These be the joys of the Grand Trunk Road;
A cheery heart and an easy load;
The sun by day and the stars by night;
And the blaze of the evening firelight;
The songs and the tales of a travelling band;
While the hookah passes from hand to hand;
The lips that smile by the warm, red fire;
While the silver smoke curls higher and higher;
The white moon rising behind the palm;
The evening hush with the soothing charm;
The crimson dawn on the field of wheat;
The clink of harness and the ring of feet;
The creak of the bullock-cart crawling along;
The morning fresh as a new heard song;
The hope of adventure along the way;
And the sights and the sounds of another day.


Mapping the Royal Mughal Highway

On the northern fringe of the dense maze of Shahu di Garhi (popularly known as Garhi Shahu), a few yards east of Mughalpura Road, in between the railway tracks parting ways; Pakistan Railway’s ‘down’ track heading Karachi detouring south and the branch line leading to Wagah extending east, we come across this dilapidated pillar made of fire bricks. Kos Minar of the Grand Trunk Road it is, as we are told. It was a strange find as this distance marker exists where there is no road. Even the present day Grand Trunk Road, re-aligned by the British, runs a kilometer north of this Kos Minar. Architecturally not very pleasing, this simple structure is an important historical landmark and is preserved under the law by Mahakma-e-Asaar-e-Qadeema as a rusted board on the structure announces for the information of general public. Ironically the structure is far from being preserved, and the above said notice board itself is in dire need of restoration (fresh paint to the least). Let’s leave this hopeless discussion on preserving our heritage (we are a nation of carefree disposition and criminal neglect when it comes to preserving history) and focus a bit on the structure itself. Kos (a measure of distance) and Minar (pillar) combine together to convey to us that this structure is essentially a distance marking pillar that existed on the Grand Trunk Road of good old times.

Kos Minars broadly follow the same design, some have graceful proportions whereas others are quite clumsy. Each tower is a brick or stone structure covered with plaster. A slightly tapered octagonal base rises up to nearly half of its total height. Above this base, the minar becomes a tapered cylindrical pillar. The octagonal base is separated from the cylindrical portion by a moulding and a red band. There is another moulding just below the spherical top.

Agra - Lahore Mughal Highway and its Architectural Remains, Subhash Parihar
Jahangiri era Kos Minar at Shahu di Garhi

Now, dear reader, like me, if you are inclined to think that this minar was built by Sher Shah Suri, the great Suri king who is erroneously credited to have built Grand Trunk Road, it is likely to offend history buffs in general, and my guru Salman Rashid in particular. Salman goes a step further in advising his readers that if “someone points out a bit of ancient road, a bridge, a stepped well or a kos minar and tells you it was built by the good Suri king, attack them physically, verbally and spiritually.”

We have deliberated in some other posts on GT Road that the Grand Trunk Road or Utarpatha (High road to north) existed from the times way before Sher Shah Suri. The kings in the Sub-Continent in their times took on the restoration of this historic route and provided relief to the travellers by planting trees, building stepped wells and caravanserais. What they also did was dotting the route with distance markers. These markers existed in all times, Mauryan Empire, Mughal Rulers, Sher Shah Suri and so on. What changed over time was the measure of distance where these were installed and their architectural style. The Kos Minar at Garhi Sahu comes to us from the times of Jahangir and is one of the many that were installed on Rajpatha, the Royal Muhgal Highway from Lahore to Agra.

Kos Minar at Shahu di Garhi

Some Tricky and Not-so-Tricky Calculations

Jahangir records in 1620 that every kos during his reign (as during his father’s reign) was equal to five thousand cubits (gaz), and a cubit and a quarter is equivalent to two shar’i cubits, each of which is twenty four fingers. In 1619, Jahangir ordered Baqir Khan, the faujdar of Multan, that a post be set up every kos from Agra to Lahore to show the distance.

The Jahangirnama, translated by Wheeler M. Thackson, Washington 1999

Kos, essentially an Indian measure of distance, derives its origins from krosa (Sanskrit) or kuroh (Persian). The word karosa and subsequently kos has appeared in ancient Indian scriptures and the journals kept by the royal courtiers and historians. A careful estimation of 1 krosa by the historians puts it to be an equivalent of present times two and a quarter miles or a little over three and a half kilometers. The fun fact here is that the measure associated with the word kos in the Sub-Continent has been changing during different reigns. The kings of India were apparently very keen in adopting custom defined gaz (yard) during their times. Gaz-i-Sikandari by Sikandar Lodhi preceded Babur. Babur fixed the measure of kos, known as Baburi Kos. With Sher Shah Suri came gaz-i-Sher Shah and then Akbar fixed and adopted Illahi gaz. Jahangir chose to stay with the measure fixed by his predecessor, Akbar. These distances fixed a yardstick unique to each era with slight variations in their measurements.

