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Pottery making survives in Gangzur
In the absence of a market for Bhutanese handmade earthern pots, and competition from ready-made imports, the traditional craft of pottery making in Bhutan is on the verge of extinction.

But in Gangzur Lhuentse, it still survives in the hands of two women who continue to practise this ancient tradition.

Tshering Zangmo and her friend Tshewang who are in their mid 30s make about 20 pots of different designs, some as small as a teacup used to burn incense to the biggest, about three feet in height, used to brew ara or local liquor. "There are five different types, each having its own specific utility," said Tshering Zangmo, 35, who has been making pots for the past 15 years.

During winter when there is no work in the fields, the two women collect the red and yellow sandy clay from the hill in front of their house and manually make the earthen pots. They do not use a spinning lathe.

Once stones and other granules are removed from the clay it is kneaded and beaten into malleable dough. The pots are shaped on a thatched wooden plank.

The inside of the clay ball is gouged out and the rough shell is left to dry for a week. The pot are then put in a fire to make them firm and durable.

During winter when there is no work in the fields, the two women collect the red and yellow sandy clay from the hill in front of their house and manually make the earthen pots. They do not use a spinning lathe.

Once stones and other granules are removed from the clay it is kneaded and beaten into malleable dough. The pots are shaped on a thatched wooden plank. The inside of the clay ball is gouged out and the rough shell is left to dry for a week. The pot are then put in a fire to make them firm and durable.

Every month villagers from other geogs in Lhuentse buy pots from the two women.

People from other parts of the country and foreigners who visit the village to see the two at work also buy their products. "In a month we earn about Nu. 500," said Tshering Zangmo. "It is enough to pay the land and livestock tax, house insurance and to buy vegetable oil, sugar and salt.

Tshering Zangmo said that during the monsoon, the soil gets deprived of its sticky natural glue and is therefore unsuitable to make pots. "That is when we get busy in the fields," said Tshewang.

Two years back Tshering and Tshewang sold five pots regardless of their sizes for just one Ngultrum until the dzongkhag officials advised them to raise the rates "We now sell a pot for about Nu. 45 each," said Tshewang.

The two women said the number of buyers had dropped with time. Their main customers are now villagers from Khoma who bought the oversize pots to brew ara while a few government officials and visitors bought the smaller ones.

The people of Gangzur have no knowledge of how old the pottery tradition is but Tshering Zangmo says that not very long ago people from eight geogs under Lhuentse used earthen pots to cook food, brew ara, and store water.

One of the traditional Bhutanese crafts, pottery is on the verge of extinction in Paro and has completely disappeared in the villages above Khasadrapchu in Thimphu. "The entire village used to make earthen pots in the past," said Tshering Zangmo.

Contributed by Samten Wangchuk,KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper
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