Our guest relations girls were mainly recruited from friends of friends, meaning we had a bias of Western gals (and the occasional guy) from the wide-open spaces of North America, and the more specialised British habitat of Sloane Square, the Pony Club and titled country house parties. Double-barrelled surnames proliferated, and at one point we had a Lavinia, a Philippa, a Venetia and a Samantha in close succession.
In those conservative times, few Nepali or Indian girls were permitted by their families to work in the mostly male atmosphere of the lodges and camps, although we did find a few individuals who gained traction as attitudes relaxed. By definition, they were mavericks, pushing the boundaries; Asha moved on to Disney in the US, Pramoda still campaigns for animal rights, Christabel from Darjeeling now lives in Melbourne, and Gauree has risen to international lodge manager status in her own right.
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Over the decades, Tiger Tops gals came and went, and many are still in touch. Those that did not succumb to suburbia discovered their destiny – many still work in hospitality and conservation. Some fell foul of the system (or the boss’ kids) and had to leave in a hurry. A few left their heart in the jungle and there were several Tiger Tops marriages.
One English blond had to be rescued from an enamoured royal prince who was found installed in a Soaltee suite – that was tricky to explain to her mother in Surrey. Many took an interest in the food. A lovely lady from Tasmania would greet guests with “Have a nice cup of tea!” and an older lady returned regularly to teach new European recipes. Nodding patiently, the eyes of the Nepali cooks would glaze over with years of conflicting instructions.
Such was the allure of adventure in the jungle that Tiger Tops developed a clever category of young kids whose parents actually paid for them to work with us. Un-catchily named the Youth Trainee Programme, YTPs would spend a month or two traipsing around, shadowing guides, and ostensibly helping out in Chitwan and Bardia, often in their gap year between school and university (yes, gap yah!).
Other than a few casualties — usually related to love, drink or homesickness — an ‘amazing’ time was had by all. One chap overdid the elephant camp ganja, one misjudged the Khukri rum, and another got no further than the Thamel throngs before being nursed back to Oxfordshire, but they were the exception.
Most of our guest relations’ gals and the transitory gap yah kids claim that the experience in Nepal changed their lives, and I have no doubt that it did.