Conservation and Revival of wool -based livelihoods in Changthang
Conservation and adaptation of traditional knowledge and practices into sustainable livelihoods and social entrepreneurial models.
It is imperative to investigate and understand the various factors that has influenced in making the age-old vibrant textile traditions of this region – which has slowly lost its relevance as a viable economic activity for the local population and the impact that has had on their heritage and material-cultural identity. It is particularly urgent to understand the dynamics of the dwindling interest to support the livelihood of several local shepherds and their potential to continuously supply the abundantly available unique range of local wool.
Craft practices are very rich and nuanced among the Changpas. The everyday struggles of life and harsh weather conditions demand high quality crafts that are beautiful, utilitarian and sustainable. The woolen tents of Changthang are very warm and comfortable and are also able to sustain strong winds and snow. The construction of the tents, also known as rebo is a highly skilled job that requires precise calculations of balancing and structuring. The yarn was traditionally made with Yak wool but increasingly locals have started using nylon which provides temporary protection but is not sustainable. The same idea stretches to everyday clothing as well where people wear synthetic nylon clothes in the present times which are easy to wash. Shaanglag, lokpa, tipi and chhali are some of the clothing that the people of Changthang adorned that are purely made with wool and hide. The woolen blanket called Tsogthul allows for the Changpas to deal with sharp winters. Other common items that the local people wear include the kos, lokpa, lum, yagur and perak. Thak-sha - knitting and rope making are one of the key craft skills of the Changspas. Nyagu- a weighting tool, which is common among the Changpa traders, is made up of rope and a stick. Traditional cooking pots like Zangboo represent the local pottery and utensil making.
The craft of weaving Challis can be seen across the region, but weavers from the villages of Ankung, Samad, Sundo-Gongma, Nyoma, Korzok in Changthang will participate in the research, documentation, developing new products and based on their skills and sharing their skills with other parts of Ladakh to increase awareness and production.
Amidst continuing changes, the Nomadic community’s experience of the 21st Century, culture, arts, crafts, music, folklore, oral history, animal husbandry practices and management of ecosystem are still thriving but at constant need of upgradation with contemporary ideas and technologies and need the best of modernization, progress, and development to sustainably preserve their way of life. Nomadic children who study at the NRS are active stewards of the nomadic way of life and therefore become a focal point to anchor and develop modern and future craft led entrepreneurship programmes in the preservation, protection, and promotion of the nomadic way of life and Changthang ecosystem and serve as a model to the rest of the world.
Achi Association India has already worked in the region on a previous UNDP, Secure Himalaya project which gives it considerable insight, access to local infrastructure and the understanding of the needs and resources belonging to the region. Based on this experience AAI will form a team of experts and resource persons who have experience of working with the materials and processes involved in the given field area and has worked not only in craft documentation, but has also worked in innovation, new product design and setting up entrepreneurial models to ensure sustained extension of the crafts. Further, Achi Association India will also develop necessary collaboration with local Handicrafts Department facilitate workshops and design development on the ground but also help streamline smooth circulation and showcase of the products developed with the appointed clusters Ladakh.
Gulzar Hussain is a western Himalayan Ethnography and a leading Naturalist from Ladakh. Recently featured in Condé Nast Traveler as one of the “50 People to Know in the Himalayas”. Gulzar Hussain has been working with craft, wildlife, history, and culture within the region of J&K and Ladakh in the Himalayas over the past 10 years. With a bachelor’s degree in science and an MBA from Kashmir University, he currently specializes in sustainable craft and tourism planning and policy. He is the co-author of the best-selling book, Journey through Paradise, an in-depth guide to Kashmir, Ladakh, and Jammu. He is the founder of CHANRI, an initiative by the Support Ladakh Trust. This Institute works towards giving the underprivileged, vulnerable, nomadic children to have better access to health care and holistic education with prime focus on conservation of traditional knowledge. He has been working closely with the Changpa Community on various conservation and community related projects for the past 10 years.
The Changthang High Altitude Nomadic Research Institute (CHANRI) is an initivate started by Support Ladakh Trust whose main headquarters are in Puga Valley, at the heart of the Rupsho, and in the middle of the Changthang on the Ladakhi Tibetan Plateau. It was set up in August 2019 by a group of people committed to supporting the rich ecosystem of the Changthang and the self-determination of the Changpa as they continue to pursue the nomadic way of life. The CHANRI is run by a governing body made up of international scholars, Ladakhi independent scholars, staff of the Nomadic Residential School Puga, Changpa NRS Puga teachers, the VEC Chairman, founding NRS Puga staff, Academic and Non-Academic Fellows, and members of Ladakhi society. The mission of the Changthang High Altitude Nomadic Research Institute (CHANRI) is to study, preserve, protect, and promote the nomadic way of life and the high-altitude ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau in the Ladakhi Western Himalayas.
CHANRI has developed a space within the Nomadic Residential School in Puga which will become not only, the focal point for interaction, workshops, coordination, but also develop as a center for developing, stocking and circulation of the products from Changthang. As it is entirely made up of children of Nomads from across Changthang, the graduates of this school will become the leaders in the process.
Nawang Phuntsog, a self-taught designer and entrepreneur, founded Nomadic Woolen Mills and has been managing it hands-on since 2009. Nomadic Woolen Mills is now a significant landmark at the main bazar in Leh, including a design and craft demonstration studio and showcase. He draws his ancestry from Changthang and has accomplished significant experience in production, design development and community mobilization having showcased his products in both international and national exhibitions. Nawang was trained in different workshops related to production of pashmina and wool processing both in India and China. He has previously worked at the pashmina processing plant in Leh and is currently president of the newly formed Ladakh Textile Association.
Nawang Phuntsog’ involvement with not just design and production but deep linkages with the government and private initiatives positions him to build not just linkages but foreground the concerns of the communities within and outside Ladakh, along with actively promote and showcase the products in the Main Bazar along with craft demonstrations and sale.
Jigisha Patel, Textile Designer, completed her BFA in Painting at the MS University in Baroda, before joining the postgraduate programme in Textile design, at the National Institute of Design (NID). While at NID she got interested in working with felt, which subsequently lead to my designing various ranges of rugs, sold by Habitat and the Conran Store. Besides felt, her involvement in working with traditional Indian crafts like resist dyeing and silver foil printing has led her to develop ranges of garments which look to India’s rich vocabulary of costumes. Her work revolves primarily around process and craftsmanship. She draws on the traditional techniques – the logic, form and languages of various crafts practiced in Kutch and Gujarat; these are melded with new materials and techniques through a process of experimentation. The idea is to always integrate seamlessly the traditional with the contemporary and create new expressions in an exchange of ideas between the designer and the craftsperson, creating value for both. She has also taught extensively at the National institute Design in the department of textile design. Her projects include design development and training of artisans in felt making, for the Craft Development Institute, Srinagar. This project revived the traditional craft of making patterned namda and has been a great success for the artisans. Her work has been showcased as part of ‘Rangoli’- A festival organised by The Conran shop showcasing the work of 14 Indian designers in London, Paris, Tokyo and New York. She has been part of craft documentation projects such as "Sericulture by the Bodos" with Anupam Mondal et al and participated in exhibitions “talents a la carte” at the Maison et Object in Paris, September 2008. Her work has been featured in Elle Decor India, Vogue, Architecture Digest, Financial Times, ID Magazine - New and Notable