Go ecological, very religiously
Growing up, Ang Dolma Sherpa would see her mother recycling everything in her house, from jars and bottles to plastic bags. Seeing her refuse to throw things away, the young Ang Dolma Sherpa would describe his mother as frugal. The daughter and mother would even argue over the latter’s refusal to throw out the old household items, Sherpa said.
But as she got older, Sherpa, now 40, realized that her mother’s habit of recycling household items was her own way to cut down on waste, and she quickly began to embrace the same philosophy. Little did she know then that waste consciousness would become the guiding principle of her own company, Utpala Crafts, which makes biodegradable Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags (lungs) and ceremonial scarves (khada).
Sherpa started Utpala Crafts in 2020 with his business partner and friend Shreeshma Shakya, and Muna Shrestha, the company’s production manager.
âThe idea of ââUtpala Crafts is close to my heart and the issue of encouraging environmentally friendly practices in communities that follow Tibetan Buddhism is something I firmly believe in and passionate about,â Sherpa says.
While it was not until 2020 that Sherpa began to market its biodegradable product lungs and khada, she was already doing such khada in 2016, although for personal use.
What prompted her to focus on lungs and khada was his own Tibetan Buddhist origin. Both objects play a very important role in the daily life of Tibetan Buddhists, who believe that placing lungs bring good fortune and long life. On the other hand, khada are presented to arriving and departing guests and at every important occasion, from birth to death. In the last few years, khada were also increasingly used by communities that did not necessarily follow Tibetan Buddhism.
In order to meet Nepal’s huge demand for khada and lungs, huge quantities of both products are imported every year from India and China. The majority of imported khadas and lungs are made from synthetic materials like nylon and polyester, both of which take decades to break down. It is a common practice in the community to burn old khadas and lungs, producing greenhouse gases.
“Given the great use of the two khada and lungs are, I have always been concerned about the carbon footprint of our religion and I used to think of alternatives that are more respectful of the environment â, explains Sherpa. “When I started to make my own cotton khada for personal use in 2016 i started sharing with people my experience and how it might help us reduce our dependence on khada made from synthetic materials. But at that time, I never really thought that I would start a business and produce environmentally friendly products commercially. khada. In 2014, after years of working 9-5 jobs, I decided to take a break and think about how I could do something more meaningful in my life. After I started making my own cotton khada in 2016 and by sharing eco-friendly religious and cultural practices with members of our community, I felt like I was doing something useful and worthwhile with my life.
In 2019, Dolma launched biodegradable khada at Idea Studio and his idea won the title âGreenovationâ from WWF Nepal. This, Sherpa says, gave her more confidence in what she was doing.
But it wasn’t until 2020, amid the nationwide lockdown, that Sherpa decided to commercially produce environmentally friendly products. khada and lungs.
âI was chatting with Navin Singh Khadka, environmental correspondent for the BBC World Service, about how cultural traditions have their own carbon footprint, and that’s when I was struck by how going green khada and lungs available to people is one of the most effective ways to get people to stop using synthetics and thereby reduce our community’s carbon footprint, âsays Sherpa. “I thank my friends Shreeshma and Muna who have been by my side on this trip.”
Sherpa insists that she started by focusing on her community’s carbon footprint because that’s what she knew best.
âThis is not to say that other cultural activities do not cause environmental problems, but as a person who grew up in a Tibetan Buddhist family, I was very aware of the environmental damage caused by certain activities,â she says. .
However, this has not always been the case. According to Buddhist heritage activist Tashi Hyolmo, traditionally, lungs and khada were made from biodegradable materials like cotton and silk.
âBefore modern materials like polyester and nylon became widely available, lungs were made from cotton and khada were made of cotton or silk. But as the demand for both started to increase, khada and lungs started to be mass-produced using polyester and nylon, âsays Hyolmo. “By using traditional raw materials like cotton to make lung and khada, Ang Dolma not only addresses a very important environmental issue, but also reminds communities that follow Tibetan Buddhism of our centuries-old practices which were in fact environmentally friendly.
Hyolmo, who is also president of Mountain Spirit, a non-profit organization that works to protect the environment and culture of mountain people and improve their livelihoods, says his organization has already started using cotton. khada in the functions of their organization.
Utpala Crafts’ khada, which come in ceremonial size, are only available in one color – off-white. Each khada is decorated with Tashi Tagye, the eight auspicious Buddhist symbols, and costs Rs 290. Each packet of lung comes with 25 flags and is nine meters long. The thread that connects the flags is made of sisal.
âI have tried to keep the prices as low as possible so that as many people as possible can afford our products,â she adds. But since commonly available lungs and khada on the market are much cheaper than those of Sherpa, many will find its product expensive and out of reach.
Utpala Crafts products are available at Koru Handmade Gifts at Bauddha Fulbari, and soon they will also be available for purchase at Karma Coffee outlets.
In order to bring people together in her community and show the world how seriously the community takes solving environmental issues, Sherpa organized a crowdfunding campaign to replace the existing synthetic prayer flags installed on Bauddha Stupa with flags. biodegradable.
âDuring the crowdfunding months, we received support from Buddhist communities in Nepal and abroad, and on December 18, we are having an event at Bauddha to replace the prayer flags in the stupa,â she said. âI think this event will promote the use of environmentally friendly products. lungs and khada in my community.
For those who wish to learn how to make cotton khada and lungtas, Sherpa says she is open to sharing her knowledge.
“The more people are doing eco-responsibility khada and lungs, the better for our community and the environment, âSherpa says.