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Yathra weaving Bumthang
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School girls take up yathra weaving in Bumthang

Punakha celebrated its first three-day tshechu in the dzong following the annual goempoe Drupchen which concluded on February 17, 2005 with the norbu chusani (symbolic immersion of the Rangjung Khasarpani in the Mochu) ceremony.

There is a reason why Chhume in Bumthang is famous for its yathra (woolens)weaves. It is the main marketing outlet for about 240 households of 13 villages in Bumthang who depend on the sale of yathra for their livelihood.

People from Zhungri, the farthest village, about a day"s walk to Chhume, sell their products to the dealers in Chhume once a month. "They prefer exchanging their yathras for groceries and garments," said Yeshey, a yathra dealer in Chhume.

Gayden, 35, from Chhume Nangar said that having a yathra weaver in the family meant being able to bring home all the daily necessities. She allowed her daughter and two nieces to drop schools and take up yathra weaving. "A family that has more women weaving is looked up with pride and considered a well to do family," said Gayden.

In winter, the yathra dealers in Chhume also provide temporary employment to school students. At the most they employ about 10 students to weave. The dealers provide three meals a day to the students and pay them between Nu 160 to Nu 340 depending on the quality of the weave. Simple weaves that take a few days earn Nu 160 and weaves with more intricate patterns that take about a week are paid Nu 340.

A number of families in Chhume have pulled out their daughters from schools and made them take up weaving. Even the women teachers and employees in various departments, and those working at the road sides in Chhume are learning to first turn the wool into threads and then weave. "If you learn to weave you can save your money for something bigger," said a woman from Chhume Nangar. "We can barter our products for our basic needs."

Yeshey said that he gives money to people who take money for their yathras and groceries for those who want to barter their products. "Although I sometimes face problems of not being able to pay for the yathras I take all they bring," he said.

Each year Yeshey supplies about 100 to 200 yathra pieces to the various textile shops in Thimphu. He sells them for Nu 600 to Nu 1,800 depending on the quality of the product. According to Yeshey, the products he buys or exchanges with the villagers fetches him about Nu 20,000 to Nu 30,000 during the tourist seasons and drops down to Nu 5,000 to Nu 6,000 during the lean tourist seasons. "Besides being a tourist attraction, we are trying to preserve our country"s textile art," Yeshey said.

The more authentic yarn (wool) used for weaving the yathra is usually brought from Swiss although most prefer using the wool from India. "Bhutanese wool is considered to be of greater quality," said Yeshey. "But the charges are abnormally high."

This article was contributed by KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper
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