PONY SERVICE, VAISHNODEVI, KATRA, JAMMU AND KASHMIR, INDIA.

Taxis with a tail.

On the pilgrim road, ponies are a more adventurous mode of transport compared to palanquins and so numerous, you can just about about hitch a ride on one anywhere on the 12 km stretch. Strongly built, sure footed and endowed with large reserves of stamina, they make the trip up and down several times during the course of a day, keeping well to the contours of the road. The men who handle them are no less hardy.

Dressed in red shirts (like the one in the picture) with ID cards tucked into pockets they walk or run alongside the animals gently holding on to their tails or lightly whipping them with a stick. No ride goes unescorted. Specially created water troughs along the route lets the equines have their fill during hot spells and handlers tend to work their intelligent income earners in shifts. Those active during the day, retire by the night.

For the infrequent rider, however, the long stretch with feet inside stirrup buckles can sometimes be a painful one, specially in the back and knees.