The Lokta Paper (Nepali Kagaz) is a Nepalese handmade paper made of the fibrous inner bark of the Lokta plant. The rough texture, strength, and durability make the paper quite unique. The wide range of use and its artistic values has made these traditional papers quite popular.
Nepalese Lokta paper is the official paper for keeping government records. They are durable and resistant to humidity, tearing, and mildew. It is also resistant to insects like paper crawlers and silverfish. These sheets get immersed in color dyes, which is a valid proof that the papers are resistant to water.
Moreover, traditional sacred religious texts were also written in these papers. The text on a Lokta paper can last for several millennia (2000 – 3000 years). Karanya Buha Sutra (sacred Buddhist text) is the earliest surviving Lokta paper in Nepal. You can find these ancient texts and other manuscripts in the National Archives Museum.
Furthermore, the use of these papers declined in the 1950s with the import of cheap machine-made papers from India. However, they are making a comeback of sorts owing to the high demand for these traditional papers in foreign countries. Read further for more details about the Nepalese Lokta papers and other relevant information.
What is Lokta?
Named as “Daphne Bhoula” or “Daphne Papyracea” in scientific nomenclature, Lokta is an indigenous plant in Nepal. Lokta is an ecological wonder as it regenerates naturally and reaches maturity within 4 to 5 years after the first cutting. Hence, it has no adverse effect on forest ecology.
Lokta plant gets harvested like sugarcane by cutting its stem about 30 cm above the ground. However, no root gets damaged during the process. The regeneration factor makes the plant a great raw material source with a continuous supply. October is the start of the Lokta collection season.
However, if the stem of the Lokta does not get removed after reaching maturity, the plant starts to dry and decay. Hence, cutting off the stem in the harvesting season is essential to use it as a raw material. You can find evergreen Lokta shrubs in open clusters or colonies in the high elevation Himalayan forests.
Moreover, this incredible plant grows in moist regions within the altitude of 6500 feet to 9500 feet above sea level. Also known as Baruwa or Kaagte Paat, these Lokta shrubs are small and woody and reach the maximum height of 7 feet. Overall, Lokta is a great asset to Nepal with a wide variety of uses.
Features of Lokta Papers
- They are quite durable and cannot get easily torn
- They do not decay over time
- They have a unique feel and texture
- They are non-perishable in water
- They are highly resistant to germs, insects like silverfish and termites
- They exemplify ink from pen or print
- They last for a long duration of time
History of Nepalese Lokta Papers
Karanya Buha Sutra (sacred Buddhist text) is the earliest surviving Lokta paper in Nepal present in Nepal’s National Archives. This Lichchhavi script text dates around more than 1,000 years.
However, the introduction of papercraft imports from Tibet in the early twentieth century declined the use of these papers. Furthermore, the Indian paper in the 1960s replaced the Nepalese handmade paper industry. Only some traditional families in Baglung and Parbat District continued the production of these papers.
In the 1970s, the tourism industry boomed in the country. The active conservation program in the 1970s rejuvenated the Lokta craft paper production on a large scale basis. The opening of national parks and wildlife reserves provided raw materials for the mass production of these papers. It also helped with the growth of other agro-based industries.
Moreover, the Agricultural Development Bank of Nepal (ADBN) and the Small Farmer Development Program (SFDP) introduced the Community Development and Health Project (CDHP) project in the 1980s. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also helped them in this project. This step helped in reviving the indigenous paper making industry.
Furthermore, entrepreneurs and environmental activists developed international trading channels in the early 1990s. This process led to the growth and popularity of these sheets. Hence, the handmade paper gained prominence once again and is growing at 15% per year.
Similarly, handmade Lokta paper also contains another famous agro product of Sapindus (Soap Nuts). While the production of these papers was only limited to Baglung District in the past, it is now mass-produced in more than 22 districts of Nepal. However, the finished product is only available in Kathmandu or Janakpur.
How to Make Lokta Paper? – Lokta Paper Making Process
The Lokta paper making process is quite simple. Since it is a traditional process, it does not require huge machinery or workforce. The process has remained the same for centuries. However, the technique has been highly refined to suit present-day technology and demands.
Firstly, the process starts with the cutting of the stem of the Lokta plant. Then, the bark of the stem gets removed and cleaned so that the dark spots get washed away. You only need the clean white inner bark, which gets stored for further use.
Moreover, the bark gets cooked in boiling water and immediately rinsed in cold running water. This step is crucial for the papermaking process as it removes the organic matter. The person responsible for this step must perform with diligence and care as this step is vital for a clean and high-quality Lokta paper sheet.
Furthermore, the person uses wooden hammers to beat the cooked bark and turn it into a gooey, sticky paste. Multiple beating of the long fibers gives the final paper an added strength. Then, the resulting pulp gets mixed with water in an accurate proportion. There are various frame plates where the pulp gets evenly spread and stretched.
Finally, the frame plates get placed in the sun for drying. The natural drying process gives the final surface texture of the paper. When the paper gets completely dried, it gets taken out of the frame and stored in a safe place. These papers are then used to draw and write. Besides that, various new techniques help to add shape and color to the paper.
The Impact of Nepalese Lokta Paper Industry in the Society and the Environment
The Lokta plant remains spread over millions of hectares of forest land and across 55 districts of Nepal. Lokta gets harvested in various conservation areas as a non-wood forest product (NWFP). The incredible aspect of the Lokta bush is that it regenerates every 4-5 years. Hence, this papermaking industry has no negative impacts on the environment.
Besides that, the Nepalese Lokta Paper industry also employs hundreds of men and women. Many women get involved in the making of the Lokta paper sheets in the rural area. This factor ensures economic sustainability for rural Nepalese women. There are around 175-200 handmade paper manufacturing industries in the country. They produce about 30,000 metric tons of paper products each year.
Uses of Lokta Paper
Traditionally, Lokta paper sheets were mostly used in religious texts or official government documents. However, nowadays, they are rampantly used in Wallpapers, Restaurant Menus, Phone books, Wrapping paper, Paper Lamp and other Modern-day items. These papers can retain and preserve the potency of spices, medicines, and incense over a long period.
Lokta paper sheets are also used as fashion accessories. A new collection of clothes made from Lokta was recently introduced. You can find them in carrying bags, gift-boxes, calendars, lampshades, and file-folders. They are also used in Greeting cards, Photo frames, Art paper, Picture albums, Paper Jewelry, Postcards, Jewelry boxes, and others. Lokta paper origami is also quite popular.
Moreover, these papers are highly resistant to insects like silverfish, and paper crawlers. They are also non-perishable in the water. You can also use them to wrap precious items as it has soft fibers that protect it from scratches. Lokta paper sheets are still used in the official documentation in the Government office. They are also recyclable and, thus, eco-friendly.
The Final Say
In the last decade, the traditional Lokta paper has seen significant evolution. You can see these paper made items like notebooks, diaries, calendars, photo albums, and others in offices and homes.
These papers are trendy and used to make modern-day arts and crafts, origami, invitation cards, visiting cards, and others. The use of Lokta paper in the official government paperwork is still intact. It is mainly due to the incredible strength and resistance of these papers against insects and water.
Moreover, the demand and exports to western countries have ensured the resurgence and growth of the Nepalese handmade paper industry. The export of Lokta to the overseas markets has made sure the growth of the business remains intact. Overall, even in this world of modern-day technology and printing, Lokta has remained relevant.
Nepali Handmade Paper Craft Wholesaler
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Featured Image Source: USAID Measuring Impact Conservation Enterprise Retrospective (Nepal; Asian Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources)