In 18th and early 19th century, Kashmir had a thriving industry producing shawls from goat imported from Tibet and Tartary through Ladakh. But in current times, Beijing has become the largest producer of raw Cashmere wool and their share of production is estimated to be ten thousand metric tons per year against 100 tons from Ladakh. Mongolia produces more than 3000 tons while Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and other central Asian republics produce lesser amounts. Their overall annual production is estimated to be between 15000-20000 tons.
Sultan Zayn-ul-Abideen famous ruler during 15th century was the founder of Kashmir wool industry, introduced weavers from Turkestan. Cashmere wool, simply famous as â€˜Cashmereâ€™ is a fiber obtained from â€˜Cashmereâ€™ goats scientifically known as Capra hircus laniger.
Cashmere goats produce a double fleece that consists of a fine, soft undercoat of hair, mingled with a straighter and much coarser outer coating of hair, called guard hair. For the fine undercoat to be sold and processed further it is de-haired, separating coarse hair from fine hair. After de-hairing, â€˜Cashmereâ€™ (Paschm) is ready to be dyed and converted into yarns, fabrics and garments like coats, jackets, blankets and other items.
Earlier Kashmiri traders used to procure raw Pashmina produced by a nomadic tribe Changpas, dwelling in the mountains of Ladakh and Tibet regions. Pashmina or Pashm fiber was distributed through out the rural and urban localities of valley through middle- men. At household level, women used to process the raw Pashmina on spinning wheels (yendir) to make a fine thread out of wool. These fine super-coiled threads were sent to manufacturing units, where it was manually weaved by artisans into a range of quality products, with Pashmina shawls being the major item.
It was in 2004 under a joint venture of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Union Textile Ministry and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), that a rupees 8.25 crore Pashmina de-hairing plant was installed in Leh. As the mechanical unit was introduced, women drivers applied breaks on their spinning wheel (yendirs).
The subsequent impact was two edged, firstly the quality name of cashmere wool could not be held high, as the mechanically de-haired wool could not produce fine high quality Pashmina threads and secondly, this machine snatched the livelihood of poor and down trodden people, especially women of Kashmir.
The once indigenous Kashmiri Pashmina shawls are now designed and branded out side valley, since LAHDC supplies the raw Pashmina material to Kullu (H.P.), Dehradun and Amritsar based Oswal and other textile groups. It continues to remain a lost heritage industry.
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