Balinese Horse & Cart Transportation
Across the Indonesian archipelago there are still many areas that have their own version of traditional horse and cart transportation. In Bali it is known as a dokar, which unfortunately is becoming a dwindling sight around the streets of Denpasar and Kuta. The covered carts are fairly simple structures that are created from timber upon a metal base with two large wagon wheels. Passengers sit sideways behind the driver on padded bench seats and the entire contraption is attached to a small horse with a sturdy leather harness and set of reigns. Depending on the weigh of the load, the cart travels along at a slightly tilted angle.
A dokar ride can be a fairly bumpy experience as the driver tries to expertly manoeuvre the horse and cart along by merging into mainstream traffic with a little encouragement from a leather whip. Once the horse picks up pace, the rhythmic clip on the asphalt road makes the journey rather pleasant and small children often enjoy the sensation.
Dokars can be traced back in history to the Majapahit era of the 14th century when Hinduism was first introduced on the island of Bali. However, the carts were more like chariots and used to wage territorial wars between opposing clans. These types of horse drawn chariots were also featured in the epic Mahabarata tale and the enormous white statue near the main entrance of Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport is a depiction of this. Horse and carts were also used as the primary mode of transportation for royalty and their immediate family members, whilst ordinary citizens had to make do by travelling around the island on foot.
Opening Parade of The Annual Bali Arts Festival 2006
Some centuries later when the archipelago was under the Dutch colonial rule, the horse carts were influenced by European design elements. Even today many dokar are still decorated with old fashioned brass lanterns. During the 1950’s dokar were the main form of public transportation in Bali and played a beneficial role in the distribution of the island’s agricultural produce. Today, dokar are still used in some parts of Denpasar city, especially around the traditional market places.
All operational dokar must be registered with the local government and before licenses are renewed the carts are serviced and given a fresh coat of paint. Every year Denpasar celebrates its anniversary with a series of events and highlighting the festivities is a colourful dokar parade and competition. Entrants are judged on cart decoration as well as the health and grooming of the horses. Winners are presented with a generous cash prize and handsome trophy.
Visitors can experience the novelty of travelling by Bali’s traditional horse and cart in the tourist centre of Kuta where dokar line the main street of Jalan Kartika Plaza. This area is serviced by dokar that operate in an orderly fashion similar to a taxi rank. The cart seats up to three adult plus driver and for a negotiable fee guests can take a sightseeing tour that circumnavigates Kuta.