A paper so grand, crafted by hand

A paper so grand, crafted by hand

A paper so grand, crafted by hand

Each country has its own handmade paper-making tradition. In ancient Egypt and throughout the Mediterranean region, papyrus, a thin paper-like material, was made from the pith of the papyrus plant and was used for writing.

The ancient Chinese first made paper by soaking plant fibres such as hemp and beating it into a sludge.

The sludge was then strained through a cloth sieve attached to a frame that also served as a drying platform for the resulting paper.

In England, during the 18th century, paper was made from rags.

In Sri Lanka, paper is made out of elephant dung.

Nepal has its own tradition of making paper. Lokta paper is a wildcrafted, handmade artisan paper indigenous to Nepal.

The raw material is a bark of the lokta plant, which is a sapling stick of about 5 to 7 feet in length. It is a woody shrub that grows 6,000 to 10,000 feet in most coniferous forests of the Himalayas in Nepal. It is made from the fibrous inner bark of this shrub.

The season for the collection of lokta begins in October.

The harvesting is similar to that of sugarcane, cutting it close to the base of the plant. The plant regenerates to maturity again within 4 to 5 years of being cut.

The harvesting process is eco-friendly.

It helps the forest continue to grow, because if the lokta is allowed to grow past maturity, it would dry up and begin to decay, preventing new growth.

The hand production of Lokta paper gives a source of income to paper-crafting families and village communities in Nepal.

Lokta paper has characteristics that are superior to machine-made paper.

It is long lasting, durable and resistant to tearing, which makes it easily foldable without corrugation.

Because they were also resistant to humidity, insects and mildew, they were the preferred choice for recording official government records and sacred religious texts.

The Lokta paper has a fascinating history.

The earliest surviving lokta paper document appears in Nepal’s National Archives in Kathmandu in the form of the sacred Buddhist text, the Karanya Buha Sutra.

It was written in Lichchhavi script and block printed on lokta paper and is estimated to be between 1,000 and 1,900 years old.

With the introduction of paper craft imports from Tibet in the 1930s, the production of lokta paper began to decline.

By the 1960s, competition from commercially mass-produced paper from India placed the Nepalese paper industry in a state of terminal decline with only a few families in just two districts retaining the traditional knowledge of its production.

However, in the 1970s, there was an increasing interest in this handmade paper as the tourism industry in Nepal began to grow, and they were bought as trendy souvenirs.

It is now a fashion for restaurants in Nepal to print their menu on this paper.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the popularity of lokta paper on the rise, Nepalese social and environmental entrepreneurs sought out and developed international trading partners, and the export market for handmade lokta paper was established.