|Hyderabad fort, Sind, 1844.|
"The Fort formed at once the place of defence, the treasury, and the residence of the native rulers."
— Richard F. Burton in *Sindh revisited*
Located right in the centre of Hyderabad, Sindh, are the remains of a fort. Only a part of the ruined majesty remains now; the grandeur of the past long gone.
The story of the Pakka Fort is a fascinating tale, one documenting the rise and fall of different rulers.
|The main entrance.|
It is said that the constant floods in Khudabad frustrated Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhora, the ruler of Sindh. He decided to abandon Khudabad and shift his capital to a new place in the late 1760s.
Kalhora decided to build a new capital on the ruins of an ancient fishing village on a hillock known locally as Ganji ('bald' or 'barren'). The ancient village, once known as Neroon or Neroonkot, is traced back to the Mauryan era (322-185 BCE).
The hillock fort’s construction is said to have been headed by Diwan Gidumal, an intelligent courtier, who was given ‘two boats full of money’ by Ghulam Shah. He stayed close to the location during the construction, which finished in 1768. It is the use of pakki or burnt bricks which gave the mighty fort its name: Pakko Qilo in Sindhi and Pakka Qila in Urdu.
|The main gate.|
|The view from down below.|
The fort served as the seat for Ghulam Shah, from where he could see his new capital ‘Hyderabad’ shaping up. His sudden death after just a few years (around 1771-72) was the beginning of the fall of Kalhora rule.
The assassinations of Baloch chiefs and an air of distrust in the region led to the Battle of Halani, fought between Kalhoras and Talpurs (a Baloch tribe), in 1782. The Talpurs, led by Mir Fateh Ali Khan Talpur, brought an end to the Kalhora rule in Sindh.
Fateh Ali kept ruling from Khudabad until it was inundated by River Indus which was changing its course, after which Hyderabad was made capital again. It was during Fateh Ali's rule that the Pakka Fort reached the peak of its glory days. New buildings were added and old ones repaired.
The Mir Haram, which still stands, was built during Fateh Ali’s rule. The succeeding Talpur rulers also added various buildings and structures to the fort.
|Talpur office next to Mir Haram.|
|Office of the Mirs, located next to Mir Haram.|
|Information about Mir Haram.|
In his book Scenes in a Soldier’s Life, published in 1848, J.H.W. Hall describes the fort as follows:
"The walls of the fortress are built of brick and stone, and are of immense thickness; it is about half a mile square and contains nearly 1800 dwelling houses; some of them are the palaces of the Ameers of Scinde; in its interior there is also a very lofty tower mounted by seventy-six steps to the top, in which are placed four large pieces of ordnance, 84-pounders, of Persian manufacture."
Edward Archer Langley, of Madras Cavalry, describes the location of the fort in his book as:
"The fort and citadel, which last is of great height, tower above the city and have a picturesque appearance from the river."
The river that Mr Langley refers to is River Indus, which used to flow through the city once.
The 33-acre establishment was nothing short of a marvel once. It is written that the fort was once filled with gardens, large palaces and halls and other beautiful structures. But in 1843, the downfall began.
British forces led by Charles Napier fought against the Talpurs. The British won the battle, and Sindh finally belonged to them.
The fort was damaged heavily in the process. The British were ruthless, and made sure that most of the buildings were razed to the ground. Whatever buildings were spared became offices for British authorities. The part nearest to the gate was converted into a museum later on. The huge towers that stood in the fort were demolished as well, to prevent its use in any future uprisings.
|British Raj buildings within the fort.|
|The ruined tower.|
Following Partition in 1947 and the large influx of migrants from India, authorities used the fort as a temporary settlement. But with time, the temporary settlement slowly transformed into its modern-day form: a shanty-town.
Illegal occupation was another major issue. Despite some efforts from the government around early '90s, people have been reluctant to move to other areas despite the looming safety issues. The lack of any proper water drainage system has also been responsible for the fort’s current state.
The fort’s original shape was somewhat oval, and only some of its ramparts have survived. The dilapidated gate of the fort towards the west, which faces the entrance of the Shahi Bazar is also there. A short walk, and a left turn, and later a few steps and a narrow passageway leads to the Mir Haram, which I mentioned earlier.
|Narrow passageway leading to the Mir Haram and other buildings.|
|Small gateway near Northern Ramparts.|
|Ramparts in the East.|
There is a large building which was once used by Talpurs, and later converted to a museum. On the top of the wall are faded murals.
|The faded mural.|
It is said that artefacts from the museum were stolen over the course of time, along with cash from the archaeology department treasury. A building right opposite to the Mir Haram is an office building, which is still being used by government authorities. Right next to the Mir Haram, on the left, is a large wooden gate. It has metallic spike-shaped structures all over its surface.
Another little known surviving structure lies towards the east of the fort premises, known among the locals of the area as Qilay Ki Surang (the fort’s tunnel). Passing through some narrow lanes, one comes across a gate, leading to a series of steps, which take you to a prominent grave and some so-called tunnels.
|Path leading to the the 'Qilay Ki Surang'.|
The local I met with told me that the way to the tunnels was sealed by people, partly due to abuse by drug addicts. Where the tunnels once led is anybody’s guess.
On the left is a large tent-shaped structure, which I was told is where the kings kept their horse — a royal stable. I couldn’t find references to the structure anywhere, but it was an interesting sight, albeit in a terrible condition with heaps of garbage making more than clear its modern use: a large dumpster.
|A tent-shaped structure little is known about.|
It is a tragedy that Pakka Fort is suffering from this fate. Its walls have been falling down for a long time, while people continue to live there.
I wish I could be more hopeful about the fort’s future. I hope the authorities protect whatever is left of the fort. Otherwise, another important heritage monument will cease to exist.
Photos by author
Sind Revisited – Richard F. Burton (1877)
History of Sindh – Mohan Gehani (English vr. 2008)
Personal Observations of Sindh – T. Postans (1843)
Scenes in a Soldier’s Life – J.H.W. Hall (1848)
Narrative of a Residence at the Court of Meer Ali Moorad (Vol. 1) – Edward Archer Langley (1860)
A History of Sind, Volume II (Translation from Persian Books) - Mirza Kalich Beg
Jannat ul Sindh – Raheem Dad Khan Molaai Shedaai (2nd Edition, 2006)