Environment-friendly: Traditional watermills still in vogue around the hills

Centuries-old mills are used to make flour

A man stands outside the mill in Shahdara (top). A view of the grinder inside the mill (bottom). PHOTOS: SHAZIA MEHBOOB/ EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: People living around the foothills of the Margallas live in a fresh and peaceful environment, which may in part have motivated them to keep 300-year-old traditional watermills (jandars) operational. They use the traditional method of grinding grain into flour because, in their opinion, the flour produced is of better quality and taste compared to mass produced flour.

The environment-friendly watermills are scattered across villages on the outskirts of Islamabad — Shahdara Khurd, Shahdara Kalan, Kamlari, Phulgran and Gokina. The valleys are dotted with streams and canals.

These mills are powered by fast-flowing water channeled from streams, which turn the heavy grindstones, producing flour. Traditional watermills do not directly pollute the atmosphere, nor do they require electricity or fossil fuels.

One such watermill is operated by Ghulam Shabbir Awan, 58, in Shahdara Khurd, a famous tourist area which is thronged by residents of the twin cities during the hot summer.

He has been operating the watermill since his childhood and is determined to continue his forefathers’ business.

Residents of surrounding villages visit Awan’s jandar. He charges in kind rather than cash, taking a share of the flour from his customers.

“I take 6kg of flour for 40kg of grain as payment from my customers,” Awan said, claiming it was less than what most flour mills charged. The watermill is not Awan’s primary source of income. His day job is as an electrician at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU).

Awan said, “I wish to keep my family’s traditional business alive and after me, through my children.”

He said that the flour ground in a watermill was natural and did not spoil as easily as mass-produced flour.

Awan claimed that his family was attached with the business for the past nine generations. Before him, his father, Karam Din Awan, grandfather, Manga Khan, great grandfather, Anwar Khan, and Anwar’s father, Fazal Din, were attached with the business, he said.

“The watermill is a symbol of our centuries-old culture, which is gradually disappearing due to the introduction of new technology,” said Javaid Akhtar, a resident of Shahdara Khurd.

“There is a need to keep this alive in order to introduce future generations to these environment-friendly mills,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2015.


Armstrong Evans | 8 years ago | Reply Your article is of great interest, as I have been working with small scale waterpower all my life, having been brought up in a watermill in Cornwall (UK). As many as 250,000 village watermills are to be found in the hill areas from Afghanistan to China, but many are being put out of business by faster diesel mills. Programmes in Northern India and Nepal, started over 20 years ago are aimed at giving these traditional mills a new lease of life by upgrading the capacity to make them more economic, and also enabling them to provide electricity to nearby villages at night. The cost of the upgrade is as little as 100GBP and pays for itself in under a year.
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