Rooted in a Basket

Thinles Norboo
A visit to Ladakh – the land of high mountain passes, istranscendental. Nestled in some of mighty mountain ranges like the Himalayas, Karkoram, Zanskar and Ladakh, this cold desert is known for its vibrant culture, wonderful people and breath-taking monasteries. Those who have visited the place, admit to having fallen in love with not just the destination but the lifestyle that it boasts of. Be it town or its villages, Ladakhi people believe in austere livingthat their ancient tradition has taught them, and which is reflected in things that they carry with them. One such object that stands testimony to Ladakh’s indigenous culture is the hand-woven basket.
Those who have spent time understanding the culture, must have seen men and women carrying this hand-wovenbasket everywhere.They carry almost everything in it – firewood, vegetables, manure, fodder and even babies.Ladakhis carry not only things in this basket but stories of different villages, different customs and different practices. It carries love. This basket can be seen as a traditional bag that helps them carry things easily on the difficult terrain.
As Ladakh have a short agriculture period due to extreme winter that stays for six months, its residents survive extreme snowfall by keeping them busy by making hand-crafted materials. Usually, women knit socks, gloves, sweaters and weave carpets while men spend time making thesebaskets. Clearly, Ladakhis share a relationship with the basket that goes back to the roots of their civilisation. However, in the recent times, this relationship has been altered due to various external factors.
With increasing influx of tourists and with the desire to cater to their needs, a lot of traditional practices are being ignored by people in Ladakh. Attracted by the tourism industry, people migrate towards cities for better life, for better opportunities and leave behind their culture and practises. And it is not just the basket, it is about a lifestyle that is being lost in the transformation and certainly needs attention.
With the intention of reviving what has been lost and to save the Ladakhi traditions from getting extinct, a venture called ‘Ladakh Basket’ came into existence. It is a platform that aims to revive, celebrate and share unique narrative of its people and land through indigenous produce of the Ladakhi land. Started by a team of three young Ladakhis, this venture is an outcome of the Naropa fellowship programme. Ladakh Basket provides an online and offline platform where local farmers and artisans can sell indigenous products not just to the rest of the nation but promote it among the locals as well.
Problem that the founders of Ladakh Basket identified was that there is not a single platform which caters to its people and land. Ladakh is slowly losing its essence. People have stopped adopting agriculture and traditional handicraft as a livelihood option as they find other options like tourism industry more lucrative and rightly so. The only way to make traditional ways of livelihood popular again is by making them profitable. The Ladakh basket aims at doing exactly this. Since every region in Ladakh produces unique indigenous products, this initiative aims at bringing all these products at one platform called ‘Ladakh Basket’.
“My father was a trained basket weaver. Unfortunately, due to a prolonged illness, he was forced to quit the work he loved the most. This got him worried about the raw material that he had collected as if not utilised, it will get spoilt. This affected his health further. To stop him from worrying about the material, I told him that I will weave the baskets. It was a difficult task – I failed initially but with practice, I learned the art and till date, I am weaving baskets for my community and my people,” shared 42-year-old Tsultim Palmo from Tarchit village. Tsultim is one of the few women who weave baskets as traditionally, the task is performed by only men in the community. Today, Tsultim is working with Ladakh Basket, trying her best to revive the tradition while earning a decent income for her family.
Keeping in mind the sensitive environment of this high land, the packaging of the indigenous products is also done using eco-sensitive material. Empowering farmers and local artisans cannot come at the cost of damaging the ecosystem. The start-up – Ladakh Basket, wishes to remain true to the intentions of the basket that people use for carrying everything they love. Just like the ever-dependable basket that people use to carry their belongings in this high-land, this e-platform is committed to offer the same sense – a place where you can find every indigenous, Ladakhi product.
(The writer is recipient Sanjoy Ghose Media Award 2019)
Charkha Features