters heard troublesome stories from female tourists, the more they considered their role in the solution. “These stories touched us,” Lucky says, “and we resolved to do something. With urging from our family and friends, we gathered up all our courage and entered into this uncharted territory.”
As three foreign women looking to train and employ local women as trekking guides, Lucky, Dicky and Nicky caused a stir in Pokhara.
In 1994, the Chhetri sisters founded Empowering Women of Nepal (EWN) and 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking Company. EWN is a nonprofit organization that supports and trains local women to become female mountain guides. 3 Sisters is a company that employs female mountain guides to lead treks in the Himalayas. Both the organization and the company aim to empower and improve the lives of Nepali women.
As three foreign women looking to train and employ local women as trekking guides, Lucky, Dicky and Nicky caused a stir in Pokhara and the surrounding communities. “We were strangers to them. They were thinking, ‘Who are these strange women doing these weird things?’ We felt like aliens," Lucky says. "It was very difficult for us to mix with the community. If we had come without any mission like that [to train and employ women], we would have fit in with them very easily, but because we had a different mission, people kept us at a distance.”
As such, getting EWN and 3 Sisters off the ground took time, patience and perseverance. In the beginning, the Chhetri sisters went out into Pokhara and the surrounding communities to let people, particularly women in rural areas, know the opportunity to be trained and employed as mountain guides existed. Then, as women went through the training and gained employment, other women were inspired to join EWN and 3 Sisters.
"I am walking on a happier and independent path where I feel equal to the people around me.”
Because working outside their homes is a new experience for most of the women who come to EWN and 3 Sisters, Lucky says another challenge they’ve encountered is a lack confidence. “The women who would come, they had nothing,” Lucky says. “They had a big social disadvantage. Most of them come from a low caste. They have a broken family, they have no education and they have lots of fears. They didn’t trust themselves.”
Lucky, who studied mountaineering at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in India in 1990, sees herself in these women. “Mountaineering training was eye-opening. [It allowed me] to find my own strength,” she says.
In sharing their stories and leading EWN and 3 Sisters, Lucky, Dicky and Nicky are inspiring and encouraging the women who join them to discover their own self-confidence and self-reliance.
Tul Devi Paija, a 3 Sisters mountain guide, says, “It was beyond my imagination to become a tour guide. After I met Lucky Chhetri, I felt like I could do it. She told me nothing was impossible, and I was inspired by her. The belief that women can’t be tour guides has been broken by my life. Now, I am walking on a happier and independent path where I feel equal to the people around me.”
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