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Handicraft Initiatives
Preserving and promoting Spiti’s Arts and Crafts

No place in the world is short of creativity and travelers who have been there, seen it all, will tell you that the most fascinating aspect of their journeys is to see and enjoy the arts and crafts developed in a particular region.

In Spiti, the energetic and spirited nature of the locals is seen through their vibrant and colorful art forms. Despite the harsh climate and hard life, Spitians have excelled in a variety of handicrafts which have emerged over a thousand years. These cut across the spectrum ranging from their day to day household needs to religious artifacts to their creative spirits. So much so, that the locals are now keenly participating on initiatives to preserve and promote their distinct and unique art.

Having a hundred percent Buddhist population, many Spitian handicrafts portray Buddhist ideologies. One can choose from Thangkas (paintings on silken canvas), Chokseys (wooden carved tables), Mane stones (carving on stones), Zama (mud craft), Lingzay (traditional shawls) and a whole variety of wool based handicrafts. While some of these handicrafts continue to excel, others are slowly disappearing due to varied reasons such as lack of an adequate market and economic linkage which has gradually led to a decline in the skills . Ecosphere has been keenly involved in not only marketing the more popular crafts but also in the process of reviving some of the traditional crafts that have
almost died out or are slowly disappearing.

Wool – A Local Surplus

Many kinds of wool are produced in the villages of Spiti
such as sheep, yak and goat wool. Since Spiti is primarily an agro-pastoralist community, wool is available in abundance.

Every Spitian family traditionally transforms this wool into different items such as clothes (socks, gloves, sweaters, etc), carpets, blankets, as well as shoes.

Ecosphere has been working with local women groups to help them in marketing these traditional woollen handicrafts as
well as enabling to improve quality and designs for better marketability both in the local and tourist markets.

Women’s Empowerment

In the last 2 decades the Spitian economy has transitioned from
a subsistence based to a cash based economy. Consequently, providing the local people with opportunities for cash incomes
has become an area that demands attention both from the government as well as development organisations.

Wool transformation activities provide opportunities to local women to earn cash income while staying in their villages. The flexibility of this self-employed activity doesn’t interfere with their daily household chores. In summer, their priority is the agricultural work and it is often the only opportunity to earn cash that they can find in the village. However, in the long winter months development of wool based products is being tapped to develop it as an important source of income for the household.

Through this activity women are also enabled to create links with other stakeholders and institutions outside the village. This better knowledge of their environment and exposure also makes them more self-confident and involved in community decisions.

Constant innovation and improvising skills has helped these woolen products to enter into the international markets as well. With the help of professional designers, Spitian women have started developing and designing products with a mix of the modern and the traditional for such markets.

Appropriate technologies

In the winter months, women have a lot of time at their disposal, but due to inadequate heating facilities and the extremely cold climate they are able to utilise only a very miniscule portion of this free time to work on handicrafts. In order to improve their working conditions, Ecosphere has been working on the development of solar passive structures (link to energy efficient houses), which provide warmer temperatures for long periods of time without any burning and the smoke from the stoves.

Spinning and carding are two steps of wool transformation that are highly time consuming. Ecosphere has trained women to use manual and electric spinning wheels and carding machines. With these tools, women have been able to improve their productivity and the quality of their products.

Market Support

Ecosphere’s shop was set up to provide women groups an outlet
for marketing their products in the local market to travellers. Ecosphere also assists the women groups to market their products independently through hotels, restaurants, fairs and festivals, etc.

Markets have also been established for these products outside Spiti. With the help of professional designers and supporters of the cause, these handicrafts are now reaching out to places such as Berlin, Czech Republic and our very own capital, New Delhi (Adventure 18 Store, Satya Niketan, Opp Venky College,
New Delhi).

Click here for for a detailed list of our products.

Mud Craft
 
Mud crafts were traditionally made to be used as utensils and vessels in the Spitian kitchens and for other household chores. Spitian men took keen interest in this craft and developed various pots, lamps and stands. These were made from resources like mud or black and yellow clay available in the valley. ‘Thapses’ (mud supports used along with paddles) were used for carving the shape and structure, which was then baked. Marsh grass, cow dung or sheep dung were used when baking the pieces which were then coated with ‘Salay’ (a white powder like salt used to coat the piece after it was made).

However, due to a lack of an economic incentive associated with the craft along with Salay not being easily available (this was earlier brought by the nomads of Changthang) , this ethnic and earthy art has almost died. Very few households continue to make or use these items.

Similar to the women’s groups for the woolen handicrafts, Ecosphere has helped the men’s groups to revive and restore
this art. Amateur designs are now being transformed into high quality, professional designs with the help of skilled artisans and should soon be on sale in the Ecosphere store.

Mud Craft Products:

Our products will be listed shortly.

Fossil Preservation

Join us in protecting the geological heritage of Spiti - Ecosphere has tied up with potters in New Delhi and other part of HP to
train the local potters in Spiti on a variety of designs which could represent a mixture of the traditional and the modern. As a part of this program fossil replicas were designed and produced as a means to generate incomes for the local potters but also as a means to preserving this rich natural heritage which is being gradually depleted.

Become a Fossil Warrior:
You can find fossil replicas in our shop in Kaza – buy these if
you like instead of buying a fossil – be a part of conserving this natural heritage. You can also deposit fossils at the Ecosphere
shop that you may find along your travels in the valley.