The Copper Artisans of Ladakh

At the high altitude desert called Ladakh, there is an endangered ancient art surviving only due to the efforts of a few native artisans. There are just 4 last remaining Himalayan villages where this art is still practiced.

Thetan Wangyal (Village-Tsogsty)

At village Tsogsty lives one of the oldest artisans, Thetan Wangyal. He was 25 when he learned this work from his father and has been doing it since last 40 years.

He uses various other metals in his designs like silver, brass and gold. Most of his artifacts are made on orders from nearby villages who decorate their kitchens and dining area with these artifacts and they are used for special occasions.

His most beautiful artifact is the dragon kettle which has detailed designs engraved on it. To make one such kettle it may take as long as two month to make.

Like Thetan, there are about 8-10 other artisans in the nearby villages who do this ancient work. Most of them are very old and in the new generation there's no one eager to learn this skill.

At village Sumda-Chenmo, one of the younger artisan is Wangdus. He is 35yrs old and does it more or less as a hobby. He makes small items such as cup lids and spoons.

The coldest season is considered the best time to do this work since other activities are nigh impossible to do. The small workshops, usually just 5 by 5 feet in size and with a coal fire to melt copper, make for a cosy environment in the blistering cold.

Stanzeng Wangdus (Village: Sumda-Chenmo)

Sadly, not many know about this heritage of Ladakh. And it may not last much longer. The youth is not learning it, the market is sporadic and working conditions are tough.

But there is still hope! Mountain Homestays is bringing in tourism to these villages. Engaging tourists in the daily lifestyle of villagers and artisans is helping us spread awareness of this art globally. The tourists take back with them authentic copper artifacts, thus contributing to the livelihood of these artisans.