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Grand Trunk Road: A River Of life That Exists Nowhere Else In The World

According to Rudyard Kipling, the Grand Trunk Road was 'such a river of life as exists nowhere else in the world, the lifeblood of the Indian sub-continent along which the ideas that have shaped its culture have flowed for more than 2,000 years. The Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Sikh religions sprang up around it, Alexander the Great marched his army across the Indus on it and the Mughals spread the might of their empire along it.

Known to 17th-century British travellers as the 'long Walk', the Grand Trunk Road runs for 2,400 km (1,500 mi) between Kabul and Kolkata, passing through the historic cities of Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Amritsar, Delhi, Agra and Varanasi.

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From the romantic Mughal city of Lahore, the heart of Pakistan, whether you travel northwards toward the Afghan border of the south into India, you get swept up in the life of the road. The stream of traffic moves at a cracking pace as motley bullock carts, bicycles, auto-rickshaws and battered 1950s cars play chicken with the psychedelic trucks and buses. These dazzling works of art on wheels are practically a national symbol of Pakistan, each exquisitely painted carriage work a unique story, telling of the owner's region, ethnic origin colour and calligraphy.

In the shade of the wayside, trees are street vendors and caravanserais (truckstops), men lolling on charpoys (string beds), children playing in the dust, loose livestock wandering into the traffic, graffiti and garish advertisements on every inch of the well.

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It feels as though the entire world is on the move. As you cross the Jehlum River, where Alexander defeated the armies of Porus in an epic battle of 326 BC, you are exultantly aware of your small part in this endless sea of humanity.

When to visit

September to April

Duration of the journey

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As long as you like

Highlights

  • Qissa Khawani bazaar (bazaar of the Storytellers) in Peshawar Badshahi Mosque in Lahore
  • Bazaars of Rawalpindi
  • Wah Garden at Hasan Abdal
  • Greco-Buddist ruins in Taxila

You should know

At the time of writing, the political situation in Pakistan is very dynamic and most governments advise against all non-essential travel.

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