To travel is to progress
Saurashtra and Kutch, parts of Gujarat, are India's Western most region. Saurashtra is also one of India's oldest inhabited places, with archaeologists finding links to the ancient Mohenjodaro civilisation across this peninsula.
This semi arid region, that is part desert and part cultivated, is a prosperous region, though the prosperity isn't equally spread and pockets of deep poverty are all too visible. But given the enterprising nature of the Gujarati who is today to be found across the world and the massive industrialisation of Gujarat, especially eastern Gujarat, the benefit has also come down to this region. Roads criss-cross this vast peninsular region, but with governments shrinking, public transport is sorely lacking. And the air-conditioned Volvo buses (buses being the most popular public road travel method today in India) only ply on the major routes and between the major cities and district capitals.
To make short runs between different villages and in the areas in and around major towns, rural and poor India depends upon the chakda, this motorcycle-trolley. Most of them are made of Bullet motorcycles, manufactured by Enfield, while some are of Triumph vintage.
Triumph motorcycles were made in India during the British Raj; the company has since packed up and disappeared, but traces of their products remain!
The chakdas can carry up to 20 people (though that is patently illegal and risks a fine, often paid as a bribe rather than as a punitive measure), and huge loads of all kinds. Best of all, they are available round the clock and at every important junction.
We found Kulabharti at Sarddhaj village, outside Rajkot city. Kulabharti ferries his passengers between Sardhaj and Bogradad villages, charging them Rs 10 per trip. In a day, he earns Rs 300.
Incidentally, his chakda uses diesel. Earlier, chakdas used kerosene, which as a government subsidised product, was cheaper than diesel. But with kerosene prices now matching that of diesel, the chakdas now prefer diesel.
Kulabharati was initially hesitant to let us photograph him, fearing we were from the police and would book him for overloading (the chakdas are allowed to carry six passengers). But after he was convinced that we were not from the police, he posed proudly.
Reportage: Amberish K Diwanji | Photographs: Jayesh Tankaria
Also see: The woman Behind Ananth Kumar