Once the main mode of public transport in this cultural capital of Karnataka, tongas are giving up the ghost.
The horse-drawn, two-wheeled buggies are becoming fewer, the horses are getting ancient and there are few mechanics around to repair the carts which remain popular with foreign tourists who visit Mysore.
Till three decades ago, tongas were the default public transport in Mysore. Though the carts reeked with the smell of grass and horse sweat, the softly creaking wheels covered with rubber tyres, provided for a smooth ride.
The advent of mechanised public transport such as buses and autos and the explosion of private transport vehicles in the form of two-wheelers in the seventies, and cars over the past two decades, have spelt the death knell for tonga. The few that are left are looked upon with amusement by the younger generation, and mainly used by tourists for rides around the Amba Vilas palace.
“We get to see glimpses of our glorious past only during the 10 days of Dasara, when we are given uniforms, some funding to deck up our carts and the horses, but after that, it is back to the depressing reality – our horses get to eat half of what they need to and our families often go hungry,” Mohammad Pasha, who owns a tonga, told dna.
The Dasara committee has fixed a sum of Rs50 for a tonga ride carrying four adults besides the driver around Amba Vilas palace, – a distance of two kilometres. Tonga drivers say Rs100 would have been appropriate, considering the costs.
“We get horses from Hubli or Gulburga paying not less than Rs50,000, The daily nutrition of the horse and maintenance of the cart take away Rs300 a day,” said Akbar Ali. Luckily there are only 30 tongas in Mysore, so every tonga gets custom, but just enough for sustenance, he said.
However, the government has hired the more elegant Victorias, known locally as Sarots, that are drawn by robust horses, and the high-spending tourists prefer these to tongas. Besides, Victorias have four wheels, making them stable and safer.