Date of this Version
Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii
Ladakh is in the Indian Himalayas, in a high-altitude region that culturally overflows into Pakistan and China. Ladakh is part of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, in India. The most significant factors influencing the culture and traditions of Ladakh are climate, isolation, and inaccessibility. These factors result in a highly practical culture. Ladakh is isolated from the outside world for much of the year because of extreme cold and harsh winter weather. By necessity, Ladakhis have developed traditions and techniques to make the most of their resources, under specific and extreme climatic conditions. Thus their traditions are based in an authenticity of need.
This paper examines the production of wool for local use in traditional garments, with a focus on spinning and village context in Western Ladakh. My research from 2006 and 2007 centers on the villages of Skurbuchan and Bodh Kharbu, where wool production is typical of Western Ladakh.. It is important to remember that Ladakhis are primarily spinning and weaving wool for their own use, occasionally for sale within Ladakh. The fabric described here is not made for export or tourist trade. The efficient production of handspun wool as an imperative is twofold: the extreme cold makes wool clothing a necessity, and their villages’ isolation and inaccessibility require Ladakhis to provide for themselves. The continuity of this tradition is assured to the extent that Ladakhis remain in the villages, where the realities of winter will not allow them to neglect, forget, or lose the knowledge of how to process wool for cloth.
As Janet Rizvi noted in the early 1990’s, “Ladakh is not a single monolithic entity…. In its relatively small area, it encompasses an enormous variety of landscapes, their differences being based primarily on the great range of altitude. There is settled human habitation from 2700 to 4500 metres, with nomadic camps higher still.”1 For this reason, the perception of resources, and the knowledge and skills surrounding them, are specific not only to Ladakh but to each individual region and village. This has an effect on the researcher, because visiting one village will only show the techniques and traditions of that place, whereas the situation may differ in another village or region. While the techniques shown here are broadly characteristic of western and central Ladakh, I can only claim to represent with certainty the places I actually visited, Skurbuchan and Bodh Kharbu.