Sunday, October 7, 2012



                                                 ( A Tonga in Amira Kadal srinagar in 1960 )
                                                          ( Tonga Adda  in Srinagar )

                                                     ( A Tonga Adda in srinagar city  1950 )



While moving through  interior  roads in Srinagar city, a Tongawalla would always keep crying in chaste Kashmiri :-

“Hey raaz baayee, buch saa ”

“Hey bobu ji, buch saa ”

“Hey shooshaa…. , hey Jigraa…. lobh Khuss ”

“Hey khwaajaa saeb,  hatai benee ,  hataa bee zar chhuyee .”

“O! Redda,hey cycle, hosha hosh ha sa , bacho bacho ”


“You queen like women, save yourself ”

“You Pandit Ji, save yourself ”

“ My lungs like dear pedestrian, my liver like dear traveller, move aside ”

“You Khwaja Sahib, you sister, you woman! Are you hard of hearing ?”

“ You Reddi man, you man with a bicycle, take care, save yourself ”

These words were often heard when we walked through the winding roads of  Srinagar city that were always busy with Tonga traffic.  Tonga happened to be the major source of transport in Kashmir. Tongas would take you to Anantnag from Srinagar city and vice versa. You could go to Baramulla or Sopore. You could have a full Tonga for the individual ride. You had to hire a full Tonga to catch the morning bus to Jammu from any area in Srinagar city. And for that, you had to fix up with the Tongawalla one day earlier. Sometime the Tongawalla would remind a prospective  Jammu traveller like this:-

" Kyaa mahraa prasthaan ma chhuva kaddun. Saath chha pagaah . "

" Pandit Ji, do You want to hand over some belonging as Prasthaan? Is tomorrow an auspicious day for the journey. "

And if the Journey day was not auspicious, a pair of socks or a shirt to be put on the journey day was promptly handed over to the Tongawalla. Kashmiri Pandits consulted a Jantri or Almanac to look for a suitable and auspicious day for their journey in different directions.

Before the motor vehicles started plying on Jhelum Valley Road linking Kashmir with Rawalpindi, Tongas would be there to carry passengers on this long and arduous journey. However, Tongas on Jhelum Valley Road and later Banihal Cart Road would ply from May to October only.

In Srinagar city, we saw Tongas plying on all major routes. One could go to Chattabal, Zainakadal, Barzulla, Rainawari, Dargah, Pampore, Batmaloo, Nowhatta, Safa Kadal, Ali Kadal as also to adjoining areas like Ganderbal, Budgam, Pattan, Harwan, Pampore and many more places close to Srinagar city in a Tonga. Many elders have informed me that special horses would be brought to Srinagar from Peshawar while some elegant Tongas would come from Lahore. I have also been informed that Pathans would ply Tongas in Srinagar city before locals entered this profession.

I have also travelled extensively in Tongas from Rainawari to Habba Kadal ( Braikujan ) or from Lal Chowk to Zaina Kadal. I always preferred to occupy the front seat. You had a double advantage on this seat. One; you enjoyed the gossip of the Tongawalla. Two; you were privy to the whistles or the words that the Tongawalla used to communicate with the horse and force the animal to gallop. Sometimes, the horse indulged in some frightening activities like bucking forelegs up in the air and making violent noise. And at that moment, the passengers, especially sitting on the front seat felt terrified. Some travellers would jump down from Tonga in fright. At that moment, the Tongawalla would always start reassuring the passengers that all was okay and there was no need to panic.

" Beh sa. Yi chhu karaan Hodd."

"Sit! Sit! This animal is playing tricks."

Some times when the horse would be under full control, The Tongawalla would sing a Kashmiri or Hindi film song. He would also light up a cigarette and start gossiping with the passenger on the front seat.

I disliked travelling on the back seat. You had to bend your body while sitting on the back seat. That gave a little discomfort. You could keep anything under the Tonga seats but it had also to be held by hand as it usually slipped and came near the footrest of the back seat. Lash was always used to make the animal gallop. I vividly remember the galloping near Sathu Bar Bar Shah or Near Gawa Kadal ( Badiyaar Bala ) by Rainawari and Habba Kadal Tongas respectively. Should the animal refuse to gallop, the Tongawalla would cry:-


“What has happened to you? I shall skin you off ” 

Some times some elderly persons sitting on the Tonga would take pity and request the Tongawalla to stop lashing the poor animal. The Tongawalla would say:-

“ Pandit Ji Ye chhu vaen Chaal Baazi Karaan . Baa Tchhenunn Kaenithh ”

“Pandit Ji, this animal is playing tricks with me. I shall now sell it .”

