In the Tirthan Valley of Himachal Pradesh, as we crisscrossed tiny wheat fields moist with dew and apple orchards laden with white blossoms, a rhythm accompanied the steps: a constant ghrr-ghrr-ghrr. It came from small slate shelters with sloping roofs, which looked like tiny shrines. Sometimes, the shelters were made directly over a stream, but many times they were on the banks, with a channel diverting some water to them.
These were the Gharats: water-mills running on the kinetic energy of flowing water and milling fresh, cool flour.
Throughout Tirthan Valley, Gharats dot the streams at several locations. Raju Bhartiji says that Tirthan had many more Gharats in the past, but the floods of 1995 washed many of them away and most remaining fell into disrepair. Even so, as compared to other parts of Himachal, Tirthan valley is fortunate. Hydropower dams, including mini hydro projects, with their headrace and tailrace tunnels, flow diversions and blasting have destroyed thousands of Gharats in Himachal and Uttarakhand. These water mills are special not only because they are decentralized and appropriate technology structures. They are a part of the heritage of the land: almost all of the materials for building one come from the surroundings and the masons who build them are artists.
We witnessed a channel diverting water from a stream to a Gharat and the outflow then irrigating a small patch of vegetables before meeting the river again! Beautiful use of flowing water and returning it to the stream with respect. Let us hope that the streams and rivers remain healthy and Gharats continue to chime in the Himalayas.
Like Dilbari Devi from Jibhi says, “Gharat-fresh flour makes the tastiest Parathas!”
A brief snapshot of the Gharats we encountered enroute to different places follows below.
All Photos, videos: Abhay Kanvinde for SANDRP(firstname.lastname@example.org)