“Sometimes when you travel, you see something too beautiful to not take home,” says Absolute Travel President Ken Fish. Don’t we know it. We’ve lost ourselves in countless souks from Marrakech to Istanbul, been mesmerized by the whirring bobbins of silk looms in Varanasi and meditated on spinning pots and clay-coated hands in Oaxaca—the sheer amount of skill, patience and history literally worked into each artisan piece is staggering. But, the reality is, these heritage crafts, may not be a permanent part of our world’s cultural landscape. Imagine an Iranian marketplace without souks unfurling colorful hand-knotted Persian carpets or visiting Kenya and never seeing Maasai beadwork.
We believe in the power of traveling to the source. When you meet a woman deep in the Himalayas and share tea beside her loom and amongst reams of hand-spun wool, or meet a man who is one of the only traditional dyers left in Bhutan, suddenly the shawl draped over your shoulders or the slippers on your feet mean far more. They are filled with soul, an experience and tell a story. By traveling and seeking out these experiences, you help keep these artisan traditions alive.
Our picks for where to go now to help protect an artisan tradition:
Go now before the modest road that encircles Bhutan is paved, bringing with it much more than cement, construction and tour buses. Side effects have already cropped up: Handwoven dress is being replaced with machine-made clothing from China. As a result the traditions of intricate weaving and dying are disappearing.
Photograph by Stuart Campbell
Although Bhutanese men and women continue to wear traditional dress, more and more their everyday wear is being replaced by machine-produced silk trucked in from China. For most, the intricate handwoven garments are now reserved for special occasions only. The impact of this development is far-reaching.
For the Bhutanese, cloth quality signifies social hierarchy, political rank and plays a significant role in commerce and local industry. Nearly half of Bhutan’s population participates in the weaving process during the year. Although hand weaving is still widely practiced, the threat of it disappearing from daily life is real. Changes can already be seen: today it is nearly impossible to find artisans practicing traditional hand dying. There are only a handful of experts left, one of which is the official dyer for the royal family.
LUANG PRABANG, LAOS
Go now before the whole world does. Like Thailand thirty years ago, Laos is Southeast Asia’s holdout, still discoverable in a way many other countries no longer are. However, the international airport in Luang Prabang means visitors no longer have to endure a stopover to get to this beautifully-preserved UNESCO World Heritage City. With the imminent, overdue crowds on the horizon, chances are Luang Prabang will begin to look very different, very soon.
Photograph by Julie Hall
Laos is known for its hand spun and handwoven silk textiles. As Luang Prabang grows in popularity and the city develops to accommodate more visitors, much may be at stake for their hand-weaving tradition which has been a staple of daily lives since the Tang dynasty.
Disruptions are already happening. The process for creating handwoven silk textiles begins with silk worms. The worms eat mulberry trees. However, the large swaths of land on the outskirts of the Luang Prabang which have traditionally been used to farm the mulberry trees are being purchased by the government. Farmers and their crops are being displaced.
Photograph by Julie Hall
Mrs. Kommaly, an activist, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award recipient, is mobilizing a new wave of weavers and farmers who will grow the mulberry trees on land in the Xieng Khouang, farm and harvest the silk, and keep the weaving tradition alive while also making a sustainable living. Go to visit the farm and charming shop in Vientiane.
Go now to be a part of Nepal’s glorious rebirth and help culturally repair Nepal by tracking down remote mountain weavers on the verge of disappearing.
Photograph by Owen Gaddis
The effects of the earthquake are widespread. Perhaps overlooked is the effect it has on the artisan cottage industry. Natural dyers and weavers, often located in far-flung mountainous locales, require electricity and gas supplies in order to do their craft. Getting gas and electricity to such remote locations has always been a difficult task. Now, the disrupted infrastructure is making it harder than ever.
Photograph by Susan Easton
Weaving is a primary source of income for many Nepalese. Although less tangible than rebuilding houses, being able to practice their craft is an essential part of repairing and healing for the nation.
Our friends at DARA Artisans have made it their mission to highlight and share these ancient tales, beautiful designs and modern-day realities of artisans and their crafts. They empower artisans from Peru to Cambodia, helping demonstrate these crafts are not just beautiful, they are an essential part of our global heritage. Explore their sophisticated edit of handmade crafts here and foster the progress of these ancient skills and the personal and cultural narratives connected to them.
Ready to go? Continue the conversation
212 627 1950