KARACHI: The electronic gadgets on the van’s dashboard give off all kinds of warning beeps with more such sounds coming from the people with shaking bones as we go around another tight rocky curve on the bumpy difficult terrain.
The dangling rear view mirror accessory breaks into the swinging jitterbug as we edge towards the fabled ‘Great Wall of Sindh’, Ranikot, one of the world’s largest fort enclosures in the Kirthar mountain range.
The recent reason for travelling to Jamshoro district, and then to the middle of nowhere on Saturday, was the fresh restoration and repair work at the Shahpar Gate in Ranikot’s southern wall, by Endowment Fund Trust for Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh.
Ranikot, pronounced ‘Runny Kot’, is an enigma for modern-day historians as the large fortified area, including elevated areas of 500 to 1,500 feet high, seems to be defending nothing in an arid zone. Still it has man-made walls built over 7.25 kilometres at easy-to-access vulnerable areas converting Ranikot into a fortified valley of sorts. There are five entrances in the wall. There is the Sann Gate in its eastern wall, Amri Gate in the north, Mohan Gate in the west and Shahpar in the south.
There is also no literature available about who originally built Ranikot. Some attribute it to the Arabs while others believe it was built by the Greeks. Finding similarities now with the Great Wall of China, some are even thinking of the Chinese as its builders. Still there is some evidence of earlier repair work done there by the Talpurs. But in trying to increase the mass and strength of the wall they lined it with two-inch thick masonry with all the wrong materials which couldn’t withstand the weather there. The cladding work was done without removing the lime plaster from the fortifications and without developing its bond with the original construction.
Over the years, some 60 per cent of the walls have collapsed at various places and EFT is busy in restoring it. Their latest restoration work was carried out at Shahpar Gate. Taking its name from a limestone with a foot imprint on it of someone venerated as a religious personality and which until some time ago remained near the gate but has mysteriously vanished now, Shahpar was a place for travellers to stop for a little rest during journeys. The gate, too, was created itself.
“Actually it was a breach in the fort wall instead of a formal gate because one can’t find any bastion or watchtower or its remains at the site, which is needed to guard any formal entrance or exit points,” explained EFT’s regional coordinator for Hyderabad Ishtiaq Ansari, who also added that the Ranikot’s southern wall where the Shahpar Gate exists happens to be the fort’s longest wall.
The expert said that the weather conditions at Ranikot allow them to work there from November to March therefore it is taking them time. “There is 50 to 60 per cent of restoration work still to be done as we work in phases as the government funding becomes available to us,” he shared.
The visitors, comprising architecture students, engineers, historians, archaeologists, conservationists and researchers, were asked for their input regarding the restoration work done so far at the site. They were informed about the concoction of gum, gur and methi [fenugreek] powder that has now been mixed with limestone to create a plaster for the walls to help it bond with the original material while allowing it to breathe.
The restored portions, standing out in white at various locations, was said to last for long but one scientist suggested that EFT also think about growing trees in the area to make the environment more conducive to these changes there. “Greenery will also bring down temperatures helping your plaster bind better,” he said.
Ranikot since 1993 has been on the list of tentative Unesco World Heritage Sites. When asked if Unesco would be interested in lending a helping hand in restoration work here, Hameed Akhund, EFT’s secretary and trustee, said: “No, thank you!” He explained his reaction by sharing information about the condition of other Unesco heritage sites such as Moenjodaro. “Those people don’t care about our heritage the way we do. They go about breaking things at our historical sites without giving it a second thought. We don’t want them here,” he said.
Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2018