Trekking as a Single Female in Nepal
by Marise Denault
The first decision when deciding to trek in Nepal is whether you prefer to walk solo or to have a local accompany you along the way, for example, a guide and/or porter, or to join a group.
The Annapurna and Solo-Khumbu (Everest) regions are ideal areas to embark upon a solo-trekking trip for a number of reasons; (1) they are used to catering to solo trekkers and are therefore safer and easier to navigate, (2) there are many family-owned teahouses where you will often find women-friendly environments, (3) there will likely be other women to meet along the trail. Other trekking regions will probably have a few negatives that you should consider before heading off.
Following are some important issues and shared perspectives from Marise and Sushma who have enjoyed trekking in Nepal, on their own terms.
Your Security Comes First
One of the most important is your personal security. The popular Langtang trail has seen solo women attacked, and even killed, in past years, so security is a very serious issue. To explore remote or less popular trails, you should have an excellent level of Nepali and a thorough understanding of social and cultural traditions.
One of the most popular ways to explore Nepal as a single female trekker is to go with a local female guide and/or porter. You retain the experience of a solo trekker in many respects, even to carry your own things should you wish, but you have the major added benefit of local knowledge and the ability to communicate effectively with anyone you meet. A female trekking guide will also choose family run guest houses more than those run by men only and this is safer for sole trekkers. Another added benefit is female solo travellers are welcomed into Nepali family lives more so than men.
Example 1: When I came to Nepal for the first time, trekking with a female guide gave me so much insight into the culture and the role of women in society. My guide could connect more easily with women and girls in the villages along the trail and they were happy to share their personal life stories which were fascinating. I not only enjoyed her company but also all the advice she provided on the trail but most of all how she was my liaison / intermediator whenever necessary and also helped to keep the curious annoying types away.
Example 2: Trekking with a female guide has a lot of advantages especially on busy trails during high trekking season where there can be a lot of groups migratorily led by men. In comparison, there are few female guides on the trails and the tea shop owners are more courteous and sympathetic to the female guides and their clients.
Perhaps Join a Female-Only Group?
Female group journeys add a level of companionship and comraderie that are unlikely with a local guide, but they are less flexible in terms of route and timings and of course, that all important ‘my trail’ feeling.
Sexual and gender-based violence occurs throughout the world and unfortunately, Nepal is no exception. To help minmimise personal risk and so that you can relate to women’s issues, here are some tips and ideas for you to consider:
1. Role of women in Nepali society
- The majority of communities in Nepal are patriarchal and women and girls face discrimination in every aspect of the society. The socio-economic situation of women in Nepal is very poor, they have less access to education than men and are mostly reduced to their roles as wives and mothers and limited to domestic and household chores. Despite efforts by the government and NGOs in the country to improve the rights and situation of women, there is still a long way to go before they become equal members of society. Having said that, what is really nice in Nepal is how women contribute very much to work force and society as a whole and are very visible. You will not find a female taxi driver but there are female police officers and there are many women working in shops and restaurants which you can interact with. In the mountains, there are many lodges which are run by families managed solely by women. This is common as women and children stay in the villages while men leave to work abroad or in the cities.
- If you want to contribute to the empowerment of women then choosing to do business with a trekking company that value women and hire women is one good way to go about it.
Example: 3 Sisters is a trekking company that not only hires women but also works for the cause of empowerment of women and girls by empowering, educating and creating employment opportunities to underprivileged girls and women.
2. Attitudes of men towards foreign single female travellers
- Tourists are treated well and you will find that you are respected as a woman whether travelling alone or in a group. In public places, men are not aggressive and don’t harass women randomly, there is very little eve-teasing and few incidents of physical sexual harassment such as groping.
- You will find however that some Nepali men assume you are more promiscuous that the women in Nepal so it’s good to be aware of this and be firm if you receive direct sexual advances that you’re not interested in. This can be very annoying but if you clearly say that you’re not interested then these kinds of guys generally back down quickly.
- Nepali men can be charming and there are many women who have fallen for their guides and there is a long history of this in Nepal. It’s important however to be aware of the challenging realities that young men face in this country due to lack of employment and opportunities and some Nepali men are simply looking for a way out of the country. It is not badly seen for a Nepali man to be dating a foreign woman as this happens quite a lot but longer-term commitment is more complicated. Be aware also that some Nepali men might want a relationship with a foreigner. This it’s good to be aware that when young men say they are single and interested in you it’s unlikely to be true. In this culture many young men still marry before their early twenties and their wives stay at home with their families while the men go off to work in the mountains during the high season.
- Generally speaking, Nepali men in the mountains, guides and tea shop owners who have had a lot of interaction with foreign women have better attitudes than the men you will meet in the big cities. They can be extremely friendly and helpful and they are very happy to share their knowledge of the trails and stories about the mountains.
3. Wearing appropriate clothing
Nepal is a conservative country and dressing inappropriately, for example wearing tight revealing clothing can be regarded as disrespectful. In the mountains you will notice that women and girls still wear traditional clothes and thus in order to avoid unwanted and unnecessary attention it is advisable to be aware of the clothing you bring on your trek and dress conservatively.
4. Menstruation as a taboo
As a woman, it’s important to know that there are still many taboos and menstrual restrictions being practiced in Nepal. In fact, during menstruation women are considered impure and in some parts of Nepal even banished from the house but also suffer exclusion from social and religious gatherings and even prevented from going to school. Menstruation is therefore not a topic that women or men are comfortable discussing.
