Ancient India Transportation via Land and Water
The history of roadways is truly an elaborate one.This journey began with the 'pugdandies.' Pugdandies was a small path created naturally due to frequent walks of earlier times to the present-day Rajpath of Delhi. Since that time, the country has crossed many spheres of road travel. The 'thread that binds the nation together' is truly a deserving metaphor for a road network that is one of the largest in the world.
Dating back to the Vedas wherein in the Atharva Veda, we can fine references to road construction as well as information on precautions to be taken. Kautilya's Arthasashtra also mentioned about the mechanism of roads for chariots and stressed upon the traffic rules and road safety.
With the development of culture and trade, cities like Vaishali, Sravasti, Rajagriha, Kurukshetra, and Ujjaini consisted of proper roads in order to facilitate socio-economic connections. As a matter of fact, Ujjaini, capital of Avanti, was an important trade center. Ujjain was connected with northern trunk routes to modern Bharuch, which was an important seaport.
Development of roads drastically changed during the Mauryan rule in the 4th century. The administration constructed Rajpath or high roads as well as Banikpaths or merchant roads. Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador in the Mauryan court, wrote that the Mauryan Empire took a big leap to develop roads for the purpose of facilitating communication.
He recorded a Rajamarga or the king's highway, was also a trade route and a forerunner to the modern Grand Trunk Road. This tradition continued further. Chandragupta's grandson, Ashoka, who was a great and compassionate ruler, strengthened this system immensely. During the Mauryan rule, roads played a key role in military operations to keep the vast country united.
According to some of the records, during the Gupta era there was also a road connection with South India. There were three major routes. They were namely a connection with Northeast India via Didisa, the other connected to the seaport of the Western coast while the third connected to Pratisthana, the capital of Satvahana Empire. There are also evidences which point out of a route facilitating trade with Iran and China.
The Mughal era was the 'golden era' for roads. By then, India was fully equipped to control the vast empire. With the advent of the British, India witnessed some sort of a new awakening. The task of reviving and renovating the ancient routes was initiated by the East India Company. The Western technology came into play and linkages were well established which provided the British the inroad to rule India for over two hundred years.
Apart from this, roads also worked as inroads to the development of civilizations, and provided human beings a passage of communication for endeavoring out to newer frontiers of accomplishments. The two major modes of transportation in ancient India were as follows:
Land Transport - The traditional means of land transportation were as follows:
1. Walking - In ancient times, covering long distances walking was a very common phenomenon. For example, Adi Sankaracharya travelled all over India by walking.
2. Bullock carts - Bullock carts were the chief means of transportation on land. The basic bullock cart was very much similar to the ones which are used in northern India till today. This cart consisted of a pair of animals tied to a central yoke provided the power to draw the cart. Carts were made of wood, and a copper specimen has also been found.
3. As kingdoms grew, the elite of society began using horse chariots. Though well-made roads have been mentioned in the early Vedas, little evidence of them exists. However by the 5th century BCE a more advanced system of roads with bridges, crossways and four-road junctions was developed. Apart from bullock carts, animals like camels, oxen as well as elephants were also as a mode of land transportation.
4. Palanquin- Palanquins were also known as palkis. They were one of the luxurious methods used by the rich and noblemen for travelling. This was primarily used in the past to carry a deity or idol of a god, and many temples have sculptures of god being carried in a palki.
Subsequently, it came to be used by European noblemen and ladies from the upper classes of society prior to the advent of the railways in India. In the modern time, use of the palanquin is limited to being a flamboyant method for the bride to enter Indian weddings.
Water Transport - The Rivers flowing in the northern part of ancient India received their share of water from the melting ice from the far reaches of the Himalayas.This flow of water was perennial. This mode has always been a popular mode of transport. In other parts navigation was governed by the amount of rainfall so received.
In the early Vedic period from 1500 to 900 BCE, boats were described as dugouts with oars for paddling. These were used mostly for inland transport. The limited material describing seafaring ships indicate that the early Aryans had very little trade contacts with overseas civilizations.
Along with river transport, India also developed sea transport for facilitating her trade relations with Egypt and Mesopotamia. There is also evidence of the Indus valley civilisations having trade contacts with Mesopotamia and Egypt. A representation on a seal shows a rowing ship without masts and with a steersman at the rudder. This was very much similar to the ships used in the Mediterranean at the time.
Subsequently, accounts of travellers like Fa-Hien indicated that the Indian seafaring technology remained inferior to that of the Phoenicians, Romans, Vikings and other such civilisations. However, very little information about this is available. The maximum tonnage of a ship was described to be only 75 tonnes. This was extremely less as compared to the Greek and Roman ships of the same period.