Life around Norlha

Today, people tend to forget how much we, homo sapiens, have always moved from one place to another. Migration, which happened ‘en masse’ for millennium is no new phenomenon. In Tibet, all across the Plateau, it was and still is a part of daily life. In the era with no phones, postal system, roads or motored vehicles, people had a culture particular to predicting a traveler's return. Journeys from one end of the plateau to the other could last months. Monks came from thousands of miles to study in the great monastic learning institutions in Lhasa braving winters and robbers. Merchants travelled regularly on horse to India and China, buying and reselling everything from Stetson hats to Italian cloth. Mystics wandered beyond borders to seek knowledge from a distant teacher or let their minds travel the path to enlightenment from the depth of a cave. Ordinary laymen regularly engaged in lengthy pilgrimages, family affairs that children found wildly exciting, visiting holy sites near and far.

A holiday for a Lhasa dweller meant packing up a cartful of household goods transferred to an elegant tent pitched in a beautiful spot near a river. Travel is still endemic to the Tibetan disposition. Lhasa is the best example; in winter, it fills with pilgrims come from North and East while the more privileged Lhasa dwellers spend the coldest months in balmier fog of Chengdu. Nomads in Kham and Amdo spend their summers in remote high altitude camps, now exchanging news on group we chats. They use solar energy to charge their phones and even have small generators for their television. Every month or so, they move camp, finding fresh pasture for their yaks and sheep. They herd on horses but ride load their belongings on ‘blue camel’ three wheelers and ride their bikes to town for supplies. In winter, the more privileged amongst them flock to Lhasa and its surroundings, either flying or by train. Some choose the slower route, a full time occupation, prostrating from remote regions of Kham or Amdo and taking several years to reach their destinations. Lamas now travel in cars, though on important occasions, are often accompanied by horsemen.

The Tibetan Plateau is a land so vast that traveling was a full time occupation and an integral part of culture. There were Nomads on the move, following their flocks with the seasons, mystics looking for destinations not on maps or merchants crisscrossing the Plateau bringing goods from towns into more remote areas. Now there are roads and cell phones and travel may take place in trucks, buses or motorcycles, but the spirit of voyage still remains. Voyager is a state of mind; wide expanses, blue dawns, mighty rivers, endless lakes and an infinite sky, the heart and soul of the Plateau. Like the endless clouds that float by, voyager is unafraid of change; adaptable yet constant.

Harvest in a nomadic area like Ritoma is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the old days, there were less animals in more plentiful pasture, gathered into larger herds owned by the big families of an area. Winter grazing was an important part of the cycle and involved the younger members of a family taking the animals to higher pastures where they found certain nourishing grasses that fed them through the cold months. Gradually, as elders like to say, younger nomads became ‘softer’. A trend began in the 70’s to build houses that provided shelter during the winter months and kept animals near them, nibbling on what was left of the grassland. This proved to be insufficient, so some forty years ago, all families began cultivating oats for winter feed. Nowadays, oat cultivation and the October harvest have become an integral part of the herder’s cycle. At Norlha, we find ourselves giving a 3 day harvest holiday so that our employees are free to help their families and friends on those busy days. The oats are cut, tied in bunches and placed in tripod formation until they are collected, loaded on ‘blue camels’ and taken to each family’s winter house to dry. Once the fields are cleared the animals are let loose to gorge on the left overs of the harvest and the surrounding grassland, saved up as autumn pasture. The yak and sheep, aware that this time is coming, become restless and invariably direct themselves towards the fields, their owners finding great difficulty in holding them back. Everyone camps in the big valley that lies before the village, which for three days is filled with tents, shepherds on horse, temporary fencing and thousands of yak and sheep.

In Tibetan culture is full of dreams; vivid dreams remembered when waking, interpreted by mystics and scholars, day dreams lying in the grass looking up at billowing clouds, or wishing dreams meant to soften what we know of as reality, inspired by foggy landscapes and the endless summer grassland. Norlha’s Dreamer is just that; another realm, one with softer edges, that retracts from the intensity of primary colors and remains immersed in the soft hues where wishes come true.

Norlha is located on the Tibetan Plateau the region otherwise known as the Roof of the World, an area populated by more yak and sheep than humans. Since few can come this far to view our work and buy our products, we sought a means to reach clients beyond the pasture. We didn’t have the resources to open stores in the world’s capitals, so we opted for the next best solution, one made possible in our cyber age.

Our first e-commerce website was functional in 2014, the year we decided to launch our brand. It initiated us to the complexities of e-commerce, and was a great learning curve. The second website followed the next year, an improvement on the first, then the third last year. We were beginning to sell, but this was not enough; we needed to develop the ability to communicate Norlha’s story and present the products to people who often had no idea about yaks or their khullu.

This year, we decided to get serious about our website, and pull in more resources. Early in the year, Dechen and Bill, the Website Manager appealed to web designers, videographers, developers, merchandisers, photographers and art directors to come to Norlha and give us a hand. In the first wave came videographer Crispin Hutton and photographer Dan Paton from the UK, followed by Merchandiser Anita Wong and copy writer Kwei Chee Lam from Hong Kong and Beijing, and photographer Matt Linden from Finland. Then came web designer Samantha Gaghan from Australia/Canada, Videographer Steve Pierce from Oxford, photographer Axl Jenson and Art Director Nicole Hardt from Berlin and Developers Melissa Johnson and Chris Dunder from Seattle.

All offered their time on a voluntary basis. While the first group endured extreme conditions in Spring snow, it was this last team that came under the most pressure, looming under a self-imposed deadline of September 1st. The work load was intense: The 400 studio pictures of the products involved turning our dining room into a studio, further training our studio photographer Lhabum to shoot the products on a background of white paper, getting up at 4 am and freezing in the pre-dawn fog waiting for the first, perfect light of day, and enduring rain and a drone that refused to work in wet conditions. Then Sam designed and Chris and Melissa developed, lending their genius to create a flexible and deeply functional website. Everyone but Sam left on the 2nd of September, after a weekend celebrating the new website at Norden Camp. One detail: We had to push back the launch date two weeks, during which Bill, Dechen and I sat around a table to complete the work. The good news: the website is up, come and see it!!! And a great thanks to you all for helping us make this happen!