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‘Aab-e-Gratte’: Inside one of the last watermills of Kashmir

Post by on Monday, June 20, 2022

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 Watermills, locally called as Aab-e-Gratte, were once an essential feature in the valley, particularly in rural areas. Used to grind maize, wheat and other cereals by harnessing power of flowing water of river, stream or an irrigation channel, the centuries-old phenomenon is now a vanishing heritage.  
Abdul Rashid, 42, runs a watermill in a picturesque village of Nowshera in Uri area of North Kashmir. He says just two years back, there were around 20 watermills in the area but now only one watermill is functional owing to climate change, readily available items and easy to use machines in the market. 
 “Two years back, there were around twenty watermills but right now we have just one single water mill functional in our village. Traditional water mills are now becoming obsolete,” he told Rising Kashmir.
Rashid leaves home at 9 in the morning and starts grinding pulses, either brought from market or received from the customers. 
“The watermill is a gift from my forefathers. This is an eco-friendly and natural way of producing flour, with no added preservatives and adulteration.
“The water mill is not only a source of income for me but also a part of our ancient culture. I still remember how people used to visit watermills to get cereals, usually wheat and maize grinded into flour,” he added.
He said there used to be heavy rush as a result he used to fix a date for the customers to get their work done. “But nowadays very few people come to grind the cereals. This heritage is on the verge of extinction,” Rashid said.
Despite the advent of modern technology, Rashid is still preserving a centuries-old method of grinding cereals in a 12x10 feet room. He grinds around 50 kilograms of maize on an average for a meager amount. He is happy to continue his forefather’s legacy.
 “I started this work when I was a young boy. Earlier my father used to run this mill. We charge 5 rupees per kilogram. That makes it around Rs 200 a day. Electricity run flour mills charge a hefty amount and that is not an eco-friendly method of grinding,” he said.
Locals here say in the Uri area of district Baramulla, there were hundreds of watermills but now only few are functional in the entire subdivision.
Another mill owner, Abdul Rehman Dar, 52 started working at the age of 17 but his mill isn't functional now. 
"There are various reasons for the closure of watermills. There is less flow of water in streams. People aren't interested in watermill flour, less crop quantity and easily available flour and bread in the market are other reasons for the downfall.
“We are losing the culture of traditional water mills. The main reason for closing down my mill is that we aren't generating any revenues. You can't operate a plant running in losses for a long time," Rehman told Rising Kashmir. 
How a watermill functions:
The water mill uses eco-friendly energy i.e water to function. The water from a nearby stream, water tributary is diverted towards the watermill through a wooden tunnel, a canal that then pushes the turbine fixed in the lower section of the water mill. 
The turbine is made of wood while the shaft is made of iron. The water mill also contains two grinding stones that remain in a small room of the mill. 
The shaft is connected to the turbine that runs and turns the upper section of stone. The lower section is stationary, and grain stored in a wooden case above the stone drops the grain at a slow speed through a hole in the upper stone to lower stone via a feeder mechanism. 
The grain then is ground in between the two massive round shaped stones. The rotating of stone crushes the cereal to fine powder- the flour, which is later on collected and stored in gunny bags. 
"The quantity of flour depends on the level and flow of water. During the high flow of water, we produce more flour as it keeps running day and night at a high speed," Rehman said. 
He said that the passage of water is controlled by a gate that in turn controls the speed of grinding stones. 
Muneeb, a practising lawyer and a resident of Nowshera village, said “these traditional water mills are a symbol of our rich cultural history.”
“These eco-friendly watermills depict our old traditions. These water mills are much better than electricity – powered flour mills and the government must encourage such mill owners," Muneeb added.
"The flour ground from this watermill is tasty and healthier as compared to flour from electricity-run machines," he said. 
Mill owner Rehman believes that if the government assists them in construction of concrete canals to divert the water from streams or tributaries and supply grains from government stores, then the traditional watermills will see a dawn of revival.

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