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The truth about India’s bullock carts

Many of us know that bullock carts have been around for centuries, precisely about 5000 years, and are still used in rural India’s agricultural lands. There are about 14 million estimated bullock carts in India and almost 13 million of them are traditional ones that come with wooden wheels. Believe it or not, 56 percent of goods and personnel of India are carried on bullock carts. With such wide usage of this ancient mode of transport, we couldn’t help but dig a little further. Here’s what we found:

Oldest Form of Transport

For farmers, bullock carts are all about convenience. They are used in agricultural land, are good for the environment, and do not need fuel. Therefore, bullock carts prove to be beneficial to farmers, both financially and environmentally. For over 5000 years, bullock carts have been the backbone of agricultural transportation. They can easily carry up to one tonne of weight at any given time and it looks like almost 74 million tonnes of weight is carried around in bullock carts across India every year.

Bullock carts as a jugaad to test ISRO satellite

Back in 1981, something crazy happened. Indian space scientists were struggling to find a transportation platform that was free of metal to test for its new satellite, APPLE. At the time, there was little funding and many of their ideas had to keep low budgets in India. Finally, they turned to bullock carts! It was a moment of pride and complete surprise for India and the world when the ISRO scientists brought out their new satellite on the ancient bullock cart. Since then, they have managed to launch around 100 nano satellites on one rocket, which proves to be a record by certain standards.

South Asia’s first mobile library

In 1931, S.R. Ranganathan imagined a mobile library for rural India. Inspired by his idea, a S.V. Kankasabai Pillai turned that dream into a reality by designed the first traveling library on a bullock cart that was filled with books, gramophone with records, charts and maps. It was tried in Pillai’s village near Tanjore and finally became one of South Asia’s first mobile library. The idea was first tried in Madras and later spread to the rest of India. Slowly, the wonders of a traveling library found its manifestation in other modes of transportation to help rural children get access to books. Not a bad innovation with the initial help of a bullock cart!

Modern bullock cart

A traditional bullock cart uses wooden tyres whereas the modern one uses pneumatic tyres. In an attempt to use the best features from the traditional cart, engineers have built the modern cart with the rubberised steel wheel that is fitted by tyres that are otherwise thrown away. To ensure that the carts have flexible movement, the axles are built with steel and have low friction bearings. The pull beam is created from steel pipes and the light steel sections make up the body. These modern carts are estimated to carry almost 3 times more weight than a traditional bullock cart and are a much cheaper investment than a tractor. It still remains unaffordable to most farmers, however, who can hardly pay for a traditional bullock cart.


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