Mysore/Mysuru: We are under lockdown 4.0 and most of the businesses including the long-closed salons and beauty parlours have opened up for business. However, there is one business, a famed one in Mysuru that too, the Tonga ride business which is in dire straits and is desperate for a revival package. With no tourists and with not even an indication of tourist arrival in the coming days, these Tongawallahs are staring at an uncertain future.
Many of them do not know any other work except their age-old profession of taking tourists on a jolly ride or taking care of their animals. And they cannot even switch to any other profession during this time of a crisis, induced by an invisible creature we all call Coronavirus.
Ever since the nationwide lockdown was imposed, life was tough for these Tongawallahs who depend on daily earnings to not only feed themselves and their families but also the horses. They somehow managed for some days with the food and grocery kits supplied by charity organisations and some political activists. Now that too have stopped as all other businesses are open. Their life has not yet come back to track.
These Tongas have stood the test of time and remain very much a part of the city’s culture even to this day. With bright colours, LED lights and a canopy above to make the passengers comfortable, one can take a tour of the city including visit to important places like the Mysore Palace, Jaganmohan Palace, Lalitha Mahal Palace, Zoo and other tourist spots.
Summer and Dasara are the two seasons where they make most money in a year. This summer is a washout thanks to lockdown. Completely dependent on their horses for livelihood, they used to earn Rs. 800 to Rs. 1500 a day during summer. “Now there is no food for us and for our horses and we cannot do any other work. The tourism industry is closed and only now, the flights are operating. Still, it may take another year or so for the tourists to arrive in Mysuru,” says Akram, a Tongawallah.
“I was at home for 2 months without work and I have not paid my rent. If the school season starts, I need at least Rs. 10,000 for school fees. Where will I go? The Government should announce a financial package for Tongawallahs too,” he demands.
There are over 50 Tongas in Mysuru and 30 of them are ordinary Tongas and the rest are Sarot Tongas. Per day earning is spent on horse feed, grass, horse-shoe and they used to take home Rs. 500.
“We need around Rs. 150 to Rs. 200 per day to maintain the horses. Now we are feeding maximum water to horses as there is no money to buy feed or grass. We are also spending most of our days loitering around and sleeping inside horse shelters,” says Nagaraj, who has been a Tongawallah for over 20 years.
Tonga stands have been established near People’s Park, Agrahara Circle and near Kukkarahalli Lake. “We can somehow manage our food by eating gruel. These horses need green grass, horse gram and a bit of fruits daily. Sometimes we get discarded vegetables and fruits from market. Unfortunately, these are not available readily now and we have to wait at least for 4 hours to get a small quantity of them. At least if the Government, through the Tourism Department can arrange for daily feed for horses we can sustain. We increase the brand value of Tourism Department every tourist season. At least they can do this much for the animals,” Nagaraj says.