“We barely manage to feed our family, so how can we repay the loans?” says Ghulam Ahmad Sheikh, a tonga puller in Islamabad.
“We can’t be befooled by the empty promises of the government. If we stop this occupation, what is the alternative other than dying of hunger? Loans sanctioned can never be returned back by poor people like us,” says Ghulam Hussain, a Tonga driver from Chirhama Islamabad. “If the government is thinking of banning the tonga service, then it should think of other alternatives like providing vehicles free of cost or employment to one of our family members.”
Tonga drivers say that feeding a horse per day cists Rs 100. “Despite toiling hard, a Tonga driver barely makes 150 rupees a day,” says Ghulam Mohammad Wagay, President Tonga Drivers Association Islamabad while dismissing the allegation of traffic jams by Tongas.
“The number of vehicles have increased so much that the shrinking roads are insufficient to tackle their rush. We are just a hundred or so in number, how come we block all the roads?” Till late eighties, there were at least 500 Tongas plying on the roads of Islamabad.
Being cheap and pollution free mode of transport, it was once the most sought after conveyance. Now very few people ride Tongas.
There are four Tonga stands in Islamabad town, one each near Mattan Adda, SRTC Bus Stand, Janglat Mandi and Khanabal. Government is building a shopping mall at erstwhile SRTC Bus Stand and Tongas have been forced to stand on the edge of the road to look for passengers.
“Most of the people may not like to travel in Tongas citing fast life, globalization and sometimes their status as the reason, but then their children force them to take this adventurous ride,” says Shabir, a young Tonga driver.
Parents of four-year-old Aamir from Srinagar, make it sure that their son enjoys a ride from Mattan Adda to Anchidora neighbourhood of Islamabad every time he visits his grandfather’s home.
“We travel by Tonga whenever we visit Islamabad as our son forces us. Tonga is a new thing for him,” said Aamir’s mother.
Few still enjoy travelling by this steady but convenient and cheap mode of transport.
“I always travel in the town by a Tonga, as it is far more comfortable than a mini-bus, which is overloaded most of the times. Besides, it doesn’t give jerks like auto rickshaw or a minibus,” says Naira Patiguru, a resident of Achajipora.
Abdul Rashid of Sarnal too prefers the Tonga. “In summers, it feels good to travel by a Tonga as it makes you enjoy fresh air and we get rid of the suffocation of the mini-buses,” says Rashid. “Besides, I manage to save few bucks too,” he adds.