The Partridge Family Meets Ken Kesey on the Grand Trunk Road

Travel Blog  •  Michael Yessis  •  06.27.11 | 11:41 AM ET

Photo by *_*, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

James Parchman spent days on a Pakistani stretch of the fabled Grand Trunk Road, wowed by the ornate decorations he saw on so many passing vehicles. The “panorama of red, yellow and green, mixed with plastic whirligigs, polished mahogany doors and gleaming stainless steel cover plates,” he writes, is part pride of design, part advertising expense.

Durriya Kazi, an artist and teacher in Karachi, has long been a proponent of Pakistan’s folk art. She sees bus and truck decorating as an integral part of that tradition, noting the importance of distinguishing between sculpture as defined by the art gallery and the rich activity of actually making things that exists all over Pakistan.

In 2006, Ms. Kazi was instrumental in a program intended to spread Pakistan’s bus decoration skills to Melbourne, Australia, where a tram was transformed into a replica of a minibus used on Karachi’s W-11 route, resplendent in all its finery.

Another Pakistani with expertise in the subject is Prof. Jamal J. Elias of the University of Pennsylvania, the author of “On Wings of Diesel: Trucks, Identity and Culture in Pakistan” (Oneworld, 2011). His book explores the tradition of Pakistani truck decoration, and looks into the “nature of response to religious imagery in popular Islamic culture.”

A terrific slideshow accompanies Parchman’s piece.

For another look at the Grand Trunk Road, check out Jeffrey Tayler’s five-part series, Cycling India’s Wildest Highway.

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