Gender Equality & Tourism Revisited: An Interview with Thinlas Chorol, Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company


Equality in Tourism’s Hoi Ling Holly Chan interviews Thinlas Chorol, founder of the Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company, as we revisit the women whose stories featured in Gender Equality and Tourism: Beyond Empowerment, edited by Stroma Cole in 2018.  

Belén Martínez Caparrós shared the story of Thinlas Chorol from India in the book. Thinlas founded Ladakh’s first female-owned and operated travel agency, The Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company (LWTC), in 2009. 

The LWTC empowers women in the community through training and employment as trekking guides. These experienced guides provide trekking tours mainly for female foreign tourists travelling alone or in groups, giving them a safe and comfortable experience in the mountains. 

Thinlas Chorol, founder of Ladakhi Women's Travel Company, wearing hiking gear and sunglasses stands in front of a mountainous backdrop

In the earlier interview, back in 2018, Thinlas discussed the challenges of unstable income and gender inequality. We caught up with her to find out what changes there have been in the intervening six years. Read on for her view on how the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated existing issues for LWTC and for Ladakhi women more broadly.

The Covid-19 Pandemic and Ladakhi Women

Thinlas’ company was closed for two years during the pandemic. It partially opened in 2022 and only fully opened last year: the company has not yet recovered. 

Before the pandemic, between 25 and 30 women worked in LWTC and they used to train around 10 new guides every year. But only five to six worked in 2022 and 10 in 2023, with the current number standing at 15. 

Shop front with Ladakhi Women's Travel Company signage above and below

Thinlas and her team creatively resisted the effects of the pandemic with various approaches. For instance, they organised a crowdfunding campaign and cleaned-up popular trekking routes with the All Ladakh Tour Operator Association (ALTOA). This raised funds worldwide, offering a way to support many of the staff while preserving the natural environment. 

However , due to the lack of work, many LWTC women moved away from the tourism industry. “In the second year [of the pandemic], everyone looked for different jobs,” explains Thinlas. “Most of them got married, had babies, so then they were settled. Because everything was shut during that time, now everyone is hesitant to work in this field.”

Women were particularly affected by the pandemic in Ladakh. Many are educated and bear the responsibility of financially providing for the family. As tourists stopped visiting, the loss of income to support the family put women under huge pressure.

A Changing Society

The situation is becoming ever-more challenging for women since many families are moving from rural areas to cities, such as the capital of Ladakh, Leh. Many women and their families lived in extended families where parents could support them with family and child-caring work. But as many migrate to urban environments for job opportunities, the care responsibilities are entirely on working women’s shoulders.

Two women trekking in Ladakh

There is also a lack of support for working women with child-rearing responsibilities, with few governmental childcare facilities. “It will be harder in the future for women because both parents have to work and there is no one to take care of the child,” says Thinlas. Many women are isolated and bearing a double burden.

Another challenge to Thinlas and Ladakhi women is the country’s political transformation in recent years. Ladakh was part of the Jammu & Kashmir, but since 2019, it’s become a union territory directly under the control of the central government, separated from Jammu and Kashmir. Many Ladakhi youth expected this to open up job opportunities, but government recruitment has been very limited, mainly only for police and office roles. 

This has made it more difficult for women and youth to find jobs in Ladakh.

The Impact of Climate Change on Ladakh Tourism

Climate change is having a destructive impact on tourism areas reliant on natural resources, such as Ladakh. Ladakh has majestic mountains and is the coldest desert on Earth, getting very little rain. “But what is happening now is that there’s a lot of rain in one area and it’s coming down to the valley and the routes are getting blocked,” reports Thinlas. 

As a trekking company, routes getting blocked and damaged are a big concern for LWTC. However, it seems to Thinlas that no one is willing to maintain the places, although she has raised the topic in spaces like the annual meeting of ALTOA. 

Mountains in Ladakh

Ladakhi Women’s Welfare Network

When she was interviewed for Gender Equality and Tourism, Thinlas spoke about founding the Ladakhi Women’s Welfare Network (LWWN) in 2012. The volunteer organisation is still operating today, helping women who face domestic violence and women with difficulties, in particular those who were in devastating situations during the pandemic. 

For instance, the network has provided help for a woman who suffered domestic violence and faced the distressing condition of being separated from her child during the pandemic. Mental health support is provided to women going through these experiences. 

“We have had plans to set up an office to provide easier access for women with difficulties and a women’s training centre for a long time. Now we are serious about it, but it is not easy nowadays for us to get funding outside of India,” explains Thinlas. 

Funding from external sources has supported the company and the LWWN. However, raising financial support has become increasingly difficult for Thinlas. This is down to various reasons, such as the dropping of promised funding and governmental restrictions on funding from outside the nation, due to frequent misuse of sponsors by many. 

Together with her colleagues, she’s seeking different options to achieve the goal. Be sure to contact them if you can support their mission. 

Mounting Issues for Ladakhi Women

Many long-standing issues, including the double burden of women and violence against women, remain unresolved in Ladakh. On top of these, problems such as the pandemic, political and social transformation, and climate change continue complicating their lives.

Despite numerous difficulties in establishing and operating the trekking company and welfare network, Thinlas has persisted with her vision of empowering women in the trekking industry. “It will take time for us to develop the network, but we are still helping women who experience domestic violence and those with mental health issues,” she says. 

Her courage and perseverance are valuable for future women’s empowerment in local tourism and an inspiration for the wider industry.

If you wish to join one of LWTC’s treks or support LWWN’s works in helping Ladakhi women, you can get in touch via their website or Facebook.  

Find the first chapter of Gender Equality & Tourism: Beyond Empowerment free to read on our list of Equality in Tourism publications

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