With only ruins of water mills seen around the Rukubji village in Wangduephodrang, residents are only left with memories of water mills grinding the grains.

People also have to travel all the way to Tsangkha in Trongsa and Chuzomsa and Lobesa since no one in the village owns the modern mill.

According to the village tshogpa, Dawa Tshering, 58, forest officials dismantled all the water mills since it was located on government land. The village had about seven watermills, five on Palichu and two on Bjebechu.

He said the mills, locally known as chhura, were dismantled in 2015 along with many cowsheds that were constructed on the government land.

The tshogpa said that although private individuals owned chhuras, it benefitted everyone in the village.

He said people in the locality used the chhuras to grind wheat into flour for consumption and to make religious cakes (torma) during rituals. “Now people have to travel long distances to get the chore done.”

Dawa Tshering said although a villager owned a modern mill once, everyone in the village preferred using the traditional water mills because of the taste.

The chhura stones remain bare in the roofless shed and the irrigation canals have dried up. The canals are filled with sand.

A village elder, Lemo, 73, said only a few water mills were functional when forest officials dismantled it. “The mills were useful for us and we requested officials not to dismantle them but it fell on deaf ears.”

She said some villagers who built cowsheds on the government land complained the chhuras have to be dismantled when the forest officials dismantled the cowsheds. “Some chhuras were used for centuries and dismantling was a bad idea.”

Another villager, Phub Lhamo, 60, said there is a water mill at Bumelo but it remains defunct most of the time because of water shortage. “It takes about four days to grind some 20 dreys (one drey is about three kgs) of wheat.

Villagers say they went to appeal to the agriculture minister not to dismantle the chhuras. “We couldn’t meet the minister and the forest officials dismantled it,” the tshogpa said. “We would be grateful if the government allows us to reconstruct the water mills.”

Nima Wangdi | Rukubji