Life around Norlha

Nature on the Tibetan Plateau takes time to awake from its slumber. Snow continues to alternate with sun and the pasture gradually morphs from brown to an increasingly assertive shade of green. Baby animals are born, the wind’s bite will lessen, and soon, the marmots will venture out and we will know the first flowers will soon bloom. Ritoma has no trees, but in the lower areas, famers tend to their fields and peach trees burst into bloom.

In April 2007 the budding Norlha team was back from Nepal, our looms and equipment had arrived, transported by truck from Kathmandu to Lhasa, then up to Goldmund highway that crosses the plateau from South to North. Sonam Dolma had accompanied our precious cargo on this three day journey, trying to keep the truck driver awake and turning a blind eye on the bellied up trucks strewn all along the way.

Bulldozers were flattening the land where the workshop was to be built, the bottom of a hill dotted with the ruins of several houses. The land was cleared of obstacles, walls went up, Our to be employees washed the looms, which were second hand, in the stream. Tents went up on the plain beyond the road; one for weaving, for spinning, a kitchen tent and an office tent.

Norlha’s first months were spent in those tents, where Norlha’s first employees learned to spin, load, weave and finish our first pieces. On sunny days we ate outside on the pasture, and on cold ones, huddled in the kitchen and work tents. We had a literacy course taught by Jampa, water fights, and our first picnic. When autumn came creeping in, there were snowball fights. Meanwhile the workshop came up in stages, ready for the move at the beginning of winter.

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.