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Coracle 1.jpg

Subject: Coracle

Place: Hampi, Karnataka

Year: 2023

Camera: Yashica Mat 124 G

Film: Ilford HP5 Plus

The Coracle seems to have been around for a very long time. Julius Caesar makes mention of this craft during the Roman conquest of Britain in the 1st Century BC. It was quite popular in various parts of the British Isles, being used for fishing and ferrying goods owing to its lightness and extreme navigability.

It has also been in use extensively in Asia, where the easy availability of bamboo makes them an ideal choice for small communities that depend on rivers for their livelihood. The rivers of Vietnam and those of mainland China have hosted thousands of coracles over the centuries.

The people who live close to rivers across southern India have been using coracles for fishing and transporting goods for a very long time as well. They ply as water taxis in many island regions that are not accessible easily by road. Their lightness and manoeuvrability render them ideal for shallow waters and swiftly flowing streams.

Coracles dot some of the popular rivers of southern India, notably the Kaveri and its many tributaries. In Karnataka, they can be seen on the Tungabhadra and Kabini rivers. The Coracle featured in this picture is one located near the temple town of Hampi, where it frequently carries pilgrims and others to and from the surrounding villages and islands.

To ride in one is a giddy experience, quite literally. Unlike boats, coracles chart a circular path of motion that is a little unsettling for those not accustomed to such rides. But they are memorable all the same for their uniqueness.

Made mostly of bamboo, grass and hide, coracles are easy to make and maintain. In recent years materials like hides and skins have been replaced with more easily available materials like plastic and tar sheets. With the rise of road transport and road linkages across rural India, the Coracle is not as sought out by locals as it used to be in small river towns. But it has found new favour among a new demographic - tourists who enjoy rides in these floating saucers and share their glee with friends on social media. Long live the humble Coracle!

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