Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Who owns Fort Kot Diji

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I saw Kot Diji for the first time ever in 1984 in June with the heat flaring off the bleached limestone hill on which the fort sits. And what a magnificent sight it was! Crowning the hill smack by N-5, the artery that connects Karachi with the rest of the country, the fort of Kot Diji is shaped like the figure 3 with a handle on the upper crook. Its west, north and east sides embrace the highest point of the hill, while the lower southern side affords entry.

The heavy timber door is spiked with fifteen-centimetre long iron barbs that would put the mind of any attacker to rest about ramming the door with an elephant. Mir Sohrab Khan, the first ruler of the Khairpur family of Talpurs was one smart tactician to have sited his fort on this hill: with his force concentrated to beat back an attack on the east side, he could have well left the other three sides virtually undefended because there was no way an assaulting force could have taken the fort by escalade. The walls rise up from the sheer sides of the hill making it impossible for scaling ladders to be put in place. And even if attackers were to bomb or mine a breach, a mere handful of defenders inside could beat back the badly winded assaulters with ease.

This time again it was similar weather when I returned to Kot Diji. Little seemed to have change – little save the half dozen or so transmission towers that now make it impossible to photograph the fort without them spiking its impressive bastions. The broad enceinte inside the first gate, if memory serves, had a couple of 18th century cannons and a pile of chert balls. These were now gone. The path leading up to the second gateway (spiked like the first one) had now been turned into a brick concrete walkway with an iron banister.

I sent up a few good Punjabi curses for the mindless do-gooder who could not tolerate the fort in its pristine condition. But then surely there would have been monetary considerations and even a few rupees skimmed off from this foolish scheme were not to be sniffed at. The corridor whose walls are topped with pointed crenels and punctuated with massive turrets narrows as it gains height leading to a third gateway, again spiked. The builder of the fort was just not taking any chances with battering elephants.

And then one is in the main enceinte that curves east-west along the highest point of the hill. Humans are creatures of habit, and like the first time, I turned right. The lovely little building with shut and padlocked doors that I had then imagine would have been the zenana, was gone. All that remained in its place were its thick square pillars. But the cool, darkened interiors of the galleries within the thick defensive walls were still intact. Their arches with the peeling plaster still kept their magic as the soft late afternoon light filtered in from the openings.

Signs of renovation were evident at the east end of the fort and I was horrified to see that they had used cement. The raised arcade where the Amir of Khairpur would have spent lazy winter afternoons watching the sun dip below the horizon was unchanged. Unchanged from the time in the early 20th century when they raised it because the iron rods for the parapet on the roof were still sticking out. Again I found myself wondering why the arcade was never completed.

Back-tracking, I walked past the command post turret on my left. It stands atop the third gateway and was now adorned with a Shia alam – something I did not recall from my earlier visit. Bricks were piled around everywhere along the base of the walls and it was evident that some serious restoration work was in progress. If only, they would use the original lime plaster instead of cement!

Past the old water tank that would once have had a roof, I climbed up the stairs of the turret in the western extremity of the fort. This is the highest point of the fort with great views all around. And the most spectacular of them all is the village of Kot Diji below with its ruinous hulks and magnificent three-storeyed havelis. But these make an article in themselves and standing there in the turret, I resolved to return sometime in the winter.

When Mir Sohrab Khan Talpur ordered the building of Kot Diji, little did he know that not long after its completion, his country would be ceded to the British. Having suffered their most humiliating defeat in the First Afghan War in 1841, the British fell upon Sindh in almost vengeful frustration. ‘We have no right to take seize Sindh, yet we shall do so; and a very advantageous, useful and humane piece of rascality it will be.’ These words of Charles Napier who lead the assault on Sindh two years later, so aptly capture the spirit of the times.

And rascality it was. Sindh was then ruled by the three Talpur families of Khairpur, Hyderabad and Mirpur and British agents successfully sowed dissent among them. Winning over Mir Ali Murad to their side, the British proceeded to demolish the kingdom of Sindh. The first battle was fought in February 1843 outside Hyderabad on the banks of the Fuleli Canal by the forest of Miani. In short order, matchlock, sword and shield succumbed to the superior power of musket and bayonet. Five thousand brave Sindhi warriors went down that day.

Just two months later, the Battle of Dubbo sealed the fate of Sindh. Apocrypha tells of Napier having sent a cryptic one-word message to the Delhi government: Peccavi. This Latin word is an admission of sin. But Napier was making no confession; merely playing on words: in plain speak what he wrote was ‘I have sinned (Sindh)’.

Khairpur remained in the hands of Mir Ali Murad Talpur as reward for the truce he had made with the British. In a way, this was a blessing for Kot Diji remained with its masters, and surely that is why it still looks so neat and prim. But if the judicious Mir Sohrab Khan Talpur had hoped for his fort to thwart aggression against his kingdom, that had never happened.

Related: Kot Diji [Urdu]

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 7 June 2014 at 11:34, Anonymous Amardeep Singh said...

What a piece of architecture. Thanks for sharing.

At 11 June 2014 at 14:30, Blogger Ashfaque Dasti said...

About those canons one "Mariam Tope" lies at DSP Chowk hurled by advertising boards. Two canons are lying at Lahore Museum.
Read a Documentary about a month ago how brutally these canons were dismantled and thrown through fort walls for dispatching.

At 11 June 2014 at 14:34, Blogger Ashfaque Dasti said...

One Canon "Mariam Toop" lies at DSP chowk hurled by advertising boards and banners. Two canons are lying at Lahore Museum.
These canons were brutally dismantled and thrown through Fort walls for dispatch.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

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Riders on the Wind

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