Derawar Fort: historical site in ruins

Area residents demand CM order preservation of the structure

Kashif Zafar January 31, 2018
PHOTO: FILE

BAHAWALPUR: In Cholistan, forts which erected 800 years ago are fast becoming ruins owing to a dearth of maintenance and renovation work by relevant authorities. One of them is Derawar Fort.

It is a famed landmark of Bahawalpur and stands proudly in the midst of the Cholistan Desert.

This fort was the seat of Nawab of Bahawalpur, Sadeq Mohammad Khan I, for around 15 years until it fell into British hands. During the tenure of Nawab of Bahawalpur, the fort was properly preserved and renovated from time to time. However, the later negligence of rulers turned this massive structure into ruins.

The upkeep of the historic structure has been neglected for years and this led to its derelict state. The government had earlier announced that renovation and maintenance work would be carried out, but the same could not materialise.

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 to 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 the walls inside the structure are damaged, either by harsh weather 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.

What people say?

Resident of the area Malik Abdul Kaleem told The Express Tribune that Derawar Fort is the centre of Bahawalpur State and hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the site every year. “This number could increase if it is restored to its former glory.”

Another resident Malik Zawar Hussain, said, “This is one of the few forts which are left in Bahawalpur State.” He maintained the government should take steps on an emergency basis to preserve it or at least conduct some maintenance work to save it from crumbling.

Similarly, tourist Akhtar Hussain told The Express Tribune, “I am heartbroken to see such a vintage marvel turning into ruins.” He added, “This mighty fort has saved thousands of people in times of sieges but now it is crumbling down due to negligence of the government.”

The area residents demanded that the Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif take immediate measures to preserve and renovate the fort and issue instructions to the archaeology department.

The backdrop

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.

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 which began with the first emperor and that involves a fusion of Persian, Timurid and Hindu traditions.

Historians say the fort was first built 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.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2018.

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