Suresh Lohat’s creations have been as intrinsic to the streetscapes of Apollo Bunder and Nariman Point in Mumbai as the grand structures they trot before. For decades his bedecked, illuminated Victoria carriages have been used to give joyrides to tourists and locals, young and old alike. Next year, their journey will come to an end.

Earlier this month, the Bombay High Court ordered horse-drawn Victoria carriages to be taken off the roads after a year, declaring that they violate the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Lohat, however, sees the judgement as a blow to the livelihoods of people like him. “My father used to do this [make and drive Victoria carriages] and now my son does it,” said an angry Lohat, his voice rising in volume and force. “It’s the same for most of the carriage drivers you’ll see. We’ve been doing this for many years but what are we going to do now?”

The creation

Lohat is one of the primary manufacturers of Victoria carriages in Mumbai, though manufacture isn’t the right word. “We modify existing carriages,” said Lohat. “We take old wooden carriages and we add and remove parts. First, we put metal over the wooden parts so that it’s more durable and looks shinier. The customers think it looks good as well. Also, wood gets ruined in the monsoon.”

The second step is making the carriage more comfortable. “Sometimes the old carriages have seats and sometimes we just get the basic structure without the seats,” remarked Lohat. “We replace the old seats with new ones anyway because they’re usually torn and don’t look nice. Seats are very important because without good seats we wouldn’t get any customers.”

The third step is adding wheels. “Most of the old carriages we get don’t have wheels; we only get the body of the carriage,” said Lohat. “We get the wheels from Indore and Ahmedabad along with most other parts.” Lohat’s pricing depends on how much he has to modify a carriage. At times, it can get him as much as Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 a carriage.

And the decline

Even before the High Court verdict, Lohat says, the demand for Victoria carriages had been declining and the competition from manufacturers in other cities increasing.

“Whoever drives a horse carriage in Mumbai already has a carriage,” Lohat explained. “No one wants a carriage to drive around anymore, especially now because of the new law [to ban Victoria carriages in Mumbai]. Now business only comes from weddings and film sets in Goregaon but even the film people are now ordering new, ready-made carriages straight from Patiala and Delhi.”

He fulminated against the High Court-imposed ban. “The police say that we’re a traffic hazard but tell me, at nine in the morning, when there are only cars on the road, is there no traffic?” According to Lohat, not only will carriage drivers suffer from the ban but tourists as well. “When someone comes from outside Mumbai, they want to see things like the Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel. Horse carriages provide them with a fun way to go sightseeing but now it’s been taken away. They’ve ruined so many lives with this decision.”