Tonga (the horse cart not the country)

As a mode of public transport the tonga (horse drawn carriage) has all but disappeared from the scene in South Asia.  You might find them in small provincial towns or plying passengers from the highway to remote villages but as a way of getting around a major town, no. Auto rickshaws, taxis, scooters and even first class subway systems have pushed the humble tonga out of the urban landscape.

As a kid in Gadag, Karnataka, my mother used to take me to the bazar to do the weekly shopping in the back of a tonga sort of like the one above.  As you stepped  on to the step at the rear the whole carriage swung suddenly upwards. You had to have a good sense of balance to get settled.  But once you were the driver would crack his whip, click his tongue and twist the horse’s tail to get it into gear. The ride was extremely pleasant, a bit bumpy but in a soothing way and to me the clip clop of the horses hooves on the road was strangely reassuring.  The thing I’ve liked about this picture more than anything else is how it illustrates photographic intuition.  As you can see, I was attracted to the orange and blue colour of the tonga made all the warmer in the late afternoon sun.  And   the number ’42’, some sort of identification I assume, resonated with me. I once drove a taxi and during the hours I was on the job I was known not by my name but the number of my taxi, ’90’.   So I could relate.  But it was only after I got the picture developed that I noticed the colour scheme of the tonga replicated in the closed ticket booth in the background.  

I certainly wasn’t aware of that at the time and if the booth had been a different colour scheme the picture would have still worked. But that it matches the wheel and carriage just makes the image that little bit more complete.  They say, ‘don’t think too much, just go with your gut.’  When it comes to photography I am a complete believer. This sort of experience is not uncommon. I have many many images which were made with my physical eye on ‘x’ but with my intuitive eye on ‘x+y+z’. And inevitably those pictures are the richest.

This picture was made at that golden hour of dusk when it is nearly impossible to take a bad picture. To me this image has a peaceful sadness to it.  The tongas waiting. No one is coming. Their services are no longer required. Their time  has passed.  And indeed, this tonga stand in the heart of Raja bazar, Rawalpindi is no more.

2 thoughts on “Tonga (the horse cart not the country)

  1. A rare picture as the tongas have vanished .In Rawalpindi I used to ride or in jhelum as well.A good ride though slow anf smooth.

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