Return to the Dhobi Khana

Don’t like doing laundry?  These people earn a living doing laundry the old-fashioned way.  At various “dhobi khanas” in India, washing clothes – but more often things like sheets, towels, and occasionally uniforms – is still done by hand at facilities like this one by “dhobis” – who have been doing this for generations.

This particular dhobi khana or “dhobi ghat” is said to be India’s second largest, and Chennai’s oldest – dating from 1902 – with 128 washing stones and over 1,000 dhobis.  I came here previously in February with some old cameras and took black-and-white photos – this time I brought a digital camera and a quadcopter to overfly the area.  Unfortunately, the copter shut off during filming (stray wi-fi signals???) but you can get an idea of what the place looks like from the minute or so shown below.

Posing with Sheets

This lady folds blankets and sheets. Small hotels and hospitals are among the customers of this dhobi khana.

Stain Removal


Washing Clothes

Washing Clothes

Washing Clothes

The work is anything but easy – it’s backbreaking. There is some relief from a cup of Indian coffee with lots of milk and sugar, poured from a height the traditional way to make it frothy.

Kaapi Wala

The work is a family effort.

Family Affair


Husband and Wife

Pump Pose

And here the video:

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4 Responses to Return to the Dhobi Khana

  1. John Elliott says:

    I enjoyed the quadcopter scene and the calm reactions of the workers to it. Do you typically speak to locals in Hindi or Tamil or English? Also is there any way to get a sharper video image? Is cam a GoPro?

  2. Tom (Admin) says:

    Many locals struggle with English, but with lots of gesturing and a bit of Tamil we make it work. The camera is a GoPro, but the resolution is set pretty low and it has also been rendered through a video editor at pretty low res to be slow-internet-speed-friendly

  3. prithvi says:

    nice pictures. and quadcopter was good. How do you get permission to go and take photos? do you have to contact anyone in particular?

  4. Tom (Admin) says:

    The guy who organized the photowalk for us coordinated with a representative of the community. You definitely have to get permission. If you contact Jaya Kumar, owner of the Smart Shoppers camera shop in Egmore (Pantheon Road) – that is the guy who set up the walk and should be able to help you further.

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