By Muhammad Akbar Sheikh
BAHAWALPUR, Mar 11 (APP) Derawar fort and holding of Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally can play a significant role in promoting tourism and hence bringing sizeable amount of foreign exchange to national excheaquer.
The 13th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally recently held in Derawar Fort has been proving as milestone in emerging tourism sector of Pakistan as news aired in international media about the desert jeep rally has attracted attention of tourists from foreign countries.
It is worthy to a mention here that 13 years ago, the government of Pakistan planned to catch attention of foreign tourists by launching international jeep rally from historical fort of Bahawalpur, the Derawar Fort located in Cholistan desert of the division.
The princely state of Bahawalpur has been a center of excellent architecture for last many centuries. The Abbasi rulers of Bahawalpur took up the task left unfinished by the Abbasid Caliphates of Middle East and built magnificent palaces and seats of learning in Bahawalpur. Following the footsteps of Abbasid Caliphs, the rulers of Bahawalpur State laid special emphasis on knowledge and architecture. Central Library Bahawalpur is a precedent of love for knowledge of residents of Bahawalpur State who collected a donation of Rs 100,000 for construction of this magnificent building which stands as a marvel of Italian architecture. The rulers were equally eager to quench the thirst of knowledge who established educational institutions like Sadiq Public School, Sadiq Edgerton College and Sadiq Dan High School. Palaces and forts are the insignia of Bahawalpur state.There are five palaces in Bahawalpur City alone. Similarly, a web of forts has been spread all over Cholistan.
It is pertinent to mention here that Derawar Fort owned by former princely state of Bahawalpur is the most splendid of all; situated in south of Bahawalpur at a distance of approximately 100 kilometershas become icon of the state. Several centuries before creation of princely state, Bahawalpur, Derawar Fort was built by the then local ruler Rai, Jajja Bhatti in 9th century. “Raja Jajja Bhatti, infact was ruler of the then princely state of Jaisalmir that has its jurisdiction spread over two of largest deserts of the world including Rajisthan and Cholistan”, Haji Rafeeq, a researcher on history of Bahawalpur and its forts told APP. The fort was initially known as Dera Rawal, and later referred to as Dera Rawar, which with the passage of time came to be pronounced Derawar, its present name.
He said that earlier, it was not in current shape but was a fort constructed with mud and used for defence by the then Jaisalmir rule. “The army of Raja of Jaisalmir used to stay in the fort to control its area,” he said. He kept on telling that later, Abbasi family that entered Bahawalpur region from Sindh province formed a newly princely state. “Nawab of Bahawalpur conquered Derawar Fort in 1733 and rebuilt it which is the current shape,” Rafeeq said.
Derawar Fort is surrounded by a several meters high boundary wall that has 30 bastions. The fort even in very dilapidated condition, had offices used by the then heads of princely state of Bahawalpur, water ponds, residential rooms, a prison and other buildings located within the premises of the fort. The interesting thing is that fort was connected with other forts of the state through tunnels. “ A tunnel connecting Derawar Fort to palace in Dera Nawab Sahab city, the official residence of Nawab of Bahawalpur could be witnessed, Rafiq said. The wall and bastions of the fort having a tremendous height could be witnessed from several miles.
Haji Rafeeq was disappointed on the very dilapidated condition of the fort as saying despite several claims by the government departments and even by the royal Abbasi family, the owner of the fort, no proper practical measures were taken to preserve the fort which is coming to the ground due to its falling walls and rooms. “Two years back, we listened that Rs 10 million were provided by the provincial government for restoration and renovation of Derawar Fort but no improvement could be witnessed ,” he said.
Derawar Fort got space in national and international media when the Pakistan government launched jeep rally 13 years back. Derawar Fort was decided as the starting point of the jeep rally that covers over 450 kilometers of the track.
Dr. Raheal Siddiqui, a senior bureaucrat who participated as driver in 13th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally 2018; While talking to APP, said that it was off-road jeep race funded by the government and organized by the department of TDCP. “For last several years, international drivers from other countries including England and Canada and female drivers have also been participating in Cholistan Jeep Rally after it got special space in international media,” he said.
He said that the starting point of the jeep rally was Derawar Fort that is located some 100 kilometres off Bahawalpur city and located in the desert area coming within jurisdiction of Ahmedpur East tehsil of Bahawalpur district.
Dr. Noorullah Qamar, a participant driver from Canada said that Canadian media has also given space to the jeep rally. “Several people from Canada are desirous to watch Cholistan Jeep Rally on the occasion as it provided recreational entertainment that is linked with desert,” he said.
Research scholar and educationist, Omer Saleem who was at Derawar to witness the festivities of the rally said that thousands of people visited the Fort to watch jeep rally. He, however urged the government to take special measures for preservation and renovation of the fort which was in very dilapidated condition. “It is Derawar Fort that could be witnessed from several miles in the desert area due to its height,” he said, adding that the government of Pakistan could earn millions of dollars only by promoting local tourism sector.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Bahawalpur division, Saqib Zafar said that the Punjab government and the official management of Bahawalpur had started taking steps to preserve Derawar Fort to boost local tourism. “Huge funds amounting to millions of rupees are being provided for preservation and renovation of Derawar Fort,” he said. In a recent development, Commissioner Bahawalpur Capt (retd) Saqib Zafar said that UNESCO has added Derawar Fort to the list of World Heritage Sites and taken up the task of maintenance of this decaying monument of the glorious Abbasi rule besides Rs 10 million have been provided by Punjab government for renovation and restoration of the fort.
(APP Feature Service)