In November 2017, with an all-female team in tow, Elise Wortley set out into the Indian Himalaya, to follow in the footsteps of legendary female explorer Alexandra David-Neél.
French-born Alexandra is most famous for her daring trans-Himalayan journey to Lhasa, Tibet in 1924. Inaccessible to foreigners, with just rudimentary equipment and a disguise, she eluded officials and reached the Forbidden City. Her book My Journey to Lhasa (published in 1927) recounts her fascinating but treacherous journey, and became an instant travel classic. In total Alexandra travelled through Asia for a staggering 14 years before reaching her final destination.
Elise decided to start at the very beginning of Alexandra’s 14 year journey, and with no modern day equipment (not even a lip balm!) Elise arrived in Sikkim, a small state in northern India sandwiched between Chinese Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. She then traced Alexandra’s journey north, trekking as close to the Tibetan border as possible.
Elise’s extraordinary journey has helped to raise money for the charity Freedom Kit Bags. These 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 girl’s not attending school. 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.
“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!
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 meto keep the team female where I could.”