Life around Norlha

Most marriages in Ritoma are arranged by the families. When a young man or woman come to age, which is very early, their parents begin to look for a match which can be in the village itself or beyond. Prospects are singled out and when a possible match seems close, families sit down to consider options. The young people whose future is being discussed rarely have any say and the deliberations will go on taking into consideration the business aspects of the match. The bride can join the groom’s family and become a nama, the groom can join the bride’s family and become a magpa, or as they often do nowadays, a time when young nomad men have a difficult time finding a bride, set up their own household, independent of their parents and seeking out other means of livelihood.

Lhamo and Drukyabum’s marriage was not arranged; they fell for each other at a very young age, when Lhamotso was modelling and Drukyabum was on the photographer team. Drukyabum told his family he wished to marry her. There was some opposition to the match but neither would be swayed. It was finally agreed that Drukyabum would join Lhamotso’s household and he moved in with her parents, whom they support thanks to their both being employed at Norlha.

Lhamo Tso had come to work for Norlha at fifteen, after she dropped out of middle school. She had to leave for a while as she was considered under aged, but rejoined when she turned sixteen. Drukyabum’s grandfather and many of his cousins worked at Norlha and at sixteen, after he dropped out of school, he was hired as an assistant photographer. Lhamo Tso began working as a finisher, then became a tailor. Drukyabum was in the dyeing section, then became a full-time basketball player for the Norlha team. He is known for his skill with horses and is an excellent rider. They now have two children and Lhamotso, now 24, is outspoken and active; she plays basketball, is learning English and is looked up to among the women for her maturity and level headedness.

Norlha has, from the height of the Plateau, created a universe for the children of the world; a bedroom for dreams, ponchos for play, beanies for any disposition and occasions. Inspired from the colors of the high pasture, woven and felted from the soft down of the baby yak, they embody the essence of childhood; colorful but subtle, carefree, joyful and supremely comfortable.

It is fascinating to watch how Tibetan women in and around Amdo have updated their dress to changing times. The chuba, Tibetan men and women principal dress element is usually oversized, allowing a multitude of draping options which can vary from region to region; high or low, adjusting length and folds with the belt and swinging the sleeves over the shoulder. Sixty years ago, the chuba was self-made sheepskin, bordered in felt or fur. Gradually, as new materials and items of clothing were introduced through trading, innovative elements and accessories were added; American style cowboy hats, polyester shirts with sequins and platform shoes. Cloth summer chubas layered with down jackets or vests became quite the trend. Traditional headdress of great weight became the objects of special occasions, replaced with lighter versions, or shunned out of existence.

Each generation is loyal to its own style; the slow and dignified grandmothers in their more compact style, young nomads in their layered elegance and brisk moving younger women in their tight-fitting tops and platform shoes. At Norlha we follow and watch the trends, accessorizing the chuba or emulating its draping and layering styles.

There is a little group of children, mostly belonging to the Norlha Managers who come and storm the office every day at 4:30 and on Saturdays, waiting around for their fathers or mother to finish work. Depending on the parent, they may be pinned down to do their homework in a corner, but they mostly form a little pack that storms through, knocking off a few yuan from sympathizers for buying snacks at the local shop, then consume the goodies, in one office or another, before moving on to play in the courtyard. Dechen has given her office over to them so they can be contained when the weather is not contusive to outdoor play.

Since we produce and market a kids collection, it was inevitable that sooner or later their talents be harnessed to model. The earliest shoot was in 2012, and more followed yearly. For the kids, it is a party, sometimes involving a short excursion, play and snacks. They are now quite good at it, and know exactly what to do.

Every year starting in 2007, Norlha has held an annual picnic attended by the whole of Norlha’s staff, their families and friends in the village and beyond. Picnics, though being the favorite Tibetan way to enjoy the joys of and all too short summer, are more a pastime for city dwellers as farmers and nomads have their busiest time in the summer months. Winter, when animals are nearby and feeding on fodder is deemed more suitable for family reunions, merry making and religious activity with marriages, pilgrimage and other festivities.

The annual picnic is seen as one of the highlights of the year and lasts for three days. Preparations are started days ahead, a spot is carefully chosen, tents pitched and a kitchen is set up. There is singing and dancing, eating, games of all sorts and the inevitable water fights with women and men pitted against each other. While other festivities like the lhatse, which brings together people from the whole of Zorge, are a way for young unmarried women and men to come in their best and gaze at each other, the annual picnic is more a time for inter family fun. People who are close and work side by side all year can eat, laugh and play together, along with their children who form their own little groups and games.

This year, after years of the choosing the higher pasture as a picnic ground, a new spot was found along the river in the valley beyond the monastery. This gave a new impetus to the water fights, that were taken to another level