For the past few generations, a local invention has kept the spirit of adventure alive in the valley. And has helped the mountain folk of Kashmir in their daily life. Fancy a ride on the Hagur?
The simplicity of an invention or an idea is marked by how easily it can be replicated. And how efficiently it can be remodelled to fit different needs of people.
Simplicity is iconic. Simplicity is genius. When we stumbled into this humble invention that has defined generations of play and daily chores in the villages of Kashmir, we were reminded just that.
‘Hagur.’ Such a funny sounding word, isn’t it? What does it mean? For better or for worse, we’re nosy travellers. Listening in and butting into conversations at coffee shops and restaurants that seem interesting.
“Some Kehwah (Kashmiri Tea) for you, sir?” asked our waiter before he turned around to continue his banter with his colleagues. “He almost fell off his Hagur that day. That Hagur had an extra wheel….” Hagur this, Hagur that. He went on and on. We waited for the perfect time for our entry. You might call this intrusive, but it would steer our journey across Kashmir, tracing down a necessary sport born out of everyday needs. A sport that is symbolic of local inventions and brotherhood amongst the villages of the state.
‘Ha,’ and ‘Gur,’ are two sounds made by the mountain folk in Kashmir while they herd their Sheep, Horses and Goats. When said together, ‘Hagur,’ usually means ‘let’s go!’
A bunch of wooden sticks, 3 circular ball bearings triangled to fit a plank, the spirit of raw body boarding down the mountain slopes, and most importantly, the necessity to move various goods quickly and swiftly. That’s all that makes the Hagur. But if you’re deceived by its simplicity, the adventure it packs will prove you wrong. The kind that’ll give you bruises for a lifetime and if you are anything like me, a few broken bones too.
“Hagur was born out of an everyday need for speed. We needed something that would let us and the logs of wood we carry from the woods reach the villages faster. Think of it as a vehicle for daily chores!” says Akbar, who is now in his 40s, grew up going to school on a Hagur.
What started of as local engineering, soon became popular with the kids. They were excited to get out and bring home goods, because they’d get to Hagur down the mountain slopes, roads or forests.
It caught on as a sport, getting the children of different villages to compete against each other, racing down the streets and drawing an audience.
People improvised and created a handle that could let the rider change directions.
Hagur was an idea. An idea of movement without restrictions and it soon became a culture because of its simplicity. It was remodelled to teach toddlers how to walk, and elder brothers and fathers made a version for their sons and brothers to play with. It became a poster figure of childhood in the villages. Much like how a tricycle defined most of ours.
“I literally grew up on a Hagur. But in the last few years, plastic tricycles have caught up and vehicles have taken over our lives. I made this one for my brother so he gets to play with it. He’s the only one with a Hagur around and all the other kids want it too.” Said Mumtazar in Laripora, a small village in Gulmarg.
The police couldn’t ask for any permits, licenses or any of that. “What can they ask us about this? Nothing! When I was a kid, we were middle class folk with hardly any money. This got us around the authority!” Said an elderly face filled with character and bruises from his Hagur-ing days.
The few Hagurs left in these are proud possessions of children who show off their skills, stories of speed and adventure.
“I can make numbers on a Hagur. Zero is my favourite! 8 is difficult but I can make that too!” said Mumtazar’s brother.
In an age where scientists in big space stations lay out ambitious plans of colonising other planets, the world still has space for humble inventions like the Hagur that bring a smile, and a sense of adventure to the common man. Maybe, this is the way of the world; where necessity turns into sport and sport turns into necessity. The man who invented the wheel surely wasn’t thinking of racing. Or maybe he was. There’s no way to know.
And as a celebration of everyday humble engineers whose creations keep pushing limits, let’s repeat what our local guide used to tell the children every time they had to pose for our cameras: