Standing proudly in the midst of the Cholistan desert, the Derawar Fort is a famed hallmark of Bahawalpur. From Bahawalpur city, it takes several hours to get to the fort, with the journey being long, tiring and dust laden. But it’s worth the trouble. With the vast Cholistan desert serving as a backdrop, the majestic fort is a sight to behold.
Rai Jajja Bhati, a Hindu Rajput from Jaisalmir, was the first to build a fort on the site. 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.
Several archeological sites, some of which date back to the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, surround the Derawar Fort. These sites have not been excavated yet. The fort itself is badly in need of repair and restoration work. A mosque close by is built on the design of Moti Masjid at Delhi’s Red Fort and offers an interesting contrast.
The fort has remained the set of two popular music videos in Pakistan – the first is Yeh Shaam by The Vital Signs and Shor Macha by Entity Paradigm. – Text and photos by Madeeha Syed
The Derawar mosque in front of the massive fort after which it was named. The Derawar fort has around 40 bastions that stand 30 feet high. The walls have a circumference of 1.5 km. It stands in the middle of the Cholistan desert.
Narrow staircase leading to a small roof on the right side of the fort. The stairs were broken in some places and a small portion of the roof had fallen from its center making it a very tricky climb.
Graffiti adorns the wall of a room situated on top of a bastion on the right side of the wall. In need of restoration, the original intricate decorative painting on the walls has faded with time.
A small passageway underneath the ground. The roof has fallen in allowing sunlight to enter through.
The gate exiting an underground passageway in the fort. The walls are visibly crumbling with bricks from the wall lying fallen on the floor.
A lone cannon in the middle of the main square at the fort.
Falling into ruin: the porch of a building inside the fort is falling apart. One can only imagine how beautiful the structure would have been back in the day.
A hallway behind a set of rooms at the fort. There were small openings in the ceiling allowing sunlight to enter. The entire place smelled very strongly of cattle and hay, which led one to wonder whether squatters ever used this space to keep their livestock.
These stairs lead down to, possibly, the deepest underground passageway at the fort. The area below is itself enclosed in the dark and rumour has it that it was a secret passageway that led directly to Noor Mahal in the city of Bahawalpur. The stairs have tracks on either side showing that the passageway was used to transport goods (or people) over a very large distance.
The main gate of the Derawar Fort as seen from the inside. There are small doors on the left side which lead to various check posts all along the fort.
A view from the outside of Derawar Fort's main gate.
Built exactly like the Moti Masjid at the Red Fort in Delhi, the Derawar Mosque which was constructed in 1844 AD, has three domes and two minarets. The entire structure is made up on white marble.
A Qari at the Derawar Mosque giving lessons on how to read the Quran to children from the neighbouring village. The children keep their copies of the Quran on small, primitive wooden stools.
A camel herder leads his camels through the front of the royal graveyard of the Abbasi family. The Abbasi family was the ruling Nawab family of Bahawalpur and all of the previous Nawabs are buried here. The graveyard is still owned and controlled by the Nawabs? surviving family members. The monument is located near and opposite to the Derawar Fort.
The remains of a dried up river bed. The entire area was home to a river called Hakara which was known in the Vedic times as the Sarasvati.
A view of some of the dilapidated bastions of the fort overlooking ruins of a settlement outside the fort along with the Derawar Mosque.