A group of young Pakistani girls sit on a carpeted floor listening as their teacher writes on a whiteboard, preparing his students for the rigors 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 Pakistan’s 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, where most people follow the moderate Ismaili sect of Islam, 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.
Karim is giving last-minute advice to the eight young women who are about to embark on a practical demonstrations of climbing class.
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 women have spent the last four years learning ice and rock climbing techniques, rescue skills and tourism management.
At 3,100 metres (10,000 feet) above sea level, Shimshal is the highest settlement in the Hunza valley, connected to the rest of the world by a rough jeep-only road just 11 years ago.
The narrow, unpaved road twists through high mountains, over wooden bridges and dangerous turns with the constant risk of landslides to reach the small village of 250 households.
There is no running water and electricity is available only through solar panels the locals buy from China, but despite the isolation, the literacy rate in the village is 98 percent — around twice the Pakistani national average.