Last standing Dhobis on Old City’s Jhelum Ghats

Among the seven bridges of the Old City, Aali Kadal managed to retain its traditional charm over the period of time. But now, with the fast fading of characteristic dhobis known to wash the famed Kashmiri shawls on Jhelum ghats, another cultural demise looks imminent.

It’s a sunny Friday afternoon and Ali Kadal is more or less deserted as I walked down the narrow and congested lanes leading to the centuries-old ghats of the river Jhelum.

Hundreds of colourful embroidered clothes are hung out to dry on nylon ropes strung all along the bank.

Every morning a variety of export-made cloth – embroidered handkerchief, Pashmina shawls and curtains – are washed in these remaining three ghats.

Standing knee-deep in Jhelum’s lush water is 54-year-old Abdul Rasheed Bhat, beating an embroidered shawl on a flogging stone. With a carefree attitude, he sings a couple of Kashmiri songs.

He rinses the cloth in the gushing water, squeeze it and throws it in an aluminium tub.

Every morning Rasheed along with his three colleagues start their work of washing different varieties of clothes. They are among the handful of dhobis who regularly wash clothes at this ghat.

“More than 100 dhobis used to be at this particular Ghat every day to wash clothes,” recalls Rasheed while rinsing the Pashmina Shawl.

With the advent of technology, the business of washing on the Ghats has seen a steep downfall. “Ever since technology was introduced in washing profession, orders from clients started decreasing as they preferred machine washing instead of our manual service,” says Rasheed hurriedly. “Many dhobis left this profession after that and switched to other modes of living.”

Another Dhobi, Mohammad Ayoub Wani, in his mid-60, hanging freshly washed clothes on the rope says that he is following his forefather’s profession. “But with time, this profession has changed like Jhelum.”

Ali Muhammad, who joins the duo, at this Ghat every morning, recalls how populated once were the Ghats of the Jhelum.

“There was a time when Ghats of Jhelum were the most attractive places,” he says.

“A lot of people used to throng ghats to wash clothes,” he adds. But now, many dhobis have walked away.

“Once we are dead, it would vanish with us,” says Ali in a grim voice. “Our kids don’t want to be called washers. They’ve no interest in working as a Dhobis… Even the thought of it makes them feel uneasy.”


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