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Weaving cultures through carpets

As I walked through a trail in the hills, amidst clouds floating calmly over trees, children in uniform chattered. Upon inspecting this secured place lying in the hazy early morning air, it read Vidya Vikash Academy. 


Neighbouring the school was the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre. On this summer Monday morning, its premises still looked solitary as the day was yet to start. Inching forward slowly, I realised I was entering a world of its own. Secluded from the touristy section of the town on Lebong Cart Road, this was a world which had made Darjeeling its new home. 


The centre is renowned for its handicraft pursuits. Especially traditional Tibetan carpets. In a big room converted into the main workshop, women clad in warm clothes were engaged in weaving carpets of their own choice. Soft sunlight seeped through patches of glass put on the rooftop. From first glance, one could see the prevalence of wood used to build the space. In the far corner was a man leaned over a bright orange intricate carpet. 


Phurbu, a second generation man was trimming the wool with scissors sharpened on a wet wooden block. His parents had also lived in this community. Phurbu's hand smoothly traversing the patterns made, he mentioned his craft as a tedious and patient task. It would take anywhere between seven to ten days to cut the raw edges of the wool and make the carpet lustrous. It required concentration and a finely trained eye to spot the minute differences. 


In a similar room below, women were spinning wool into yarn. Their paraphernalia was neatly arranged. The air felt cold with just the dry sound of the cycle wheels spinning. The wool came from Ladakh's sheep which was transported to the centre taking nearly two weeks to reach. The carpet that Phurbu was working on as many others was to be shipped off abroad. Many visitors, often foreigners preordered these carpets.


The artworks, colour combinations and designs are heavily influenced by the history and mythological stories of Tibet. So in a personal and creative way, Phurbu was sharing the intimate and passionate sentiments of his homeland.

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