She is one Nepali Sir Edmund Hillary can be really proud of. A student of one of Hillary's schools in Pangmo, today Bandinima Sherpa is a woman entrepreneur in a trade dominated by men. Bandinima is the first-ever woman vice president of the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal (TAAN).
You could say the trekking business is in her genes: ten of Bandinima's elder brothers and sisters are all in the tourism business. But she was not content with just handling the family business, she wanted to take a leadership role. "All around me, I saw people without adequate knowledge of the business running the show in institutions like TAAN and misusing their positions," Bandinima says. She felt it was her responsibility to infiltrate the system and try to fix it from within.
It hasn't been easy. But two years after she became an executive member of TAAN, she has earned praise from even her male colleagues and was elected vice president.
It is not in Kathmandu that Bandinima feels at home. An avid trekker herself, she'd rather be up on the mountain trails leading groups, scouting for business potentials and getting a first-hand experience of the lives of porters, tea-shop owners and ensuring that the trekking industry spreads its benefits around.
Bandinima herself is living proof that there is something in the Sherpa chromosome that makes them much more adaptable to altitude. She can make short work of a 10-hour near-vertical climb of 3,500m or more, leaving even fellow-highland guides panting far below.
She has guided trekking groups to the remotest regions of Nepal and Tibet, and is gearing up for a gruelling hike to Nar and Phu in Manang next month.
It is in Kathmandu, attending to her administrative duties at TAAN that Bandinima gets a little breathless. Asked about whether she is treated differently because she is a woman, Bandinima gives a loud laugh. We guess that's a 'no chance'.
One of Bandinima's pet peeves is Nepali laws that don't allow Nepali women citizenship rights unless they can name their fathers or husbands. Bandinima is a single mother with two children, so the citizenship question is close to her heart. She wishes the national laws were as gender-egalitarian as the norms in her own matrilineal Sherpa society.
(Navin Singh Khadka)