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Grand Trunk Road

Grand Trunk Road
Route information
Length: 2,500 km (1,600 mi)
Existed: Antiquity – present
Major junctions
East end: Chittagong, Bangladesh
West end: Kabul, Afghanistan

The Grand Trunk Road is one of Asia's oldest and longest major roads. For more than two millennia, it has linked the eastern and western regions of the Indian subcontinent, connecting South Asia with Central Asia. It runs from Chittagong, Bangladesh west to Howrah, West Bengal in India, running across Northern India into Lahore in Pakistan, further up to Kabul in Afghanistan. Its former names include UttaraPatha ("Road to North"), Shah Rah-e-Azam ("Great Road") or Sarak-e-Azam or Badshahi Sarak.

The route spanning the Grand Trunk (GT) road existed during the Maurya Empire, extending from the mouth of the Ganges to the north-western frontier of the Empire.[1] The predecessor of the modern road was rebuilt by Sher Shah Suri, who renovated and extended the ancient Mauryan route in the 16th century.[2] The road was considerably upgraded in the British period between 1833 and 1860.[3]


In ancient times, the term Uttarapatha (from the Sanskrit terms uttara, for north, and patha for road/path) referred to the road to north, the main trade route that followed along the river Ganges, crossed the Gangetic plain, ran through the Punjab to Taxila (Gandhara) and further to Zariaspa or Balkh (Bactria) in Central Asia. The eastern terminus of the Uttarapatha was Tamraliptika (possibly present-day Tamluk) located at the mouth of Ganges in west Bengal. This route became increasingly important due to increasing maritime contacts with the seaports on the eastern coast of India during the Maurya rule. Later, Uttarapatha was the name lent to the vast expanse of region which the northern high road traversed.[citation needed]

File:GTRoad Ambala.jpg
A scene from the Ambala cantonment during the British Raj.

Recent research indicates that during the time of the Maurya Empire in the 3rd century BC, overland trade between India and several parts of western Asia and the Hellenistic world went through the cities of the north-west, primarily Takshashila (Taxila in present-day Pakistan, see inset in map). Takshashila was well connected by roads with other parts of the Maurya empire. The Mauryas had built a highway from Takshashila to Pataliputra (present-day Patna in India). Chandragupta Maurya had a whole army of officials overseeing the maintenance of this road as told by the Greek diplomat Megasthenes who spent fifteen years at the Mauryan court. Constructed in eight stages, this road is said to have connected the cities of Purushapura, Takshashila, Hastinapura, Kanyakubja, Prayag, Pataliputra and Tamralipta, which had essentially been around 2600 kilometers as per current estimates.[1]

In the 16th century, a major road running across the Gangetic plain was built afresh by Afghan emperor Sher Shah Suri, who then ruled much of northern India for a brief period of time. His intention was to link together the remote provinces of his vast empire for administrative and military reasons. The Sadak-e-Azam ('great road') as it was then known, is universally recognized as having been the precursor of the Grand Trunk Road.

File:Peshawar Fort WDL11466.png
Grand Trunk Road in Peshawar (circa 1880)

The road was initially built by Sher Shah to connect Agra, his capital, with Sasaram, his hometown. While Sher Shah died after a brief reign, and his dynasty ended soon afterwards, the road endured as his outstanding legacy. The Mughals, who succeeded the Suris, extended the road westwards to Kabul in Afghanistan, crossing the Khyber Pass and eastwards to the port city of Chittagong in southeast Bengal. This road was later improved by the British rulers of colonial India. Renamed the "Grand Trunk Road" (sometimes referred to as the "Long Walk") by the British occupiers in the 1700s, it was extended to run from Howrah to Peshawar and thus to span a major portion of India.

Over the centuries, the road, which was one of the most important trade routes in the region, facilitated both travel and postal communication. Even during the era of Sher Shah Suri, the road was dotted with caravansarais (highway inns) at regular intervals, and trees were planted on both sides of the road for shade. There are some well maintained water wells along the road in Taxila which were built for travellers during this period. The road was well planned, with milestones along the whole stretch. Some of these milestones can still be seen along the present Delhi-Ambala highway. On another note, the road also facilitated the rapid movement of troops and of foreign invaders. It expedited the looting raids, into India's interior regions, of Afghan and Persian invaders and also facilitated the movement of British troops from Bengal into the north Indian plain.


File:Ind-Pak Border.JPG
G T Road at Indo-Pak Border
File:Nekka Margalla.JPG
G T Road passing by the westernmost point of Margalla Range, Islamabad

Today, the Grand Trunk Road (GT Road) remains a continuum that covers a distance of over Script error: No such module "convert".. From its origin at Chittagong, it traverses to Sonargaon in the Narayanganj District of central Bangladesh, it reaches India, passing through Howrah, Bardhaman, Panagarh (where it passes Ramnabagan Wildlife Sanctuary), Durgapur, Asansol, Dhanbad, Aurangabad, Dehri-on-sone, Sasaram, Mohania, Mughalsarai, Varanasi, Allahabad, Kanpur, Kalianpur, Kannauj, Etah, Aligarh, Ghaziabad, Delhi, Panipat, Karnal, Ambala, Khanna, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Amritsar. Within India, the major portion of the road – the stretch between Howrah to Kanpur is NH-2 and Kanpur to Delhi – is known as NH-91 and that between Delhi and Wagah, at the border with Pakistan, is known as NH-1. From the Pakistan border the Grand Trunk Road (part of the N-5) continues north through Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Jhelum, Rawalpindi, Attock District, Nowshera, Peshawar and Landi Kotal. It then enters Afghanistan through the Khyber pass and continues west through Jalalabad, Surobi and ends at Kabul, a large part of the Afghan leg of Grand Trunk Road is today part of the Jalalabad-Kabul Road.

Modern developments

The Grand Trunk Road continues to be one of the major arteries of India and Pakistan. Pakistan has further developed its own extensive and large network of controlled access Motorways and Expressways. The Indian section is part of the ambitious Golden Quadrilateral project. For over four centuries, the Grand Trunk Road has remained, in the words of author Rudyard Kipling: "such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world".[4]


See also


  • Farooque, Abdul Khair Muhammad (1977), Roads and Communications in Mughal India. Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delli.
  • Weller, Anthony (1997), Days and Nights on the Grand Trunk Road: Calcutta to Khyber. Marlowe & Company.
  • Kipling, Rudyard (1901), Kim. Considered one of Kipling's finest works, it is set mostly along the Grand Trunk Road. Free e-texts are available, for instance here.


  1. ^ a b K. M. Sarkar (1927). The Grand Trunk Road in the Punjab: 1849-1886. Atlantic Publishers & Distri. pp. 2–. GGKEY:GQWKH1K79D6. 
  2. ^ Chaudhry, Amrita (27 May 2012). "Cracks on a historical highway". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on 22 May 2013. quote: What Chandragupta had begun, his grandson Ashoka perfected. Trees were planted, ... Serais built. p.2
  3. ^ David Arnold (historian); Science, technology, and medicine in colonial India (New Cambr hist India v.III.5) Cambridge University Press, 2000, 234 pages p.106
  4. ^ A description of the road by Kipling, found both in his letters and in the novel "Kim". He writes: "Look! Brahmins and chumars, bankers and tinkers, barbers and bunnias, pilgrims -and potters - all the world going and coming. It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood. And truly the Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle. It runs straight, bearing without crowding India's traffic for fifteen hundred miles - such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world."
  • Usha Masson Luther; Moonis Raza (1990). Historical routes of north west Indian Subcontinent, Lahore to Delhi, 1550s-1850s A.D. Sagar Publications. 

External links