Horse carriage rides around Victoria Memorial might be fun, but for those involved in the trade, it’s a struggle during summer months
Taking a horse carriage ride around Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial might be a wonderful way to spend a leisurely winter evening, but the trade struggles during summer months.
The horses – haggard and weak from the scorching blaze of the sun – look miserable in the heat. The owners of the horses and carriages are at their wit’s end – unable to make ends meet, they eagerly wait for the rains to arrive. Once the monsoons are here, they know it won’t take long before there is a slight nip in the air, and soon it will be winter in the city.
Raj, a cart owner says, “Garmi ke dino kuch kamai nahi hoti. (There is little or nothing earned during summers.)”.
Every horse, he says costs at least Rs 25,000 (it is usually a lot more), and transporting them from Bihar and Jharkhand cost additional money. “Then we have to feed them to keep them healthy. The cost goes up feeding the horses while we have meagre earnings.”
For one ride Raj charges Rs 800, while chhota (small) rides come at half the price. A small ride means passing by the Victoria Memorial and going up to the next road signal – about 200 metres – while a bada (big) round will take the cart till Fort William ka ek number gate (gate one of Fort William), about 500 metres. At the end of the day, the earning is usually Rs 1,000 or Rs 1,200 for around three or four rides.
Sometimes, desperate measures have to be taken too. Cart owner Feroz says, “Since there is less income during the summers, I do not use the cart. Instead, I start giving rides on horsebacks. That makes the horses less tired and people are also willing to pay smaller sums for rides.” For one ride, he charges around Rs 150- 200. “At the end of the day, after feeding the horse and on other expenses, we are left with Rs 400-500. Sometimes it is much less.”
Even Feroz goes for chhota round and bada rounds to make ends meet. Customers are not always willing to pay Rs 800 for a ride, but half the price seems fine. For him, a small round means taking the person on a horseback on the footpath while a bigger round will just broaden the circle in the nearby field. But even then, he makes around Rs 1,000 from eight to 10 passengers on a good day.
Feroz, who lives in Park Circus, leaves the horses behind in the Maidan area at night, knowing it involves risks. “They are kept here, in the Maidan, usually tied to trees. We leave at around 10 at night, and return early in the morning. The horses remain here. Otherwise, they would be tired walking the distance every day. They rest for the night and reserve energy. We take turns to keep the vigil at night.”
A couple of years ago, the struggle of horse carriage owners seemed to have been solved for summer months, as an innovated air-conditioner fitted carriage was introduced in the area around Victoria Memorial. The carriage was fitted with transparent walls and started operating in 2016. The other owners envied it and hoped that some day they would save money and have AC carriages too.
But legal hurdles came in the way – and the summer woes could not be permanently resolved with this apparently perfect solution. The owner of the airconditioned carriage, Sujit Sil said, “We used to run it around Victoria Memorial, but as we failed to secure a license following a High Court order regarding smoke emission in the area, we had to withdraw it. Now, the AC-fitted horse carriage is there, but we don’t run it around Victoria Memorial area. It is rented out for weddings or for film shoots.”
Sil would like to run it during the hot summer months in other parts of the city. “We are trying to bring it out in other parts of Kolkata where such legal bindings for protecting heritage buildings won’t be applicable.”
For horse carriages run primarily outside Victoria Memorial in the Maidan area, summer means heavy losses. According to Raju, who owns a horse carriage, “Some owners rent out their horses for weddings and marriages during this time. That brings some extra cash. But I have never done it.”
Horse carriage rides around Victoria Memorial – an integral part of Kolkata – are here to stay. And now, with the major part of the sultry summer over, there’s only looking forward to the pleasant months ahead.