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Farooq Soomro, the man behind 'The Karachi Walla' and 'Overheard in Karachi' explores the mysteries and wonders of places in Pakistan which fall off the beaten path.
Ranikot Fort also known as ‘The Great wall of Sindh’ is thought to be the world’s largest fort. But who built it and for what purpose? These unanswered questions baffle us all.
“The size of Ranikot defies all reasons. It stands in the middle of nowhere, defending nothing,” writes Isobel Shaw. Ranikot, with a circumference of about 26 km, is the largest fort in the world. However, this has not been enough to convince the authorities to develop it as a major tourist attraction.
This fort is easily accessible from Karachi through the National Highway. After departing from Karachi and passing, head to Dadu through on the Indus Highway. The road is in excellent condition. It's an hour-long journey to San, the home of Sindhi nationalist, GM Syed. A little further from the town there comes a diversion. A rusty board announces that Ranikot is some thirty km away. Even though the road is in pathetic condition, the distance can be covered in 30 to 40 minutes.
You will reach the eastern side of the fort through this road and the passage is known as “Sann Gate”. The walls here are in better condition. Climb up on both sides as it offers a panoramic view of the landscape. The metal road twists and turns and takes you to “Meeri”, a small fortress within the fort housing the royal quarters. From there, one can see “Shergarh”, another fortress, up in the mountain. Visiting Mohan Gate is a must. You have to drive first from the diversion leading to Meeri and after couple of kilometers, abandon the car and take a walk on a treacherous path.
The passage takes one through canyons and you can take a dip here and there in the rain-stream which also is a life line to the gabol villagers residing inside the fort. After a three or four km walk, you will reach ‘paryun jo talao’, ‘the pond of fairies’. The pond is quite deep in few places and the stones surrounding it are quite slippery so watch your step. Take a dip in the pond and head to Mohan Gate. Stick to the route used by resident pedestrian. After couple of kilometers, you will reach the gate. The rain stream disappears here. It is connected with other reservoirs through tunnels. Villagers say that the flow of waters has increased after some seismic activity in the region. Scattered animal skeletons and prehistoric fossils are rumored be found here and there. The local guide Sadiq Gabol can show you one or two in his office.
And now the million dollar question. Is it safe for a Karachi Walla to visit the fort? Are there bandits in the area? The answer is quite complex. We saw families, Karachites and goras. Locals insist that its safe. But there are no guarantees. Police is nowhere to be seen. But on the positive side, you can visit it and come back in a single day (you can’t cover Shergarh though). Go there early morning, spend the noon there and get back to Hyderabad before sunset. Hope it will be safe and promising.
-Photos and text by Farooq Soomro