Pakistan’s Transport: A Cultural Reflection

Written By: Bisma Irfan

One of the earliest threads of human civilization is found in the Southern half of Asia, in Pakistan; the Indus Valley Civilization, as we know it today.

The Indus Valley civilization is revered for being the first human settlement in the form of modern cities that came into existence and formed the very basis of modern civilization. Dating back to 3300 to 1300 BC, the Indus Valley civilization became the pioneers of modern day urban culture through various break-through, foundation-laying dynamics of modern lifestyle. One such factor forms the very basis of modern day living and has massively grown over centuries resulting in a modern day phenomenon like Globalization.

Transportation lays down the foundation for the growth of mankind through accessibility and communication, breaking all barriers; it has contributed immensely towards economic, social, political, and cultural dynamics of the globe, making the world what it is today. Dating back to 3300 BC, the Indus Valley civilization, now Pakistan shows the earliest signs of transportation modes including road travel as well as maritime transportation. Bullock carts for the transportation of goods, flat boats for river travel used for fishing and transporting goods to and fro from villages on river banks were all the pioneers of modern day mediums of transportation and are seen widely in all of South Asia to date.

The modern state of Pakistan having the strongest public transport system in all of South Asia is a true reflection of the traditional modes of transportation as left by the country’s ancestors and its oldest inhabitants. From dazzling Mini-Buses and hand-painted trucks to traditional donkey carts and the ever famous horse carriages, Pakistan promises an enriching travel experience to its inhabitants as well as foreigners.

Traditional modes of transportation such as the donkey cart, locally known as the Tonga or the Rehyri, mini buses, trucks, auto rickshaws, horse carriages locally known as a Buggy ( being ever popular with tourists) are a true depiction of the local culture, manifesting in themselves a spirit of social and cultural values. From indigenous artwork on buses and trucks to native quotations on rickshaws; all traditional modes of transportation in Pakistan reflect the essence of the country’s cultural heritage.

Donkey Carts - The Tonga or the Rehyri

Widely seen on the streets of Pakistan, be it a small village or metropolitan city, the Tonga is amongst the most widely used means of transportation by the lower working class of the country. Being used for multiple purposes, the Tonga helps the poor man in the rural, travel from village to village with merchandise and family in search of livelihood while helping those exhibiting goods for sale such as fruits and vegetables in the dense towns of the country.

The Tonga has been traditionally used by launderers, locally known as Dhobis, and even with the advent of modern means of transportation, the tradition has been maintained reflecting a strong cultural knot.

Horse Carriages - The Buggy

Extremely popular amongst tourists who enjoy a Buggy ride to observe city life , the Buggy is a usually used for casual travelling around the city. There is one driver, with either one or two horses at the front. Popular for having exquisite decorations, the Buggy was traditionally used by the Mughals of the subcontinent thereby, depicting a strong historical as well as cultural tie. Often looked upon as a traditional luxury and a symbol of superiority that was once associated with kings, foreigners enjoy Buggy rides and consider it to be a remnant of the history and native culture of the subcontinent.

The Mini Bus - The Flying Coach

The inter-city travelling in Pakistan is highly dominated by this economical method of transportation. Being recognized as the most reliable form of public transport in South Asia, the Mini Bus transport system is the basic means of travelling for the working class of the nation. Predominantly present in the metropolitan city of Karachi, these dazzling buses have highly affordable fares, permanent travel routes, punctual operations and not to forget the eye catching appearance.

With bright colors lining the travel ways of the country, mini buses have a strong cultural tie with the country. Often known for their shabby interiors, lack of air conditioning facility and an over-crowded accommodation; these mini buses are associated with a very generic aspect of Pakistani culture and are looked upon as a sense of pride, depicting “city life” as a part of the Pakistani culture.

The Taxi

A common sight on the roads of Pakistan is of yellow and black cabs. Targeting the middle income bracket, taxi cabs are a relatively more expensive means of transportation. However, the ease with which they are available, flexible timings, house to house drops and the relatively efficient functioning of the vehicle makes the taxi a popular choice amongst the middle income segment for periodic travel.


The Rickshaw

Establishing itself as the nation’s favorite means of intercity transport, Rickshaws prove to be a mirror of the common man. With a unique design and distinctive sound, the Rickshaw in Pakistan is a treat for the common man and a cultural experience for the tourist.

Considered to be extremely accommodating, Rickshaws as well as Rickshaw drivers contribute to the street culture of Pakistan. Widely known for accommodating as many passengers possible, rickshaws are looked upon as a user-friendly means of transportation for the common man. The blaring sound and bumpy ride, makes it a tourist attraction. Popular for their humor cracking quotations, the Pakistani individual thoroughly enjoys reading quotations such as “Mein Barra ho kay Corolla banoun ga” (I will grow up to be a Corolla) on the streets, on a hectic day.

The Truck

Dominating the transport network for merchandise, trucks remain to be the grandest medium of transportation for goods. Ranging from fruits and vegetables to heavy machinery, trucks travel the length of the country, right from the port at Karachi in the very south of the country to the mountains in the extreme north.

Adorned with intricate art work, trucks in Pakistan act as an inspiration to the western world. Considered to be a source of pride for the owner, thousands of rupees are spent just on the embellishment of the vehicle. Traditional artists are hired for the job many of whom can be traced back to their roots to painters and craftsmen once employed in palaces and temples of the Mughals and the British Raj.

Hammered trims from shining metal, shimmering rosettes, reflectors of all colors, wood carvings, colorful chains & calligraphies beautify the trucks. The sides & the back exhibit the art of truck painters.

These images are moving testimonies of Pakistani culture & society. They express the values, dreams & desires of the people.

4 Response to "Pakistan’s Transport: A Cultural Reflection"

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