Just like introducing and fixing the distance units during different reigns, distance markers were also built by almost every ruler, dating back to as early as Maurya period, as recorded by Megasthenes, the Greek official in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. These markers were intentionally made prominent to guide the travelers during day and night and in doing so preventing them from going off route. The earliest account of such markers comes to us from Megasthenes, who tells us of pillars erected ten stadia apart during the Maurya period. Babur had distance markers raised on the road from Agra to Kabul. Baburnama tells us that these were towers, 12 yards in height and affixed at every nine kos. Akbarnama mentions the kos-minars ordered to be erected by emperor Akbar on Agra – Ajmer route. An interesting account recalls that these kos-minars from the times of Akbar were decorated with deer horns, around 300- 400 horns studded on each minar. A classical example of one such pillar is the Elephant Tower at Fatehpur Sikri. The tradition was followed by Jahangir, in whose reign, Lahore – Agra section of Muhgal highway had a Kos Minar built at every kos. More than 160 kos-minars thus got built and a large number of these still survive in different conditions of decay.

Subhash Parihar, author of “Land Transport in Mughal India : Agra-Lahore Mughal Highway and its Architectural Remains” surveyed the surviving kos-minars and based on his calculation the actual distance that existed between these pillars comes out to be 4.17 kilometers, and that gives us an exact measure of Jahangiri kos. The Kos Minar at Shahu di Garhi, we visited in the beginning of this post is one of the surviving Jahangiri era Kos Minars. A common belief is that this is the only surviving Kos Minar in Pakistan with all others lying lacross the border. But wait, dear reader, and let me take you to another, the second, and yet another, a third Kos Minar that stands right on India – Pakistan border, thus affixing the exact entry point of Mughal era Rajapatha, the Royal Mughal Highway into Pakistan.

Manhala of Khan-i-Khanan

A village on the outskirts of Lahore is associated with Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, one of the nine ministers (Navaratnas) of Akbar. Dr Saif-ur-Rahman Dar mentions the name of the village as “Manhala Khan-i-Khanan”. Here once stood the Sarai Kahn-i-Khanan, most probably the Cancanna Sarai as mentioned by an English traveller William Finch. Other than the possibility of our royal courtier building the above said sarai, I could not find any other reason or historical reference of the association of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khan with Manhala, that now survives as a small village on the periphery of Lahore. A road outside of Jallo Botanical Park moves eastwards for a few yards and then curves down southwest and crosses Bambanwala Ravi Bedian Link (BRBL) canal to become Manhala Road. The village itself lies further 6 kms from Jallo bridge on BRBL canal.

GTR enters into present day Pakistan via Burj and Raja Tall in India to Purani Bhaini in Pakistan and then straight to Manhala Khan-i-Khanan after the name of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khan, the famous general of Akbar and Jahangir. Here once stood the Sarai Khan-i-Khan. This sarai is no more. But, outside the village, a Mughal period kos minar, one of a pair in the locality, still provides positive evidence of the ancient GTR.

Caravanserais Along the Grank Trunk Road in Pakistan, Dr. Saifur Rahman Dar

The romance of the Jarneli Sarak, dear reader, has taken me to places and that day it was Manhala.  The exact location was in fact between the villages of Nathoke and Manhala Khan-i-Khanan. On a winter afternoon amidst the green fields, I came across the second Kos Minar of Lahore, this one too belonging to the reign of Jahangir. Dr. Dar in his archeological survey had mentioned that there were two kos-minars reported in this area, but one has completely vanished from the surface. The second minar was standing helplessly in the midst of a cultivated field devoid of any stable platform, crumbling to the cruel forces of time. The octagonal base had lost a considerable quantity of bricks and had developed a hole, big enough to consume the foundation of the structure. I had photographed it back in 2015, and, dear reader, I write these lines with the very doubt on its existence. I have my reasons to be a pessimist. Months after visiting Manhala I was at the Archeological Department offices at Lahore fort meeting with an official. During conversation we talked of old GT Road and the surviving monuments in the periphery of Lahore. The mention of Kos Minar at Manhala impressed the gentleman who proudly stated that the said landmark was on record of the annual progress reports of the archeological survey. The neglected state of our Kos Minar being a recorded landmark on the survey was itself ironic. And that is why, dear reader, when I write these lines in 2018, I am very much in doubt if our beloved Kos Minar at Manhala Khan-i-Khanan exists anymore.

Jahangiri era Kos Minar – Manhala of Khan-i-Khanan

The Outreach to Raja Thal

Inches inside the border fence on the ‘other’ side is the landmark that fixes the entrance into the present day Pakistan of the Grand Trunk Road in the time of Mughals; the Royal Muhgal Highway from Agra to Lahore to be specific. I never knew about this landmark, but was in those faraway lands to visit the remnants of a Sikh era fort in Lahore’s border village of Qila Jiwan Singh. A Kos Minar was reported to exist on the alignment of Qila Jiwan Singh and Raja Thal (across the border). Little did I know that the same was in such near vicinity that it would be visible to the naked eye from the very rooftop of the haveli cum qila of Jiwan Singh.

