Travel for Women: A sanctuary for the spirit

Accompanied by an inspirational female guide, Ruth Rosselson realised her dream to trek in Nepal
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The Independent Culture
Doing a trek in Nepal had been an ambition of mine ever since I met some people who had trekked there. I'm not a particularly physical person and walking up a mountain for days seemed a daunting prospect - but still it became something I aspired to. As I wanted to travel alone, I needed a guide, and decided to find a Nepalese woman who could accompany me.

Although this was an unusual ambition, I managed to find a phone number for a trekking agency in Pokhara that was run by three sisters. I contacted them on my arrival in Kathmandu and, luckily, discovered that one of the sisters was free to take me.

Dicky, was 32, the middle sister and unmarried (she could not have done her job otherwise). She had a round friendly face, shoulder-length black hair and a contagious laugh. At five foot one, she was barely an inch taller than me and we got on immediately.

I had chosen the Annapurna Sanctuary trek because it was supposed to offer excellent views. The guide books all said it required a moderate fitness level; unfortunately, on the first day, as we began the ascent from the valley floor, I discovered my assessment of my physical condition had been a little optimistic. Dicky proved herself by being encouraging and supportive, making sure she paced herself to my speed and reassuring me that I was capable of what lay ahead.

The captivating scenery helped to spur me on. Small, delicate purple flowers surrounded us, and as we walked higher, we were greeted with new views of the river and the valley. Meanwhile, the mountains ahead beckoned. By the end of the first day, completely exhausted and feeling the strain, we arrived to spend the night in the village of Gandruk. I felt as if I had already achieved something great.

That same feeling of exhilaration awaited me every time we arrived at our goal for the day - but it was nothing compared to the elation, satisfaction and sheer joy I felt on arriving at the Annapurna Sanctuary at six in the morning.

We had woken at 4am under a completely clear sky peppered with the brightest stars I had yet seen. As the altitude had begun to make itself known, I had found that I wasn't sleeping as long or as well as a hard day's walk necessitated. Despite this, I was beginning to get used to the walking, and to the weight of my backpack, and the walk to the Annapurna Base Camp (or ABC as it was affectionately known) wasn't too hard, taking around two hours. Although I had to keep stopping, this was more out of reverence for the dawn-lit view unfolding before my eyes than from any breathlessness. For the distant fishtail mountain which had beckoned every morning now towered over me, huge and majestic.

My feeling of achievement was enormous, and I hugged Dicky, knowing that I could not have made it without her strength and support. Her faith in me had been unwavering, even when mine deserted and started heading for the plane home. In fact, this was just one high point of many in my 12 days of trekking with Dicky. Her English was excellent and we were able to establish a close friendship during that time. I learnt much about Nepalese and Hindu culture and, in exchange, also taught her some of the stranger ways and words of British life.

Dicky was the only female guide I met on the whole trek - not surprising considering the predominantly male culture. On her guide- training course she was the only woman among more than one hundred men. But her determination and love of the mountains had got her through and that enthusiasm was apparent throughout the trek. She was a rock of support, as well as being a practical help, ensuring all the food I ate was cooked properly and hygienically.

As she was the only woman guide around, she could not sleep in the same room as the male guides and so shared with me. In that way, I was never alone and she was more companion than guide. While the others played cards and drank during the evenings, Dicky ate with me, and we spent many evenings chatting to each other and the other trekkers.

Although visitors don't necessarily need a guide for this particular trek, having Dicky travel alongside gave me far more access to local people, not least because she was able to translate for us. It also meant that while walking, when the going was slippery and difficult, Dicky's hands were there, waiting to help me down or catch me if I fell. Although this kind of interaction may have been acceptable with a male guide, it would have been awkward and I would have felt uncomfortable with it.

I also knew that while I enjoyed the company of other trekkers in the evenings, I might have felt inadequate travelling in a group during the day - as it was unlikely I could have matched the pace of most of them, and so would have ended up trekking alone, struggling to catch up. This way, the pace and the agenda was all mine.

After 12 days of ups and downs (literally as well as emotionally), I was ready to return to Pokhara, eager for hot water and comfortable beds. Dicky, meanwhile, had one day's rest before taking another new hopeful on the route to the Sanctuary.

The Chhetri Sisters arrange tailor- made treks with their female guides from around pounds 10 per day (food and accommodation will cost around pounds 5 extra per day). Contact them at 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking Ltd, Chhetri Sisters Guest House, Lakeside, Kharare, Pokhara-6, Nepal, PO Box 284 (00 977 61 24066 or e-mail: sisters3@ cnet.wlink.com.np)

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