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Origins of Grant Trunk Road

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Posts: 3448
Joined: 25 Jun 1999 11:31

Origins of Grant Trunk Road

Postby Paul » 29 Oct 2002 04:44

Found these references on the origins of the Grand Trunk Road in the Jung Sunday section ( written by a sane Pakistani...there is hope after all :) ). I remember reading in NCERT History books too that Sher Shah Sur laid the GT Road when it is obvious that the Road existed long before Islam came to India. We can collect all references to the GT Road in pre-islamic era future use.

Also gives insisght into the myopic Pakistani mindset which cannot accept anything good havinng a non-muslim origin.

Old enough to know some history

By Salman Rashid

Walking about in Lakho Dehar to discover... well, a baoli most probably from the Sikh times

I met Abdus Sattar several months ago. He said his village of Lakho Dehar just outside the Lahore suburb of Daroghawala was an ancient village that I ought to see. There were ruins and ruins to check out as well as an ancient baoli -- a stepped well. The village, moreover, was situated on a mound which was sign of its hoariness, said Sattar.

A couple of weeks ago I went out to Lakho Dehar. I had called Sattar the evening before and told him I would arrive at eight in the morning, but when I got there fifteen minutes late, the good man was still asleep. Great start, I thought to myself. But out of bed and with some water splashed on his face in a jiffy, Sattar took me walkabout in the village. Chhutti Deori (roofed vestibule) was what he wanted me to see first. The building together with a clump of auxiliary structures could not have been older than a hundred and fifty years and was scarcely interesting.
Sprinkled here and there in the alleyways were other signs of older buildings: the small tile of the Mughal era with grafts of later bricks introduced during the Raj. But none were interesting and we moved on to the east side of the village. There, Sattar said, stood the gateway. An elderly gentleman joined us as we walked and said he had seen the gateway as a young man.

"You mean it's no longer there?" I asked.

"Of course it isn't. It was torn down years ago to build the mosque and madrassa," said the man.

Sattar bravely pointed to the place where the gate house had once stood in relation to the walls of the house on one side and the mosque on the other. I suppose that was the time disappointment began to show on my face and Sattar suggested we go speak to some "learned people" and hear some real history from them.

He took me to a large bungalow in the main street leading into the village from the west. The gentleman was a lawyer by profession whose family had lived in Lakho Dehar for a couple of hundred years and that, Sattar thought, was enough for him to be versed in the history of the village. Here we learned the village had a defensive wall and gates and that the Ravi washed its western ramparts. Those were the days when Sher Shah Suri built his Grand Trunk Road and started his famous postal system.

I wanted to ask if before nature invented the Pathan king we were all rocks or trees firmly rooted in perpetuation to where we were born. It seems that we had never felt the need to travel either for pleasure or for business, nor too did we ever write letters before the 16th century. Then all of sudden providence endowed us with Sher Shah and suddenly we had a road and a postal system and we were busy travelling and writing letters to remember his great endowment for the rest of time.

I have never ceased to marvel the way everybody attributes the Grand Trunk Road and a postal system to Sher Shah Suri, implying there was darkness before his time.

But I did not tell the kindly gentleman that we had been gallivanting about long before the 16th century and that we could only have done that with a full network of roads. Nor too did I wish to burden his mind with the fact that Sher Shah's Grand Trunk Road was simply the Rajapatha (The King's Way) that ran from Patna to Kabul as far back as the 4th century BC -- very likely earlier. I did not tell him that the great 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. And I did not tell him that Sher Shah had not invented the postal system either.

But we thanked him for the tea and went to see old Ghulam Nabi. This man was so old, said Sattar, he was sure to know some history. Ghulam Nabi was about seventy and he only knew that his family came from the village of Ilowana which is now marked by a pottery-strewn mound some way off to the north-east. I asked if there was a story and he admitted there was indeed one.

"I'll tell you the story," said Ghulam Nabi. "But I can tell you only what I know," he added cautiously. How I ached to ask him to also tell me all that he did not know. Why, when our politicians, both civil and military, have spent the last fifty five years telling us everything under the sky they hadn't the foggiest clue about, I saw nothing wrong with old Ghulam Nabi expounding on the history of Ilowana or Lakho Dehar.

A sight better than the politicos, Ghulam Nabi said that Ilowana was a Gujjar village where the local raja once espied a pretty girl. He demanded her hand and the village sage advised the maiden's father to invite the raja in a wedding procession. Meanwhile, the Gujjars, on the sage's advice made a large pen with thorny jujube bushes ostensibly for the barat to be entertained within. When they arrived playing their flutes and beating their drums they were ceremoniously seated in the pen and the dry thorns set alight. The entire party perished in the fire and the Gujjars, fearing retaliation from the raja's family, abandoned the village.

I asked what the connection was with Lakho Dehar. Ghulam Nabi looked bemused. There was no connection other than that his family had come to Lakho Dehar after Ilowana was abandoned. Then suddenly he remembered he knew one story about Lakho Dehar as well.

He began with the preamble about being able to tell no more than what he knew: the village was founded by Lakho who was of the clan of Dehar. Point. End of Story.

The Dehars, incidentally, are a numerous Jat clan not akin to the Dahars of Sindh who are descendants of the Rajput Raja Dahar who resisted Mohammed bin Qasim.

