Hundreds of years ago, at the edge of a desert in Sindh, the Talpurs constructed a pompous fort atop a hill. This emblematic fort, dominating the town of Kot Diji in Khairpur district and known as Kot Diji Fort, was built between 1785 to 1795.
Driving towards Khairpur district from the National Highway, it is hard to miss this fort’s opulence, breaking the monotony of the skyline.
I remember my excitement and disbelief all at once when I first saw this mammoth construction. I could not wait to get a closer look and to step inside to explore it properly.
It took us approximately eight hours to reach Khairpur district from Karachi. On our way we made pitstops for tea and food. By the time we got to Kot Diji fort, I knew I had very little time to explore this place and that I had to rush since the sun was about to set soon, leaving us with very little light for shooting photos.
When I got off the car, right by the entrance I noticed this place with a cafeteria with traditional handmade items from Sindh decorated along the entrance.
This was the brave Sadiqa Salahuddin's 'khazana,' an off-shoot of the Indus Resource Centre (IRC). Khazana employs local women and showcases various handicrafts made by them such as patchwork, hand embroideries, table-mats, coasters and ceramics, all for sale. I took a quick look and then made my way to the fort.
I had only heard about Kot Diji fort and seen photos online; but no photos can do justice to being in direct audience to this marvel.
History suggests that this fort was built on a strategic location since it provided an edge over enemies marching from the east. A fatigued army could be encountered before trooping towards irrigated lands in search of water.
The fort was apportioned into three parts among the Talpurs. One of the parts came under the rule of the Mirs in Hyderabad; the second portion went to the Talpurs of Mirpur Khas while the Talpurs of Khairpur Mirs held the third portion under control.
It is recorded in history that the first Talpur ruler of Khairpur Mirs, Mir Sohrab Khan (founder of the Kingdom of Upper Sindh), founded a number of forts in order to safeguard the frontiers of his rule. He is accredited for constructing forts such as Imam Garh in the Thar region, Shah Garh towards Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Ahmad Abad at Diji.
The fort has only one main entrance on the east, saving it against any raiding enemy. The gate known as Shahi Darwaza or the royal gate in itself is a work of engineering genius. Built on the plan of a curved entrance, the fort has a small courtyard, which is accessible only from outside.
The space is further guarded by two heavy bastions keeping space to trap any proceeding army aiming to destroy the fort by attacking from the musketry holes and battlements on the top. The access through the bastions is from the east, while the wooden gate with heavy iron spikes totalling 234, stands towards the western corner of the northern wall.
These spikes ensured that no heavy contingent, or elephants, could be employed to break open the wooden gates. And through its history the fort has never been attacked.
Kot Diji is constructed on a limestone hill with kiln-baked bricks. Apparently the bricks were used since they were locally accessible and limestone rocks were believed to be very brittle and would have shattered easily upon impact with a canon ball.
The hill is about 110 feet high, above which the walls of the fort rise another 30 feet. It has three strategically placed towers about 50 feet tall.
The fort was built at a time when cannons had become common and its design and position reveal that. It includes several stations for cannons and because it is positioned high on a narrow ridge, enemy cannons would have had to fire at a massive distance and with little accuracy.
Cannonballs could either hit the hill or would end up flying over the fort and fall on the enemies' own forces on the other side.
In addition to the main entrance through Shahi Gate, the fort has as many as three secret small passages, which were used in case of emergency.
After crossing the Shahi Gate we entered a small semi-circular open space with high walls on three sides. These provide a climbing access to the main fort.
After crossing the second gate a tunnel-like access leads to the top through a third gate. The main portion of the fort is beyond this point.
This military fort is designed to be fully equipped to offer defence and to withstand an invasion. In addition to this it houses heavy bastions, towers, an ammunition depot, water reservoir, the Mirs’ harem, a prison, a place of holding court and cells to accommodate guards and sepoys.
These burjs were also used to mount the cannons at their tops. These cannons were of different sizes, but since there was sufficient space on each bastion, these could be aimed in different directions.
Some of these bastions have also been named in order to form an identity. There is one bastion known as Fateh thul that is located beside the third gate while climbing from below from the Shahi Gate.
This thul or tower is so strategically located that most of the fort, above and below this point is in visual contact for better security.
The other bastions are named Saffan Safa and Mailk Maidan Burj. These are located on the western side.
The two cannons, Saffan Safa and Malik Maidan used to be mounted here. The Shaeed Badshah Burj is located towards the north-western side of art of the fort. At the foot this bastion is the tomb of one Shaheed Badshah (the martyred king).
Another bastion, which stands towards the eastern corner of the fort facing towards the direction of Jaisalmer in the desert, is called Jaisalmer thul.
Another bastion is the Maryam Thul, which used to have the cannon named Maryam that is now put on display at the crossings on the National Highway in Khairpur city.
At the foot of one of the bastions is the tomb of one Shaheed Badshah (martyred king).
On the top level plain the area of the fort is provided with sort of galleries cells inside the fortification wall. These ghulam gardish and might have been meant for those who attended the royalty.
There is also a pond, which had been used for storing sweet water. This pool is about 3.75 metres deep and measures around 11 metres in length and a little less than seven metres in width.
Almost facing the third gate are some roofless rooms beside the ghulam gardish. These were used as ammunition depot or what is locally known as barood khano.
Mir Sohrab Khan made this fort his abode a few years before his death, but soon handed over the power to his sons.
In January 1843, British troops also stayed here at a time when Charles Napier was on his military adventure to invade and conquer Imam Garh.
If any of you ever plan to visit Khairpur, do make it a point to make this your first stop. And if you live in Sindh, you must explore this fort at least once.