Menstrual hygiene products such as pads are available in the capital but it preferable to bring your own supply, especially if you prefer to use tampons. While trekking tampons are easier to carry and to dispose. Most toilets on the trail have dustbins for toilet paper and you can easily wrap your used tampon in toilet paper and then dispose it the bin or if not available then keep in a plastic zip lock bag and dispose once you reach the tea house where you will spend the night. Some women trek using the menstrual cup and find it quite practical as water is readily available for rising and washing but it would be preferable to also have alternatives.
5. General safety tips and trusting your intuition
- Make sure a non-trekking friend or family member knows your trekking itinerary if you are trekking solo and the name of the trekking company you will be going with. On the trails you will likely encounter groups of youth Nepali trekkers, sometimes mixed but often boys only. To avoid any hassle and lots of questions, it’s preferable to ignore such groups and not to engage in conversation. There is no need to be polite and engage with them if you don’t feel like it and once they see that you are not interested, they generally will not insist further.
- Joining a group of trekkers, you meet on the trail is always an option but not necessary. You can limit your interactions to sharing of experiences and information and ideas without joining into the groups itinerary if it doesn’t suit yours.
- You are likely to be questioned about the reasons why you are travelling on your own and you can adapt your answer as you see fit, sometimes telling the truth and other times making up a story that you feel will be more socially acceptable. There is no need to divulge too much personal information and don’t feel pressured to be overly nice. It would be fine for example to say that your boyfriend will be meeting you in a couple of days. Some female solo travellers choose to wear a ring and then tell anyone that is making them uncomfortable that they are heading up the trail to join their husband or something along those lines.
- Alcohol is widely available in the big cities and the mountains are famous for the local brew called chang. Just be aware that drinking in the mountains can have a bigger impact due to physical tiredness and altitude and can thus impair your judgement more quickly. It’s therefore good to be careful with the amount of alcohol you drink. Be aware also that the porters and guide most often are drinking in the evening in their rooms or with the owners of the tea houses in the kitchen so best to avoid interactions late in the evenings.
- Social media travel tips: While traveling solo it advisable not to overshare on social media. Keeping your location private and the name of the hotel where are staying is one of the best ways to avoid being stalked or harassed especially if you start accept local friends on social media. Protect your privacy and this will help to stay safe.
- Keep your accommodation to yourself. Your accommodation is your sanctuary and it’s better not to tell people where you’re staying. When they ask, because they will, it’s easy to be vague.
- Interview local staff, preferably with a friend or someone from your hotel present, and get some contact details from them. Check and photograph their ID and leave details with your hotel when you go trekking. Generally speaking, an older, more experienced guide will be better company younger ones
- Room sharing is no problem with girls, but avoid with men at all times.
- TRUST YOUR GUT INSTINCT AT ALL TIMES!
Nepali Female Solo Trekking by Shushma Bhatta
Travelling is a type of meditation for me. When you travel solo, you have no one to rely on but yourself and that pushes you to learn how to function in the world. It can open up your mind and let you understand yourself better. You don’t have to compromise with anything and the process gives you freedom; a freedom of being yourself, a freedom of living on your own with your own terms, and it brings a confidence within yourself. You can be whoever you want as there will be no one to judge you. I used to wake up at midnight and watch the stars and Himalayas for hours, watch my favourite movie facing the Himalayas. I danced like crazy around the horses in Mustang. I lived those moments and I still have those moment within myself. I love people and exploring local culture. People will start loving you and respect you if they see confidence inside of you. You are going to surprise so many women out there and inspire them.
There are problems as well while travelling alone. If local men see women alone there will be lot of questions and you have to be careful while answering them. You don’t have to tell truth all the time if you feel uncomfortable. Be very smart when listening to the way they are asking questions and sometime you have to be diplomatic when answering. For example, I would say I am not travelling alone, or I am here for work if I do not feel comfortable. Having said that, do not hesitate to ask your own questions and help to people.
Before traveling it’s very important to have knowledge about the places you are going. Google everything and travel during day time. If you have contacts in those areas please use them as it can be very helpful. Carry medicine and enough clothes with you. Always share your location with your family and friends. Do not feel lonely and enjoy as much as you can.
In a country like Nepal, where females are still not allowed to travel, travelling alone is challenging. Someone always wants to control you as everyone thinks women are not strong enough to travel alone. I do not agree with that. Be strong from inside, trust yourself and give it a try. You don’t need to go to Everest or upper Mustang for the first time, you can go to easier places and start exploring yourself.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION WHILE IN NEPAL
Casual sex while trekking is not uncommon whether it’s with a local guide or another fellow trekker you meet on the trail, practice safe sex. Whether you plan or not to have sexual intercourse it’s a good idea to bring condoms as these are not easily available in the mountains. Condoms are a MUST to prevent Sexual Transmitted Infections. You can also easily purchase the morning after pill / emergency contraception as well as regular contraception without a prescription in Kathmandu.
If you are sexually assaulted
The most important thing to do if you have been sexually assaulted or raped is to seek medical care immediately. You will not only get treatment for any injuries but also start antibiotics to prevent STIs sexually transmitted diseases and most importantly take emergency contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancy up to 72hrs after the incident. If you are in the mountains and there are no health posts in the area then it would be advisable to come back to the capital ASAP. In Kathmandu, there are several private hospitals where treatment is available.
It is also highly recommended to report the incident to the police.
In Nepal there are “Nepal Police Women and Children Service Centres” throughout the country in all 77 districts and 3 in Kathmandu who specialise in sexual offences, domestic violence, human trafficking and any other offenses against women and children. To contact Police Control centre by dialing 100 on a local phone. Whether you wish to pursue the case legally or not, for your own safety and those of other female travels at risk of experiencing the same it is important to report. Once you go back home it is recommended to follow up for psychological care with a rape crisis centre.