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

Runs on manpower.

A sturdy pair of legs conditioned by regular walks on winding hilly terrains and shoulders used to carrying weights for hours on stretch comes handy when you are a pithu bearer with a family to feed. Walking up or down a steep mountain in hot weather is no easy task. But the men who operate the simple device that constitute of a chair fitted between two long poles, do it more than five to seven times a day, without feeling the burn in their legs.

Pithu – literally on the back – is a type of palanquin (visible on the right in the photo) wide spread on the road leading to the temple of Vaishno Devi. You find them along the way, the major stops, night or day. Teams of two to four men operate each one ferrying single or double passengers, with the seats offering a more comfortable mode of transport than horseback.

The palanquin is among the oldest inventions of man, it perhaps predates the taming of horses and originated in the Neolithic age. In India, their popularity with the rich, the nobility and later the British aristocracy survived till well after automobiles dominated the roads. Now you find them in places like Amarnath and Vaishnodevi.

On the pilgrim road, the pithu lets you cover the ground without feeling the exhausting climb and indulge in a bit of the old history.