When I entered this lovely country, which appears to consist almost solely of mountains (que long, arduous bus journeys, my window opening out on to sheer drops), I had absolutely no prior knowledge of the nationwide Nepalese fad for handmade paper. So when I came across this particular shop whilst strolling down Pokhara's Lakeside area this afternoon, I was, being a bit of a graphic designer-meets-ethnic-craft-obsessive myself, a little overly excited.
From postcards and paper lanterns to decorative scrolls, colourful wall calenders and greetings cards, ever item at Western Women Paper Craft is hand-painted by local craftsmen an women around the Pokhara Valley. According to the very informative lady in the shop, the popularity of this handmade paper, both within nepal itself and with foriegn exporters is largely due to its production being both environmentally and economically sustainable.
The paper itself is made from the inner bark of a wild shrub locally known as 'Lokta' (found only at altutudes of 7000 to 9000 feet). Luckily the harvesting of Lokta leaves at least 8 inches of stalk above ground which enables it to grow again quickly from its embedded roots. This accelerated root growth in turn helps to hold the soil in place for other crops during Nepals two monsoon seasons, thus enabling farmers to sustain their livelihoods year-round (export crops are often the only source of income in rural areas). Great news for the Nepalese and great news for us!
Besides serving as a durable writing material for ages past (historically all Nepalese legal and legislative documents have been printed on Lokta paper thanks to its durability), handmade paper also plays a big part in the lives of many natives. From creating charms to ward off evil spirits to making incense and gifts, to the use as a sticking-plaster substitute for healing cuts and fractures in remote villages, handmade paper, so it seems, is to Nepal like tea is to China!
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