Origin: Sparsely populated but densely covered by forests, Sikkim is cradled by nature. It is only natural that from this state emerged a tradition of wood carving.
Although wood carving is an ancient art form, wood carving in Sikkim flourished under the protection and patronage of Buddhist monasteries. This northeastern state of India is caught between Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. This interesting mix of cultures and people have led to a wide variety of wood carving designs inspired from Nepali, Buddhist and even hindu scriptures.
Present Day: The Sikkimese government has established Handicraft and Handloom Institute, to preserve and promote traditional Sikkimese cottage art and craft.
Foremost among wood carved Sikkimese products is the Choktse table made from Magnolia trees or Walnut trees. Choktse tables are heavily carved folding tables with traditional Sikkimese designs such as dragons, phoenixes and the wheel of dharma, this is one table that is intrinsic to Sikkim, and one of the most popular export. Wooden masks and bakchok tables (square tables) are also an enormous source of attraction to tourists and locals alike. Indeed there is a growing market for these traditional furniture items as well as wooden decoration items such as masks, lamp shades, vases, wall plaques, mirror frames, jewellery boxes or even larger items such as dressing units, dining tables, beds and what not.
Procedure: To begin with, a design is drawn on a piece of paper. This design is then turned into a stencil. From the stencil an outline is drawn on the wood, after the wood design is printed and fine-tuned, a drill machine is used to cut into the wood. From these drilled holed a wire is passed through the wood to bring to life the imagined design. Following which artisans with the help of curved, angular and flat nibs work upon on the wood to carve more precisely the design.
Wood carved products have huge demand overseas and are exported in different parts of the world like USA, U.K, Germany, France, Italy, UAE, Canada etc. These handicrafts have contributed in a big way to Indian economy and this also helps in preserving Indian culture and heritage.
Bring Home: The best place to buy wood carved products is in the capital of Gangtok at M.G Marg and Lal market. The government run emporium DHH (Directorate of Handloom and Handicrafts) is open throughout the year, the products here would be reasonably priced as well. You can also check out Raj Bhawan in Gangtok to see real artisans at work and the Pemayangtse Monastery in Pelling (a city in the west of Sikkim) to see old ornate wood carvings.