A group of Brokpa men and women are sitting in the autumn sun on a hillside, deep in concentration as they learn to knit and crochet woollen toys. Their instructor, Ute Meuser, a freelance consultant from India, patiently explains how many stitches to load and how many rows to knit. The little group appears relaxed and deeply focused on the task at hand.
The November training was an initiative of the Tarayana Foundation enabling the people of Merak and Sakteng to produce quality toys for sale to tourists and locals. Over a week in each village, participants learnt how to make yaks, horses, dolls, snow leopards and……….red pandas! When our project team stumbled across Ute and the knitters in Merak, we asked if she had a method for making red pandas that she could teach to herders. Overnight, Ute got busy and made this cute felted red panda! Within a day, Nima the local carpenter, had made a beautifully carved wooden panda with plans to make many more to sell.
Nima hard at work and his creations below (photos Ute Meuser)
Currently in Merak, there are two shops selling the toys. However they have not been able to sell much due to off tourist winter season. So far in Merak they have been able to sell 8-9 yaks and horse toys. The cost of the toys vary from 400-600 Ngultrum depending on the size. Producers are also planning to make dolls of herders in their traditional attire, and (hopefully!) more red pandas to create awareness and interest in red panda conservation. We will continue to monitor this unexpected project spin-off in collaboration with the Tarayana Foundation.
Young girls in Sakteng village learning to make felted red pandas (photo Ute Meuser)
Merak lady showing her handcrafted yak and horse (photo: Norbu Yangdon)
Handknitted horses for sale in Merak village! (photo: Norbu Yangdon)