Kashmiri Women Begin Discovering The Joys Of Trekking.
Camping, trekking, climbing and sports have been dominated by men in Kashmir. Women hardly participate in any of these activities. Schools in Kashmir – more so the schools run by missionaries – at times take students for camping trips. Leaving aside those school picnics, girls and women in Kashmir have hardly experienced any adventures on their own. There are trips with families, of course, but no outings with peers.
It’s not that girls or women don’t like being on their own. Nature has its own way of refreshing the mind and body. And nature does not discriminate between men and women. It shares its beauty with all, irrespective of gender.
When I was in Class 7, I experienced the joy of camping and trekking for the first time. Our school organized a camp for us in the lush green woods of Gulmarg. I also remember with nostalgia the two other times that I went camping during my school years. Those camping days are among the best memories of my childhood, and I cherish them.
Then again during my college time in Jammu, I had a chance to go out for camping with my friends. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and the time I spent with my peers. Since then, there has been a lull in such activities. I shifted back to Kashmir and had to spend most of my time indoors, as no one among my girlfriends was willing to go out on camping and trekking with me. I know why none of them was willing. It’s because girls or young women being on their own was considered a bad thing – something that women in Kashmir don’t do. The issue of “log kya kahenge” – what people will say – is a major concern for us. This has been the invisible, invincible barrier that has kept most women in Kashmir away from the things they want to pursue in life. It has kept them away from nature too.
In Kashmir, this trend of going camping and trekking with your peers is something that is done only by men. Women hardly get to experience this. The social taboo hangs heavy and does not allow women to enjoy such adventurous activities in the midst of nature, like men do.
If you check the Instagram and Facebook posts of Kashmiri men, you will find such photographs by the dozens. Men and boys sharing pictures of themselves in the woods, drenching in sunlight among the lush greens that our valley has to offer. But for women, the adventure can only be some wedding or other function within the family, or at the most some family picnic or holiday.
More Kashmiri Girls Participating In Adventure Activities
But is nature meant only for the enjoyment of men? No. I feel happy to see that younger Kashmiri girls are redefining the rules. They are claiming their space in nature’s lap. I now witness the growing trend that women and girls in Kashmir have started going out into nature, and bask in its healing and the inner joy it brings.
Women helping women to go out in nature has many positive aspects. One of them is creation of a non-judgmental space, where women can connect with nature, be their true selves, be comfortable with one another and relieve the daily stresses of life. Hitherto, the pleasures of camping and trekking were restricted to men. But now we are witnessing a new era were women have started drawing this privilege.
With this new spark among women, new vistas are opening up in the commercial space. ‘Team Mountaineers’, a travel agency in Kashmir, is helping women realize their dream of camping and trekking. The agency has been organizing camps and trekking expeditions for women, and Kashmiri women have been part of these activities. The founder of the agency is Abdul Basit, who has a Master’s degree in Business Administration.
Speaking to KASHMIR CENTRAL, Basit said, “It is my dream of see Kashmir’s tourism industry booming. There is huge potential in the tourism industry because of abundant natural resources. Kashmiri women should be the forerunners of this industry.”
Basit is himself a traveller and loves to go on trips. He formed Team Mountaineers in 2017. Basit says he drew inspiration from how the tourism sector is booming in other states, and how women participation in this sector is helping the industry to evolve.
All-Women Trekking And Camping Trips Getting Popular
Team Mountaineers organized an all-women trekking and camping expedition in 2018. Initially they got 90 registrations from the women of Kashmir, but only seven girls participated. At the next all-women trip organized in 2019, 15 Kashmiri girls took part. In 2021, the group organized the third all-women trip. In this, about 25 Kashmiri women participated.
The group also organizes camps and treks for schools and colleges, in which the participation of girls is 30 to 40 per cent.
Basit says that women in Kashmir are restricted from participating in outdoor activities due to security issues and the traditional thinking, due to which most parents do not send their daughters for camping trips. Basit is convinced that this shall change, and all-women camping trips shall become popular.
“Earlier I was skeptical about organizing expeditions for women. But the huge support from women participants made me realize that the children of the Valley are born with a natural love of the outdoors. All-women trips are ideal to allow women to enjoy such activities,” says Basit.
These all-women trekking and camping trips also received huge media attention, notably Radio Mirchi. Basit adds that being able to make a small difference in the lives of women by providing them with safe and secure outdoor adventures is very fulfilling for him. “I have observed that when women go on camping trips, they are more disciplined. They are better at communicating and handling tough situations. Outdoor tourism presents a huge opportunity to our gutsy women to build a career in the tourism industry,” Basit believes.
Kashmiri Women Can Build Career In Outdoor Tourism Industry
Another group making a mark in the outdoor tourism segment is All Jammu and Kashmir Mountaineering Foundation. It organizes treks and climbing expeditions for tourists, and also for those from within the Valley. The organisation has been founded by Danish Dhaar, who has an MBA in finance. Daanish is a passionate trekker and climber.
Speaking to KASHMIR CENTRAL, Daanish said that the participation of Kashmiri women in treks was low earlier, but has been picking pace in recent years. “Women have to battle the old stigmatization of such activities, the thought of ‘What people might think’. That prevents women from coming out and joining the treks. The society thinks that it is bad for women to go on treks and do outdoorsy activities. But I believe that these thought processes are changing. Women are exploring nature more, and also participating in trekking and climbing activities. All-women groups offer them the opportunity to engage in such activities comfortably,” highlights Daanish.
Kashmir Women’s Collective, an NGO which works for women, has taken initiatives to organize camping and trekking trips for women, and allow them to indulge in their love for nature.
This year, women from all over India and also from Jammu and Kashmir participated in the winter sports at Gulmarg. A decade now, one may not have seen women athletes in Gulmarg. From snowboarding to skiing, all activities were dominated by males. With women making their mark in these sports, things have changed for the better.
Women helping women to go out in nature has many positive aspects. One of them is creation of a non-judgmental space, where women can connect with nature, be their true selves and relieve the daily stresses of life
BLURB WITH PHOTO OF ABDUL BASIT
The huge support from women participants made me realize that the children of the Valley are born with a natural love of the outdoors. All-women trips are the ideal platform for them
BLURB WITH DAANISH DHAAR PIC
Women are exploring nature more, and also participating in trekking and climbing activities. All-women groups offer them the opportunity to engage in such activities comfortably