They say they are hardly able to make ends meet
: Long before autorickshaws and call taxis competed with each in Mysore, tongas or horse-drawn carriages were the chief mode of transportation in the city.
Even though the motorised rickshaws gradually pushed horse-drawn carriages out of contention over the last three to four decades, about 70 tongas including 10 Sarots — the four-wheeled chariots — still ply on the roads of Mysore.
Hired mostly for pleasure rides by tourists, the horse-drawn carriages — the smaller two-wheeled Shahpasand tongas and larger four-wheeled Sarots — appear to blend well with the city’s heritage surroundings.
“These tongas still fascinate tourists. These tongas, which were the only mode of transportation for the general public during the days of Maharajas, are parked in front of the Mysore palace as they serve to provide a glimpse of the past,” said Mukhthiyar, a tour guide.
Sadiq, who owns a Sarot, fitted with a music system and serial lights that glow in the night, said he charges Rs. 300 for a ride that takes people on the roads around the Mysore palace. “At least six to eight people can sit in this carriage. Though I make about Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 1,500 a day during tourist season like Dasara, I end up spending Rs. 300 to feed the horse,” he said.
Most people owning a Sarot in Mysore have bought it through a loan made available by the Mysore City Corporation. “About Rs. 3,300 goes towards servicing the loan every month,” said Mubarak, another tonga rider.
Mr. Mubarak, incidentally, lost his hand in an accident three years ago. “A KSRTC bus hit me. The case is still pending in court and I am yet to receive compensation. I continue to ride the tonga with one hand and receive Rs. 200 per day from the owner,” he said.
Sarots, however, are better off than ordinary Shahpasand tongas, which vie with one another to attract customers. “Most people prefer the Sarot even though we offer rides for as low as Rs. 50,” said 60-year-old Das, who has been riding a tonga for several decades now. “I have been riding a tonga since the days when one had to obtain a license from the City Corporation. The going is tough now. I barely make Rs. 100 to Rs. 120 a day,” he added.
Mr. Das said their source of livelihood was hit from the time autorickshaws hit the roads a couple of decades ago. Ironically, autos, which almost phased out tongas, are now facing the heat from call taxis, which were recently intorduced in Mysore.