Handmade paper is a centuries-old tradition in India, dating back to the 3rd century BC, when it was an important tool to communicate information. Because of the exceptional benefits of the product, papermaking processes were generally kept secret. Archaeological finds show that handmade paper has been used to write Buddhist literature for over a thousand years. This art has been passed down from generation to generation.
A Handmade Paper Unit In Borong
Next time you are in Sikkim, you must take time out to visit the small handmade paper unit in Borong village. About 17km from Ravangla town in South Sikkim, it is housed on the premises of the Wildflower Retreat. Established in 2003, the Borong-Polok Handmade Paper Unit is a successful venture by the Sikkim Development Foundation with equity capital and local participation from local households. This village cooperative produces handcrafted paper products.
Unlike other handmade paper units that use dung or textile waste, the Borung-Polok unit follows Himalayan tradition by employing a locally growing plant known as argeli or Edgeworthia gardneri. It is a flowering shrub in the thymelaeaceae family. Many argeli plants grow along the path between the Ralong monastery and Borong, where the handmade paper production facility is located. The paper created from the argeli plant in Sikkim is covered with mucilage or slime from the okra plant as well as another plant called chipley. This is unlike the process followed in most other papermaking methods where each sheet cut from the pulp is layered in between with a muslin fabric to prevent them from clinging to each other. The individual sheets are then pasted on separate trays and dried. The paper has amazing resilience, absorbency, and texture.
The beautiful transparent quality of argeli paper distinguishes it. Because of its smoothness on both sides and light weight, paper created in this manner was utilised for manuscripts and official documents. The paper produced is of different grades and gets exported to places like Singapore, Bangkok, and Thailand.
What To Pick Up
The unit has a small showroom in the front where you can pick up the handmade sheets in their natural state. Or try the many brightly patterned and coloured sheets. They also make notebooks out of the paper, and envelopes, lampshades and paper figures. Waste pulp and paper is made into paper birds and nests, or even abstract art decor items.