Crouched over a partially finished wooden window sits one of Nepal’s finest craftsmen. His brow is creased in concentration, his arms moving swiftly across the wood, deftly craving away the wood to reveal his design. Small piles of wood shavings carpet the concrete, each coil delicately hand carved by craftsmen and women sitting cross legged on the workshop floor or balancing above their work, their suspended weight used to drive their tools and aid their craft.
Wood Carving Industries LTD have taken Nepali wood craft to the world, with commissioned works including the Nepalese Pagoda Temple in Munich, Germany and of course the Nepali Peace Pagoda, a highlight of Southbank Gardens in Brisbane Australia.
Having operated for over 47 years, this family business is also responsible for many significant pieces visible in Kathmandu Valley, including the Tribhuvan Airport VIP room (check it out next time you are there) and the stunning Naryanhiti Palace doors (taking 2 months to complete).The shop floor opens into the workshops, where you can see the unique pieces being crafted by hand, where we now stand. We are told that all staff are trained on site and then employed in the workshop, continuing the local craft that has been an inspiration to people across the world for centuries.
The master carvers are often at work creating custom made pieces to order, either a design chosen from their extensive catalogue or a unique design requested by the customer. With it’s rich dark brown colour and smooth finish, Nepali Saal wood is the most common wood used in the workshop, though they again have a range to choose from.
Having seen where an icon from my own home town was crafted, I thought I’d seen all Patan has to offer, but just across the road stands Nepal’s biggest handicraft factory, Nepalese Crafts LTD. This family run business has been keeping traditional craftsmanship alive for over 50 years, creating and selling a range of crafts from jewelry to tapestry, scarves and shawls to statues and wood carvings.
A half completed metal stupa, around 4 feet high, stands mid-way along the workshop floor, awaiting the final touches. The intricate metal designs sit patiently, awaiting the installation of hundreds of gemstones, before t is sent for display at a nearby monastery.
A few feet away, metal smiths work on statues of Hindu gods and prayer wheels to be sold both locally and internationally. One Master smith Krishna Ghimire, has been working on a statue of Hanuman for over two years already. The delicate craft first requires a mould made of wax, which is then lined with clay and sun dried for three days before the molten metal (usually either brass or copper) is poured in.
Returning to the shop front with a renewed respect for the time and mastery put into each unique piece, it is staggering to see the number of craft items for sale. Several rooms branch off the main entrance way, each displaying a different range of crafts and treasures. Each factory trains and employs local craftsmen and women, supporting and maintaining local crafts and industry, while allowing visitors and guests to see the work in action. If you are looking for the heart of the craft and carving industry in Nepal, look no further than Patan.
If you are looking for proof of the beauty of their craftsmanship, look no further than our own backyard, the Nepali Peace Pagoda, Southbank Brisbane. Back in my home city, on the banks of the Brisbane River I can still smell the sap and carvings from the workshop across the world as I visit one of my favourite haunts. A tangle of branches caress the wooden carvings, together reaching for the sky and the views of the city beyond. Each image has been lovingly hand carved in the spirit of goodwill, by the master craftsmen and women of Patan, in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal.
*Thankyou to Bikram Paudel and Prakash Silwal from VCD Nepal for showing me around Patan