NPR logo Time Traveling On The Grand Trunk Road

Along The 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.

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.

Article continues after sponsorship

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.