One of the most exotic word in the world of traditional fashion is Pashmina. Kashmir is famous for its Pashminas. But is Pashmina really Kashmiri? Or is it? Actually Pashmina comes from Ladakh. Pashmina goats are found only in altitudes higher than 3500 or 4000 Mt. [ Kashmir is about 2000 mt] Century ago when the Jammu kingdom won a war with Ladakh kingdom, they put a clause that all Pashmina wool should be compulsorily sold to them. Kashmiri artisans being exceptionally fabulous in this work, the industry grew in Kashmir.
Pashmina mufflers and stoles in a shop
Apparently, in recent past this clause was thrown away and now Ladakhi people can make their own Pashmina products and do whatever they want with the wool. [ Actually it is undercoat, not the wool.] "Each Pashmina goat produces around 250 grams of wool every year. Now you know why it is expensive!" Nawang Phuntsog told me with a smile on his face "We have to feed the goats all year and take their care for these 250 grams!!". I met Nawang at his magnificent shop - 'Nomadic Woollen Mills' at the Main market of Leh. Its on the first floor of a T Junction. He is from the nomadic tribe that rears Pashmina Goats. He told me that sometime ago, Indian government sent him to China to study the latest techniques of weaving and producing Pashmina. Once he returned, he imported some excellent and advanced machinery from New Zealand and Germany. This machinery is computer controlled. So now he has his own production of Pashminas. He also produces a certain amount of Pashmina material by hand. This procedure, obviously is slow and usually can happen only in winters when the ladies are not busy with farming. So there is a limit to how much Pashmina cloth can be weaved by hand. Nawang employs many Self Help groups of women. This way he creates local jobs too. Pashminas come quite expensive. A small stole will cost you around 2,500 to 4,000 Rs and the shawls start from 4,000 and can go up to several lakhs if there is intricate hand woven designs on it. All these shawls and stoles are so thin that each one can pass through a small finger ring. Asked Nawang if this was true. He smiled and said "Every pashmina can pass through a tiny ring. It is very thin and yet very warm." I looked around the shop. He had some exquisite - simple and complex alike, designs. There were shawls, stoles, pullovers and mittens, all around me stacked elegantly in racks. I bought a dozen stoles or so, as I was sure I won't get pure Pashminas easily. He also had lot other things made from Yak wool. There are many shops that sell pashmina in Leh. Most are owned by the Kashmiris. Many shopkeepers will tell you that their Pashmina is the Pure Pashmina. Generally pure Pashmina doesn't come in many colours. It is mainly White, Yellowish or Grey. They have to introduce different fabric for making it colourful. The moment you touch a pure Pashmina, you can feel the softness of it. Best is A to B Comparison. Nawang's comes from the Chungthang region in Ladakh. It is quite away from Leh. This is the region, where you see Pashmina goats and goatsmen. The region near and around Tso Moriri lake is the Chungthan area. Basically it’s a totally brown area. It's quite difficult to see a green patch there.
Nawang Phuntsog in front of his shop
I drove up to Pang. It is a lovely drive. Initially you pass through lovely mountains and then there comes Tanglang La pass. Tanglang La, thankfully, has good roads. Except a couple of no road situations at the top, the entire road is just lovely. Tanglang La leads you to Chungthang region. As the road passes through the Changthang, the landscape changes. Now you are trtavelling through completely flat lands for acres and acres. On both sides of the road, now you can see several goat herders and their hundreds of goats. They are in no hurry, Silently walking with them is usualy just one person. A boy alone can take care of that entire herd of hundreds of goats. Generally not in the day time, but at nights and especially in winters they have the danger of snow tiger, These people are nomads. Traditionally these nomads don’t have a home in a place. They live in tents. They have trucks and cars, but not homes. Goats, Mules, at times Yaks, and a few dogs is their entire wealth. [I am sure they will have places in Leh and otherwise. I was told that when demonatisation happened these nomads, who literally live in tents and such, got tons and tons of kilos of currency notes for exchange! ]
Now with Ladakh becoming independent from Jammu and Kashmir, I am quite sure that in the due course Ladakhis will get good benefit and it will reflect in their production of Pashminas. Here are some pictures -