Just when I thought nothing was coming out of this outing and that I ought to head for home, Sattar mentioned the baoli. We jolted down the narrow alley on his old motorcycle and out of the village towards a clump of trees about a kilometre away. The baoli was a mess. The local zamindar had added to the original pavilion above the top of the staircase leading into the well. The steps were choked with vegetation and refuse and it was nearly impossible to use them. But the well itself was interesting for its octagonal shape. Never having seen a well like that I assumed it was ancient. Moreover, the architecture, especially the shallow, rounded arches and the flattish dome, of the pavilion also fooled me. Unfortunately all this was rather disfigured with modern brick and mortar additions.

Sattar said I ought to talk to Dr. Saifur Rahman Dar who had visited the well many years ago. When I spoke to Dr Dar later, he was surprised anyone should remember his visit of 1985. But he very kindly gave me a paper he had written at that time. Entitled 'Five rare surviving Baolis of Lahore', it tells us that judging from the architecture of the pavilion the well could not be older than the Sikh period (1762-1849). Dr Dar, however, agreed that octagonal wells being rare in Pakistan, the Lakho Dehar baoli was an important monument.

We returned to Sattar's home for the final round of tea. He told me his street was once called Khatrian wali Gali (Traders' Alley) and that it was lined with shops and trading houses. He had had it renamed Mujahidan wali Gali (Holy Warriors' Street). The Afghan War had arrived, I thought. Sattar said he and several other young men of the street had voluntarily joined the army to fight in the 1965 war against India. It was because of their spirit of holy war that the street was so called.

"Some of those who went to the war from our street were killed which included me and my brother," Sattar said with a straight face.

It took me a couple of seconds to realise he wanted to say that some of those who went from his street, which included him and his brother, were killed. As I rode back home, I smiled thinking of the dead man who had told me tales. I continue to smile whenever I think of that outing. This time at the vehemence with which Sattar had insisted his village was at least one thousand years old because there were some families who are known to have lived there for about two hundred years.

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Re: Origins of Grant Trunk Road

Postby Kumar » 30 Oct 2002 11:21

The Grand Trunk road was very prominent during the Maurayn empire, and emperor Ashoka has been credited with building/rebuilding it and making it comfortable for travelers and ensuring their safety. The next big name in the history of Grand Trunk road is Sher-Shah Suri, the Afghan who was born in Sasaram (Bihar) and became emperor in Delhi between Mughals Babar and Humayun. He again rebuilt the road and made it convenient and safe for travelers. (Or may be he just wanted to have a nice highway between Sasaram and Afghanistan, his two homes! :) ) After Sher-Shah, British were the ones to revive the road.

Unfortunately in independent India the road has become a caricature of its old self. It is hardly grand anymore! And it doesn't feel much like a highway during most of its stretch, except for the traffic. Traffic can be huge, especially of carrier trucks. Its a sorry sight to see trucks in ditches at very regular intervals of few kilometers along the "highway" which is awfully and inadequately narrow for the kind of traffic it sustains.

If I could dream I would dream of the Grand Trunk road as a major multilane interstate expressway as in USA, linking one part of country to the other. But given the general bad conditions of roads and lack of funds, it will take a while to realize. Whichever Prime Minister takes up the task of making Grand Trunk road grand again, will share a unique spot in the line of Ashoka and Sher-shah! One surefire way to ensure one's place in history! ;)

The following site has some info about Grand Trunk road.

Its dangers aside, the GT remains, as Kipling wrote, "the road of Hindustan" along which "all India spread out to left and right." What's more, it runs through many of India's most historic places, including Delhi, Agra, and Varanasi, the holiest city of Hinduism, and ends just beyond Calcutta, the capital of the British Raj.

Geography has destined the GT to play a role in the history of India in every age. Since the Aryan invasion of the subcontinent, 3,500 years ago, the natural route that starts at the Khyber Pass and sweeps east, between the Himalayas and the Thar Desert onto the Gangetic plain, has served as a corridor for the movement of travelers, goods, armies, and ideas. Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism all developed in its environs, and Muslim proselytizers traveled it on their missions. Since Partition, in 1947, Pakistan has controlled the 300-mile segment between Peshawar and Lahore, but the other 1,250 miles of the GT still link six Indian states. It is the lifeline of northern India.

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Re: Origins of Grant Trunk Road

Postby Paul » 30 Oct 2002 12:23

Thank you for the very interesting link. Maybe we can also find an interesting ref. linking the GT Road to the Silk Route.

Posts: 834
Joined: 01 Jan 2001 12:31

Re: Origins of Grant Trunk Road

Postby Sridhar » 30 Oct 2002 22:30

The GT road is being modernized as part of the National Highway Development Project. Some stretches have already been built. ABV will surely have a place in history (at least for the next few decades if not as long as Ashoka or Sher Shah)

Posts: 259
Joined: 13 Feb 1999 12:31

Re: Origins of Grant Trunk Road

Postby Kumar » 31 Oct 2002 00:04

Some info on world bank loan for refurbishing GT road:

British Poetry on Grand Trunk Road! :cool:

Books on GT road:
Days and Nights on the Grand Trunk Road

Misc Links:
Steve Coll

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Joined: 09 Feb 1999 12:31

Re: Origins of Grant Trunk Road

Postby svinayak » 31 Oct 2002 00:36

If anybody says that India was never a country before the colonial period then say that India had a GT road 1500 Km for 2000+ years.

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