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Sites along the Badshahi Marg - The Grand Trunk Road

Date of Submission: 15/04/2014
Criteria: (ii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
States of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
Ref.: 5891
Word File

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Since time immemorial, road(s) as an inorganic identity have been one of the significant connecting mediums for human social existence across the world. In fact the term road is an institutionalized category which emerges, though not always, from the social reconstitution of a natural route or path. Hence human prowess exercised in tandem with ecological factors has given rise to formalized roads for communication. Grand Trunk road was historically known in the medieval period as the Imperial Highway, from the Indian subcontinent and has been a dynamic site for the emergence and fusion of indigenous and foreign social, political, economic and cultural practices.

The Grand Trunk road connected Kabul (Afghanistan) to Sonargaon (Bangladesh) in the medieval period of Indian History. The road has had a few forerunners that were constructed during the Mauryan and Kushan periods. Chandra Gupta Maurya (321-297 B.C.), the founder of the Mauryan Empire in India can be considered as the founding patron of this route and laid the foundation of the Uttarapath (northern trans-regional route). The other major southern-route of the time was the Dakshinapatha. Construction of the road was one of the methods of consolidation of power as it linked an entire kingdom. Around 78 -114 A.D. the great Kushan ruler Kanishka is said to have come to power. The unification of many lands under Kanishka made for an easy passage of ideas from one part of his territory to the other and even to the areas of the world.

Babur, the first Mughal ruler in India came in 1526 A.D. He gave great importance to the road connectedness between Kabul and Agra. Sher Shah Sur (A.D. 1540 – 1545), the courageous Pathan commander in the Mughal army, overthrew the Mughal rule in India. He is credited to have developed the phenomenon now known as the ‘Sher Shah Suri Marg’, the National Highway Number 1 in his short reign of 5 years. The route crystallised as an important symbol for expressing the imperial sovereignty that was exhibited to a large extent by the monumental structures that were patronized along this route. The road was initially built by Sher Shah Sur to connect Agra, his capital, with Sasaram, his hometown. It was soon extended westward to Multan (now in Pakistan) and eastward to Sonargaon in Bengal (now in Bangladesh). Special importance was given to safety and well being of travellers which certainly had a positive influence on trade and trading activities on the route. Sarais that were built as architectural complexes were managed by state establishments and used both as dak-posts and resting places for travellers.

Between 1555 A.D. and 1707 A.D., the Mughal dynasty is known to have achieved a remarkable level of political and administrative unity. The Mughals built upon and enhanced what was introduced in India by Sher Shah and further refined the use of the road as an ‘instrument of government.’ The physical characteristics of the road and its surroundings attest the conscious and ambitious road policy of the Mughals, most notably during the reigns of Akbar (A.D. 1556-1605) and Jahangir (A.D. 1605-1627). Jahangir ordered landlords in far off areas to construct sarais so that it could be a way of encouragement for people to come and settle close to the sarais. The Mughal rule saw a lot of development work along the royal highway carried out by the nobles of the period as well.

The Imperial Gazetteer of India compiled in the early nineteenth century stated that before the advent of the British rule, roadways in the modern sense did not exist in India. The stretch of Grand Trunk road between Ambala and Karnal was opened in 1856 and has been as a reason for the success of the British against the mutineers in Delhi. The experience convinced the British administrators that the improvement of the means of communications was a matter of “paramount necessity”. Today the road has been divided as National Highway 1 and 2 in India and continues to be an important route.

It is evident in the landscape of the Grand Trunk road that it is intricately linked with people, their culture and their livelihoods throughout history.  The relationship of communities with nature in the form of festivals and more importantly livelihoods leads one to believe that nature has played a vibrant role in every sphere of human life.

Kos minars (constructed at specified distances along the route) are of significance as indicators of the route through the entire stretch of the Grand Trunk road. A total of 44 Kos minars proposed as part of this serial. 

Forts were centres of political control in the region. They were of great significance as the place of decision making.  

Sarai and Water Sturtures catered to the basic needs of the travelers along the route. They also served as place of informal exchange between travelers.

Gardens served for rejuvenation both for the travelers and local residents.

Mosques and Stupas were important religious centres. They helped the travelers maintain their religious assosication away from homeland.

