After a 10 minute taxi ride to the outskirts of Kathmandu, we arrived. It was the place where all the magic was happening. The place where our Enlightenment Journals and Buddha Bear coloring books were coming to life.
There weren’t any industrial sized printing machines in sight. Instead there was a huge stack of Lokta paper, and our team of around 10 people. It was our partner Sanu and his family, turning our creations into reality, and doing it all by hand.
The very first time we witnessed the Lokta paper publishing process we knew it was something special. Not only does the process support the livelihoods of craftsmen and women of this ancient art, but everything, from the ink, to the flour based glue, to the harvesting of the Lokta bark is completely sustainable and all natural. From then on we decided that Lokta paper would be the medium on which all Backpack Buddha creations would come into fruition.
For thousands of years, the people of the Himalayas have harvested the evergreen shrub known as the Lokta bush. Unlike standard paper, Lokta paper is insect and humidity resistant, allowing it to last up to 3000 years. In fact, the oldest surviving document printed on Lokta paper is the sacred Buddhist text, the Karanya Buhu Sutra, and it is believed to be close to 2000 years old.
Its fibrous bark is the key to the production of this unique paper. First, the bark is harvested from the bush. Then it is boiled into a pulp. It is poured onto a rectangular mold, and finally left in the sun to dry. Although the process, sounds simple, it is extremely time consuming and laborious.
Lokta paper is primarily harvested by small rural villages in the Baglung district of Nepal. In recent years, these villages have relied solely on selling Lokta paper to support their livelihoods. This is one of the main reasons why all of our products are printed on Lokta paper.
From the village to the factory, Lokta production and final products are made in the same way they have been for thousands of years. When the paper arrives from the village it is pressed and cut to the desired size. Then it is dyed with all natural chemical free colors. The dyed paper is then laid under a stencil, an outline of what is to be printed. Natural ink is run over the stencil by hand, and the text or design is printed.
Every year, approximately 4 billion trees are cut down in order to supply the world with paper. Although we can replant these trees, they are being cut down faster than they can grow. The result, an exponential growth of global deforestation, subsequent loss of bio-diversity, and ultimately climate change.
On the other hand, Lokta paper is made from what is considered a non-wood forest product. When it’s bark is harvested, this high altitude evergreen shrub automatically regenerates in 5-7 years. It is one of the few under utilized species in the world. This makes Lokta paper an extremely eco-friendly alternative to typical wood based papers.
At first they paid no attention to us, and continued to work. But as they saw our gratitude for the work they were doing, and our utter awe at the entire process, morale lifted. We told them of all the beautiful customer reviews about the quality of Enlightenment Journals, and everyone seemed to smile at once. They felt proud, and we felt proud together.
To witness the process, from village to family run basement factory to final product, makes one feel as though they have traveled back in time. Nearly everything is done by hand. It is a beautiful process, and one that we at Backpack Buddha feel grateful to support. If you’re interested in coming to Nepal and learning process first hand, our Nepali partners have told us that it would be their pleasure to show you.