19 Sept 2016

Losing its lustre – The copper art of Ladakh

Ladakh is a land of stunning beauty. This Himalayan region has a unique landscape as it is the highest desert of the world, rain shadowed from rest of the Kashmir state. Until recently, Ladakh remained untouched and unexplored due to its remoteness. This allowed a variety of unique art and culture to evolve and flourish in the region.One such art is of handcrafting metals in Ladakh. No one can say for sure who introduced this art here but the artisans in villages of Ladakh have been doing this since centuries.

We went for a 6 days trip to Ladakh as part of an expedition by Mountain Homestays. We trekked through Himalayas visiting and staying in various village homestays. Our last village of stay was Tsogsty where we spent an entire day. Here we met a 65 year old metal artisan named Thetan Wangya, who has been practicing copper art since he was 25.

handcrafting metals in Ladakh
He has a very small workshop where he sits on a small cushion surrounded by all sorts of tools he uses for his work. He showed us a small coal fire and a blower that he uses to melt and shape the copper sheets. He also uses silver and zinc in his work.

handcrafting metals in Ladakh

He usually does this work in winters when due to cold weather outside he can’t do anything else. In summers he will have his farms to take care and also he works on his wooden products like showels etc which he sells to other farmers.

handcrafting metals in Ladakh

While talking about the challenges and effort of his work on metals Thetan ji mentioned us that the younger generation is not taking this art and it will die very soon. He showed us his art, the kettles that he makes, Each kettle usually takes 2-3 weeks of time. A lot of this work involves beating and shaping of metal sheets. And as the returns are less, the younger people prefer to travel to Leh and do some other better paying work.

handcrafting metals in Ladakh

On our further survey we found this village has only 2 copper artisans, both above 60yr old. The art has vanished from many villages of Ladakh and is now left only to 2 other villages. At one of the village, named Sumda Chenmo, there is only 1 artisan left. This data was very sad as we will be losing this age old heritage in next few decades if no steps are taken soon.

Many villages in Ladakh do not have electricity as of now. Thetan mentioned how having electricity can ease his work and also encourage the youth to stay in the village and embrace this art. With my team at Mountain Homestays we are also trying to find alternatives for these artisans to save this art. On one side we want to introduce some more designs and products that could be made without losing the essence of this art. On other side we plan to create a better market access for these products as well.

For any suggestions about improving this art and participating with us to save this heritage do write back to us: info@mountainhomestays.com

(Written by Gaganpreet Singh, a passionate adventurer and nature lover. He quit his corporate job to lead Mountain Homestays, with the vision to do community empowerment through ecotourism)



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