Several factors determined the delineation of clusters in the proposal of this series:

•  Cohesive historic narratives in the past and current inter relationships;

•  Nature of cultural heritage, inter relationships between the various heritage structures of architectural and historical value and of intangible heritage due to past events, historic persons, current uses and associations etc;

•  Proximity to each other, scale, location and connectivity with large cities (as point to access by cultural tourists) and the Grand Trunk Road itself.

The serial contains following components:


Attari 310 35’25.88”N/ 740 26’08.30”E ; Rajgarh 300 24’20.63”N/ 760 43’57.49”E; 2 Gateways of old sarai, Taran Tarn; Rambagh Gate, Amritsar; Ancient Site and Buddhist Stupa, Sanghol; Fatehgarh Sahib; Tomb of Muhammad Momin and Haji Jamal, Nakodar; 17 Kos Minars in the region; Mughal bridge; 4 Sarai; 2 mounds; 2 Ancient site; PulKanjri; Jahaji Haveli, Todar Mal, Sirhind; AamKhas Bagh, Sirhind; Hadira – SultanpurLodhi; 3 Tombs, 2 Mosque


Thanesar 28°58’36.05” N/ 76°49'41.50"E; Gharaunda 29.5400° N, 76.9700° E 


28°39’20.98” N/ 77°14’27.53”E; Red Fort; Purana Qila; Humayun’s Tomb; 5 Tombs; 1 Kos Minar; 1 Sarai; 3 Water Structures

Uttar Pradesh

Agra Fort 27°10’49.44” N/ 78°01’06.76”E; Allahabad Fort 25.4500° N, 81.8500° E ; 35 Kos Minars; 5 Gardens; 1 Sarai; 3 Water Structures; 4 Mosques; 1 Bhuddist Stupa


Tomb of Shamsher Khan, Shamshernagar; Tomb of Hasan Shah Suri, Sasaram24°56'53.07"N/ 84°00'33.80"E; Tomb of Sher Shah Suri, Sasaram; Rohtasgarh fort, Rohtasgarh 32°57′45″N, 73°35′20″E.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The roads connecting one end of the continent to the other were not merely ways of communication or transportation. Each of these and all of them together constitute cultural routes across a diversity of landscapes, terrains, urban centres and people. Though these roads were built for specific purposes by different rulers over a long period of history these have become sites where heritage values and cultural properties associated to it were generated. A variety of cultural properties — kos minars, forts, sarais, tombs, gardens, water-structures, mosques and stupas were built along the route, which form a part of this serial. The properties selected for this serial are from Indian states of: Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The road is a connector, a bridge, a continuous thread that weaves the different terrains, cultures and people of the sub-continent together. As the road network has been the means for people to have come into this region and which then has affected the coming together of diverse cultural influences. The transmission of knowledge into and through the region has also led to the creation of its unique cultural identity (as a melting pot of traditions). The Grand Trunk road has contributed significantly in shaping of civilizations - a road that runs for more than 3000 kilometres from one end of the Indian Subcontinent to the other, while passing through mountainous rugged terrain, river valleys, doabs and river plains. This route has also been witness to several generations of conquerors and invaders into India. It is through this route that historical personalities such as Darius, the great Persian kings, Alexander the Great, Mauryans, Kushans, Genghis Khan, Timur, Babur and many others crossed into the Indian subcontinent.

Criterion (ii): The monumental remains along this cultural route represent/ exhibit the evolution and innovative genius influenced from Central Asia and stylised to form a unique regional architectural style. These influences can be noted in architectural planning, choice of material, construction methods, decorative styles and techniques.

The imperial material remains from medieval period such as sarais, kosminar, baolis , gardens and tomb represent indigenous expression of conventional Turkish, Persian and European construction and ornamentation skills such as arcuated style, kashigari (tile works), pietradura, nakashi and stucco. This validates the advancement in building techniques, machinery and convergence of foreign and indigenous knowledge system.

Criterion (vi): The syncretic living traditions that have emerged along the Grand Trunk Road from the Bhakti and Sufi inter-religious conversation can be noted embedded deeply in the sites along the route. These influences have travelled to the region through the Grand Trunk road bringing along with it the Sufi traditions from Central Asia and Bhakti ideologies from South and Central India.

There are three elements of this tradition that are discernible and have become synonym to this region. First element is the idea of celebrating diversity thereby making space for people from all walks of life to participate in creating the fabric of a mutually enriching everyday life. This is clearly visible from the high associational connect that the areas along the Grand Trunk road witnesses with respect to Bhakti and Sufi poets & saints between 13th and 18th Century. The two traditions are as a result of amalgamation of the mainstream Hindusim and Islam.

