Paper-making in Nangi has taken on some modern aspects of the trade but still qualifies as handmade and difficult work. Most of the lokta plants are harvested above 2500 meters (8200 feet). It takes two hours to walk from Nangi up to the forest where the plants naturally grow. It’s still cut by hand, lashed together as bundles and carried on their backs by means of a strap across the forehead. Anyone from the village can harvest the lokta plant for free but they need permission from the local village chairman. They are paid 60 rupees per kilogram (2.2 pounds). They can harvest four kilograms a day, making about 250 rupees or $4 USD/day. The harvest season lasts from November to January. Considering the average Nepalese live on less than $1 USD/day…this is tough but profitable short-term work. Cutting the stalks six inches above ground level practices conservation and sustainability. This practice allows new shoots and branches to generate and flower in about three years. New plants also germinate from seeds naturally, so it does not need replanted. In Nangi the lokta plant is cultivated although it doesn’t grow there naturally. Moti, who manages the plant nursery, first grows the seedlings from seeds. These are planted on community lands, but take 7-9 years to reach maturity compared to 4-5 years for the naturally occurring plants.
Long gone are the wooden ponds where the inner bark of the lokta was mixed with wood ash and water. Now a sophisticated machine blends the pulp with water, emulsifiers and dyes to make the pulp into a smooth mash. But that’s the extent of modernization. The pulp mash is manually scooped onto screens and rinsed before setting out to dry. The paper-makers are skilled at judging the right amount of watery pulp mash to spread across a screen and make varying weights of paper from 12 – 40 grams. The various papers are lovely to feel. We experimented during the bead-making workshop with various weights and I am in awe of their skill. Have you ever had an idea and had to push the proverbial boulder uphill to make it a reality? Share your successes and failures with my readers in the comments section. Ponder the question: When do you know it’s time to throw in the towel? Join me next week as I talk about the early and ongoing troubles with the paper-making project and how Mahabir Pun and Chitra push their boulders up the Himalayan Mountains towards success.