Thursday, March 14, 2013

Derawar Fort: A formidable desert fortress in Pakistan





Cholistan desert of Pakistan is a strange desert as it is dotted with small, medium and large forts and fortresses after every few kilometres. These inter-woven chain of fortresses has existed for many centuries providing an excellent chain of mutually supported defense lines in the desert.



I once had the opportunity to go into the Cholistan desert and saw many of these fortresses  But when on the last leg I came across the formidable Derawar Fort, I was really overawed by its grandeur, massiveness, size and majestic glory which one could observes from miles.


The Derawar Fort can be accessed either from north downwards from Bahawalpur or Ahmed Pur East or from Rahim Yar Khan moving on the Desert Road. The Rahim Yar Khan route is much easier, as it is along a metaled road (though midway, where after it turns into a desert track up to the fort), while for other two routes from north downward have quite a distance across desert and one has to have a local driver and guide to access the fort. Since I was located at Rahim Yar Khan, I adopted the easier yet longer route to the fort.



The rulers and soldiers who lived here and guarded the fort are long gone, and the fort stands alone and deserted, yet the strength of the fort can still be felt from its high rising bastions  which total forty in number' and are largely intact even after bearing the harshness of the desert winds and temperature. 

Its ramparts are wide and spacious, presenting an imposing structure unlikely to be breached.



However, the inside of the fort is a heap of rubble. There are two guns lying in the open, which were once part of the artillery regiment of the Bahawalpur army. 


One of the two artillery guns inside the fort [Photo Source]

Inside some of the rooms, the remains of old furniture and royal dresses can be seen almost destroyed and worn out. Most of the rooms have their roofs fallen and are a pile of rubble rather than reflecting the times of glory and royalty.


The aerial view of the Derawar Fort - the massive fort is located left of the white marble mosque {Google Earth]

Located some 45 kilometers from the town of Dera Nawab, the once seat of the Abbasi rules, this square shaped fortress has a circumference of 1,500 metres with bastions standing thirty metres tall. The fort entrance is on the east as can bee seen from the map above. With the vast Cholistan desert serving as a backdrop, the majestic fort is a sight to behold.



Beside the fort is a hundred years old white marble mosque, which was built by Nawab Bahawal Khan in 1849 with cupolas and domes. The mosque seems to be a replica of the Moti Mosque in the Red Fort of Delhi. 

The mosque is said to have been built for the nawab’s personal holy man, Pir Ghulam Farid.

There is a family grave yard of the Abbasi Nawabs in the area. Their tombs are built with marble and decorated with blue glazed style which contrast beautifully Ochre landscape. The graves also include the elegantly domed marble tomb of the last nawab’s English wife. 

The graves attributed to the companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) - [Photo]

There are some graves near the fort which are said to be of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the other Muslim reformers who came to spread Islam in this area. These persons are believed to have embraced their death at the hands of the Hindu rulers who were against these proselytizers.




As per the history books, the fort on the site was first built by Rai Jajja Bhutta, whose sister was married to Deoraj, a prince of Jaisalmer. It remained in the hands of the royal family of Jaisalmer until captured and completely rebuilt by the nawabs of Bahawalpur in 1733. In 1747, the fort slipped from the hands of the Abbasis owing to Bahawal Khan's preoccupations at Shikarpur. Nawab Mubarak Khan took the stronghold back in 1804. And from then thereafter, the fort continues to be the property of the Abbasi family.



Although not livable, the fort is still the property of the Abbasi family and a permission is to be sought from the Abbasi family through local PTDC office to visit the fort. 

There are many legends associated with Derawar Fort, which basically speak of a large treasure hidden under the many tunnels and hidden coffers. This supposedly hidden treasure has been one of the reason why the inside of the fort seems to have been strewn apart as heaps of rubble are found everywhere. To what extent these legends are true, only time will tell if the Fort is handed over to the archaeological department by the Abbasi family.

A few words about the Cholistan Desert



The Cholistan desert covers 26,000 sq km (10,000 sq miles) and extends into the Thar desert to India. The whole area was once well watered by the river Ghaggar, now called the Hakara in Pakistan, and known in Vedic times as the Sarasvati. All along the 500 km (300 miles) of the dried-up river are over 400 archaeological sites. Most of these date from the Indus civilization, 45,00 years ago, and are clustered round Derawar Fort, the only perennial water hole in the desert.

The desert has an average rainfall of 12 cm (5 inches) a year, and there is very little civilization  The underground water is brackish. The few people of the desert dig artificial wells in the troughs between the sand hills and use camels to draw the water up.

Cholistan Desert is also a venue of an annual jeep rally and those visiting the area or intending to visit the Derawar Fort, must arrange their tour at the time when the jeep rally is taking place. It would not only allow an opportunity to visit the Derawar Fort, but also enjoy this adventurous sport event.

All photos above [except where link to source given] are courtesy Funzug
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