Second element is the work of crafts that weave and interlace different social and cultural values. These can be seen throughout the length of the road in works of calligraphy, miniature art, architecture, weaving, jewelry making, utensil and weapon making, and other associated crafts with the religious fabric of the society. The influx of ideas and influences in the area has been so high that it has also translated onto the representation of art and craft form in the area under consideration.

Along with the crafts a number of fairs, festivals and other forms of public gatherings showcase the living memory of many associated personalities, in most cases poets, sufis or saints and singers. The oral traditions have been instrumental in bringing down from one generation to the other stories, tales, and life activities of many revered personalities of the regions.

The third and the most significant element of this tradition is the idea of the city. Whether the settlements came first or the road is something that cannot be ascertained. But there is no doubt that both have a strong inter-relation. The opulence of a road depends on the nature of cities and settlement that it passes through whereas the growth and development of the city /settlement depends on the kind of roads that traverse through it. Commerce has been an important reason for the development of many cities/ settlements along the road. Additionally religion is the other important factor that can be noted as the rationale for the growth of urban areas.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The route has witnessed a long and continuous existence. Moreover the large sections of the present road traverse on the original course of the road with only a few re-alignments, thereby keeping its authenticity intact to a large extent.  Furthermore the integrity of the road provides for ample exemplars to validate the authenticity of the road as well as sites that render continuity of architectural styles, traditional knowledge systems and oral traditions.


The authenticity of this cultural route is attributed to its continued usage as a principal connector between important imperial cities/ settlements during different periods of history. The route has been fully functional since the ancient period of Indian history leading to the cultural evolution of the northern belt of the Indian sub-continent. It has been instrumental in the growth and uninterrupted advancement of major social, cultural and political centres such as Lahore, Amritsar, Sirhind, Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Calcutta to name a few. 

The material authenticity of the route is lies in the built heritage of the Mughal period buildings associated with travel such as sarais, kosminars, bridges and water structures that continue to bear the testimony of time.


The integrity of this route is demonstrated by the continuous existence of this route as one of the most vibrant routes in the region. Regardless of the functioning of the other routes that it connects to, this cultural route has been able to thrive with its distinctive cultural identity, while several other historic routes in the region have ceased to exist.

The cultural heritage properties associated with Mughal period travel that exist along this route are the key elements that characterize the route. In the Indian section of the road it can be noted that the intactness, quantity and diversity of its extant remains exemplify imperial route architecture of the region. Though this region has witnessed loss of material remains, however remaining vestiges provide a holistic understanding of evolution of architecture related to travel in this region.  

Comparison with other similar properties

The property can be compared to the following properties:

1) Route of Santiago de Compostela, Spain (World Heritage Site) Criteria (ii) (iv) (vi)

2) Trading Posts and Fortifications on Genoese Trade Routes. From the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, Ukraine (Tentative List) Criteria (ii) (iv)

3) The Northern or Primitive Route (extension of the Route of Santiago de Compostella) (Tentative List) Criteria (ii) (iv) (vi)

4) Seruwila to Sri Pada (Sacred Foot Print Shrine), Ancient pilgrim route along the Mahaweli river in Sri Lanka (Tentative List) Criteria (ii) (iii) (vi)

5) The Central Slave and Ivory Trade Route, United Republic of Tanzania (Tentative List) Criteria: not identified

6) Chinese Section of the Silk Route, China (Tentative List) Criteria: (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) (v) (vi) 

In comparison to the above mentioned routes the exceptional characteristic features of the Grand Trunk road can be identified as below:

a) It is the only important route that has survived over a very long period of history. It is and has been fully functional since the ancient times till date.

b) It is a unique road that on one end it connects to a sea route of immense significance and the other end it connects to an extremely significant land route (Silk Route). This road thereby enabled trade and cultural transmission between civilizations. The eastern end of the road meets the sea at the Bay of Bengal and on the western end it terminates in Afghanistan at Kabul. This link is significant for determining the character of the road as it has been instrumental in the inward and outward movement of people, thoughts and material.

c) Unlike most of the routes, this route was not used for single purpose such as pilgrimage, trade or slavery. However, it was used for multiple purposes like extending political influence, pilgrimage, exchange of culture, religion, trade, etc.