Olangchung Gola is a quant little village in the north west of Taplejung district. It’s a five day trek from Fungling, the district headquarters. There are about sixty houses remaining in the village after a devastating landslide of 1965 took down over a hundred houses. The village now sits on a dangerous cliff but the locals believe that the area is protected from further natural disasters. “There won’t be any more landslides because a highly respected Lama has blessed and sprinkled holy water at the four corners of the village”, said Mingma, a young local resident. Ok.
It was a beautiful morning. A woman was weaving carpet in her porch. I walked over and asked her if I could take a few pictures. She smiled and said, “Only if you buy a carpet”. I took a couple pictures, then told her that we were actually headed towards Lumba Sumba pass and carrying a carpet wasn’t feasible. I kinda felt bad but I was relieved to find out that she was just kidding and promised to buy one of her carpets on my next visit. I intend to keep that promise.
I went for a walk later that evening and noticed almost every house had a weaving loom and a basket full of colorful yarns. It added a nice charm to the village. I asked around and learnt that all women in the community knew how to weave. It was a skill that has been passed down from mother to daughter for centuries. I also was informed that selling carpets is a major, sometimes only, source of income for most families. The profit made is used to buy commodities from Rongxar, the closest border to China, which is about a couple days hike with a yak caravan.
We hired a local yak herder to guide us to Lumba Sumba. I wanted to learn more about the village so I kept pace with him. It was tiring but well worth all the inside information I gathered. We talked about everything ranging from cross-breeding yaks to family life in the village. One thing I found amusing was that over eighty percent of the villagers didn’t own the house they lived in. They rent it from the “rich” owners, descendants of the first migrators, who now live in Kathmandu. He said that the early settlers of Olangchung Gola claimed and distributed the land among themselves. Everyone that came after had no choice but to rent. I asked him about payment methods. “No one can afford to pay cash. We look after their house and give them two good sized carpets per year”, he replied. Well, at least, that’s keeping the art of weaving alive. Right?
It takes about two weeks for an experienced weaver to make one 6″x4″ carpet which sells for around Rs. 15,000 (~ $175). The yarn and dyes have to be imported from China which eats up a significant portion of the selling price. Considering the cost of raw materials and intensity of labor, the return isn’t very lucrative. Also, since Olangchung Gola is not easily accessible, it’s not convenient for most visitors to buy their carpets even if they really wanted to. The weavers have a hard time selling one carpet a month on average. So, they only make just enough to keep the family afloat.
It’s disheartening to see cheap Chinese carpets take over the market while the authentic carpet industry lies neglected within Nepal. Rest assured, the Government will do nothing about it. It’s high time we take a stand in supporting and encouraging those artisans. What part will we play in creating a Nepal that is “Still Made Here”?