NPR logo Traveling At 'Horse Speed' To Noida: Trek On India's Part Of Grand Trunk Continues

Grand Trunk Road

Traveling At 'Horse Speed' To Noida: Trek On India's Part Of Grand Trunk Continues

NPR correspondents are taking The Two-Way with them along the historic Grand Trunk Road that stretches from the Bay of Bengal in the east to the Hindu Kush mountains in the west, across the Indian subcontinent. They're preparing an upcoming Morning Edition series about life along the route. As Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep says, "a new generation is growing up along that ancient road" and NPR will be telling the stories of those young Indians and Pakistanis who face vast opportunities — and vast problems. Click here to see all of the team's posts.

The photo gallery above is from our sister blog The Picture Show. Here is the team's latest dispatch from the road:

By Philip Reeves

We now know what it must have been like on the Grand Trunk Road in the days when the fastest form of travel was a horse.

A horse would have certainly found it easier to negotiate some of the axle-snapping potholes we've encountered in the last few miles.

Some of these were as wide and deep as the craters left by a small bomb.

We were traveling towards India's capital, New Delhi, after spending the day talking to people in the dusty, brooding city of Aligarh.

So far much of our journey across the plains of north India has been spent complacently gliding along the wide and often empty highway — National Highway Two.

But, some 50 miles before Aligarh, we'd forked off. We were now wrestling our way through the unruly mayhem of a vastly inferior road (Highway 91).

As we bumped and jolted along, I consoled myself with two thoughts.

The first was that we weren't going far — a mere 65 miles.

The second was simply the word "Noida".

On the road into Noida. (Kainaz Amaria for NPR) hide caption

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"Noida, Noida", I thought, as we waited in a fog of fumes and dust at a railway crossing amid a scrum of trucks, battered buses, and highly competitive motorcyclists.

"Noida, Noida," as the evening train finally rattled through the junction, and we set off hopefully, only to hit another field of potholes a few minutes down the road.

I'd better explain.

Noida is a new metropolis that's rearing up on the landscape on the edge of New Delhi, not far from the historic route of the Grand Truck Road. It's become a center for new age businesses — multi-media, technology, pharmaceuticals, telecoms and so on.

Indians have an insatiable appetite for acronyms. Noida stands for the "New Okhla Industrial Development Authority".

This extraordinarily dreary name has not prevented Noida from acquiring a reputation tinged with glamor.

Neighboring New Delhi remains a pretty straight-laced and solemn government town, even though the number of pubs and clubs has been growing in the last few years. The rich and powerful do plenty of partying. But most of this happens behind closed doors.

I recently asked a Delhi taxi driver where the city's young folk go if they want to dance until the early hours. "Noida," he replied, with a disapproving scowl. Others have said the same. Noida is said to be where the truly dedicated clubbers go.

My obsession with reaching Noida was for a different reason. I wanted to see the contrast between this rapidly changing new urban sprawl and rural India, much of which is poor and backward.

Above all, after slogging across the landscape for so long, I desperately wanted to down a cold beer or two in a modern bar.

Perhaps — I thought — there would be an added bonus: We might get to see some young and newly affluent metropolitan Indians enjoying a night out. Young Indians are, after all, the focus of NPR's trip along this ancient trade route.

We finally rolled into Noida, well after dark. The journey had taken nearly four hours — which means we averaged roughly 16 miles an hour. Horse speed.

It was all a bit of a disappointment.

Ragged and dusty, we clomped into the Radisson Hotel, and had a drink in a smart but thinly populated bar. We moved on to a bar bistro. Not much was happening there either.

One of our party, photojournalist Kainaz Amaria, went to investigate a nearby night club. It was closed for repairs. She stopped a car, to seek further advice. We'd be better off heading to Delhi, the driver said. "Noida's dead," Kainaz reported.

So we moved on. We are now in New Delhi, preparing to head north, to Punjab and India's border with Pakisan.

True, the drinks in Noida were good.

But the price of one beer would have bought 30 breakfasts on the Grand Trunk Road.