Having laid my eyes on the landmark from the rooftop, I submitted to this urge to venture out further into ‘restricted land’ to take a look on the Jahangiri pillar, as close as possible, right from the zero line (as people call it). Accompanied by the village numberdar, we left Qila Jiwan Singh and crossed the forward defensive bund. A detachment of Pakistan Army soldiers stationed at the forward post welcomed us and having known my intentions were all cooperative and facilitating. A small reconnaissance patrol (and that, dear reader, in layman language would translate to a small guide force) was thus formed to accompany me. We entered the area under observation of Pakistan Rangers and the military group’s task was complete as they handed me over to the border outpost. The observation tower had Pakistan colour fluttering up and high as the good inspector from Pakistan Rangers welcomed me. Having known the cause of the visit, the word was out from post commander’s desk to form a mini gasht party . The smartly attired soldiers equipped with binoculars and weapons, in their safekeeping escorted me to the home edge of the no man’s land (a stretch of around 150 ~ 200 yards between both the borders, where movement is not allowed). There across the Indian border fence stood in all glory, the third Kos Minar. I still remember the words of the rangers inspector as he was handing me a binocular on the spot:

ایہدی چاہت وچ ایتھے تک آئے او، رجّ کے ویکھو

‘You have come this far in the love of it, have a look and have a detailed one for as long as you wish.’

A view from the binocular afforded me some detailed observation. This Kos Minar is the exact replica of the other two pillars at Shahu di Garhi and Manhala of Khan-i-Khanan being from the same Jahangiri era. A round tapered cylindrical top mounted on the octagonal base. The top and the central portion of the minar was plastered in original mortar, whereas the brick tiles glimpsed out towards the base. Overall it was in a nicely preserved shape. The pictures I share with my readers were taken from a phone camera from a distance of around 200 yards. My apologies for the low resolution pictures, but this was the best I could secure under limited circumstances.

Kos Minar at Raja Thal on the Indian Side of the border
Picture taken from the home edge of No Man’s Land
Raja Thal : Jahangiri Kos Minar, the barbed wire on the left marks India-Pakistan border
Picture from the book ‘Land Transport in Mughal India :  Agra – Lahore Mughal Highway and its Architectural Remains’
by Subhash Parihar (used with permission from the author)

Ladies and Gentlemen, on the alignment of border villages of Qila Jiwan Singh (home side) and Raja Thal (the far side) at the precise location of Kos Minar pictured above, the Royal Mughal Highway entered the present day Pakistan and proceeded west to reach the village of Manhala, where we have covered a kos-minar in the preceding paragraph. From Manhala it continued due south to Brahmanabad, where there is a baoli and almost destroyed pavilion. From here the road used to go to Mahfoozpura Garrison, the site of another baoli and a fascinating double story pavilion that has been recently resotred by Pakistan Army. From Mahfoozpura the road leads to Shahu di Garhi, the location of our Kos Minar with the mention of which this post begins. The royal highway then headed to the Walled City of Lahore and entered via Delhi Gate and following the Shahi Guzargah (the Royal Trail) entered Lahore fort.

This post discussed the Kos Minars in and on the periphery of Lahore, and in another post, we shall talk more about the baolis and pavilions of Brahmanabad and Mahfoozpura Garrison. Till then I shall bid adieu to my dear readers …

Books and Authors

‘Land Transport in Mughal India: Agra-Lahore Mughal Highway and Its Architectural Remains’, Subhash Parihar, 2008
‘Caravanserais Along the Grand Trunk Road in Pakistan: A Central Asian Legacy’, Dr. Saifur Rahman Dar, Published in ‘The Silk Roads: Highways of Commerce and Culture’, 2000 ‘The Grand Trunk Road in the Punjab’, K M Sarkar, 1926
‘Akbarnama – Volumes 1 & 2’, Abu al-Fazal ibn Mubarak, translated by Wheeler M. Thackston. *A special mention of the hospitality of London Public Library to have arranged the books from Nova Scotia via inter-library loan.
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author bio

Imran Saeed

I am a teller of old tales. History, folklore, military, and more. Mostly covering Pakistan, my homeland, but also the Great White North, where I am currently settled.
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Prof.Sajid Khan

AOA, My name is SAJID KHAN, I am Prof. of Economics, in Government College, Gulberg, Lahore. My hobby is photography. I have seen your research on many locations of Pakistan specially of Lahore. Its so impressive and prestigious too. I want permission from you to use it on different friends groups, if you allow me. People must know about our heritage and culture, which you have described very beautifully. Thanks.

Jatin Varshney

Dear Imran,
Let me tell you a story, I live in Delhi but in 2015, I used to frequent between Shimla and Delhi, and the route lies on GTR till Zirakpur. During traveling, I watched these absurd looking towers, majorly in the Haryana state between Panipat, Kurukshetra, Ambala, and pondered why such kind of structures were built, looks like you know what I mean.
Accidentally, I reached to your website and saw the pictures of the same tower and it intrigued me that such tower exists in Pakistan too. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures but they are still standing in a better condition than what is shown in the pics.

Thanks for the giving me the answers through your blog.