The Grand Trunk Road
We’re marchin’ on relief over Injia’s sunny plains,
A little front o’ Christmas-time an’ just be’ind the Rains;
Ho! get away you bullock-man, you’ve ‘eard the bugle blowed,
There’s a regiment a-comin’ down the Grand Trunk Road;
– Rudyard Kipling
Thousands of years ago, when the earliest known human civilizations decided to explore far far away lands, the concept of migration started. One such migration forms the famous archaeological finding called the ‘Cemetery H Culture’, which spreads from Harappa in Pakistan to the Ganga-Yamuna Basin in India, covering entire East-West Punjab (circa 1700 BCE). This is also considered to be the nucleus od Vedic Civilization. As we all know, this Indus Valley Civilization revolved around trading. They established common paths to move between various settlements, which are used till date.
In around 3rd century BC, as the Mauryan Empire was flourishing, a road was built to the main centre of learning ‘Taxila’ and later even further up to Balkh in Khurasan (now in Afghanistan) from Patiliputra (now Patna). This road was used by every traveller who had to cross Khyber Pass and enter into the Hind. The same route was used by invaders like Ghori and Ghazni. With time, the road reached the eastern end of empire, which today falls deep inside Bangladesh. A Greek observer recorded that Samrat Chandragupta Maurya poured manpower to maintain this road. This road is mentioned in several ancient texts and appears as “Uttarpath” (Northern-Road).
Time passed and rulers came and went, ruling over the entire breadth of Hindostan, which stretched from present day Afghanistan to eastern ends of Bangladesh. In 16th century, as Emperor Babur came to India, he hired Farid Khan (aka Sher Khan) an Afghan born in Sasram (Bihar), who later dethroned Babur’s son Humayun and took over the throne of Delhi, and became Emperor of Hindostan. This general, popularly known as Sher Shah Suri decided to restore this ancient path and make it more useful. He deployed enormous labour to revive the Uttarpath and connected his hometown Sasaram to Agra. He died soon after that, the Mughals that came afterwards connected Kabul (Afghanistan) with Chittagong (Bangladesh) using this road. Today, this road connects the capitals of 4 countries and covers a total distance of 2500 kilometres (1600 miles). During this time, this road was known by many names, eg: Shah Rah-e-Azam (“Great Road”) or Sadak-e-Azam or Badshahi Sadak.
In 18th century, as the British came, they maintained this road and later converted it to a motorable road. They started calling it the “Grand Trunk Road”, sometimes also referring to it as the “Long Walk”. During that period, it was maintained between Howrah and Peshawar.
It is very interesting to see how the Afghans & Mughals built ‘Kos Minars’ at each ‘Kos’ (ancient measuring unit with 1 Kos approximately equal to 1.8 Km). They also built forts and most important, Caravan Serais (Inns) at regular distances. These Serais had a mosque, rooms for travellers, area reserved for animals and lot more to offer to travellers than they can ask for while travelling for thousands of kilometres. Many of these Serais are lost, but most of them still exist. Today, huge urban settlements have come up around those historic serais and the only way to identify is to check the name of locality, as most of them still use the old serai names.
Popular Towns on the GT Road
Kabul, Surobu, Jalalabad, Torkham (Khyber Pass)
Torkham, Landi Kotal, Wali Khel, Ali Masjid, Jamrud, Peshawar, Nowshera, Attock, Wah, Islamabad, Tarnol, Rawalpindi (& Taxila), Gujar Khan, Jhelum, Kharian, Gujrat, Gujranwala, Kamoki, Muridke, Lahore, Wagha
Atari, Amritsar, Kartarpur, Jalandhar, Phagwara, Goraya, Ludhiana, Khanna, Sirhind, Rajpura, Ambala, Shahbad Markanda, Kurukshetra, Karnal, Panipat, Sonipat, Delhi, Ghaziabad, Bulandshehar, Aligarh, Etah, Kannauj, Kanpur, Fatehpur, Khaga, Allahabad, Handia, Gopiganj, Varanasi, Mohania, Sasaram, Dehri, Aurangabad, Dumri, Dhanbad, Asansol, Raniganj, Durgapur, Bardhaman, Howra-Kolkata, Gaigata, Bangaon, Petrapol
Benapole, Jhikargacha, Jessore, Dhaka, Sonargaon, Jamaldi, Daudkandi, Comilla, Feni, Baroiar Hat, Sitakunda, Bhatiari, Salimpur, Chittagong
Very informative. But it would be nice to know your sources of information
I couldn’t get my hold on books this time. So this article is mostly researched from Internet. The search on Internet was based on my past learning through books like Waqyat-i-Dar-ul-Huqoomat Delhi, Delhi & its Fort Palace by Bhatnagar, Prof. BB Lal’s work, Prehistoric Delhi by Sharma and Delhi Sultanate by Sunil Kumar
awesome thanks yar i was a bit confuse about the founder of G.T Road either Sher Shah Suri or Chandra Gupta Mayura but it clears my mind and now i knw what was actually…. 🙂 Thnks
Dear Vikramji, I am a PhD student at the Uni of Westminster UK and would like to use your image of Delhi Kos Minar in my work. My PhD is on the trade routes and trader havelis. Please allow me to use the image, I will credit it to you. If you agree to the academic use of your image then please send me a jpeg of the image (300dpi). I hope to hear from you soon. Regards, Samra
Please feel free to use the image. You may give me ur id, where i can send the high res image
I am in Archaeological Survey of India, and currently working on multifarious cultural aspects GT Road.
Am very happy to see this information on your site, and your interest in country’s heritage.
All the best.
Honored to have your comment sir. Thanks for encouraging.
I’m researching on the GT road, the Indian stretch of it and your article is a well laid out & interesting read. Any chance you’d know the names of some of the serais that still exist?
Many Sarais are still intact. From Delhi to Amritsar, here’s a list:
These are few of the many sarais left. hope this helps.
Truly helps 🙂 Thank you so much.
Dear Vikramjit, could you also please help me connect with Dr. Nauriyal who has commented on this post earlier. I am unable to connect with him directly and I could really use his help for my research. Do help out.
Check mail. Sent details.
sir great information could you tell us if stones were laid to strengthen road by sher shah
I am not sure about this information. But he must have taken measures to strengthen it.
can you pls tell me about how sher shah built it and which parts of india it connected during his reign. Also wanted to tell that this was very interesting to read.
Sher Shah connected Kabul to present day Bihar. Information available suggests that he took it to sasaram, where his Tomb is also situated. However, some claim that he built it up till dhaka and Akbar further took it up to Chittagong.
The Great Grand Tank Road
Still lot of thing missed …
so nicely narrated the very correct informations imbibed in history….,
Great information Sir. Earlier my thought was that , Sher Sha Suri had built the road that I had read in elementary school history books. It is clear now . Thanks a Lot.
Thanks for sharing your work, I do got understanding on the GT Road. I am glad you also mentioned my town Nowshera in the list.
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my dad rode a cycle from Lahore to Delhi in the early forties. I am trying to recreate the journey. wondering what places he could have stopped enroute. May I use the outline map from your article?