Fabulous Forts of Cholistan
The Cholistan desert is spread over 10,000 square miles and is 20 miles away from the city of Bhawalpur. It is a great tourist attraction with many awe-inspiring ancient relics as well as a rich culture. Among various things the Forts of Cholistan are burnt-brick structures located along the old Hakra River (which is a dried-up watercourse near Fort Abbas, and is a continuation of the Ghaggar River in India). These are excellent examples of Muslim military architecture, similar to those found elsewhere in Pakistan.
The Nineteen Forts of Cholistan
Let’s take a brief look at them:
It is a square mud-brick structure. It is in quite a battered state, yet in the centre remains of a circular watch tower still exists.
Also known as ‘Winjhrot’, it was built by Raja Winjha in 757, but in 1167 Shahbuddin Muhammad Ghori had it taken down. Although in ruins, most of its original features survive. The structure is made from blocks of limestone, set in local lime mortar. It is nearly square covering an area of 300 feet. While the outer wall encapsulates an inner area which is 155 feet, with three semi-circle bastions which are at the corners. On the north there is an 11 feet wide entrance, on which three rooms are built.
This is a mud-brick structure and was built by Ali Murad Pirjani in 1767. The fortification wall is 7 feet thick and the bastions in the corner survive to 19 feet. The northern wall is curved, for reasons not known. Remains of several structures still exist inside. It had four sweet water wells outside.
It is believed that it stands on a fort built in pre-Islamic time by ‘Dev Rawal’. It was originally named after him, but later on came to be called Derawer. It has remained under the rulers of Bhawalpur State since the late 18 century.
Interestingly Sir Sadiq Muhammad Khan V Abbasi, was born at the fort in 1904. He became the Nawab of Bhawalpur upon his father’s death in 1907 and ruled till 1966. He also became an Amir based on his outstanding capabilities in all matters of his State and beyond.
A royal graveyard and marble mosque can be found outside the fort.
It originally had 42 bastions, most of them are intact displaying geometric designs made from brunt-bricks (you can see this in the picture below). There are many buildings inside which were supposedly quarters for the Army and residential ones for the Royal family. There is also a well inside and a tank outside.
This is a small square mud structure, with four bastions in each corner that are 60 feet apart. It was built by Aqil Khan, who was the son of Kabir Khan Achrani in 1772.
This was a rectangle mud-brick structure with a burnt-brick interior. It only has one surviving bastion rising to 16 feet.
This is situated deep in the desert near the Indian Border. It is brick work with high and sloping walls. Till 1971 due to the availability of water, human settlement existed. It was built by Rawal Bhim in 1608 and was called ‘Bhimwar’. It was captured in 1766 by Ikhtiyar Khan and renamed as Islamgarh. It is a square fort with a different number of bastions on each side i.e. five on the north, eight on the east, three each on the south and west. A small mosque is found on the eastern half of the fort. It also had a double-ringed well.
It is a lovely square burnt-brick structure which rose to 114 feet, and was built by Jam Khan Marufani in 1788. Now the surviving walls rise to 28 feet, strengthened by bastions in all corners. A 9 feet wide entrance is provided by the eastern wall.
This was built by Fazal Khan in 1754, however it was said to be demolished by Muhammad Bahawal Khan II in 1805. A mud-brick core still exists. Also there are two bastions in the north and south rising just to 21 feet. The thickness of the fortification wall is 8 feet. Dense vegetation can be found in the area, which means moisture is present.
Situated in the Bahawalpur District, it was built by Ikhtiayar Khan in 1775. It is a mud and brunt-brick structure which is 170 feet high on the inside with octagonal bastions. The fortification wall is 8 feet thick and 24 feet high. It has an intricate gateway in the eastern wall and an ancient brick-lined well can be found outside near the fort.
This was built by Nawab Muhammad Bahawal Khan II in 1783. It was a 128 feet high square structure, with semi-circular bastions in each corner and the entrance on the east. Now the walls and bastions have fallen down.
Presumably destroyed by floods in 1804, it had been built by Sabzal Khan in 1780. The eastern and southern walls exist as well as some of its bastions.
The place where it was built was supposed to be an ancient site founded by one of the rulers of Chittor during pre-Islamic times. It consisted of some religious shrines and the temple of Jains. Some intricate pillars of yellow sandstone with extensive carvings (you can see this in the picture below and it is preserved in the Bahawalpur Museum) can give you an understanding of the former grandeur of these shrines.
It changed many hands before ultimately Nawab Mubarak Khan took over from the ruler of Jaisalmer at the end of the 18th century.
It took Nur Muhammad Khan three years to build it (1796-99). He was the disciple of Gilani Makhdoom of Uchh (this fact had been inscribed on the gate in Persian). It is made of brunt-bricks, rising to 92 feet on all sides having seven bastions. A detailed entrance can be found on the eastern side, with a 47 feet long passage bordered by domed rooms on the side. It had six wells on the outside.
Muhammad Maruf Khan began building it in 1743 (His tomb can be found 400 yards south of the fort). It was completed by his son Jan Muhammad Khan and his successor Umar Khan in 1757. It has semi-circular bastions, eight each on the north, south and west. The eastern side has a detailed and arched gateway which is 10 feet wide. There is a mosque nearby too.
This was built Haji Khan, son of Ikhtiyar Khan in 1777, but was greatly damaged by floods in 1805. The existing walls are 7 feet thick and 8 feet high. Also the bastions are visible to some extent.
This was also built in 1777 by Lal Khan, another son of Ikhtiyar Khan. The surviving walls are 6 feet thick and 18 feet high. It has double-storied bastions on each corner which are accessible by a winding staircase. Entrance to the fort is provided through the eastern wall, which has an additional bastion.
Nawan Kot Fort
It is a mud-brick structure with four corner bastions, it rises up to 156 feet.
The oldest fort of pre-Muslim period is located one mile south of Fort Abbas (a historical city in Bhawalnagar District. It was known as ‘Pholra’, but it in 1927 Nawab Sadiq renamed it after his eldest son), among modern houses made from the bricks of the fort. Now only a pile of mud bricks perhaps can show where it once stood
The present fort was repaired by Karam Khan Arbani (the son of Qaim Khan, the founder of Qaimpur) in 1752. It is badly damaged but was a square structure with bastions in each corner. However in the north-eastern corner stand the ruins of a three-storied palace, whose woodwork and alcoves are still intact. A damaged slanting brick tower is also present.
Mughal, Mohammad Rafique(1997), Anciet Cholistan – Archaeology and Architecture, Ferozsons Pvt Ltd