December 24th, 2009
06:56 AM ET

Colorful trucks bring Pakistan's roadways to life

It's my first trip to Pakistan, and one of the things that immediately jumped out is the trucks. I realize that sounds strange, but the trucks here are like no other I have ever seen. They are not lumbering and drab monstrosities but a canvas of spectacular and intricate art, a kaleidoscope of exploding colors. I am not one to have much patience for traffic, but here I could sit and watch the roads for hours. Each truck is unique, each a different combination of designs, poetry and other adornments.

What made the "truck art" even more intriguing was just how intricate it is. The designs are made up of tiny pieces of tape, all done by hand. The artisans' fingers move at breathtaking speed and precision.

As a friend and colleague of ours, Kevin Flower, said after seeing a photograph I sent out, "The ultimate pimp my ride. ... I’m going to bring my wheels to Islamabad for a cosmetic upgrade."

See more of Pakistan's truck art

Watch CNN correspondent Arwa Damon's report on Pakistan's artistic traffic

soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Angie

    Why is there an article on Pakistan under Afghansitan's link?? This is insulting!!!!! Please remove it.

    February 26, 2010 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. Zain

    These are beautiful work of art on wheels. I remember these from my childhood in Islamabad, now I live in Michigan but equally miss these. What I also remember so vividly is the poetry written so eloquently, all around. It makes the day go by with alittle less stress. One prose I still recall is from famous Pakistan Poet Elama Iqbal, "One bow to your creator (God) that you take for granted, frees from you a thousand bows before the creation". Loved it, and there are many such poetic prose. These are all ofcourse in local Urdu language mostly, another famous urdu saying, and this one is seen alot more commong on backs of Buses, Trucks and Rickshaws " A Mother's prayer (for you) is like a breeze from Heaven".

    People Pakistan is much more than what media in the West portrays it as. Even today, people are enjoying, and going about, hustling and bustling, having alot of fun. The Market stay open late into the night around 1am or 2am, where as in the West, everything closes by 5pm or 6pm except 7 ELEVEN ofcouse, :), and thank Pakistanis for running almost all your 7-ELEVENS in the USA, maybe its our genes to stay positive and upbeat, no matter what happens. Long Live Pakistan.

    January 25, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. amdafzal

    great pictures

    January 18, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Zia

    I had always amused myself on the elaborately decorated trucks plying on the roads in Pakistan and Afghanistan. While studying the origins of truck paintings my thoughts travelled onto Syria where it may have started originated out of Roman basillicas converted to Churches and then during the Islamic era were converted into mosques. We see floral designs often on some mosques and more in the northern parts of Middle East some mythological animals and birds are also depicted. It amy have travelled with the decor on the camels during the caravan days and landed up on the trucks. See the mythological birds and animals painted even today. A truck owner or driver would pay more than the chasis for a fully decorated truck. In the past caravans often used to have elaborately decorated camels even some with silver braidings. These were the later truckers mostly from Pakistan Afghanistan border regions. They became the best logistic suppliers and enjoyed great days running a profitable cargo service.

    December 25, 2009 at 5:25 am | Report abuse |
  5. Suleman Maniya,Göteborg,Sweden

    The trucks are to a truck driver as a bride is to a man!! Especially those truck drivers therefore they 'dress' her fittingly.
    Besides the trucks there are also the rickshaws( The Tuk Tuk if I explain in Thai), although not that intricate in art, but make that up in terms of their mobility or lack of it!

    December 25, 2009 at 5:19 am | Report abuse |
  6. Su

    I have been in Pakistan about 5 times, and its really a wondelfull country, the people are incredibly warm and i felt always welcome. The trucks are amazing! sometimes the decoration is more expensive than the truck itself, but really love the rickshaws they are heavily decorated too, good to see some not bombing related news about this country.

    December 25, 2009 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
  7. Faraz

    Hello Arwa,

    i'd like to share something related to it. in karachi all the mini buses are decorated in same art. there is a very famous bus no. W 11. in 2006 commonwealth games in Australia one of the Tram was decorated in same art and it was named W 11. You can find it on google as "W 11 bus in Australia".

    December 25, 2009 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
  8. Zia

    Great to see the Sunny Side UP!! My eyes always catch word Pakistan whenever I glance at the news, finally some good news. We can Call it "Arts on the Wheel", In general this art reflect a region, friendship, love, speaks the mind of the owner/driver who might be working day n night to make a good living for his loved ones.

    Let's call it truckers Facebook!!

    December 24, 2009 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. shafqat a mir

    i was born and raised in pakistan until came to united states at age23, i love my

    first country that was very peaceful until soviets occupied afghanitsan and all the

    troubles starting spilled over to pakitsan with gun culture, made worst by bin laden

    December 24, 2009 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  10. akhan

    Thank God, some positive story has shown by CNN's reporter/journalist. I realy admire for her taste and boldness to report this, although its minute. Its a small specimen of Pakistan and Pakistani people. Born in Lahore and living in United States for about 30 years, I have seen most of the Western (Indian media included) try their best to highlight bad things about Pakistan and Pakistani people and in my opinion they do not, most of the times show good things about this country–sometimes makes me to think as the whole world have turned against my homeland..out of about 180 million people, nobody, does any good thing? This in not true, Pakistani people have a lot of goodwill, talentand open mindness. I condemn prejudice comments made by Sanjosemike, By making Bollywood movies does not put India in list of "super" nations, I still remember homeless people dying on side walks of Calcutta and Bombay, innocent women burned to death for dowery, touchable and non-touchables human beings..and the list goes on..

    December 24, 2009 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cleopaktra

    Thank you for speaking up. Kudos to you.

    December 24, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cleopaktra

    Pakistan has a lot of talent and artwork to show to the world. Its just that the media always highlights the terrorists ( Al Qaeda and such) who by the way were created by American governments for their own purposes at different times in history. The peaceful religion, Islam, gets blamed for political shaninegans of the so called world leaders. There are over 1 billion muslims in the world; if they all were terrorists nobody in the west would be alive today.

    December 24, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tanveer

    Great art.

    December 24, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. angie786

    Female circumcison is not practiced in Pakistani culture. It is practiced in some african countries, some of them happen to be muslim in majority. It has nothing to do with Islam. Honor killings also occur in India and what do you think of the fact that one in every five college attending females in America gets raped ( I read it on Cnn a couple of weeks ago.) YOu see female is at a disadvantage in free western society also. Suicide bombings actually started by Tamil tigers in Srilanka. Please get your facts straight and do not write islamophobic comments on this website. Christianity, Islam, Sikhismm, and HInduism, all religions have their fanatics. We just happen to be living in the time of islamic fanaticisim.

    December 24, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Murtaza

    thanks for bringing up the better side of Pakistan.

    Also, mini buses a.k.a "minis" are decorated in the similar fashion but the entire is body is covered in ornaments and since minis are passenger buses there is alot to cover.

    cant wait to see them again...:)

    December 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  16. imran kadha

    oh whatever, i cant stand those trucks.

    maybe arwa damon likes them, but i found them annoying growing up in Karachi.

    when you going to show the new motorway built in Pakistan, or the salt range?

    December 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Qaiser B

    In addition to the beautiful art the trucks carry either poetry or proverbs on them (which sometime are very funny) One very common one says "Maan Ki Dua – Janat ki Hawa"
    maning a "A Mothers prayer is like heaven's breeze" 🙂

    December 24, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Bill

    India also has a tradition of decorating their trucks in much the same manner. The ones I recall were not quite as detailed and elaborate, however.

    December 24, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Ali

    I took one of these trucks to the northern areas and loved the inside of the trucks equally. Even the stearing wheel is ornamented with amber fitted ornaments with various bollywood stars as company.

