When she was a young Tajik woman leaving home for university, Furough didn’t plan on going into tourism. “Then at university I fell in love with tourism,” she explains.

Since 2008, the Pamir Eco-Cultural Tourism Association (PECTA) has, with the Aga Khan Foundation’s support, fostered a modern and competitive tourist industry in the high Pamir Mountains. Besides helping to strengthen the local travel sector, PECTA helps individual tourism professionals grow their skills.

This has opened doors for Furough, age 24. She couldn’t put her finger on what she loved about tourism until one day on a trek in neighboring Pakistan, she was chosen as a tour leader for an expedition.

“I was the youngest member of the K2 cleanup expedition, and I got to make a lot of decisions.”

Located in Pakistan, K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, is known for its extreme steepness and harsh weather conditions. The team was completing the challenging trek—they were spending nights in the open on ice fields. The last day’s hike back to base camp would be the hardest both for the people and for the expedition’s animals. On that last day, she faced a difficult choice.

“I was talking with the porters and I got an understanding of the challenge and knew people had to draw water for the horses. Some people wanted to stay one more day. But I saw that the animals were not in a safe situation.”

Furough Shakarmamadova, and employee of the Pamir Eco Cultural Tourism Association supported through the ESCOMIAD programme with funding from USAID.

“I want in the future to have more and more girls in the tourism field. I want to convey to everyone that girls are physically strong too, and they are able to do these outdoor activities. It’s not just men who can do them.”

Furough made the call to break camp early, to ensure the animals were cared for. “I made this decision as tour leader and I felt the greatest satisfaction in that moment.”

“I felt so good,” she said, adding, “It was also very hard to walk back so many kilometers.”

In Tajikistan, female wilderness guides are still rare. So Furough co-founded a Tajikistan affiliate of Women Rockin’ Pamirs, an international association that enables women to work as professional trekking guides in the Tajik Pamirs. Women Rockin’ Pamirs started as a training initiative commissioned by PECTA in 2015.

“Before when I went to the mountains [as a guide], people would say, ‘You can’t do it because you are a girl.’ People said, ‘This is hard for a girl.’ But now people see I continue to do it and there’s nothing wrong. And so it’s changing mindsets.”

With the support of Women Rockin’ Pamirs, she obtained a grant to teach more young women trekking and camping skills. In 2018 and 2019, they hosted a camp for teenagers, the first-ever where girls could experience the mountains this way.