Banned in 1975, Shahtoosh shawl, made from the wool of endangered Tibetan antelope Chiru, has not lost its charm with a revival in its sale in the last decade, no matter how furtively.
The Shahtoosh trade was banned globally in 1975 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) following a fall in the number of the antelopes.
The Indian government followed and banned the trade in 1991, but the Jammu and Kashmir government had stayed away from restricting its sales till 2000.
However, Shahtoosh, a Persian word meaning 'the king of wools', is still a popular wardrobe, especially, in cold countries.
"There is no doubt that the business still goes on...but it isn't sold under the name 'Shahtoosh'. It is sold as some other fabric. Locally, the sale hasn't seen a surge but in countries like France, Germany or some parts of Europe, the sale has again increased in the last few years," Chairman Traders and Manufacturers Federation, Kashmir, Farooq Ahmad Shah told PTI.
"After the ban on Shahtoosh trade, it is being smuggled from China, Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal. Shahtoosh is the 'King of wool' and 'wool of the Kings'. It is the first choice among people who have taste...it's demand cannot fall easily," historian and former Secretary Jammu & Kashmir Cultural Academy MY Taing said.
Kashmiris enjoy the privilege of being the only people who can weave and spin Shahtoosh in the world. Women generally spin and men weave the delicate yarn into warm, soft, light and delicate shawls.
"The sale and export of Shahtoosh shawls in the Kashmir art and handloom showrooms situated in various five-star hotels in India has been good in the last few years. The raw material is brought in from Tibet and China and processed and spun into a shawl here and then exported. All this is done secretively," Shah said.