    December 24, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Akif Noor

    Paksitan is not a failed state its being showed as a failed state its a perception created. If you have a fire in your home its doesn't mean whole city/state/country is in fire. What we see all day on media is not reflation of the whole rich nation.

    December 24, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Tani

    Pakistani people have a great love for Art and beauty.

    December 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  22. BellairBluff Resident

    I'm glad you can always add a cultural dimension to your reporting, it is an Eye catching art, never seen it on this level any where in the world.

    December 24, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Ahmad

    It's artwork, it's culture, it's one facination and its taste. It may be bizare or just tasteless, in reality it's not. It tells stories, it showes one's love to riligion. I find it very interesting and decorative. I must say the artist have enormous patient and time to complete such project.

    December 24, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Minhaj

    Thanks for noticing and bringing attention to these beautiful things in Pakistan. This truck on the main page is so wonderfully orange and blue and parts of it are drinking the light and glowing with life and philosophy and flowers and fishes and holy spiritual places. sistine chapel on wheels.

    December 24, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Abhishek

    Hey SanJose Mike,
    Why is it with you westerners, that EVERYTHING turns into an argument about religion? For once, can't you enjoy beauty coming out of a country racked with violence and murder. Or is it too hard to be open-minded?

    December 24, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Imran

    Thanks for writing a positive article about Pakistan, there are lot of other good stuff in Pakistan that can be discussed. We only see negative propaganda against Pakistan but this is nice.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Jeremy

    Back in 2002, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (every summer on the National Mall in Washington DC) focused on the Silk Road. Among other exhibits, they commissioned Pakistani artists to paint one of these trucks and talk to visitors about the art. I've seen the truck at least one other year since then at the Folklife Festival. Google "Smithsonian Silk Road trucks" (without the quotes) and you can find lots of information about that exhibit.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Abhishek

    As an Indian, I do admire the great art work displayed here by the Pakistani artisans and make these trucks stand out like a moving museum.
    I've often seen similar trucks on the GT Road connecting Amritsar to New Delhi.

    I think the writer missed a trick or 2, by not mentioning that also written behind the trucks are sometimes funny slogans in Urdu or Pashto (or whatever regional language is followed by the truck owner/driver).
    Good story, and this definitely needs more coverage. I think a documentary like "Pimp My Ride" Pakistani style with some Pakistani Rapper (maybe Bohemia) shot on the streets of Rawalpindi or Islamabad will be what is required to "win the hearts and minds of the people".

    December 24, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  29. AJ

    Wow...! I just saw this breaking news on CNN about this truck art. Well since I'm born here and living in Pakistan for several years, this art theory is linked as follows :-

    – A Reader likes to read
    – A Computer programmer likes to code
    – A chef likes to cook a great menu
    – A baseball player likes to hit a home run



    December 24, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Pakiza H Chatha

    That's Real Talent, now this just might show that the nation of Pakistan isn't just filled with extremism or lack of knowledge. The people of Pakistan are too filled with great experience as well as the ability to enhance their surroundings with beautiful artwork as such displayed.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Asif

    Pakistani people are extremely imaginative and creative. Unfortunately they have used those assets as tools for quick gains vs the time it takes to create detailed passion these trucks demonstrate. Can become a productive and proud nation; just needs its vast talent to be directed in productive direction. Yes; I miss the "noises of Pakistan" but sadly been away from there now for more than 35 years but support what goes on there in many ways.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Jack331

    You're right, Brandi. When I was deployed to Afghanistan, these Jingle Trucks were everywhere. It is a big source of pride for the drivers.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  33. John

    Love those trucks .. got their scale models when i was in houston,tx.Store at Hillcroft and 59 (POSHAK). Amazing art work really impressed me.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  34. mushe khan

    Mmmmmmm. very nice trucks. Love the art.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Sanjose Mike

    It's refreshing to see something of value come out of Pakistan besides Jihad, internecine warfare, female circumcision, honor killilngs, illiteracy, chilid marriage, suicide bombings, etc.

