“We get a lot of applications for popular treks, but now we are trying to prioritise more unique destinations. Maybe those who want to do cultural exploration, or go somewhere where there are no trails at all,” says Shristi Shrestha who administers the challenge.
After being selected, the women are given training and resources. “They helped me refine my itinerary and book hotels and lodges every day so that I was not stranded. We were also given safety, self-defence and wilderness training, which was very helpful,” says Anugya Pradhan, 20, who explored remote Nar Phu village in Manang and on to Tilicho in 2017.
Participants agree the solo travelling has helped them in later trips and inspired confidence. In fact, it is also the other way around: people along the way were initially surprised to see women travelling alone, but eventually supported them.
“In the end, it’s about the freedom you feel and the challenges you conquer, and your confidence in making decisions for yourself. It’s also a way to prove that women can do it. I found out that it’s not as challenging as society makes it out to be, so why should we deny ourselves the opportunity to travel?” says Pooja Rijal, 23, who walked for more than a month to Everest Base Camp from her home in Bhaktapur last year.
Nepali Travellers hopes that the Swo-Yatra (‘self-travel’ in Nepali) initiative will encourage more people to travel. Says Pemba Sherpa: “In Nepal, we are ignored by the hospitality industry, while abroad we have visa and passport issues. We want to take steps towards changing those perceptions and establish Nepalis as travellers worldwide.”
Read also: Nepal’s grand trek road, Kunda Dixit