Sound of Tonga wheels and brisk hooves fading in Baramulla

Sound of Tonga wheels and brisk hooves fading in Baramulla
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AFRA FATHIMA

BARAMULLA: Apart from the usual market buzz, the tinkle of bells and the creaking of cartwheels grab the attention when one enters the town of Baramulla. I was surprised to find horse carts here, some decorated with bells, lined up along the road while some were on their way to drop customers at their respective destinations. Although the Tanga, the traditional horse-drawn carriage, is still in use, this once-ubiquitous means of transport is now mainly confined to rural North India, with modern mechanized vehicles having driven carriages into decline elsewhere.
On a visit to main town Baramulla, however, I was intrigued to spot only a few auto rickshaws on the road as compared to the horse-drawn vehicles. I took a ride in one, from the bus stand to Gulnar Park, to strike up a conversation with the coachman to learn more about them. I presumed that locals enjoy these rides more than those in autos and that the autos’ business must be in decline, but it turned out to be the other way around.
Mushtaq Ahmad, a coachman with sunken eyes and a bright smile, said, “There used to be an enormous number of Tangas in Baramulla, but now only a few remain. The introduction of automobiles has had a great impact on our business. I am, nevertheless, happy that some people still prefer riding on these carts, mainly because they find it fun and enjoyable. If a few tourists happen to visit this place, they find Tangas amusing. It is not only for the sake of business that I want this to survive but also as a mark of our marvellous history.”
Once found in huge numbers in every city, the Tanga was the most sought-after mode of transport until the automobile arrived. While its existence has now shrunk to the villages and small towns of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, a number of people continue to depend on it for their livelihoods. “The expense of running a Tanga has gone up, and it is sometimes difficult to manage because a minimum Rs 200 is spent every day on the horse alone,” said Mushtaq. “Not every day is a working day, strikes and restrictions incur losses, so that adds to the expense too.” According to the coachmen, the cost of maintaining a Tanga horse is about Rs 7,500 a month, excluding shoeing charges.
Driving horse carriages for around 20 years now, Mushtaq feels that in the coming years this traditional way of transportation may struggle to survive. However, he added, “I am happy and content with this job.” I asked a few locals about how many of them personally prefer the horse carriages. Most people like the Tanga but they find it slow and time-consuming. “Many prefer auto rickshaws solely for their efficiency,” said Ghulam Mohammad, a local resident. “Lives are becoming busy, and everyone’s in a hurry. As I remember, coachmen never had leisure time; instead they would be tired out at the end of the day with the number of rides. Now, we see empty carriages, moving on the roads.”
It was, however, moving to see the coachmen showed no sign of being disheartened, but rather they were happy and calm.