Timothy Tye's Travel Encyclopedia
Dhoby Ghaut, George Town

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Dhoby GhautDhoby Ghaut (13 January 2011)

Dhoby Ghaut is the site at the confluence of Sungai Air Itam and Sungai Air Terjun, from where Sungai Pinang emerges. It got its name from the ghaut, or stone steps built by Indian laundries.

Indian laundries have been operating here since the earliest days of Penang history. In the early 19th century, they were said to be headed by a laundry matron, whose real name is lost to time, but is generally known as Ranee Dhoby, meaning "laundry queen". Ranee Dhoby is said to have sold the William Edward Phillips the stretch of land on the south bank of the Sungai Pinang, paving the way for him to bring supplies by sampan for the construction of his mansion, known today as Suffolk House.

An old disused shrine at Dhoby GhautAn old disused shrine at Dhoby Ghaut (13 January, 2011)

The Dhoby Ghaut of George Town pre-dates the Dhoby Ghaut of Singapore. A decade or so after the trading port of Singapore was established by Stamford Raffles, Indian laundries similar to those in Penang established a washing area there with a similar name. Today it is within the Central Business District of Singapore, the location of the Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station.

Today the stone steps in Penang (and Singapore) are all but gone. In their place are concrete embankments. An old, abandoned shrine stands by the bank. It was probably built by the early laundries. The design, with the tringular niches for oil lamps, resemble that of South Indian architecture, similar to the Nagore Shrine. There are still a number of Hindu temples in the area, the biggest being the Dhoby Ghaut Temple and Sri Rama Temple.

Indian laundries are still operating at Dhoby Ghaut. You can see them as you pass along Jalan Air Itam. Their laundries continue to flutter in the breeze by the banks of Sungai Pinang and Sungai Air Terjun.


30 May 2012: Three laundries in Dhoby Ghaut were gutted by fire. Destroyed in the fire include a large amount of clothes, blankets, bedsheets, curtains as well as washing machines and dryers. The blaze is believed to have started at 1:00 in the morning. Although nobody was injured, it made 18 people homeless. Losses are estimated at around RM150,000.

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