Foreign cultures are incredibly alluring. They can be discovered through a wide range of experiences – colours, shapes, smells, but most importantly through human connection. In order to really get to know another culture, you have to immerse yourself in it. The experience of travel is a recurring theme for the ORSKA brand. The Zen collection was born on Spanish beaches, the Eternal collection was inspired by Morocco, Extreme Sport was created by the Baltic sea. The designer's trip to Nepal was so extreme it simply had to result in some very special designs.
Anna Orska took the slightly dangerous, but very thrilling 30-hour journey by plane, tuk-tuk, bus and on foot, finally reaching the village of Pharping near Kathmandu. She lived in a Buddhist monastery, where she opened her temporary workshop.
For almost a month, the designer worked on her new, oriental collection along with local artisans, struggling to overcome numerous obstacles. She shares her extraordinary experiences in a short log in her travel journal:
'I knew that apart from inspiring me in my work, this place would make me appreciate my everyday life', explains Anna Orska. 'Life in Nepal is totally different from the life I know. I spent the first few nights with monks in a monastery, without access to water. For me, it was a unique opportunity to understand how much joy a cool stream of tap water can bring. The day ends with the sunset. After that, candles and oil lamps are your only hope. The truth is that to your average Nepalese, water, electricity and gas are luxuries. The reality I am experiencing is very different to what tourists – Nepal's main source of income – usually see here. It really opens your eyes to situations that most visitors have no idea about. Next to my rented workshop is a charity which looks after children who lost their parents during the earthquake. I am also doing my bit to support them. The kids, which have been through so much, follow me around and watch me work’
My workshop is in Pharping, a small town near Kathmandu. Although it's only 30 kilometres away, the roads are in such poor condition that reaching the capital is incredibly difficult. I rented a bike, thinking I could make it. The rides uphill turned out to be very painful, while the descents were nothing short of extreme. But I'm not about to give up. I grit my teeth and carry on, trying to get used to it. After all, I'm in the Himalayas, which are the home of eight of the highest mountains in the world. I shouldn't be surprised about the differences in altitude.
My temporary workshop has been waiting for me for a while now. But before we can begin work, I have to gather tools and materials. I have already bought some supplies in the only shop for professionals in Kathmandu. Everything is different here, many of the local techniques are new to me and I have to test them. It's a shame my team isn't here to see all this. They would be fascinated. After buying tools, I visited another shop, where I bought some natural stones. All of them come from this region, they were all mined and collected here. The little shop is out of this world. Hidden away in a basement, it's the kind of place only insiders know about. Unbelievable! All they sell are raw gemstones from Nepal. I've stocked up on them. Now all I need to do is find a gemcutter who will prepare them for use in my designs.
The idea of creating an oriental collection came to me back in Poland. Nepal, which is famous for its handicrafts, seemed a natural choice. I wanted to take advantage of the resources available here and the skills of the Nepalese craftsmen, but I had no idea what I could create with them. Of course, I soon found plenty of inspirations.
I hired a master jeweler. In order to create one piece, he has to travel all around the village, collecting the necessary tools and arranging things. Someone has a drill, someone else makes casts. I follow him around, unable to believe it. Everything has to be taken care of, arranged, organised. He also has to help his distant relatives. All the craftsmen I meet are very experienced and hardworking. The wealth of decorations and ornaments in local designs, as well as my limited amount of time and access to tools, forced me to rethink my approach both to design and to my craft. This is one of the reasons I consider the local artisans exceptional. Even the biggest problems can be sorted out with a smile. The Nepalese are very friendly towards me, which is very encouraging.
I spent my last week in yet another workshop – the fourth so far – where I learned forging from a master of the art. I was told that in Nepal, professions are passed down from generation to generation and that children as young as 11 can begin to learn them. That would mean I'm a lost cause. However, I decided to accept the challenge and spent the following days sitting cross-legged on the workshop floor, hoping for the best.
The Nepalese jewelry masters are incredibly skilled. Using techniques completely unknown to us, they are able to create beautiful and absolutely unique designs which I simply couldn't make without their help. On the other hand, I experienced first-hand how tough life is in Nepal and how deeply affected the country has been by the recent earthquake. I'm very glad I could help by giving jobs to the local artisans.
Although I spent a whole month in Nepal, time passed very quickly. I must admit that I did feel quite tired towards the end of my stay, especially physically. I mostly worked on the floor, sitting cross-legged, on my knees or in various yogic positions which I'm not at all used to.
During one month, we created nothing but unique pieces of jewelry. Each piece was hand-carved using the distinctive, Nepalese method, which involves embossing metal plates using several different-shaped chisels blades.