Life around Norlha

January on the Tibetan Plateau. The landscape is bare, immersed in shades of yellow and rusty reds. The dust flies and animals graze what is left of the grassland…to the very last twig. The coldest month is the beginning of hope for new life to soon emerge all around. The newborn lambs take their first steps and the baby yaks will soon be born. The grassland will rejuvenate and slowly morph into pale shades of green and in a few months, flowers will begin to bloom. We think of the year to come and the colors that will populate our lives and fill our vision; intense pinks and reds from flowers and monks and rusts and burnt oranges from the changing pasture or the architecture. Norlha’s new collections are inspired from renewal and hope.

Herds of Yak are visible from miles away, black dots on green or yellow pasture. Up close, they appear mostly dark brown, with some lighter animals ranging from grey to ivory. At Norlha, we source our raw materials carefully and sort it by color; brown, which is the most prolific, then grey and creamy white. We tread the precious fiber with respect and never bleach it, allowing it to retain its natural vitality and elasticity.

Yaks took to the colors of the pasture around them, that of dark earth, of thundery skies, of snow and milk. Around the yak’s shades, we have developed a range of woven and felted products that celebrate their innate qualities; deep brown, warm grey and ivory white. Every year, these may change a little, depending on the dominant traits of color from the animals they were collected from.

The Norlha Atelier stands at the entrance of Ritoma village, after the basketball court and before the spread of winter houses and the sprawling monastery that marks its limit. Most people who work at Norlha are from the main village or the hamlets that radiate from it across the pasture. All have started out as nomads and most still have family members who herd for a living. Things are changing. There is now life in the village in summer, around those who live there all year around, and much of that life radiates around the workshop; stores that cater to its employees, a few restaurants, children who come there after school waiting for their parents to come home.

Animals are still very much a part of daily life and most keep a few sheep or horses they train for the races. It is a way of life in transition, but one that is still revolving around the village, bringing in new elements while retaining much of the familiar old ways, reaching a balance that will keep Ritoma’s inhabitants close to their roots, with new ways to weather the changes taking place all around them.

Glistening, cold, slippery, stark and pitiless, ice is an integral part of winter. Ice on the Plateau is never very far away; in late august, it transforms the dew into glittering particles that weigh down on the flowers until the sun shines in and releases them. By mid October, it is there to stay, and though the sun melts it away wherever it can reach, it remains entrenched on the northern faces on the hills, where it can’t.

Then the streams and lakes freeze over, trapping the last remnants of grass. The yak’s sure footing takes them onto the shimmering surface in search of moisture and children fill the air with shrieks of joy sliding over it on their makeshift sleds.

Clouds roll over the Plateau bringing rain and snow. In summer or early fall, when the air is humid, they often lie low creating a blanket of fog which starts thick in the morning and sometimes dissipates, revealing a bright blue sky. Nomads don’t like fog; animals disappear from view and become prey to wolves and foxes. Elders love to tell tales of devils and fairies that snatch children in the fog, which delight them and make them shiver in spite of the warmth and safety of the kang they are snuggling on. The fog makes our photo shoots at Norlha unpredictable. If we seek it, it may not come, but if we don’t it could suddenly roll in from a clear sky. We make do, for interesting results.