spun in the hills

A look at the men and women in Object’s Kullu handloom cluster.

Words by:

Soniya Shanbagh

Photos by:

Simranjeet Singh

Amongst the very famous trade routes of the ancient world lies the lesser known “Wool Road.”

Amongst the very famous trade routes of the ancient world lies the lesser known “Wool Road”, stretching between Punjab in India to Tibet, Central Asia and China. Passing through the banks of Beas River lies Kullu in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Hidden in the valley are a group of traditional artisans encapsulating their history and traditions, unbeknownst to the outside world. 

The skillset dates back to the early 1800s when weavers from Rupa village, Kinnaur, were displaced to Kullu valley due to the tyranny of the local king. Before these weavers set foot in the village, the people of Kullu only wove simple plaid patterns. The villagers soon imbibed different skills from these traditional artisans, embracing the craft. After years of creating these fabrics, the Kinnauri influence merged along with their style, and the bolder, detailed patterns were then altered in size and detail.

Dr. Kamal Kishore, was a veterinarian. His love for animals led to him acquiring an Angora Rabbit farm in the ‘80s and the family has been breeding them ever since. This gave birth to a handcrafted clothing brand, Kullu Karishma, established in 1991. Angora rabbits were a part of the Indo-German collaboration, where these rabbits were imported due to the suitable climatic conditions of the Himalayan region. Their wool has a luxurious handfeel, and is gentle on the skin. It has excellent insulating properties while being extremely lightweight at the same time.

Dr. Kishore then started to sell the wool locally, but in the 1990s, European countries started banning the import of Angora wool. This is how he decided to start Kullu Karishma. Since then, the brand has diversified its materials, and has ventured into pashmina, cashmere and merino along with angora. The place is now run by Kanishk Kishore, Dr. Kishore’s son.


spinning in kullu

Behind the final product is a cluster of hands, working it at their looms, across all corners of the country. Meet JoB's Kullu cluster.

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The products are handcrafted by local artisans from Mohal, a village in Kullu.
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The valley has a self-sustaining agricultural economy, but there are still several people who don’t own land and are hence rendered powerless in the local economy.
The Wool Road, a lesser known ancient trade route, stretches between Punjab in India to Tibet, Central Asia and China.
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Despite the existence of government initiatives like the National Handloom Development Programme and Comprehensive Handloom Cluster Development Scheme, and training centres such as the Weavers Service Centre (WSC), little has changed for the local population.
They use natural dyes derived from indigo, manjistha, walnuts, pomegranate and eucalyptus, all sourced locally.
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According to Kanishk Kishore, the brand has been heavily affected by the COVID pandemic, followed by the war in Ukraine since their main markets are in the colder countries.
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The locals possess ancestral wisdom that has been passed down through generations.

Soniya Shanbagh

Soniya is a Mumbai based writer.

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