The ancient ruins of Taxila

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The ancient ruins of Taxila are situated approximately 32 km northwest of Rawalpindi in West Punjab, Pakistan, just off the Grand Trunk Road.  The prosperous city, due to its position at the junction of three great trade routes: the royal road from eastern India which later became the modern Grand Trunk Road, from western Asian, and from Kashmir and Central Asia leading to the Silk Road, was an important site in the ancient world.

According to scattered references which were only fixed a millennium later, Taxila may have dated back to at least the 5th century BC. Literally meaning ‘Rock of Taksha’, the city, according to the Hindu epic Ramayana, was founded by Bharata, the younger brother of Rama, and named for Bharata’s son and first ruler, Taksha. Several references to Taxila are found in various religious texts. The other great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, was said to have first been recited at Taxila and it is also mentioned in Buddhist literature, as the capital of the kingdom of Gandhara, a centre of great learning.

The city was an important site for numerous historical figures. Darius the Great annexed Taxila to the Persian Empire in 518 BCE, later to be a part of Alexander the Great’s kingdom in 326 BCE, receiving tributes from King Ambhi. Taxila became a part of the great Mauryan Empire in 317 BCE under Chandragupta and, during the reign of his grandson Asoka, became a great centre of Buddhist learning, considered in various historical accounts to be among the first universities in the world. It was only after the Huns swept over the land in the 5th century AD, destroying a number of Buddhist monasteries, that Taxila never recovered.

The ruins of Taxila contain buildings and stupas (mound-like structures containing Buddhist relics) located over a large area. The main ruins of Taxila are divided into three major cities, each belonging to a distinct time period. The oldest of these is the Hathial area, which yielded surface shards similar to burnished red wares recovered from early phases at Charsadda, and may date between the 6th century BCE and the late 2nd millennium BCE. The second city of Taxila is located at Sirkap and was built by Greco-Bactrian kings in the 2nd century BCE. The third and last city of Taxila is at Sirsukh and relates to the Kushan kings.

There are also a number of Buddhist monasteries and stupas in the Taxila area. Some of the important ruins of this category include the ruins of the stupa at Dharmarajika, the monastery at Jaulian, and the monastery at Mohra Muradu. In addition to the ruins of these great civilisations and ancient Buddhist/Hindu cultures, relics of Mughal gardens and fragments of the historical Grand Trunk Road, which was built by Emperor Sher Shah Suri in 15th–16th centuries AD, are also found in Taxila region as well as a museum, dedicated predominantly to the remains of the Gandhara civilisation The museum has an excellent collection of ancient coins which is sometimes closed – it is possible to get the key from one of the guards.

When visiting Taxila it is useful to have a bicycle or hire a taxi for the day as the sites are spread out over a large area. On most sites you can hire a local guide who will show you the highlights, useful since some sites are poorly labelled.

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