During the 70s, there was a lot of difficulty of transportation in the region of Saurashtra-Kutch to Gujarat. For transportation in remote villages, there was just one government bus per day which was very fully loaded with passengers. Most of the villages did not even have a facility of one bus per day! There was no other means than a bullock-cart to travel from village to village. Due to the rough and rugged interior roads of Saurashtra-Kutch, the goods could not be traded if they were having more than a specific weight.
Coincidently, at that time Jamsaheb, the reigning king of Jamnagar, gave a golf cart to his friend Jagjivanbhai Chandra for personal use. Jagjivanbhai had all the information about the problems of transportation bared by general mass living in Saurashtra and in remote villages. He got the idea to build a vehicle that could be used for transportation of people and of goods charging a small amount of money.
Jagjivan Bhai along with his son Jayantibhai started working on this vehicle. Modern technology was not available in those days. The biggest problem for making this new vehicle was its engine. Agricultural pumps became very popular during those days.
They were powered by a diesel pump. The father-son duo made a few changes to the design of the same pump. Initially, the engine was powered by petrol, but in the meantime it was modified to operate with diesel.
After the problem of the engine of this new vehicle was resolved, Jayantibhai under the guidance of Jagjivanbhai started working on the design of it. Attempts were made to provide maximum space for transportation in this new vehicle, as well as the transportation of goods was also kept in mind. This vehicle is known as ‘Chhakdo’, the pride of Saurashtra-Kutch region. And if we speak in the original local Kathiyawadi language, it would be called ‘Tago’.
Naturally, with all these features, ‘Chhakdo’ became popular as soon as it was launched in the market. With the arrival of the ‘Chhakda’, the problem of transportation in the villages of Saurashtra-Kutch was almost solved. ‘Chhakdo’ became the sole means of transportation in the villages and gradually reached the whole of Saurashtra and Kutch.
A famous Gujarati writer Mr. Jayantilal Gohel (AKA ‘My dear Jayu’), in his famous short story ‘Chhakdo’ has mentioned the emotional relationship between lead character ‘Gilo’ and his ‘Chhakda’. In the 90s, the popularity of ‘Chhakda’ was at its zenith. People just loved to travel by ‘Chakda’. It became so popular that many people used to ride on ‘Chhakda’ during their procession. For every occasion, whether it was good or bad, ‘Chhakdo’ was the most useful vehicle at that time.
In the upcoming decade, it may happen that you will not see a single ‘Chhakda’ in Saurashtra-Kutch. Because Rajkot-based Atul Auto Limited has stopped producing ‘Chhakda’s that were the source of employment for thousands of Saurashtra-Kutch people. Today, after fifty years, the ‘Chhakda’ has retired. The Indian government has tightened road safety and pollution rules and ‘Chhakdo’ doesn’t fit in the framework of rules, which has forced the company to take this step to stop its production. Apart from this, transport is now modernized and the demand for ‘Chhakda’ has also been steadily declining.
The production may have stopped but the unforgettable memories associated with it will remain intact in every Kathiawadi’s mind. “Jaambada…..khopada….tagdi…ne bhadi” (Names yelled by the driver of the villages coming on the route of Chhakda)
The method of driver for adjusting the accommodation of passengers in ‘Chakda’ was also unique. Women would sit in the middle with their bags. Children were used to sit in their mother’s lap and men used to sit on the specially created space above both of its back wheels. When ‘Chhakda’ was much crowded with passengers, the drivers used to instruct the men sitting on both sides to get off when there comes a speed-breaker, otherwise ‘Chakda’ would meet with an accident! Also the drivers having fewer crowds in ‘chhakda’ used the trick to instruct passengers to bend forward while there comes a speed-breaker!! How much fun it was!!
When the driver used to get satisfied with the number of passengers, he would come up with a rope and buckle it on the handle by putting his one leg resting on the body of ‘Chhakda’. After that, he used to pull the rope with his full strength and hence the engine of it was used to start with a unique sound. There was relaxation in the passengers after the start of the engine.
This relaxation is not there right now. It would not be a wonder if we find the ‘Chakda’ at the museum in the near future. The time is not far when we will tell our children like, “once upon a time, people used to travel by ‘Chakda’”!