Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Derawar Fort

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My friend and guru, the peerless Obaidullah Baig, many years ago told me of having heard that when Alexander was in the vicinity of Larkana, he had a treasure sent away to be secreted in a desert fort. It had been said that the treasure was placed in the charge of Alexander's general Nearchus who was told to travel seven days in a north-easterly direction until he reached this fort in the desert. There, said my guru, Nearchus deposited the treasure in an underground vault. There, he also said, it rests to this day for it has not been discovered.

Baig sahib pointed out that the travel time and direction pointed to just one place: Derawar Fort in Cholistan. He also said that his narrator thought Nearchus had mentioned this episode in his book which he had tried to get his hands on and failed. I lent him my copy and when it came back I knew it had been read for there were pencil marks throughout the book. But my guru had failed to find any mention of the treasure.

Now, after the revolt on the Beas River between modern-day Amritsar and Jalandhar, Alexander returned to the kingdom of Raja Paurava (Porus). There he divided his army into three; one side on either bank of the Jhelum River and part on boats with Nearchus in charge of the fleet. From Patala (Hyderabad) Nearchus sailed down the Sindhu to coast along the Sindhi and Balochistan seaboard to eventually meet up with Alexander in Susa (Persia).

Long after Alexander was dead, his empire carved up among his generals and Nearchus, having done his part, had gone into retirement, he found the time to write. Good fortune preserved his book and we can now read it in English translation by J McCrindle. But there is no mention of a treasure in the book.

Omar, scion of the House of Abbasi of Bahawalpur, once narrated the following: under either the bastions of Derawar or the adjacent mosque, there lies buried a vast treasure believed to have been left behind by Alexander. Pointing out the fountain in the centre of the mosque courtyard and the four panels of black marble in the otherwise white floor leading to the fountain, he had another item to reveal: his grandfather Sir Sadiq Mohammad Khan Abbasi V having heard the tale of the treasure had the courtyard uprooted and re-laid with marble. But nothing was found.

It was believed, so said Omar Abbasi, that one day a good and worthy Abbasi will have a vision of a golden spider. In this dream the spider will lead the chosen one to the treasure. Upon waking, this person will recover the treasure and go on to lead the House of Abbasi once again to its former glory.

It is related that even when in 1733 the Abbasis wrested Derawar from its erstwhile masters, the Ranas of Bikaner, stories of the treasure were already in circulation. If tradition is to be believed, the Rana having been done in, the Keeper of the Vault was taken alive and brought into the presence of the Abbasi chief. The man agreed to lead one man, and that was the precondition, just one man, into the subterranean labyrinth to the hidden treasure. Everyone else was to wait outside.

When the two men emerged from the vaults, the chief asked his man what he had seen. 'Something the likes of which is beyond the wildest imagination of mortals,' he said. So great was the treasure, that never before had any king possessed even half of it. The Keeper of the Vault then handed over the keys to this man and before anyone could stop him, flung himself from the parapet to his death below.

The chief asked his man to lead him to the treasure and down the stairs they descended into the dimly lit maze of tunnels. But in that maze, the man lost his way. Repeatedly he tried to find the right vault but always he failed because below the fort there existed a confusing warren of tunnels and crypts. Suspecting foul play on the part of his man, the Abbasi chief ordered his execution. But even on pain of death the man could not remember how he had been led to the treasure. And that being time when heads rolled on a ruler's wish, the man was executed. And so the secret of the treasure under Derawar Fort was buried with him. The question then is if there ever was a treasure in Derawar. From a history of the Mongol rulers of Sindh (Mahmudul Hasan Siddiqui's History of the Arghuns and Tarkhans of Sind) we read that in April 1526, Mirza Shah Hasan Arghun advanced against the Langahs who then held Derawar Fort. Although the writer of the Tarkhan Nama (Siddiqui's source) calls it Dilawar, but we get a clear enough description of it lying in a desert where no water could be had and know he was referring to Derawar.

The fort was besieged and supplies cut off. We are told that the 'garrison was reduced to such straits that even boiled hide [for food] was not easily available to them.' Yet the siege was prolonged and a good deal of mining work had to be executed to open a breach. The Langahs were no pansies either and they fought hard until the superior firepower of the Mongols (Shah Hasan being a direct descendent of Chengez Khan), won the day.

When Derawar capitulated, Shah Hasan sent in his most trusted officers to collect the treasure stored within. And it was no mean taking, we are told. There was plenty of gold for a liberal distribution to be made among the officers and the soldiery, yet leaving enough for a 'considerable portion' for the leader's coffers. Indeed, there was enough loot to enable Shah Hasan to retire to the island fortress of Bhakkar (in the Sindhu River between Sukkur and Rohri) to 'spread the carpet of pleasure and merry-making.'

On the authority of James Tod (Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan) we believe that Derawar was founded by a young adventurer named Rawal Deo Raj in the mid-10th century CE. He named it Dera Rawal after himself from which the name was over time corrupted to Derawar. If Nearchus had undertaken the mission as my guru says, he would have held the secret close to his heart even to his dying day in the hope of somehow being able to retrieve it. On the other hand, it is right likely that the treasure that Shah Hasan Arghun took had nothing to do with Alexander or Nearchus and was the accumulation of the generations of Rajputs who held Derawar since its founding.

Unfortunately the Abbasis arrived on the scene a trifle too late — two hundred years too late.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 08:00,


At 6 July 2014 at 09:34, Blogger mansoor azam said...

Enchanting tale masterly crafted

At 6 July 2014 at 09:45, Blogger Ali Raza said...

exquisite....... the only sure of knowing whether it exist till this day or not, would be to dig under the old fort

At 6 July 2014 at 22:21, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

if there was any treasure, it has to rest there forever I think.

At 6 July 2014 at 22:23, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

Your work is very versatile sir. Respect.

At 6 July 2014 at 23:26, Blogger Salman ali said...

We are obsessed with hidden treasures as a nation. Be it coal treasure in thar or thw gold one in saindak. But we wont work our way to earn any.

At 7 July 2014 at 09:50, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

The treasure was definitely removed by the Arghuns. Nothing remains now.

At 7 July 2014 at 16:26, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

True that, Salman Ali. And very sad too.


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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

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

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