Ancient Transport Modes – what was used and when
People travelled from place to place in various contraptions, most of which we no longer use. From palanquins to horse drawn entourage, most modes of transport have become redundant. Some have however, survived the onslaught of time and still occupies a favourable place in India’s cultural and regional psyche.
Here is a list of ancient transport modes of transport in India, which have been around for longer than you can ever imagine. Whenever you travel across the country, hop on to these to experience history and relive the past.
House Boats and Canoes in Kerala and the Dal Lake
These boats have been around from as far back as 3000 BC. Kerala’s long coastline makes boats and canoes imperative for local transport since ancient times. The State has a well-connected network of boats between Kochi, Alappuzha (Alleppey), Kollam, to Trivandrum, which is used by students and daily workers. Houseboats are important because it provides accessibility to the most remote areas in the backwaters and allows residents to halt nights in far out locations. Besides being a major tourist attraction, these ancient transport modes comprising the boats are the only environment friendly, reasonable and reliable mode of transport for locals.
Similar to this is the houseboats on the Dal Lake. Unlike the houseboats in Kerala that are constantly moving, the houseboats in Srinagar, are stationary and moored at the edges of the Dal Lake and Nageen lakes. Some of the houseboats there were built in the early 1900s are still being rented out to tourists who visit Dal Lake. These ancient transport modes comprising the houseboats are made of wood with intricate designed wood panelling and come in different sizes. But, with the the lake rapidly shrinking, the relevance houseboats are on the decline.
Tanga/Tonga in parts of UP and Karnataka
Introduced in India in the latter half of 17th century, horse-drawn, wooden carriage has been an important and widely used mode of transportation. The cheap and environment friendly mode of transport, the tanga needs a comeback. Rarely encouraged on Indian roads, with traffic police officers berating tanga drivers with claims that tangas add to the chaos that make traffic management a difficult proposition. Despite odds, the ancient transport modes comprising the tanga is still visible in many areas of India. In Dharwad till recently tanga was the only available mode of transport.
Trams of Kolkata
Introduced in the early 19th century, Kolkata is the only city in India where trams run even today. It is part of Kolkata’s landscape and dedicatedly used by many city commuters. Once trams were a part of Mumbai, Madras and Delhi too, however, they are no longer used here. In fact, Mumbai was home to double-decker trams as well, but it waved its final goodbye to trams sometime in 1964. Interestingly, Madras was the first city to run electric tramways while horse run trams were used in Patna.
Hath Rickshaw in Kolkata
Although the contraption seems more ancient, the hath rickshaw was introduced in Kolkata in the latter part of the 19th Century, and is a reflection of the city’s colonial past. Hand-pulled rickshaws have witnessed turbulent changes in the city for over 100 years. Although the hath rickshaw has been replaced in most places by the cycle rickshaw, some places continue to use it as a viable alternative, especially in the crowded and narrow bylanes of the city. This light-weight, wooden rickshaws is pulled by sturdy men though crowded and narrow lanes. The local Government of Bengal has plans to do away these rickshaws and replace them with battery operated vehicles as part of a rehabilitation plan for the rickshaw pullers.
Chhakda in Gujarat
Another interesting contraption, the motorcycle trolley and a multiple-use vehicle that requires negligible maintenance, was put together around the end of the 19th century. It can carry upto 30 passengers and has high fuel efficiency and can be fitted with a canopy on sunny days. Even after 30 years, life without the chhakda is almost unimaginable in Saurashtra.
Estimates suggest that nearly 18 lakh people use chhakdas for commuting every day in Gujarat and those as many as seven lakh families earn a living from the chhakda. Recently, the Gujarat Government gave the Chhakda the official status of passenger vehicle for rural areas. However, it is being used for over three decades to transport people and goods from one village to another. Chhakda owners take great pride in painting their three legged vehicles bright to stand out amongst other vehicles on the dusty lanes.
Narrow gauge trains/toy
Toy trains are basically small trains that run on historic mountain railway lines, built by the British in the late 19th and 20th century with the sole purpose accessing their hill settlements. There trains are slow and can take up to eight hours to reach their destinations. Three still functioning mountain railways in India are given the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site namely Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Kalka–Shimla Railway and Nilgiri Mountain Railway.
The Darjeeling toy train, also known as the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, is one of the oldest of India’s historic mountain railways. It transports passengers through the lower reaches of the Eastern Himalayas to the hills in Darjeeling. The toy train has been running for over 100 years now.