Grand Trunk Road

Time Traveling On The Grand Trunk Road

Time travel is not impossible in Pakistan. More than a hundred years seem to separate the Grand Trunk Road from the modern M-2 Motorway that runs parallel to it. But progress brings tradeoffs. Though you gain time and relative safety on the Motorway, you lose the cacophony of life that embodies the Grand Trunk Road. In short, the Road makes you realize how boring road travel has become in the age of the automobile.

  • The view from the Nicholson Monument in Taxila overlooking the road at sunset.
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    The view from the Nicholson Monument in Taxila overlooking the road at sunset.
    John Poole/NPR
  • A sign in Taxila, Pakistan, memorializes an ancient cobblestoned section of the Grand Trunk Road. Construction of the road is credited to the 16th century Afghan sovereign Sher Shah Suri.
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    A sign in Taxila, Pakistan, memorializes an ancient cobblestoned section of the Grand Trunk Road. Construction of the road is credited to the 16th century Afghan sovereign Sher Shah Suri.
    John Poole/NPR
  • Every evening Pakistani and Indian guards perform a ceremonial military ritual at the Wagah border crossing. Hundreds of Indians, Pakistanis and foreign tourists come to watch the show. Here, a bus drives off after the ceremony.
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    Every evening Pakistani and Indian guards perform a ceremonial military ritual at the Wagah border crossing. Hundreds of Indians, Pakistanis and foreign tourists come to watch the show. Here, a bus drives off after the ceremony.
    John Poole/NPR
  • A motorist travels down the road in Lahore.
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    A motorist travels down the road in Lahore.
    John Poole/NPR
  • On the Pakistan side of the Wagah border crossing, a truck waits to be loaded with goods from the Indian side. Customs law mandates that all goods must be unloaded from trucks on one side of the border and reloaded onto different trucks on the other side.
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    On the Pakistan side of the Wagah border crossing, a truck waits to be loaded with goods from the Indian side. Customs law mandates that all goods must be unloaded from trucks on one side of the border and reloaded onto different trucks on the other side.
    John Poole/NPR
  • The Grand Trunk Road is one of South Asia's oldest and longest major roads. For centuries, it has linked the eastern and western regions of the subcontinent.
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    The Grand Trunk Road is one of South Asia's oldest and longest major roads. For centuries, it has linked the eastern and western regions of the subcontinent.
    John Poole/NPR
  • A bucolic street scene just off the road, outside of Islamabad.
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    A bucolic street scene just off the road, outside of Islamabad.
    John Poole/NPR
  • A boy roasts corn in a bowl of rock salt along a stretch of road west of Islamabad.
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    A boy roasts corn in a bowl of rock salt along a stretch of road west of Islamabad.
    John Poole/NPR
  • A young goat stands stranded in the center of the road outside Rawalpindi, Pakistan. An 18-wheeler skidded to avoid him, before a shop owner chased him off the road.
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    A young goat stands stranded in the center of the road outside Rawalpindi, Pakistan. An 18-wheeler skidded to avoid him, before a shop owner chased him off the road.
    John Poole/NPR
  • A donkey grazes in a fallow field in Mohib Banda, a small farming village in Pakistan that is the family home of Faisal Shahzad, a suspect in the attempted Times Square car bombing in New York.
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    A donkey grazes in a fallow field in Mohib Banda, a small farming village in Pakistan that is the family home of Faisal Shahzad, a suspect in the attempted Times Square car bombing in New York.
    John Poole/NPR
  • A boy and his donkey wait to cross the road between Islamabad and Peshawar.
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    A boy and his donkey wait to cross the road between Islamabad and Peshawar.
    John Poole/NPR
  • After getting off a small bus, a man leads his children across a stretch of road between Islamabad and Peshawar.
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    After getting off a small bus, a man leads his children across a stretch of road between Islamabad and Peshawar.
    John Poole/NPR

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You also realize how isolated and fussy travel has become in the West. Here on the road it is perfectly acceptable to stop in the middle of the highway — to, say, snap a picture or grab a roasted ear of corn. Trucks and rickshaws might honk, but honking is more of a form of speech than an expression of anger. More often than not, it simply announces, "Hey. I'm here. And I'm driving 50 mph on the shoulder to get around a camel. Just move to the left a bit and we'll all be fine."

Some university students we talked to were surprised we were driving the Grand Trunk Road. "You should drive the motorway!" they exclaimed. We have modern, good roads, they explained. And it's true, if your definition of a good road is one that gets you from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

But older drivers seem to have a different perspective: "It puts you to sleep," says my translator Shabbir. I would have to agree, even if the alternative might involve a near-death experience with a camel and a rickshaw.

View more of John's photos from the series Along The Grand Trunk Road: Coming Of Age In India And Pakistan.

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