|Summer is short on the Tibetan plateau, beginning in late June with the hills gradually turning green. By late September, the wind turns a biting cold, and early October mornings greet one with leaves and bushes clad in a luminous white layer of frost. Tibetans love to celebrate this magical time where the sun alternates with stormy skies, the breeze is light and the pasture a riot of color with a steady stream of picnics. To honor summer, Norlha staged its own version of a Tibetan picnic, in a setting blending east and west.
Norlha’s table is laid out in Western style and hosts diners gathered from Tibet and the Mediterranean, in a unique blend that, like Norlha, bridges the best of both worlds.
Natural Surroundings & Seasons
|Thartsang Tso is a sacred lake near Labrang where people make offerings on auspicious dates. They raise prayer flags and throw papers inscribed with the lungtas windhorse to stir the wind that brings good fortune. They also throw treasure vases into the lake to propitiate its deity to bring wealth, luck and success. In the Spring of 2006, Norlha’s core team, went to the lake to participate in the laptse and wish for Norlha’s success. Eleven years later, we look back on these times and feel our prayers have been answered.
|Spring is a crucial time for nomads. Though the warming weather and the thawing ice bring a positive note, spring is also marked by herds of yak and sheep weakened and worn by the harsh plateau winter. The dris and ewes have born calves and lambs and desperately need abundant grass to feed their young. Instead, they face brown hills the color of dust, typified by nomads gazing westward, scanning the horizon for a hint of snow bearing clouds. Welcome snowfall is essential for survival; it gently graces the bare grassland with moisture that coaxes buds of grass out of the hard winter ground. Less welcome are the blizzard whose harshness strips the plateau depriving the herds even of the stringy leftovers of fall. Norlha’s Feather Song of Spring scarf is inspired by the gentle drifts of spring snow. The tie-dyed thread runs a soft and subtle pink hue down the scarf reminding one of light spring snowflakes. It takes a dyer several hours to prepare the white thread, the rarest of yak wools, for this scarf, and a weaver perfect skill to weave it. Song of Spring scarf is a commemoration to nature and the power it has over our survival.
In 2010, we discovered the nearby monastery of Kangtsa, a beautiful, small monastery studded with junipers, spread over a hill in a quiet, wooded valley an hour from Ritoma. Yidam had heard there was a sacred cave somewhere in the area, where hermits had dwelled and which pilgrims still sought out for blessings. We asked a monk to take us there and set off. Had I seen the cave from the bottom of the hill, I don’t know if I would have mustered the courage to climb up there, but fortunately, I didn’t.
After making our way to a narrow gorge flanked by steep bramble covered hills, we climbed sharp graveled path for an hour and spotted the mouth of the cave, marked by prayer flags and tsa tsas. I had never been in a holy cave before, though I had imagined it, caves with passages one could get lost in, where meditators had lived and died. This one fitted the profile; the monk said one could go deeper and deeper, get lost and never return.
Meditators had dwelled at various depths in its many recesses leaving the blessings that pilgrims sought climbing all the way up here. It was one of those secret, unassuming places which are spread all over the Tibetan Plateau, some still occupied by meditators, known to pilgrims as places of power and blessing.
The monk, Dunko, Dechen and Noryang squeezed themselves through a narrow opening into the next, pitch black, cave. Their flashlights revealed a rock floor gleaming with humidity littered with white scarves and the green Mao faces on the money scattered about. One could go deeper; there were ropes to help the pilgrims find their way in there dark, but the monk said that people had died deep into the cave in bad times and that pilgrims didn’t wander too far into it, out of respect.
We sat outside the mouth for a while, then made our way down. I felt like I was leaving an old friend, a refuge, though, as a consolation, I found that I could bring myself mentally back to the cave and partake of the feeling of peace I had felt in the few moments I had spent there.
A fence across the pasture, a banner, a stripe in the sky. They slither with the wind, changing in color like the clouds…. Norlha fabrics.Since its inception in 2007, I dreamed to create yak wool fabrics that could rival with the old fashioned traditional cloth so difficult to come by today; hand made, impervious to aging, heirlooms to be passed down. If the Scots and the Irish had them, why not the Tibetans? We set to work and discovered that fabric weaving is very different from that of scarves and shawls, requiring a distinctive approach to create a product that holds its shape and lends itself to sewing.
In time, developed a fabric collection that we are proud of, of different weights and blends, with an accent on 100% yak wool. We had fun, flapping them in the wind, yak and sheep watching.