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Mughal Caravan Sarai
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Gharaunda Karnal

Life is a journey, not a destination...” and every other beleaguered traveller’s cliche` that you have ever heard settles into your soul with a whump when you hit National Highway 1. Of all the names this historic road from Delhi to Wagah has ever had, this has to be the dullest. It was once Sher Shah Sur’s ‘Shahrah-i-Azim’; the Mughals called it the ‘Badshahi Road’; for Kipling it was the “river of life”, along which he set most of his classic Kim; and the English named it ‘Grand Trunk Road’ connecting Eastern India to what is now Pakistan. While the romance of the road has now been reduced to a sterile-sounding NH1, the tracks left by these ancient travellers can still be seen. All along this road stretch out sarais, the ancient wayside inns built for the comfort of travellers. We took a trip down NH1 with the sole purpose of stopping at all of them.

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There are no exact dates for when the original GT Road came into existence. However, the earliest written reference to sarais dates from the reign of Muhammad bin Tughlak (1324-51), who ordered that a sarai be built at each stage between Delhi and his new capital, Daulatabad. When the 16th-century ruler Sher Shah Sur gets credit for ‘building’ the GT Road, it merely means that he knitted all the existing roads along the route together. He also issued laws for the protection of the road and is said to have commissioned as many as 1,700 sarais along the major routes.

Mughal emperors Akbar and Shah Jahan expanded the concept, and even Aurangzeb – who never showed any interest in going down in history as a nice man – spent good money on sarais. And when the British came, they modernised this road, building bridges and railway lines, for military purposes, if not entirely for the good of pigmented humanity.

History of Caravan Sarai



Gharaunda is situated approximately 16 kms from Panipat on the Panipat - Karnal Road on the National Highway No. 1. To the east of the town is located the Mughal sarai. Once a very beautiful building, now its only two gateways are surviving. They are in the middle of the southern and northern sides of the sarai.

The Sarai at Gharaunda (National Highway 1/Grand Trunk Road/GT Road) was constructed by Feroz Khan in 1632, during the reign of Shah Jahan because of its location on the highway connecting Agra - Lahore. Currently only two gateways exist and are in good state of preservation. The gateways are arched two storeyed high and composed of bricks. The northern gateway is flanked by fluted circular bastions at both ends. Wall surfaces on the northern façade are adorned with niches and projecting balconies over brackets. The surfaces of southern gateway are also decorated with niches on either side of the arched openings with projected balconies, resting on brackets. The interior is lower in height and is provided with projecting balconies. The central passage houses a staircases leading to the terrace.

In those days, Gharaunda lay on the busy Delhi-Lahore road. In times of peace, traders and messengers streamed down the road but when Delhi lay in weak hands invaders came along it. One of them, Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad ‘Babur’, had come down from Kabul in 1526 and established the Mughal dynasty, of which Shah Jehan was the fifth in line.

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Panoramic view of Mughal Caravan Sarai.

"Two huge gateways of Caravan Sarai were aligned north-south, facing Lahore and Delhi and were therefore called Lahori Darwaza and Dilli Darwaza"


Babur had camped at Gharaunda before marching on to Panipat for a decisive battle on April 26, 1526. For this reason, the place might have had a sentimental hold on Shah Jehan. On the other hand, he might have been driven by purely philanthropic considerations while commissioning the serai at Gharaunda.

The serai was essentially a square walled compound, several hundred feet on each side. The rooms were built along the walls while the two gates were aligned north-south, facing Lahore and Delhi and were therefore called Lahori Darwaza and Dilli Darwaza. There is an interesting story about these two gates, which even Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has mentioned on a board at the site. It seems two architects, Mama and Bhanja (they were probably related) were put on the job by Khan Feroze. They worked without consulting each other (perhaps owing to a family dispute) but managed to create more or less identical gates! To this day, the locals call the serai Mama-Bhanja ka Qila (Mama-Bhanja’s fort).

But the serai exists no more. And for once the local population does not have a hand in the destruction of a monument. The ASI says the British demolished the serai in 1857 to oust mutineers who were entrenched in it. Subsequently, the rubble was utilised in the construction of the railway line! The three-storeyed gates Mama and Bhanja built were spared but the town slowly ate into the serai’s grounds. Today, the gates’ ruins stand in fenced enclosures with a brick road connecting the two. The local caretakers do a sincere job of cleaning them although officials and tourists seldom chance that way.

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Aerial view of Delhi Darwaja of Sarai.
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Entrance view of Lahori Gate of Sarai.

The western wall of Dilli Darwaza has crumbled, as have both flanks of Lahori Darwaza, revealing a maze of archways and cells. Both gates are veritable buildings in themselves with many rooms, galleries and staircases. It is still possible to climb to the terrace atop Lahori Darwaza, from where Dilli Darwaza is visible in all its dilapidated glory. Beware, if you stare long enough the town will fade away and you’ll hear horses’ hooves clatter on the stone walk below!

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360 Virtual Tour



Panoromic 360 view of Lahore gate of Sarai.
Panoromic 360 view of Dilli Darwaza of Sarai.
Panoromic 360 side view of Lahore Gate of Sarai.
Panoromic 360 inner view of Delhi Gate of Sarai.