City Moment – Tonga Riders, Outside Zakir Husain Delhi College
Commuting into the past.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
At least a dozen people are seated on the orange tonga. Most are women and children. The white horse is quiet.
One white-hot afternoon The Delhi Walla comes across a horse-driven carriage just outside Zakir Husain Delhi College.
Until a few years ago tongas were as common as rickshaws in our city. For instance, they regularly plied between the Old Delhi railway station and the New Delhi railway station. The clip-clop sound of the hooves used to be an integral part of the city’s traffic sounds.
I once took a tonga ride and described the memorebale experience here, saying:
Not a popular commuting option any longer, the tongas are found in old neighbourhoods such as Kashmere Gate, Sadar Bazaar and Daryaganj. Evenings and nights are the best time for a joy ride. Like in the magical world of Harry Potter, the tonga trots on giving an illusion of poles, trees and houses hopping aside to clear the way for the moody mare to chart her own course. It jolts the passengers, splashes over puddles, overtakes buses, gets honked at by SUVs and jumps the traffic lights.
That world ended in 2011 when the Municipal Corporation of Delhi banned the tongas to ease traffic.
Sighting a tonga is rare these days. The passengers of this tonga, however, do not seem to be excited about this extinct mode of transport. They are behaving as if they are trying to fit inside just another family Suzuki.
Finally, all the women and children are settled–one woman is seated on the footrest. The tonga walla raises a cry. The quiet white horse begins to move. That old clip-clop sound can again be heard. It is a beautiful moment.