Monday, March 28, 2011


Unusually, Wikipedia have probably got the history of this extraordinary road a bit wrong.
Stretching, in its original construction in 3rd Century BCE by the Mauryan Emperor Chandra Gupta Maurya, from Patna, on the banks of the Ganges to Texila in modern day Pakistan, close to the Indus valley route, it was probably a major link to the South west Silk Road, a trade route between India and China from, perhaps, as early as 9th Century BCE.
Apart from the military and administrative convenience of such a road, with is inns, bridges, ferries and stables, it was almost certainly a much favoured route by early traders with the Greek cities. Certainly, the Greek cartographer Ptolemy produced a very accurate map of the Ganges Delta, which suggests that the Phoenicians were familiar with the area.
The sea route to the Brahmaputra route into China was, however, subject to monsoon seasons. This road, reached the Ganges, from where a voyage from the west, down the Ganges, reached both North Bengal, with its already flourishing early Buddhist communities, much favoured by the later Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, and finally, met the Brahmaputra near Sonargaon, although that capital of Bengal was of a much later date.
When, in the early 16th Century, the last Pashtun Emperor, Sher Shah Suri, extended the road, it is unsurprising that it then reached from Kabul in the west, to Sonargaon in the east. By then, Kabul was an established gateway to the Central Asian Silk Road, and Sonargaon to the South West Silk Road, accessible by land and river, or by sea.
Within Bangladesh, the road, this originally had no link to what was, at the time, the tiny fishing community that became Calcutta, headed from India to Jessore. A stretch of road immortalised in Alan Ginsberg’s great poem ‘September on the Jessore Road’, an awe full poem to the refugees from the pogrom being carried out in Bangladesh by the Pakistani Army and their allies.
From Jessore, it appears to have run to Narail, and across to the Ganges delta between Barisal and Faridpur, though it is possible that the ancient port of Barisal was its main destination.
At the time, Dhaka was a small town, and it seems unlikely it headed in that direction. The last stretch perhaps landed at Naryanganj, or maybe at Sonargaon itself.
Certainly, at its fullest extent, of 2,500km, it was both the oldest, and the longest road in South Asia. Few roads in the world can match either its length, or its history!
Someday, maybe the overworked Archaeologists of Bangladesh will get around to investigating its full course in the country; no simple task in a country full of rivers with shifting courses! But then, in this nation, so rich in history, there is rather a lot to investigate. Perhaps just knowing it is there is enough, whatever its course.

1 comment:

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