The GT Road Blog

NPR correspondents are taking the historic Grand Trunk Road  from the Bay of Bengal in the east to the Hindu Kush mountains in the west, across the Indian subcontinent.  They talk about life along the route. This is the first post from when they arrived in Pakistan, last month. We hope to reproduce, over the next few days, here on PTH, their thoughts and impressions on the journey through Pakistan.

In Pakistan, The Grand Trunk Road Is ‘An Expression Of Hope’

By Steve Inskeep

Our colleague Philip Reeves began this journey by struggling to find the beginning of the Grand Trunk Road. We had no such problem finding where it crossed into Pakistan. Here the highway crosses one of the more heavily fortified borders on earth.

You don’t just drive across from India: you leave your car behind and walk along a four-lane highway for several hundred yards, with porters lugging your bags. You walk right through an immigration station, and under an arched gateway in a wall that’s crenellated like a castle. And here comes Phil now, walking over from India to where we wait on the Pakistan side. He’s cheerful and gray-haired, striding on the pavement through the scorching May afternoon, wearing a baby-blue shirt that shows no sign of sweat.

Here at the border, the Grand Trunk Road stands as an expression of hope. Both nations have built it up to a modern highway. The road is ready for the time when better relations allow more trade across the line where India and Pakistan have repeatedly fought wars since their independence in 1947.

It’s still just a hope. The reality is a tiny stand beside the road, where Mohammad Shoib works. He’s a clean-shaven 16-year-old in a striped gray shirt. He spends his mornings in high school and his afternoons here in the sun. He sells toy cars, Chinese-made MP3 players, and miniature soccer balls to the trickle of travelers who pass through. Shoib says the stand brings in the equivalent of about $12 per day, which he gives to his parents.

Travelers buy their souvenirs and catch little gasoline-powered rickshaws along the road. Like many of them, we’re heading westward, toward the Pakistani city of Lahore. That city, too, has been hit hard by discord in South Asia, but there’s a delightful energy to it, a riot of green along the sides of the road, quaint wooden benches at the bus stops.

In the evening, Phil dined with much of our Pakistan crew at an outdoor restaurant. The darkening sky seemed to portend rain, though it didn’t quite feel like a thunderstorm coming; it felt like one of those summer-drought storms that threatens but never quite reaches the earth.

The waiters brought lamb kebab — bits of meat brought to the table on steel skewers the size of swords. We ordered hot flat bread called paranta, which resembles a pancake with the syrup baked in. Then, as we dined beneath the sky in Lahore, the weather intensified.

Bolts of lightning flashed across the sky. The wind picked up, carrying spitballs of rain. Gusts of wind arrived, seeming to bring along a desert sandstorm. Grit filled our eyes. We lowered our heads and covered our faces. We moved the plates to keep the white tablecloth from flying away.

Our waiters continued working as if it were nothing, serving a hot cup of tea in the midst of the tempest. They stood by attentively as if we might want more paranta with our sand.

This is Pakistan.

People are accustomed to storms.


Filed under culture, Heritage, Identity, India, Pakistan, Travel

5 responses to “The GT Road Blog

  1. Mustafa Shaban

    Good initiative….nice post.

  2. PMA

    NPR (National Public Radio – USA) has used GT Road as a backdrop for its documentary program which is fine. But things on the ground have drastically changed since the road was first laid out by the Brits one-and-half centuries ago. The road has been made a duel-carriage four-lane highway and renamed as National Highway No. 5 (N-5). Sections of it has been realigned to bypass all the major cities en route with new and modern duel-bridges over every major river. After crossing River Ravi the N-5 heads further south towards Multan, Bahawalpur, Sukkur, Hyderabad, Thatta. A journey of one thousand miles starting from the city of Torkham at the Afghanistan border finally ends at Karachi on the Arabian Sea. The road is a long distance trucker’s delight but for the nostalgic mind: It is no longer your grandfather’s GT Road.

  3. iqbal akhund

    Grand Trunk road was laid out not by the British but by Shershah Suri, Afghan conquerer and ruler in the 16th (?) century

  4. Hayyer

    Actually it is or was grandfather’s GT Road. Here in India it is referred to as National Highway 1. Anyone under 40 may look askance if you mentioned travelling on the GT Road. Even in Kolkata where it terminates it is a spanking 6 lane highway and no one remembers a “GT Road”.

  5. Maryanne Khan

    I do hope these journalists have more to say about the people they interact with. I hope they talk to real people and report on what the ordinary folk are talking and thinking about.

    They mention the little boy and their ‘entourage’, but who are they? What are their stories? Surely the story is about more than the road, the benches in Lahore and the bread?