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Tanga Passengers

In the twenty-first century when faster transportation is abundant, a section of the population still prefer the slow motion, eco-friendly Tanga and those running them are not unhappy at all, reports Umar Khurshid

Tonga owners in Anantnag run routine services within short distances now. KL Image: Umar Khursheed

Tanga (also written as Tonga) might have been phased out but certain places still use it for short commute travels. It is still a mode of transport in Anantnag.

Gulam Mohidin Dar, 65, from the main town heads the Tanga Association in Mattan Adda. Once a 150-member association, it is reduced to now 20 Tanga’s. He said he earns Rs 4-500 a day and part of it goes to fund the fodder for his horse.

Mohidin is not dissatisfied with his earnings. His worries are different. “Earlier if there were less earning there were fewer expenses,” he said. “But I am thankful to Allah that I still earn.”

Three Buses In South

Fed on memories of his father and grandfather, Ghulam Hassan Wagay has been running his Tanga for almost half a century. He knows the stories of the British marriages and the Bollywood shooting involving the Tangas. “Then, the entire Anantnag district had three buses,” Wagay said. “We were like a taxi service. We would be called during nights to manage health emergencies.”

Kashmir’s transport story has been interesting. For most of its history, it was the river. Then people used to have their personal horses and ponies for the load. Towards the latter part of the nineteenth century came the horse-driven carriages, called the Tanga. It was the time when Kashmir had like Kolkatta man-driven carts. It was the abundance of those human-driven Tangas (in which man was put in place of a horse) that history has recorded that in Kashmir manpower sells at half of the horse-power.

Once a Royal Ride, Tanga gradually became public transport. They would manage everything from Bollywood shooting to the movement of the bureaucracy. Even now, a high-end hotel in Srinagar owns a luxury Tanga.

Mohidin remembers the time when his father who was also a Tanga driver took him along to see the wedding ceremony, “The bride sat in the rear seat while the groom would sit with the driver on the front seat.”

At one point of time, it was Tanga plying on long routes, taking people to Pahalgam, Dochnipora, and to Kulgam. In special cases, these Tongas will go to Jammu as well but that was a long-distance journey taking many days.

Dented By Faster Means

Gulzar Ahmed Wagay, 55, is another Tanga driver, and the sole bread-winner of his family, living in Sarnal. He has inherited his profession from his father.

“We used to go to all the long routes like Seer, Aishmuqam, Mattan, Bijbehara, Acchabal and Kokernag and other far-flung areas but now we have just one route which is Mattan Adda to, Sarnal or Anchidora that fetches Rs 7, per head,” Gulzar said. The main interruption came from the Tata Sumo and the fast life forcing people to use quicker transportation on the best roads that were laid. “At one point in time, we used to spend Rs 2 on the fodder of our animal, now it is Rs 200.”

These drivers put in serious efforts to run their families. Tanga may not be in vogue but they are doing whatever it takes to run their families using this discarded transport. Ghulam Ahmed Bhat, 58, a resident of Seer is one of them. He is raising a 10-member family with his earnings as a Tanga driver.  “My son is a carpenter and is helping but his earnings are modest,” Bhat said.

Bhat is a third-generation Tanga driver with experience of 40 years in driving people around. But he says the quicker transport systems like auto and Sumo has taken away the entire sector.

Amazing Bonds

What is amazing is that most of the Tonga drivers in Mattan bus stand are satisfied with their earnings. “Our fares were revised from Rs 3 to Rs 7, which is perhaps lesser than what a bus takes for the first stop,” Ghulam Ahmed said. The low fares were the key factor forcing some of them to own auto rickshaws. They purchased three-wheelers under a loan linked scheme to which traditional Tanga drivers took a strong note. “At least this job is not keeping us indebted to the bank,” they would argue.

Since most of the population have switched over to the fast means of transport, these Tanga drivers have a dedicated section of the population that has grown with them. These are women who are used to travelling on their carts because it gives an assured place to sit, no tensions of overloading and ease in managing travel. This population, however, is reducing.

A commuter while taking a ride on Tanga in Mattan Adda, Hafeeza Begum, 55, with her four-year granddaughter said she always prefers to take a Tanga ride because they feel Tanga is more comfortable and cheap. “The Tanga fare has always remained the same since I was married here,” Hafeeza said. “It has gone up to Rs 7 only.”

The best part Hafeeza likes about the Tanga ride is that it is for short commute travels and they stop anywhere they see a passenger or a passenger wants them to stop  “taking a ride into Tanga means you imagine yourself as a member of the royal family,” feels Hafeeza. The commuters do admit that the Tanga is not a hazardous way of movement as the cars and buses are. Sections from the newer generation take occasional rides just for the sake of the tuk tuk noise of the horse run.

Fading Fortunes

The fading away of the Tanga has impacted a wider activity. Gull Mohammad, 60, a resident of Aang Matipora, is a master Tanga mechanic. He operates from near a bridge in his area.

“I am in this profession for the past 30 years,” he said, insisting that he has inherited the skill from his forefathers.  Insisting that once his profession was once a roaring business but not any more. “Now, I only make Rs 100 per day. Tell me, how can I feed my family with such a meagre income?” he asks.

A section of people does use the eco-friendly, cheap but time-consuming Tonga service in Anantnag. KL Image: Umar Khursheed

Earlier he had a workshop in the main market. Then the numbers of the Tanags fell and finally, he left the town.

Even though the numbers have gone down, the traffic managers have issues. “They (tanga) are always in motion so they do not jam the roads but their capacity in permitting the fast-moving vehicles to overtake them is a crisis,” one cop said.

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