Watermills facing danger of extinction in Hassanabdal, surrounding areas

Published March 7, 2022
A man runs traditional watermills in Hassanabdal .— Dawn
A man runs traditional watermills in Hassanabdal .— Dawn

TAXILA: The centuries-old traditional watermills, locally known as Jandars, in Hassanabdal and its surrounding areas are disappearing fast.

The new generation has almost said goodbye to the nutritious wheat flour that is produced by these watermills through utilising natural methods. The operators run these mills through water and heavy stones grind the wheat making quality flour.

The environment-friendly watermills scattered across villages on the outskirts of Hassanabdal.

The river Haro and other water channels are dotted with these watermills that cater to the masses of Hassanabdal, Taxila, Wah and Attock. They also provided livelihoods to scores of skilled men who run them.

During a visit to the watermills, it was observed that these mills neither polluted the atmosphere nor did they require electricity or fossil fuels for grinding.

One such watermill is operated by Riasat Mehmood, 58, on Pathargarh road.

Talking to this correspondent, Mehmood said he had been operating the watermill since his childhood and was determined to continue his forefathers’ business.

Residents of the city as well as surrounding villages visit Mehmood’s Jandar. He charges in kind rather than cash, taking a share of the flour from his customers.

“I take 6 kg flour for grinding 40 kg grain from my customers,” he said, claiming it was less than what most flou rmills charged. He said: “I wish to keep my family’s traditional business alive and after me through my children.”

He said the flour ground in a watermill was natural and did not get spoiled as easily as mass produced flour. He said the stone utilised in grinding was not available in the local market and was mostly imported from India. He said the watermills were becoming extinct due to paucity of water as well as unavailability of professionals who rectify faults in these mills.

Saddam Hussain, another watermill owner, said his family had been attached with the business for the past nine generations.

“The watermill is a symbol of our centuries-old culture, which is gradually disappearing due to the introduction of new technology, low profit and unavailability of tools,” he added.

“There is an urgent need to keep this alive in order to introduce these environment-friendly mills to the future generations,” Mr Saddam added.

In reply to a question, he said that while there was a long list of benefits of watermill-ground flour, its one disadvantage was that the process was very time consuming. It takes several hours to grind a kg wheat.

Because it does not need electricity to run, people do not have to worry about the shortage of flour during prolonged hours of loadshedding, said Sadaqat Ali, a customer.

The cost of machine-ground flour increases with an increase in the prices of fuel, he said.

Tahir Durrani, a social and public figure of the area, said wheat from Jandars was of better quality and tasted better than mass produced flour. He said these mills were on the verge of extinction and there was a need to preserve them.

Dr Rashid Khan, another social figure of the area, said the flour ground in water mills remained safe from insects and pests for many months. That is why you see so many people waiting with sacks of wheat to be ground. He, however, said that due to different social and economic reasons, these watermills were vanishing from the area with passage of time.

“Flour from water-run mills tastes better which is why people come from far away here to grind wheat,” said another buyer, Waqar Ali.

An archaeologist, Abdul Ghafour Lone, said the Jandars of Hassanabdal were almost 300 years old. These should be preserved for the future generations, he said.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2022

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