Just outside the fair and utterly picturesque little town of Nagarparkar
in the extreme southeast of Thar Desert and treading on the Indian border, there looms to the east a jumble of pink hills. These are the Karonjhar Hills. Of their name, my elderly friend Nawaz Ali Khoso has this to say: the word is a compound of Karon (Black) and Jhar (Sprinkling). Indeed, look closely and you will notice the pink granite peppered with black spots. On a spot high above the village on one of the ridges of Karonjhar, there is a flat pedestal with a flagpole. Locals call it Turwutt jo Thullo the Pedestal of Turwutt
It is the good Nawaz Ali
who is also the keeper of the esoteric tale of Turwutt. In 1958, so it is related, Turwutt came to Nagarparkar at the head of an army to defeat Rana Karan Singh. A great battle was fought and the British were defeated. Turwutt barely made away with his life by hiding under a pile of cowhides in a tanner's workshop. Returning with a greater force, Turwutt prevailed and having taken over Nagarparkar, awarded a large jagir to the Meghwar who had hidden him under his wares.
While Turwutt was consolidating his hold, the valiant Roopa Kohli stole into the fortress of Nagar in order to remove a cache of arms and ammunition stored in it. He was discovered, arrested and tortured. But he gave nothing away and was eventually hanged and Thari ballads recall his courage to this day. That is the legend, but history has another tale to tell.
In 1858 the district of Tharparkar
was detached from Bhoj and placed under the Hyderabad Collectorate. Owing to the new and more regular system of administration, the Ranas of the desert lost some of the independence they earlier enjoyed. Consequently, true to their Rajput spirit, they raised the Kohlis to revolt. On April 15, 1859, a mob burnt down the telegraph office at Nagarparkar, killed a number of the police guard and took possession of the town. That is when we first hear of the Welshman Lieutenant George Tyrwhitt who accompanied the army with a force of six hundred police levies to restore order.
Order was restored, but the miscreants made off to spend the next year as fugitives. When they eventually did surrender, the Rana and his principal abettors were awarded lengthy jail sentences and deprived of their properties, while those who had assisted the government were granted jagirs. The passage of a century and a half had embellished and romanticised the story of a failed revolt with tales of a valiant Kohli general trying to spirit away a cache of ammunition and the defeated white man cowering in fear under a pile of stinking uncured hides.
The authorities now saw the difficulties in keeping a vast desert region under the control of a distant administrative headquarters. Consequently in 1860 the area that now forms the districts of Mirpur Khas and Mithi was detached to form a separate Political Superintendency. The man to head it was George Tyrwhitt.
E H Aitken's Gazetteer of the Province of Sind (sic) notes that here was 'an officer whose memory is associated in the traditions of Sind with many eccentricities.' Whatever those eccentricities may have been, at the time of his appointment as the Political Superintendent of the district of Tharparkar, Tyrwhitt was reputed to be 'able, energetic and possessing an astonishing degree of insight into the characters, habits and feelings of the border tribes.'
Tyrwhitt seems to have done rather well for he held this assignment for a good thirteen years. That was time long enough for legends to grow around him after he had departed. Among those is one regarding the man's singularity of purpose when it came to the job assigned him.
A con artist of his day impersonating as a district administration official, complete with his train of clerks and peons, visited Tharparkar. There, right under the nose of the Political Superintendent, the impostor received some money from a certain party and gave it possession of a block of land that was another man's rightful property. Even before Tyrwhitt could get wind of the carrying on, the swindler and his party, pockets bulging with ill-earned moolah, made tracks.
As soon as word reached him, Tyrwhitt saddled up and rode hell for leather after the tricksters, and, it is said, after riding non-stop through the night came upon his quarry at the edge of the desert just as the eastern horizon started to light up. The impostors were arrested, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment in the island fortress of Manora outside Karachi.
It is also said that Tyrwhitt was a fun-loving man. Late in the afternoon he would daily climb up the ridge outside town. There he would sit on the pedestal specially prepared for him (which now bears his name) on the windy peak to drink his whisky and soda. It is also said that since he was singularly obsessive about his responsibility, the drink was merely a ruse: he carried a pair of binoculars with him to keep a surreptitious eye on the Rajputs in order to pre-empt any future rebellion.
Tyrwhitt's end was not very glorious, however. Since he himself never left anything in writing, we get an oblique reference to his coming heavily under debt and falling from grace while still serving in Tharparkar. The year was 1873 and later that same year, Tyrwhitt sailed for home. From the illustrious civil servant and historian Mirza Kalich Beg whose father and grandfather enjoyed very cordial relations with Tyrwhitt we hear of the man's death in Britain in 1874. Incidentally, as a young Kalich played at his father's knee sometime back in the 1860s, it was Tyrwhitt who spotted his brilliance and suggested an English education for the lad.
But back in Nagarparkar, the pedestal of Tyrwhitt is a tourist attraction of sorts because every visitor is asked if they have seen it. The forty-minute walk from the village is through a wild and narrow gulley choked with trees and wild shrubs and alive with white-cheeked bulbuls. And the views from the top are stupendous. On three sides unfold the pale pink peaks of Karonjhar; at your feet spread the houses of Nagar with their pitched brick roofs that remind you of some village in Lombardy and beyond lie the rank and file of the grey dunes of Thar like tidal waves frozen in some long ago moment.
In August when the sky billows with Bhadon thunderheads and the east wind whips about the pedestal at a goodly thirty knots, one can hardly believe that one is on a hill just a few hundred metres above the sea. That is the time to climb up to Turwutt jo Thullo.