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Dispatches

Spanning 75 years with the Golden Gate Bridge; female mountain guides climb the ranks in Nepal; L.A. drivers debut a symphony for horns; getting a kick out of three-sided soccer in Bilbao

POKHARA, NEPAL

SOCIAL CLIMBERS
Female guides rise through the ranks in the Himalayas

JANUKA RAI SKIPS LIGHTLY up a steep trail deep in the Himalayas of Nepal, en route to Annapurna, the world’s 10th tallest mountain. Trailing behind her are wheezing trekkers, loaded pack mules and a handful of weathered porters carrying ice axes and climbing ropes. The trekkers are enthusiastic; the porters appear dubious. Women are bad luck in the mountains, they say.

But that way of thinking is fast becoming outmoded, partly due to Rai’s employers. Nicky, Dicky and Lucky Chhetri are three sisters who own what once would have seemed impossible here: an all-female Himalayan trekking company.

The idea came about after the Chhetris, who run a restaurant in Pokhara, kept hearing the same complaint from the female trekkers who came into their eatery. “Instead of talking about the Himalayas’ grandeur and beauty,” says Nicky, 43, “they would tell us about obnoxious male guides.” Despite the fact that they had no mountaineering experience, the Chhetris convinced 10 women to join them in training to become guides—no small thing in Nepal’s male-dominated society. “The women were illiterate, afraid and at the mercy of their husbands, and had to sneak out at night for the training sessions,” Nicky recalls.

After some early struggles, 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking took off. Today the Chhetris train about 50 women a year, while their company leads hundreds of trekkers over the Annapurna range. They recently added a childcare center for guides, and have stepped up their efforts to recruit poor rural women, who otherwise would be making half as much money working in the rice fields.

Atop Annapurna, Rai watches the late afternoon sunlight turn an adjacent peak to gold. She smiles, but she’s moved by more than the natural beauty. By summiting some of the world’s tallest mountains, she’s been able to conquer another obstacle. “It also pays my college fees,” she says. “Match that.” —ARUN BHATIA

ILLUSTRATIONS BY PETER OUMANSKI

One Response to “Dispatches”

  1. Allyson Johnson Says:
    May 2nd, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    3 sisters adventure trekking led our party of three on the annapurna circuit last fall – When fog closed the airport at our trek’s endpoint we traveled by jeep until where the road was washed out, hiked across the torrent and two hours further to the next town, caught a local bus to the next large twon, where the 3 sisters’ SUV retrieved us and took us back to start. Our guide was never at a loss. Thanks, Bena!

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