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Pearls in Tibet’s past – The elaborate Headdresses of Tibetan Noblewomen

August 01, 2013 3 min read

My first exposure to Tibet was in 2007 when I took my second solo trip.

The trip through Tibet’s rural hinterland to the Everest base camp, through Xigatse and Gyantse was as impressive as the Potala palace and its treasures.

I had gone in to Tibet without any prior research on the destination. There are pros and cons to that approach. I could easily have missed out on seeing the Potala because when I set foot on Tibetan land I had no idea of its existence. But thanks to a few casual chats with other travelers, I was alerted and I managed to see the astounding heritage of Tibet at the Palace. The good thing about going in completely unprepared is that nothing prepares us for the sights that come your way. No pictures no stories – nothing.

The flash with which the culture appears  before us is then dazzling and blinding. And so I spent all my travelling mesmerised and in a stupor of awe at the unique costumes and jewelry and architecture and cultural practices that I was surrounded by.

In Gyantse and Shigatse I met rural women completely bejeweled in ways I had never seen anyone do, and all they were doing with all that dressing up was making tea or attending to toddlers. This was not party wear but daily wear for them. A picture from an old blog.

Once I returned I was determined to read up on Tibetan culture and read ‘Seven years in Tibet’.  Tibet was already so interesting and beckoning but the book made Tibet of the past – when its culture was in full bloom – much more attractive.   When it is so hard or impossible to go back to Tibet in the present day – how could I ever go back to the Tibet of the past?

But destiny is kind. And instead of me going to the Tibet of the 19th century, a small slice from Tibet’s past came to me.  Last year I had the opportunity to get acquainted with a few headdresses belonging to Tibetan Noblewomen of the 19th century.

Whether such pieces are available in museums I do not know. I do know that photographs of women wearing these are available in some museums.

Her are a few pictures of  the extravagant hair ornaments on which elaborate hairstyles rested:


This one is so elaborate that an assistant is needed to help with wearing and arranging it.

Tibetan Noblewoman

Headdress from Xigatse, Tibet, late 19th century


A ‘Y’ shaped stiff piece decorated with pearls, coral and turquoise is fixed to the back of the head with the two ends jutting out as we can see in the pictures. These are then used as the base from which to hang long tresses of false hair. These used to be worn in Worn in Lhasa & the U-Tsang region. It is easy to imagine the women in Henrich Harrer’s book wearing these!

Tibetan Noble woman


Headdress from Tibet Lhasa

Headdress from Tibet Lhasa


This is the limit of my information on the subject and if anyone has any more knowledge on Tibetan headdresses or knows of books or articles on the subject I would truly appreciate the enlightenment.

If you have seen these in any museums or books, please share that information too.

Through these objects of beauty, we can still visit the past!

The pieces shown above are a part of the WOVENSOULS collection and detailed photographs may be viewed here.


July 2013

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