A group of young women sit on a carpeted floor listening as their teacher writes on a whiteboard, preparing his students for the rigours of climbing some of the world’s highest peaks.
This is Shimshal Mountaineering School, tucked away in a remote village in the breathtaking mountains of far north, close to the border with China.
While most of Pakistan’s overwhelmingly patriarchal society largely relegates women to domestic roles, in the northern Hunza valley, a more liberal attitude has long prevailed.
Now the women of the region are breaking more taboos and training for jobs traditionally done by men, including as carpenters and climbing guides on the Himalayan peaks.
“You have to be careful, check your equipment and the rope, any slight damage can result in death,” Niamat Karim, the climbing instructor warns the students.
They are the first batch of women to train as high altitude guides at the Shimshal Mountaineering School, set up in 2009 with support of Italian climber Simone Moro.
The eight women training as guides have scaled four local peaks, including Minglik Sar and Julio Sar, both over 6,000 metres. For aspiring mountaineer Takht Bika, 23, the school is a “dream come true”.
“My uncle and brother are mountaineers and I always used to wait for their return whenever they went for a summit”, Bika told AFP.
“I used to play with their climbing gear, they were my childhood toys – I never had a doll.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2014.