As it is International Women’s Day, it very fitting to share this story about strong and spirited women. In November 2017, an all-female team headed by Elise Wortley (Woman With Altitude) set out to re-create the steps of legendary female explorer Alexandra David-Neél, by conquering the Indian Himalaya’s.
French-born Alexandra is most famous for her epic 14-year trans-Himalayan journey to Lhasa, Tibet in 1924, despite being forbidden to foreigners. Using the very basic of equipment, her fearless spirit and a cunning disguise, she managed to reach the Forbidden City. Her experiences were well-documented, having written 30 books covering her travels, Eastern religion and philosophy. Her book My Journey to Lhasa (published in 1927) was the initial inspiration for Elise. It narrates her difficult journey and experiences along the way.
In the months leading up to the trip, Elise chose not to take any modern equipment, but to recreate the challenges faced by Alexandra. She headed to Sikkim, northeast India, bordered by China, Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal. Retracing Alexandra’s steps, she headed North, trekking as close to the Tibetan border as possible.
“I first read Alexandra’s famous book My Journey to Lhasa when I was 16, and I could never get her story, and what she managed to achieve out of my head. She must have had so much strength, physically and mentally to journey through Asia for 14 years, but more so to walk away from her life in Europe. I decided that to properly do her journey justice, I would carry with me and wear exactly what she would have in the early 1900s. This means no modern trekking equipment whatsoever!” says Elise Wortley.
Elise’s inspiring journey has helped to raise money for the charity Freedom Kit Bags. Freedom Kits are filled with re-usable sanitary products and are delivered to women and girls in rural and low-income areas of Nepal, helping to end cultural taboos around menstruation. Social stigma in these communities often results in women being excluded from daily life, and young girls missing out on essential schooling. The kitbags, which are equipped with two years’ worth of sanitary products, are improving women’s health and ensuring girls get to continue their education. Elise explains:
“As well as raising money for an amazing women’s charity, my main motivations to do this expedition were to highlight the roles of women in adventure travel and to show that women have always been at the forefront of adventure. I also wanted a focus on female guides around the world as well as trying to inspire as many other women as I can to put themselves out of their comfort zones and take on a challenge, whatever that may be to them. This is why it was really important for me to keep the team female where I could.”
What an inspirational journey, photo-diary and film. To learn more, see links below.
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