    Pakistan is basically "another" failed Islamic State (to add to the long list). This is the first time I have actually seen something of beauty come out of it. I'm as impressed as I am surprised.

    But the fact remains:

    "If we lose to Islam, we lose everything."


    December 24, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Akif Noor

    The are of truck painting is not for superstitious its purely an art showing how much they love with the ride and take care of it.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  37. E. Daniel Ayres

    These traditions go back to a time when all transport vehicles were powerd by animals. The bells and the designs are traditional for the transport driver families, some of which go back hundereds of generations.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  38. SS

    I believe the readers here have said it well, the awesomeness of the human spirit!


    December 24, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  39. clawren

    Beautiful!! Reminds me of the fantastic "chicken buses" in Guatemala, another form of indigenous art.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  40. Nick Taylor

    What about the beautiful trucks here in the US. Americans just want to have them removed from the street and have them put somewhere else.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  41. fromkarachi

    truck art? that's how city buses AND cows are decorated.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  42. S Najmaii

    Beautiful art from unexpected group of people (drivers). I have seen many of those trucks in Pakistan and as a none Pakistani, I found them, fascinating.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  43. SUSA M

    Nice blog. Love the pictures!

    December 24, 2009 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  44. Kash

    Its refreshing to see a story about Pakistan that does not include suicide bombers, taliban, al qaeda and killing of innocent people. Reminds me of the Pakistan I knew

    December 24, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  45. Brandi

    The American Soldier calls these trucks "jingle trucks" because of all those chains and so on hanging off of them. When they go over hills or bumps, they chime like a thousand bells.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  46. N S

    Its nice to finally see something nice being shown about Pakistan. It is a great land upon which unfortunate times have fallen.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  47. angie786

    Also, each Pakistani should get an award for safely driving through the congested streets of Pakistan. The traffic over there is ten times worse than the streets of Manhattan. No body follows traffic rules, they only put their trust in Allah and sit behind the steering wheel.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  48. Pat

    These are nice, but can't compare to some other photos I've seen of hand painted trucks elsewhere. I have seen trucks around here (NY) that are beautiful. One of them is a scene of Catskill bear country. I think that truck art is great and a good way to advertise. Go to work, CNN. Find us some cool truck photos.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  49. j

    I am not sure how accurate this is, but I was told that part of the tradition came from drivers wanting to ward off evil spirits at night. Many of the trucks have ornaments that "jingle" as they go down the roads. It was explained to me that many of the drivers were supersticious and they thought the ornaments would protect them. Again, don't know how true that is......but it made for a good story.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  50. cindy

    Fabulous! How could you not love this? We should addopt this in North America, think how much more pleasent looking our journy down the highway would be:)

    December 24, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  51. Gopal Balakrishnan

    Hey , yes this is Riot of Art in Motion ... Would like to send some of our trucks to Pakistan to get a make over .

    December 24, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  52. me affable

    Awsome!!! designers got the talent..might that be true for the whole Pakistani nation?

    December 24, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  53. Murtaza Naqvi

    Even better is the sounds of the horns. Go to Karachi and its a truck/bus fiesta. O how i miss the sounds of Pakistan.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  54. Omar Haleem

    The truck art phenomenom has a very valid reason, most of the roads they ply on at night have to be navigated in the dark, the trucks are decorated using flourescent tape cut into intricate shape..sort of like a moving beacon that warns trafiic coming from behind and front. I recall a friend who once described a harrowing experience whilst coming back to the city on a superhighway..he collidede with what he described as the only truck in pakistan which had no artwork on it..his mercedes benze 4 wheeler broke in two..;) wishing David a Merry Christmas!

    December 24, 2009 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  55. Ken

    very nice pictures. love those colorful trucks.

    December 24, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |