Discovering India’s Relationship with Pashmina

Embarking on a journey exploring the making of Pashmina, travel company The Extra Mile creates a breathtaking itinerary that will give you a detailed glimpse into the living heritage of Ladakh

By: Bhavna Sharma

Posted on: July 22, 2021

The world has heard of pashmina, many have worn it, but few have truly experienced what goes into the making of this soft fabric, in one of the remotest corners of the globe.

Ladakh scenery

Tracing the origins of the one of the world’s most luxurious fibres in a spectacularly jagged terrain, The Extra Mile (TEM) has curated a series of three pre-scheduled trips to Ladakh, between August and September. The Pashmina Trail is a bespoke travel experience, which takes you on a journey exploring the history of this coveted textile-through workshops and lectures led by LENA Ladakh, a slow textile brand empowering local women in the community, and through experiences immersed in the local culture. A mindfully curated tour positively impacting the local economy, it includes interactions with the locals, camping, walking with the Nomads and insights into traditional robes and attires. The itinerary has been crafted after several interactions with weavers, anthropologists, historians, artists and food enthusiasts.

What to expect

Spread over seven nights, the trail offers much time to absorb the local scenery. Acclimatise with the views of Zanskar and Karakoram in the Leh valley. Enjoy serene walks by the Indus river, passing through grounds filled with apricot and apple trees.

Spiritual experiences include a visit to the Moonscape Monastery and 11th century Buddhist temples, and praying with the monks.

Carefully curated lodging includes a stay at the scenic Ulley Ethnic resort, which is set at the cliff bank of the Indus River, in the village of Ule Tokpo, and an overnight stay at Stok Palace, along with some authentic camping experiences with local nomads.

Throughout the trail, delicious Ladakhi cuisine will enchant you, with slurps of butter tea and snacks to comfort in between. A dinner with His Eminence Jigmet Namgyal at the Stok Palace is an experience not any Michelin restaurant can top.

Ladakh mountains

But what really is spellbinding is the experience of witnessing all that that goes behind the creation of Pashmina. A traditional weaving workshop at LENA’s weaving centre and a visit to Namza Couture to discover the beauty of Ladakhi textiles and traditional attires will equip you with quite a bit of knowledge. 

Understanding Pashmina

TEM recently organised a virtual session, talking more about the Pashmina Trail and the less trodden path in the land abound in mystical tales and breathtaking views. Listening to the story of pashmina and Ladakh by Dr. Monisha Ahmed, who is the founder of LAMO (Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation) an expert and an independent researcher, at this session, one is all but fascinated by the humble beginnings of this ‘soft gold’. Home of the pashmina goat, the Changthang region of Ladakh also produces some of the finest quality pashmina fibres in the world. This region is an extension of the Tibetan Plateau in Ladakh, inhabited by the pastoralist community of the Changpas - whose nomadic lifestyle revolves around the Changra goats, yaks and other livestock that they rear. Following the centuries old migration pattern and lifestyle, the Changpas have a long history of traditional textile related activities such as removing the pashmina fibre and weaving. 

Pashmina thread weaving making

The vivid history of Ladakh has been largely influenced by the trade, demand and commercial importance of pashmina, as it has been at the crossroads of trade through Silk Route, Western Tibet and Kashmir. Adorning aristocrats and royalty over the centuries, pashmina from this region continues to be the prized commodity of several across the globe.

Joining Dr. Ahmed at this virtual session were Sonam Angmo and Stanzin Minglak, the two founders of LENA, an all women, slow textile label based in Ladakh, which has been bringing this region’s pure handmade Pashmina textiles to the global centerstage while simultaneously creating a sustainable and dignified source of livelihood for the Ladakhi women artisans, since its inception in 2016. From preserving distinct Ladakhi traditional hand spinning and weaving methods, to replicating designs of indigenous weaver and using locally sourced herbs to dye the apparel, this startup follows fair-trade and cruelty free practices, and ensures that the revenue from the Pashmina trade stays local, through attempts at increasing the value of finished Ladakhi Pashmina products as opposed to just being one of the largest exporters of Pashmina. 

LENA retails their products through their shop based in Leh, and also through several international partners and retailers located all across the globe. Not only is this soft, cruelty-free fibre so highly valued and demanded internationally, but the rarity of naturally-dyed Pashmina yarns has brought this label several offers for collaborations.

Pashmina making and dyeing

Shoba George, founder of TEM, says, “I went in the cold of February to Changthang to meet the nomads at their temporary settlement by the Kar Tso t, and I knew I had found that magic moment, when time stands still. Tracing the Pashmina trail is a surreal experience that influences and moves you beyond just the history of this textile. There are moments when you feel that you are watching a documentary, except, you are not in the periphery as a mere spectator. But a part of the scene itself. There is a certain vitality you experience in being present in those moments.”

The Pashmina Trail brings an opportunity of transformational travel, as you would go down the path less trodden, pursuing the historical local nomadic traditions of pashmina through camping in Changthang, trying your hand at weaving in a workshop at LENA’s studio, exploring textile museums and traditional cuisines. 

This bespoke trip can be booked through The Extra Mile website.

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