Life in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat is almost impossible without a chakkada ride. As it can carry a heavy load, it is called “Saurashtra no Sinha” meaning the lion (on the roads) of Saurashtra. A chakkada is as much a symbol of Gujarat as the Asiatic lion of the Gir.
No one knows for sure when the first chakkada took to the road, but the one popular story is that the first chakkada was made by the then Jam Saheb, the Maharaja of Jamnagar. He got a trailer fitted to his motorcycle to transport garden manure across his palace grounds that was spread over several hectares.
The concept appealed to the local people of Jamnagar, who started converting their Royal Enfield or other high power motorcycles into chakkadas in the 1950s.
It probably got its name from the fact that six (chak) different parts were traditionally used for its manufacture the Greaves 7.5 hip diesel engine, the Royal Enfield bullet gear box and bonneted fuel tank, the Austin differenital, Hindustan Motors’ Ambassador brake drum, Fiat tyres for the rear and motorbike tyres for the front, and a motorbike chain.”
On our trip to way from Ahmadabad – Rann – Gir – Ahmadabad we saw multiple shapes and sizes of these chakkada (Chakra-Rickshaws – Bike Rickshaws) as the common means of transportation.
My curiosity made me speak to Yunusbhai – owner of one of these contraptions; he told us that these bikes are usually Enfield (Bullet) diesel motor bikes converted into an auto. There are companies in Gujarat that assemble them. A brand new vehicle costs somewhere between Rs. 1.5 – 1.9 lakhs (depending on the design and add-ons). They are the most common means of transport in rural areas of Gujarat where Auto rickshaws are very few. These bike rickshaws are used for transporting anything – from people to coconuts or even up to 50 gas cylinders at a time. If they had elephants in Gujarat, they might have used it for transporting that even.
If one has to realize the power of Enfield engine, then he has to see these rickshaws operating in Gujarat. The sound, or rather noise, of the vehicle can be heard from a long distance. If one travels in it, it will surely powder his ear wax in no time. There are no shock absorbers in it and hence only people who are used to travel in it can commute. Behind the bike, on the carrier, there are two seats on either side which can carry six passengers in total. But at least eight passengers sit on it, few stand in the leg space, three sit on the back side (facing the back…like sitting in a dicky) and if there are men, they hang on to the vehicle from the outside keeping their foot somewhere on the vehicle. It usually carries ten-fifteen people and travels at an average speed of 20-30 km/hr.