Sunday, May 20, 2007

Derawar Fort: Guarding the eastern frontier


One of the oldest forts in this part of the former British India Empire, the Derawar Fort history goes back to almost 800 years (this age is disputed though).

An impressive part of our cultural heritage, the name Derawar is the corrupted term of its builder’s name Raja Rawal Deoraj whom is said to have it built to protect the area from invaders.

The imposing stucture is situated on the edge Cholistan desert on the top of the ruins of ancient Harappan civilization. It has been the ancestral seat of the rulers of Bahawalpur for decades.

The present building was built by Abbasi family or the Nawabs in 1733. Its walls are 30m high and there are 40 bastions, 10 on each side. The front area is guarded by a huge defensive tower at the main entrance. The boundaries were constructed from gypsum blocks transported from Uch some 65 kilometers away. The walls are built in mud tiles plastered and fresco painted.

The lofty and rolling battlements made of thin red bricks, ten on each side of the fort are visible from miles around. There are two old vintage guns mounted on pedestals in the dusty courtyard of the Fort.

The buildings inside include the Harem, Subedar's quarters, arsenal and a mosque. There is also a multi-roomed subterranean summer rest house of Nawabs called Sard Khana. The remains of a watchtower, a prison, the granary, a guard house and some 100 inaccessible tunnels and the rumored subterranean chambers with buried treasures of the former rulers. The once gaily painted rest house or baradari on top of the north-eastern bastion still flies high the flag of the former ruling family of the former Bahawalpur State as a symbol of their authority over the area.

However the fort nowadays is in very perilous condition mainly due to ravages of time and partially due to the negligence of authorities. There are huge ditches in and around the main boundary wall and the gates. Most of buildings have developed huge cracks. The underground cells and wooden structure is now infested with bats and being destroyed by termites. The day doesn’t seem to far away when the whole structure may crumble in one giant sand dune.

Derawar and Sadiq Garh are both crumbling as are the countless other palaces and villas that make this part of Pakistan unique. A call to preserve Bahawalpur's architecture is long overdue, but given the expense involved, it is perhaps more realistic to urge others to seek out and record what barely remains.

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