The joy of a tonga ride

You don’t see it anymore now

Srinagar, Publish Date: Sep 18 2018 9:37PM | Updated Date: Sep 18 2018 9:37PM
The joy of a tonga rideFile Photo

With the advent of modernization coupled with the invention of new modes of transportation, the horse-drawn-cart (which in local parlance called Tonga) is almost going off the roads every passing day, barring the rural Kashmir where this pollution-free transportation is still alive though not up to the mark.


Once used to be the only mode of transportation, the Tongas were seen galloping everywhere – be it the Srinagar city or the far-flung rural areas ferrying the passengers from one place to another. Though galloping at slow speed, everyone used to enjoy this special ride.


But, this unique mode of traveling is going obsolete thanks to the modernization and new modes of transportation. Not a single tonga can be seen now in Srinagar city.


A well-known Kashmiri historian and poet Zareef Ahmad Zareef expresses that it was the ox-driven carts which were first introduced in Kashmir from Punjab. “They were called as yaks with a capacity of just two persons”, says Zareef. “There were only three districts in those times namely Baramulla, Muzaffarabad and Anantnag where the prime means of transportation was these yaks only”, he says.


He further said that the present day tonga was introduced from Peshawar in Kashmir in 1912 by Peshawar pathans. “That tonga was having the capacity of 4-5 persons which is well mentioned in safar-namaas”, he reveals. “Even the Maharajas here used to ferry in the tongas. From rural to urban to city areas, tongas was the only medium of transportation. The goods mostly salt, tea and textiles were taken from Rawalpandi on these carts till the autocratic rule in 1947 taking about three days of time”, the historian recalls.


However, he says, the tongas started to loose the glory in 1964-65 when people started to adopt modern means of travelling. “Today, we see everyone preferring to have the private vehicles”, he says adding that tongas, which were the pollution-free mode of transportation are breathing their last in the valley.


Considered to be the part of the Kashmiri culture, Tongas are almost obsolete now in Srinagar city and other urban areas of the valley, but they still run in some of the areas (villages) of the valley. Notably, in many areas of the valley, the tonga stands have been utterly converted into the auto and sumo stands thanks to the modernization.


The space for tongas throughout the valley is shrinking at a very fast pace forcing the tonga-wallas (cart pullers and owners) switch over to other vocations with auto or sumo buying being the most preferential one.


While as in the developed nation of England, the tongas still do exist there amid being used for royal marriages besides being considered as a royal ride by the commuters, but here in our valley, the picture is quite contrary to that. Here in early times, the brides and grooms were ferried on the occasion of marriages to their respective destinations on the colourful and decorated tongas. The tongas during those times were of high value.


For the tonga-wallas at apple-town Sopore of Baramulla district, the government, just few years back, in a witting attempt to remove the tonga-culture from the cultural map of valley, coaxed the tonga-wallas to shun the tongas and drive autos. The tongas were replaced by three-wheelers by the authorities citing the reasons of creating nuisance of traffic jams due to slow speed of tongas, foul smell emanating from the muck of the horses on roads and the like. Here in Sopore, it was the ‘only’ tongas which used to ferry the disciples from Main Chowk to the revered and spiritual saint late Ahad Baba (alais Ahad Bab) at Nowpora who expired few years back.


Only a handful of tongas could now be seen plying on the Sopore roads in the villages like Saidpora, Dangerpora, Noorbagh, Doru etc. The situation is not so different in the other parts of the valley where the tongas are fast going off the roads.


While in Sopore, it was the government who marred the tongas, in other towns of the valley, the tonga-wallas are themselves shunning the tongas and going for other businesses.


With the launching of auto, sumo and tempo services in almost all the parts of the valley, the tonga-wallas business has come under great threat forcing most of them to leave this business and go for some other vocations.


Only a few years before, hundreds of Tongas could be seen running to and fro the roads in Anantnag, Kupwara, Handwara, Bandipora, Ganderbal and other districts. Besides carrying passengers from one place to another, Tongas were also of great help to carry goods to different destinations.

 People say that they do not now prefer to travel by Tongas as it is time-consuming. “Earlier, when there were no means of transport around, we used to reach our destination by Tongas, but with the mammoth development in the field of transportation, we now prefer other services which besides costing us less, saves our time too”, said a daily traveller, Peer Shagufta, a teacher by profession. She was quick to add that tonga ride was an enjoyable medium of ride for the people in the recent past.


Here is that a stand located at Duderhama Chowk in Ganderbal district which was the historic stand of tonga wallas only few years back has been utterly converted into the stand for autos and sumos and same is the case with many other such stands in other parts of the valley.


(Sofi Imtiyaz works in JK Bank and is presently posted at Business unit Tullamulla Gandarbal)


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