The slowly dying traditional art of dry cleaning in Kashmir still thrives beyond the confines of climates along the bustling bridges spread across the Srinagar city. The entire process functions very much like its contemporary machine-based equivalents, being the predecessor and the bearer of the legacy.
Dhobis are traditional laundry workers who wash Shawls by hand and dry them in the sun, a profession which has been in existence in Kashmir for generations.
They wash shawls and clothes on the banks of the River Jhelum at many places across Srinagar city.
Whenever a shawl, a dress, a Pheran etc, is sent for the dry cleaning, it ends up at one of the few places in Kashmir where dry cleaning is still an art. The raw fabric that comes out of the cloth-mills ends up a finished product, and shining in our homes after a rigorous washing, and ironing process.
After wee hours of dawn, the men who still carry on this generations-long legacy of hand-based dry cleaning, march towards the steps of the banks adjacent to Aali Kadal, cleaning hundreds of clothes by the day, ready to be sent into the markets for our consumption.
The raw cloth is first rinsed with hot water which is stored in a cylindrical furnace. This works very much like the Kashmiri Samovar, with burning coal keeping the liquid hot throughout this entire ordeal.
The cloth is then repeatedly rinsed in the waters of the flowing river from time to time. During this process, the fabric is folded, squeezed, and beaten on the ground with a clean wet jute bag cushioning the impact, cherishing the delicacy of the thread.
Followed with another rinse with cold water, the clothes are then placed in huge stone or plastic buckets, mixed with bleach and detergent, and the stomped on with feet for a good minutes long duration.
To make sure there are no stains left in the otherwise perfect cloth, they are then carefully and individually scrutinised for stains that might be left. These are then brushed off with more detergent and warm water.
Just like the modern washing machines spin and remove the excess water in the cloth, these Dhobis have a manual-mechanic cauldron which they spin, removing the water out of the clothes through an outlet.
The clothes are then dried on the overhanging railings of the Safa Kadal before being sent to the ironing house.
This fabric is passed through a giant roller which is hot enough to remove the residual water in the form of steam.
From here, the clothes are then folder and sent into the markets, ready to be sold.