With its landmark architecture symbolizing centuries of grandeur, Derawar Fort is a large square fortress, a standout attraction in the Cholistan desert in Ahmadpur East. Approximately 130 km south of the city of Bahawalpur, the forty bastions of Derawar are visible for many miles in the Cholistan Desert. The walls have a perimeter of 1500 metres and stand up to thirty metres high.
30-metre-high bastions surround the fort, along with walls that span over 1.5 kilometres. In the scorching summer of the Cholistan desert, the fort's red-bricked facade seems to glow with the heat and is visible for miles. Even the architecture of the fort's dungeons, which could once be accessed through a stairway made of tunneled pathways, has a charm of its own. There is also a long underground railway tunnel that connected the Sadiq Ghar Palace to the fort.
The Derawar fort was also connected to other forts in Cholistan through a network of underground tunnels. On the ground floor, there were offices, a small prison, gallows, a water pond and residential rooms. It is believed that every Thursday, nawab sahib visited the fort and held an open court with his attendants, passing judgement on different cases, including those on capital crimes.
The fort attracts a large number of local, national and international tourists in the winters. Visitors used to be able to climb down to the underground section by a stairway, but today that is not possible as the tunneled pathways are blocked. Owing to its run-down condition, the entire fort may soon collapse, if authorities continued to neglect it. Tragically, tourists are also to blame, as they carelessly walk on various structures, eat at the site and throw trash inside the fort.
Only a decade ago, the fort was in a considerably good condition. Visitors used to walk in the tunnels for a mile or so and could see a network of tunnels leading to different rooms. But the stairs leading to the top of bastions have now collapsed. The majority of the bastions have developed cracks, with bricks from some falling off.
This historically significant fort presents an enormous and impressive structure in the heart of the Cholistan desert, but it is rapidly deteriorating and in need of immediate preventive measures for preservation. Otherwise, nation will lose this important heritage. At least UNESCO and other international organisations should come forward and protect the fort.
Derawar fort was first built in the 9th century AD by Rai Jajja Bhati, a Hindu ruler of the Bhati clan, as a tribute to Rawal Deoraj Bhati the king of Jaisalmer and Bahawalpur. 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.
In the 18th century, the fort was taken over by Muslim Nawabs of Bahawalpur from the Shahotra tribe. It was later rebuilt in its current form in 1732 by the Abbasi ruler Nawab Sadeq Muhammad, but in 1747 the fort slipped from their hands owing to Bahawal Khan's preoccupations at Shikarpur.
Nawab Mubarak Khan took the stronghold back in 1804. Nawab Sadeq Muhammad Khan Abbasi V, the 12th and last ruler of Bahawalpur state, was born in the fort in 1904.