A Bull run!

What’s the big deal about bullock cart riding, a friend asked, when I told him I was going to Saguna Baug, an agro-based farm near Neral, to try activity and experience company Blue Bulb’s latest adventure.

Forward a few hours spent waking up at 5 am, taking a train from Kurla at 6 am, and securing a window seat in a Karjat fast train.

The writer is all smiles as she rides a classic Indian bullock cart, which consists of two wheels pulled by Raja and Sarja at Saguna Baug in Neral. Pics/Atul Kamble

Standing before testosterone-dominated Raja and Sarja, six-year-old Khillad species of white bullocks from Marathwada region, I realise that my friend’s statement lacked experience.

“These bullocks are strong, good looking and are aggressive in nature. Like an elephant listens to its mahout, they only listen to their caretaker,” Chandan Chandrashekhar Bhadsavle, owner of Saguna Baug spread across 55 acres, explains as I climb on the bullock cart.

Bhadsavle, who is a second generation farmer, points to Raja who turns back to glance at me. “He is seeing who is riding his cart today. They are not very friendly, and you can’t go near them if they are left open in their enclosure.”

Our cart is an Indian classic two-wheeler bullock cart pulled Raja and Sarja. Santosh, guide and caretaker of the bullocks, passes the reign in my hand. They are two ropes of equal length, one tied around each bullock’s neck.

To get the bulls to move ahead, all you have to do is shout ‘Hurrrrrrrrrrrr!’, pat the bullocks on their backs and loosen the grip on the reins.

I follow the instructions to the tee but Raja and Sarja are busy munching on the grass. They don’t heed to my command. “Louder, and say something in Marathi,” urges Santosh, and I give yet another shout. This time, much louder and in something that sounds similar to the dialect.

Shout is their command
Bhadsavle instructs Santosh to let me handle the reins and only give verbal instructions when required. Nervous fingers fiddle with the reins and I almost forget to pull the reign hard enough to make them stop from hitting a tree. “They know their way but you have to guide them,” Bhadsavle chides me, as I loosen the reign, slap their backs with expertise now and shout encouragements to get them into motion again.

To turn left, I pull the left reign, which would slow down Raja, and loosen Sarja’s reign on the right so that he speeds ahead. I get it right in the first time, and this is my moment of pride. My hand-eye coordination taken care of, I shed my nervous jitters and smoothly ride the cart until, I lose my concentration when I spot a Grey Heron. Raja and Sarja have picked up speed and are running towards a peepal tree. “Pull the reins!” Bhadsavle yells, and I do so just in time.

Now, we are on a narrow stretch, water on both sides. I loosen the reins and Raja and Sarja. I am amazed at how fast they can run. “They are like all-terrain vehicles,” says Bhansavle, “where a tractor can’t venture, they’ll pass easily,” pointing to a steep muddy slope. I keep my doubts to myself, and gladly let Santosh show off his skills. He lets out a rant in Marathi, and Raja and Sarja now seem at ease that their ‘real’ master had taken over the reins. Without losing speed, they make a dash for the muddy patch, down the slope, and continue uphill and stop only when we are on even ground. With the reins in my hand again, I take a moderately fast round down the farm road, and pull the reins to a stop as we near the starting point. I am thoroughly satisfied at my performance.

But the session isn’t over yet. As we alight, Santosh opens Raja’s mouth to show me his squeaky clean teeth. “The number of teeth will tell you the age of a bullock. Four teeth and more means that he is an adult,” he explains, as Raja grunts in discomfort. I pat each of them on their forehead, their soft skin shedding hair by the dozen.

A poor driver in the city, I tell myself after the bullock cart session that I had never found the right vehicle. Give me a bullock cart today and watch me race on Marine Drive.

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The farm
Saguna Baug is mainly an agro-forest farm where they grow bamboo, eucalyptus, fruits, vegetables, rice and groundnuts. With 70 workers on the field, most of them are locals. A conscious effort to provide employment, says Bhansavle. The dairy farm has 25 animals, with a gobar gas and vermicompost plant. The smallest section is the agro-tourism, where they have leisure learning sessions on farming, fishing, bullock cart and horse riding, etc.
The farm has an aquaculture facility in the six fresh water man-made ponds, which have five varieties of edible fish.
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