Life around Norlha

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

The success of a company is more often than not measured by happy customers and healthy profits. What about middle factor, the people who make it all happen? We forget how a company also needs to value the happiness factor of its own employees to be truly successful. At Norlha, we take pride in our artisans and administrators, whose every day work and enthusiasm make Norlha what it is today.

Norlha’s 120 employees are all part of a team; they are weavers, spinners, tailors, dyers or felters but also guards, shoppers, photographers, and people who oversee production, sales, stock and distribution.

In the following photos, meet the teams who contributed to the making of your scarf.

Dan Paton, a photographer from Oxford, UK visited Norlha in April this year to shoot new material and teach studio photography to Norlha’s Lhabum, He had heard about Norlha through a mutual Tibetologist friend, Jetsun Deleplanque, an old school friend of Dechen's and his ex-housemate whilst studying at SOAS in London. It was Jetsun who showed him the ad we had put out and he jumped at the chance. Dan had always dreamed of spending time in Tibet, having grown up with family connections to Tibetans and visited the Tibetan regions of Ladakh, Zanskar and Himachal Pradesh. He had never made it to the Tibetan Plateau and the idea of working at Norlha, which he describes as unique in the way it manufactures rare textiles made by nomads on the Plateau, of passing on his of photographic knowledge, of ‘shooting beautiful people wrapped in fabulous textiles’, and of becoming part of the Norlha community was for him a dream come true.

He found Ritoma, a small village of 200 families at the end of the road from Tso to be busy! He loved the chilled but industrious vibe of the workshop with its early starts and late finishes, the landscape of endless pasture they used as backdrop for many of the shoots, the dinners they were invited to by the local community families which he described as delicious feasts.

Dan greatly enjoyed working with the Norlha team. He found Dechen impressive in what she had accomplished, his photography student Lhabum keen and quick to learn. He found the whole team to be professional and passionate about what they do, innovative but humble, making things happen often without the perfect tools or situation while still pulling off results. He was excited by their willingness to learn and to listen and their flexibility do things differently if need be. Their dynamism left him optimistic that anything could be done and often quickly. He only wished that his clients back in the West were more like this!

Photographically speaking, he described his best moment as shooting the new range of Norlha scarves worn by the esteemed model Satya Oblette on a magical snowy morning at Norden camp. The morning sun’s increasing intensity melted the snow which slowly vaporized, gradually steaming up the landscape.

Non-photographically, it was seeing his first wild wolf on the outskirts of Ritoma. He said he loved wolves and had always wanted to see one in the wild. The large grey wolf looked back at him with beautiful piercing eyes and lingered for a few seconds before slinking off into the distance.

Dan said he felt at home in Ritoma. He liked the reserved, often shy nature of the people, their good-hearted, genuine and generous disposition so linked to the landscape and the rhythm of the grassland that bore them. His greatest challenge was completing everything he had set out to do, and which in fact, he is still doing, with some images he hasn’t been able to look at properly and finish. Dan left feeling he had a wonderful experience, with the most important being the relationships he made with people there. He hopes to do it again and described his time at Norlha as “slipping into a parallel dimension that was better than the one I usually find myself in...I just loved it and didn't want to leave!”

In this album, we show Dan at work followed by a selection of some of his favorite photos.

Originating in India, hatha yoga has found its way to the Tibetan Plateau. Last year, under the instruction of Andrew Taylor, who has been in Ritoma for the last two years, it has been introduced to the Norlha staff and offered at nearby Norden Camp.

Every day after work, any member of the Norlha staff can join in the yoga classes, held in the store room. In summer, Andrew sometimes takes his class on the pasture above the workshop, its inspiring vastness inviting decompression. Women, weavers or administrators, are particularly enthusiastic and three time a week, work over, can be seen filing into the store room, yoga mat rolled under their arm.

At Norden, the beautiful space by the river, with its enclosed room with a view on the river or its outdoor deck is an ideal setting for relaxing into the beautiful nature all around. Norden hosts yoga groups or provides its guests with individual instruction. With its inspiring setting that invites one to the heart of the grassland, Plateau Yoga is an unforgettable experience.

In Nepal and India's traditional families, sons follow in their father’s steps and adopt their line of work. Panch Anand hails from a small village in Southern Nepal, near the Indian border. At fourteen, he was sent to India for training, and on his return found work in Katmandu. There is no work in the village, and most men who are not agricultural based either join the army, look for work abroad or migrate to the capital. They send money back to their families, the more successful among them build large houses and educate their children, returning at most once a year.

There are few opportunities for weavers outside of Nepal, and India already has a pool large enough to fill their needs. Panch Anand has been working at Norlha for the last eleven years. There are Nepalese workers on the Tibetan plateau, mostly in the restaurant business in Lhasa, Shigatse and even Gyatse, but in faraway Amdo, they can be counted on a single hand. Life may be lonely, but Panch Anand managed to learn the basics of Amdo dialect and took great pride in training the Norlha artisans.

Panch Anand’s family remained in their village. Over the years, his daughter got married and he sent his son to learn weaving in India. He built his family a new house and became the "man who works abroad” in his village. One day, two years ago, he let us know of his future plans. His son, Ganesh was learning jacquard, which we had expressed an interest in, and he hoped that he could also work at Norlha. Panch Anand would continue to come for a couple of years, and eventually leave his job to his son. Ganesh came last year for the first time. He was everything his father could have hoped for; resourceful, hard working and proficient at what he was trained for. His father beamed with pride; he had achieved his goal. He could retire in comfort while his son follows in his steps.