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The vanishing chhuthags of Bumthang

With a decline in cultivation of flour-producing grains, usage of the traditional watermills has dropped

Tradition: The traditional watermills (chhuthag) that were once found in abundance in Bumthang are on the verge of vanishing today.

With people cultivating significantly less flour-producing grains like wheat, buckwheat and barley anymore, the traditional mills are rarely used.

People have also switched to cultivating paddy, which does not require the use of Chhuthags.

Bumthaps grew these grains as their staple food and the chhuthags were a necessity. Some Bumthaps still use the chhuthags but only when they require flour, which is not often.

Of these Chhuthags, one can be seen in Chamkhar village and another at Tamzhing. They are well maintained and remain under lock and key when not in use.

Sherub Wangdi, 81, from Tamzhing said every village in Bumthang owns at least one chhuthag each. Most of them cannot be seen today.

He said there used to be three chhuthags on a stream nearby but there is only one standing today. The other two are in ruins. “Kharsum, Tekarzhong and Tamzhing Chhoeje owned one each and the one that is still there used to be Tamzhing Choeje’s,” he said, adding that the people of Tamzhing chiwog come to this chhuthag now.

He said people used to mill their grains throughout the nights but not anymore. They grow  less grains, mill it, and return home. “This is because people are more dependent on rice which was very hard to get in the past,” he said.

Sherub Wangdi said this chhuthag too was nearly ruined some 50 years ago but it was renovated and maintained thereafter. “We keep it locked as it becomes difficult to manage it,” he said, adding that the stone mills have to be replaced.

Yangka, 59, from Chamkhar village owns a chhuthag. He roofed it with CGI sheets a few years back. He said the chhuthag was built many years ago and that the people of Jalikhar used to use the chhuthag to mill their grains then.

There are some modern milling machines but many still prefer the traditional mills. “People said the flour milled by machines could not be stored for long like those milled by traditional mills,” he said.

Yangka has replaced the millstones twice. He brought them from Kurje. However, the person who makes the millstones had died and the profession along with him. “I am worried about the millstones getting worn as there is no maker any longer,” he said.

Anyone coming from other places to mill flour has to pay Yangka a drey of flour. A drey is a traditional measuring instrument, which weighs a little more than a kilogramme.

People consumed khurba, puta and other flour meals, which are delicacies in Bumthang today.

Village elders said some of the villages still have chhuthags but were not sure if the are still being used.

Nima Wangdi | Bumthang

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2 comments

  1. It is indeed sad to note that such tradition and culture is dying in Bhutan. Who do we blame? Education? Philosophically children of any society are expected to learn culture of their society for continuity or sustenance of the culture of a society i.e. culture consist of language (s) for communication, rationality system, technology, morality, social structure, judiciary system, trade and commerce for the sustenance of the Bhutanese society, etc. Bhutanese Education does have all the aspects of the culture in Bhutanese education. However, they are not of Bhutanese. They are relevant to students for students to go abroad and work but not good enough to promote Bhutanese culture. Rich Bhutanese culture based technology such as ‘chhuthags’ -water mill, which is environmentally technology and many other such wonderful technology will disappear and it will not take long. This is the cost of ignorant decision makers who do not understand education are in-charge of educational activities. One day, we hope to see Bhutan matures and listens to professional educationist rather than the politically driven administrators. Many countries of the world have experienced such events and Bhutan is no exception.
    This kinds of articles may insight some Bhutanese and learn on their own to preserve such a technology. I thank the author for writing this article for the Kuensel. Thank you, sir.

  2. Sir Nima Wangdi la,

    Thanks for sharing information on watermills la. Sir la, I am writing a proposal on water mill. I have done a brief research on why watermills are vanishing. So I am planning to revive the watermills by constructing new ones and modifying existing ones into more efficient if relevant institutions gives support.
    Therefore, I found your information worth acknowledging in my proposal if sir won’t mind la.

    My email: ckeat2050@gmail.com

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