(APP) – The Derawar fort and the Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally can play a significant role in promoting tourism and hence bringing sizeable amount of foreign exchange to national exchequer.
The 13th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally recently held in Derawar Fort has proved to be a milestone in the emerging tourism sector of Pakistan as the desert jeep rally managed to attract tourists from foreign countries.
The princely state of Bahawalpur has been a centre of excellent architecture for the past 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 by establishing 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.
Owned by former princely state of Bahawalpur, the Derawar Fort situated in south of Bahawalpur at a distance of approximately 100 kilometers has become an icon of the state. Several centuries before creation of the princely state, Bahawalpur, Derawar Fort was built by Raja Jajja Bhatti in the 9th century. “Raja Jajja Bhatti, infact, was ruler of the then princely state of Jaisalmir that was spread over two of the 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 the 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. Later, Abbasi family that entered Bahawalpur region from Sindh province formed a newly princely state, he said. “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 metres 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 the 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.
“Two years back, we heard that Rs 10 million were provided by the provincial government for restoration and renovation of Derawar Fort but no improvement materialised ,” 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 kilometres of the track.
“For last several years, international drivers from other countries including England and Canada, as well as female drivers have also been participating in Cholistan Jeep Rally after it got special mention in the international media,” said Dr. Raheal Siddiqui, a senior bureaucrat who participated as driver in 13th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally 2018.
Dr. Noorullah Qamar, a participant from Canada said that Canadian media has also given space to the jeep rally. 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. “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 district management of Bahawalpur had started taking steps to preserve Derawar Fort to boost local tourism. “Large funds amounting to millions of rupees are being provided for the 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. Besides this, he said, Rs 10 million have been provided by Punjab government for renovation and restoration of the fort.