Life around Norlha

Traditionally, Ritoma women were immersed in nomadic life. Larger families had up to six hundred animals, and the women bore the brunt of the heavy work it involved. Their day began at 3 am with the milking of the dris and the collecting of yak and sheep dung which they processed and used for fuel. Chores went on all day, leaving little time for their children which they often left with their parents. It was a hard life in a harsh climate ranging from intense sun in the summer to freezing temperatures in winter

Things are changing and now women have more options. Working hard was always part of their life and when Norlha began to offer jobs over a decade ago, they easily embraced the change from herder to artisan. Norlha’s workforce is now over 60% women, all former nomads or from nomad families. A decade has brought in more drawn from the classroom and with that, the will to tackle the challenges offered by the digital world. Gradually, they plunged into the opportunities offered to them with great enthusiasm, channeling their energies into new pursuits. Financial independence allows them, married or not, to explore the world around them and have more say in their lives. They used to walk to work, now they ride bikes. They work from IPads, reading and entering data linked to Norlha's ERP system. They go on winter pilgrimage with their families, flying for the first time, as far as Lhasa.  

Wangdi Tso, who works in Norlha’s sales department met her husband at work. She wears jeans and loves basketball. They have two children and are the breadwinners and run their household. Pema Tso is not yet married and has embraced all the activities open to her. After hours, she has discovered basketball and yoga, and takes English classes. Jigje Tso is deaf mute and has two children. As a highly skilled weaver, she is, along with her father, the family’s bread winner. Her success is an example to all that new prospects can change lives. Kharmo is a single mother and needs to depend on no one, now able to help her parents in their old age. Though rooted in village life, women now have more opportunity to see beyond it, understand the world at large and what it holds for them. Cellphones have connected them to friends and relatives outside their immediate spheres, and given them a sense of belonging in a larger world. Their mothers only knew herding and couldn’t advise their daughters when it came to a different future. Now working mothers will be able to better help their daughters face the challenges of the modernity that is continuing to change their lives.

Nyingkar Dolma was 25 when she married Jamyang Dondup last fall. It was a traditional marriage arranged by a matchmaker. Jamyang is from Ritoma and had joined Norlha the previous year, working in the sales department. Nyingkar Dolma is from the nearby area of Tsayig, her father is a nomad/farmer. She finished high school and came to work digitizing carpet designs for Norlha’s Labrang carpet workshop. She said she preferred a more focused career to a college degree and plans to take a course in accounting.

 Tibetan marriages present several options; the bride can join the groom’s family or the groom can join the bride’s family. In either case a bride or groom price is paid to the family sending off their son or daughter. Nowadays, there is a new option where the young couple, who is financially independent set up their own household. Nyingkar Dolma became a bride in her new husband’s family, though she plans to engage in studies before joining him in Ritoma.

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.


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.

The origin of Great Prayer Festival was to mark the display of the Buddha’s miraculous powers and the defeat of his doctrinal opponents in the town of Shravasti in ancient India. Following his victory, the Buddha delivered a discourse to a large assembly of devotees among whom many developed an altruistic aspiration for enlightenment.

Tsong Khapa established the First Great Prayer Festival in Lhasa in 1409, to be held on the 3rd or 4th day of the first lunar month. The First Monlam was marked by the completion of a major restoration of the Jokhang temple in Lhasa. The preceding year, all the statue makers in the areas were summoned to clean, wash and repair the statues in the Jokhang. The celebrated Skyamuni statue, brought to Tibet in the 7th century by the Chinese Princess married to King Songtsen Gompo, was offered a new gold crown and ear pendants.

The Great Prayer Festival brought together all the monks from the great monasteries around Lhasa. Through the fifteenth of the first lunar month, they recited prayers, and held the celebrated Geshe exams, during which the contenders hold dialectical debates which determine their depth of their knowledge in the scriptures.

Major monasteries in other Tibetan regions, such as Labrang Tashikyil Monastery in Amdo, also began holding their own Monlam Festivals. Many rituals and religious happenings are held during that time, including the unfurling of the Great Kyigu, an enormous thangka, which is taken in procession to a spot across the river from the Monastery and unrolled on a designated spot on the hill. There are also displays of butter sculptures, intricate and sometimes several meters highs, which are viewed by the public. Another important ritual held during that time is the Throwing of Ritual Cakes, a ceremony during which harmful forces are sent back to where they came from, clearing obstacles for the coming year. On the last day, the Maitreya procession takes places, during which a statue of Buddha Maitreya is paraded on the monastery’s circumambulatory route. This is also tradition begun by Tsonkhapa in the 15th century and it marks the close of Great Prayer Festival.