Sometimes the lash known as Kamachaa or Chhanta locally would be taken away by the policeman. The Tongawalla would dig out a 25 paisa coin from his pocket to be handed over tactfully to the policeman for the release of the lash. There used to be many shops in the city dealing in Tonga parts. Some would do repair work. Many shops would present a painful scene with a horse standing and the iron shoe being nailed to its foot. Some Tongas had bells. Some Tongas had evening lights as well. Then one day suddenly it was decided to give small buses to Tongawallas. They were allocated a stand near the Telegraph office. This Adda was known as Tongawalla Bus Adda. Those who were used to a lash now used their hands to steer wheels. The Tongawalla buses had about 24 seats.

The nearby *KMDA bus drivers would look down upon Tongawalla Adda drivers calling them Kamachaa drivers. There used to be many skirmishes between the two driver groups.

The Tonga Adda of Surrateng in Rainawari had a smart and young Tongawalla Mohd Yusuf by name. Yusuf had many friends among Kashmiri Pandit boys of Rainawari with whom he would go to see Hollywood movies. A great fan of Omar Sharif, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kumar and Rajindra Kumar, Yusuf was also nicknamed as “Yusuf Angrez “ by some people from Rainawari. Sitting on his Tonga was a pleasure. He would entertain his passengers with Bollywood film stories. Apart from that, he would also sing old film songs of Mohammad Rafi. Yusuf did not indulge in animal beating to force the horse to gallop. At Bar Bar Shah slope, he would get down from the Tonga and help the animal to go up the slope slowly. In 2009, I came to know that Yusuf had died in some accident. So unfortunate. I still remember his smiling and friendly face.

Shri G H Mir Lasjan has informed me this:-

"In Amirakadal, where we have hotel Lala Rukh presently, there was pomegranate orchard with wooden fencing around it. It had a gate on its western end. On the northern side, inside this orchard was a huge tank made of Devri stone filled with water. This orchard served as the main Tonga Adda of Lal Chowk. Tongas carrying passengers coming from various places would come for parking in this Adda after the passengers got down outside the gate. The Tongawallas would take their tired and thirsty horses to the stone tank for getting the animals refreshed and ready for the next trip. Just outside the Tonga stand gate, on both sides were tea sellers who used to have a Kashmiri Samovar(copper) containing Noon Chai and a basket full of Kashmiri bread. These people( known as CHAYA or CHAYAS ) would charge one Aana (coin) for a cup of tea with Kashmiri bread."

Tonga has almost vanished from our cities. In the countryside, it is being knocked out by matadors and other automobiles. Tonga Addas in our cities have become shopping arcades. No scope to ride a full Tonga. Not possible to see a galloping Tonga horse on Dal Lake Boulevard anymore. Tonga is no more shown in films either in song sequences or otherwise. We have failed to protect it as heritage.

Now that Tongas have practically vanished from Srinagar city, one can still enjoy the Tonga journey should one visit Baramulla, Sopore, Anantnag or any other town in the valley where these continue to ply with a worn-out glory of the past.

In Europe and the US, horse carriages have heritage value. Decorated horse carriages are extensively put to use in the tourist industry. I saw a permanent Tonga or Horse Carriage stand outside 5th Avenue entrance of Central Park in Upper Manhattan. I spoke to some Tongawallas (Angrez) who were smartly dressed.                           

" We carry tourists inside the park and show them various spots of interest. We need to remain well informed about everything inside. "                               

The horse carriage is a luxury in the US. Not all tourists can afford.$ 120 for a 45 minutes ride. A 45minute flight ticket to Boston from New York costs you around $70. These carriage owners also communicate with the animal through whistles and typical words like:-

" No, No Buddy, No......",

" Hip Hip "

" Not that, Not that" And many more.

At any place in the US, I didn't see the animal being beaten by a whip and made to gallop or move as desired. On Broadway street, I saw a Bank advertisement on a horse carriage. I also came to know that some " Animal Rights Group " is agitating and pressing the government to ban on the use of horse carriages in New York.

                                         ( A Horsecart on Broadway Street ..Photo Avtar Mota )
    ( A Tonga stand outside Central Park, Manhattan, New York. Photo .. Avtar Mota )

           ( A Tonga inside Central Park, Manhattan, New York. Photo .. Avtar Mota )

I conclude this post with a couplet of Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri:


Sunatey hain ishq naam ke guzarein hain ikk buzurg

Hum log bhi faqeer issi silsilay ke hain....""

( Firaq Gorakhpuri )

(There once lived, we hear, a revered elder:" Love ",

We too have descended from the same Saintly Clan…..)


( Avtar Mota )



*KMDA stands for Kashmir Motor Drivers Association. This transport company operates the largest fleet of buses in the Kashmir.

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