Towards the end of my trip in Bhutan, we made a stop on the way back to Paro in Thimphu to visit a traditional dezo (paper-making) factory called the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory.
Bhutan takes immense pride in its culture, history and traditions and the government has tried hard to keep the Kingdom’s artistic heritage alive through its art schools and community programs offering education in the centuries-old traditions of painting, weaving, woodwork and paper making. A visit to a workshop or factory producing these amazing handicrafts is a must for any traveler to Bhutan.
Traditional paper making can be traced back to the 8th century and is believed to have come to Bhutan from China via the trade routes through Tibet. Per the Handicrafts Association of Bhutan, “Dezo or the art of making traditional paper (desho) was popular in the past as most religious scriptures and text were written on desho using local ink or gold dust. Dezo is made from the bark, fibre and pulp of Daphne tree which grows naturally in Bhutan.
The Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory opened in 1990 and was established by the Government Ministry of Trade and Industry to help protect and preserve the ancient practice of traditional paper making in Bhutan. Two years later, the factory was privatized by Norbu Tenzin, a highly trainer paper maker, who continues to run the factory using local artisans from the community. Today, the descho is sold around the world including in a small gift shop next to the factory.
I was delighted to have time to stop by the factory for a quick visit. Outside the door, we saw our first Daphne tree which is the primary source for the paper.
As we entered the doors of the small factory, I was amazed to see it abuzz with life and movement. There we watched the process from start to finish of making descho by hand.
After the soaking, next is boiling and then rinsing the bark. The bark is then moved over to the artisans to begin the manual sorting process where all the bad fibers are removed.
After the bark is crushed and pounded into pulp, it is placed into a giant vat where it is mixed with water and vegetable starch.
The gooey mixture is then placed into a wooden frame and bamboo screen to filter out a thin layer of pulp on the screen and pile it up on the paper bed. This step is called layering.
Finally, the paper is pulled from the frame and hung to dry, sheet by sheet, on a smooth board. The finished products are all on display right next door at the factory’s gift shop.
We ended our visit with a stop at the lovely gift shop where you can purchase beautiful handmade cards, journals, photo albums, wrapping paper and more. It makes a great gift for home and best of all, the purchase supports the local artisans keeping this ancient tradition alive for future generations to enjoy.