June-July 2017 | IDC School of Design
Cane Palkhi is a lightweight, eco-friendly and durable palanquin made with local craftsmen to reduce the load on pilgrim porters.
A pilgrimage to the Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu & Kashmir is considered holy. The main idol of the goddess resides in a cave temple located in the folds of the three-peaked mountain called Trikuta. The temple is situated at an altitude of 1585 m (5200 ft.). It is one of the most popular destinations of Hindu devotees, attracting over 10 million 'Yatris' every year.
They undertake a steep trek of over 12 km from the base camp at Katra. This is highly strenuous, more so for the elderly and the disabled. Hence, many pilgrims prefer to be carried up in palki (palanquin). Each palki is carried by a team of four highly skilled and co-ordinated porters over the entire stretch.
Carrying pilgrims on the palki is the main source of income for the local porters even though it can have serious effects of their physical health. A customer weighing 100 kilos along with the additional palki weight of 60 kilos; which is currently in use; distributes over 40 kilos individually on a porter, which mainly concentrates on their shoulders and lower back, for many hours every day.
Rattan (popularly called ‘cane’) is a climbing plant, which grows abundantly in the tropical regions. There are 13 genera of cane divided into 700 species which are predominant around southeast Asia. It is the fastest growing tropical wood, typically taking around 5-7 years to restore its growth before it is ready to be harvested again, which makes it a great naturally sustainable option. The density of cane varies between 0.27 to 0.65 g/cm3 depending on the species. It has an excellent strength-weight ratio, and is flexible and eco-friendly.
To reduce the load on the porters, Aniket Bhagat and Dr. BK Chakravarthy at the Industrial Design Centre at IIT Bombay designed and fabricated a lightweight, ergonomic and durable palki made of stainless steel weighing just 34 kilos, reducing the load by over 6 kilos individually.
As an alternative material ‘cane’ or ‘rattan’ is explored in my project. Along with weight and cost reduction, using this material also provides income for local cane craftsmen. This design focused on the properties of cane, the fabrication of a cane palki, and how it could be viable alternative to the steel version.
A simulation done by the team helped perform a comparative analysis between the original steel version and the multi-layered cane palkhi design by inputting material properties of cane. Cane distributed the loads better.
The palki was made in a cane furniture shop at Mira Road, Mumbai by guiding two local craftsmen with the help of Kishore Chavan, technical staff at IDC over a few weeks. The process of making rattan products mainly consisted of five steps.
Integration with Steel
The load concentrated at joints near the rings at the front and back. Instead of making the palki entirely out of rattan, this section was cut from a trial stainless-steel version, modified and then attached to the cane frame.
The project provided a wonderful insight into the complex interface and inter-relationship between design, materials and manufacturing.
The cane palki was found to weigh 20 kilos – 67% lighter than the original one used by the porters and 41% lighter than the stainless-steel version. Yet, it is rigid enough for practical use. It is also more environmental-friendly, and can be manufactured locally, contributing to skill development and job creation.
Currently, this palki is being used, not just in the Vaishno Devi circuit, but also at other places where porters work, like Elephanta Vaves in Mumbai.