Derawar Fort: Cholistan’s iconic structure crumbling away

The fort needs urgent repairs and restoration work


Fahad Zulfikar February 14, 2017

BAHAWALPUR/ KARACHI: The Derawar Fort has been a strategically important monument through the ages. It is considered to be better planned than any other forts in Pakistan. This fort was the seat of Nawab of Bahawalpur, Sadeq Mohammad Khan I, for around 15 years, until it fell into British hands.

The architecture of the Derawar Fort is a representation of the cultural intermingling that the Mughals brought to the subcontinent.

It is the culmination of the Mughal style of architecture that began with the first emperor and that involves a fusion of Persian, Timurid and Hindu traditions.

The Derawar Fort is a famed hallmark of Bahawalpur which stands proudly in the midst of the Cholistan Desert. It takes hours to reach the fort from Bahawalpur City. However, the journey to the fort is long, tiring and dust laden. With the vast Cholistan Desert serving as a backdrop, the majestic fort is a sight to behold.

Historians say the fort was first build on the site by Rai Jajja Bhati, a Hindu Rajput from Jaisalmir. However, the Nawab of Bahawalpur, Sadeq Mohammad Khan I, captured the fort in 1733 and had it rebuilt to how it looks today. The fort was taken away from the Nawab in 1747 but in 1804, Nawab Mubarak Khan reclaimed the fort. Later, the British invaded the region and took control of the fort.

There are several archaeological sites that surround Derawar Fort and some date back to the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Interestingly, these sites have not been excavated as yet due to legal and official disputes. However, the fort itself needs repair and restoration work.

A mosque is also located close by which was built on the design of Moti Masjid at Delhi’s Red Fort which adds more beauty to the fort’s existing structure. Besides, a vast network of underground tunnels was also established during the construction of the fort. The tunnels served as a secret way for the rulers to go around the fort and escape during battles or invasion. Due to security reasons, the government had closed some of the tunnels while some could be accessed to some point.

Victim of broken promises

Derawar Fort is the victim of broken promises. The ancient structure is a typical example of an iconic monument gone to ruin. The Derawar Fort’s symmetry with the history and the landscape has been of significance importance for the people of the region. The beauty of entire Cholistan Desert could be seen from the fort.

On the other hand, the inner view of the fort tells an entirely different story. Almost all walls inside the structure are damaged, either by harsh weather conditions or by visitors and tourists who throng the mighty structure. In addition, the woodwork is also falling apart. Most wooden carvings have vanished with the passage of time. Similarly, the floor inside the fort is also in a shambles. 

Interesting Facts

• The fort has served as the set of two popular music videos in Pakistan – the first Yeh Shaam by The Vital Signs and Shor Macha by Entity Paradigm.

• The fort serves as the starting point of the jeep rally which is organised annually in Cholistan Desert. The rally passes through three districts and is attended by more than 70,000 people, according to estimates.

• Derawar Fort was also used to house prisoners during the British rule and also served as the location where some of the unlucky inmates were hanged

Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2017.

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