Rohtas Fort


Some 120 kilometers from Islamabad, not far from the historic town of Jhelum, stands one of the most imposing structures in Pakistan dating from the medieval times: Rohtas Fort or Qilas Rotas. Situated on a steep elevation, and accessible by vehicle today after crossing a shallow river, this strategically located Fort was built on the orders of the Afghan warrior King Fareed Khan (1472-1545) - or Sher Shah Suri (picture on the right) as he is known in the Indian Subcontinent -  with the purpose of preventing the return to India from Persia of the defeated and exiled Mughal Emperor Humayun as well as to keep the local Gakkhar tribes allied to Humayun in check. Faced with the difficulty of getting the cooperation of the Gakkhars to assist in the construction of the Fort, Sher Shah Suri's official in charge of the project got around this problem by paying them one rupee (or whatever the unit of currency was in those days) for each stone delivered for use in the construction work. Indian accounts, however, state that Rohtas Fort was already constructed centuries before Sher Shah Suri and that he captured it from its Hindu owners through an act of trickery. The great structure was named Rohtas after the Rohtasgarh Fort in Bihar, India, which Sher Shah Suri had taken possession of by force in 1539.

The construction of Rohtas Fort commenced in 1541 and continued years after Shah Shah Suri's death four years later. The Fort's dimensions are awesome. It's irregular-shaped perimeter measures about 5 kilometers and it has 12 gates, 68 semi-circular bastions, 1900 merlon-shaped battlements, hundreds of machiolations and 9500 stairs. In some places the walls are upto 13 metres thick and 18 metres high. Palaces, wells, gardens, tombs and other structures have been constructed in the fort compound, and the views it commands of the plain 300 feet below it are, simply put, stunning.

Rohtas Fort is an excellent example of Afghan military architecture in India and in 1997, the UNESCO added Rohtas Fort on its World Heritage List. Sadly, a large village has sprung up inside the fort and this does not bode well for its upkeep. Parts of the Fort are in need of extensive renovation. Still, Rohtas Fort is one place any history lover visiting Pakistan must not miss out on. A number of websites provide interesting historical details and photos on Rohtas Fort, including, Wikipedia, Historical Images of Pakistan, the photo galleries of Zahid Niaz, PindiPlus and Go2Net, and website of the world heritage tour, which has a 360-degeee navigatible panorama of the Fort.

I first visited Rohtas Fort once with the Asian Study Group back in 1994. My second visit - again organized by the Asian Study Group - took place recently on Sunday, March 11th, 2007. Most of the photos shown below were taken by me on this second visit. Rohtas Fort is a place that I certainly intend to visit again, perhaps later this year after summer has passed. I will post my next collection of photos on this page after I have done so.

Reaching the fort by vehicle from Islamabad is really easy. Just drive out of Islamabad from Zero Point and drive straight down the Islamabad Highway all the way  until you reach the Grand Trunk Road in about 30 kilometres. Turn left at the intersection point and proceed in the direction of Lahore. After 80 or so Kilometres, after passing the town of Dina, there is a signboard of Rohtas Fort and an indication that is is 8 Kilometres away. Turn in the direction of the arrow and follow the side road until the Fort looms ahead of you. 


  These are two of the many gates which grace Rohtas Fort. The imposing and seemingly well-maintained one on the left is the famous Suhail Gate which is about 70 feet high. I can't recall the name of the one on the right, but judging from its comparatively small size it must be one of the Fort's side gates. Pity that its in a crumbling state.    
    Photos of three major surviving structures in the Fort. The one on the extreme left is of the Maan Singh Haveli. Time has left its mark, especially on the inside, but the facade seems to have remained intact. I don't know what the building in the middle photo is. It's classical architecture is nice though. There are many buildings on the Indian subcontinent which closely resemble it. Unfortunately, a lot of graffiti has been scribbled on it. The photo on the right was taken at a well which is accessible by descending a long flight of stairs.    
I took this snapshot of a section of the Fort's inner wall after I noticed a movement there. I think I saw a large lizard crawling on the surface which then disappeared into a crack. Later, I told someone about my experience and asked what it could have been that I saw. I was told that in the area there are large lizard-like creatures which, though ominous to look at, are really harmless. One wouldn't like to encounter them in close proximity though!  
  The photo on the left was taken at the Fort's place of execution. There is a hole in the center of the stone platform where severed heads dropped after the executioner had performed his grisly task. A horrible place to be but what a splendid view of this world before being conveyed to the next!

The photo on the right shows a section of the Fort wall with the palace in the background. The plain is visible for miles around.

    More panoramic views from Rohtas Fort. In the photo on the right, you see me standing against the backdrop of the plain. The river Kahan runs near the base of the hills on which Rohtas Fort is sitiuated.  


The photos below, all taken on March 11th, 2007, are a chosen selection out of a large number of photos taken by me at Rohtas Fort that day.

(Click on any photo thumbnail to see its larger version)


    OK, these photos were taken from our moving coaster along the route. I'm sitting right in the front next to the driver. Usually, I'm the first one to show up at our traditional embarkation point in front of United Bakery in the Sector F-6 Supermarket, so that I can snap up this "prized seat". I may have to get up very early - and that too on a Sunday morning which is when these day sightseeing tours usually take place - but then at least I get to take good photos.   
The Grand Trunk road which leads towards Rohtas Fort in the direction of Lahore, from where it continues to India and then on to Calcutta,  has improved significantly since I travelled on it last. Decades ago it was much narrower, bumpier and hazardous for motorists and pedestrians because it used to run directly through cities, towns and villages along the way. Also, it was not a dual carriageway in old times and head-on collisions between overtaking vehicles were quite common. Countless people have lost their lives on this road. Nowadays, a number of toll stations have been erected along the route (there were two on the way to Rohtas) which is a feature I don't like because I think its the responsibility of the state to ensure unhindered movement of vehicles within its borders.   




    These four photos were taken after turning near Dina onto the road leading to Rohtas Fort after 8 kilometres. It is comparatively narrow, a bit bumpy and pot-holed, and is flanked by farms, graveyards and hamlets.   

    Our coaster is approaching Rohtas Fort. You can already see its grim grey foreboding walls and battlements looming ahead of us. Finally, we reached it and drove through the arched entrance gate (photo on the right) which forms part of the outer wall.   
    After passing through the outer gate, we still had to drive a while through the compound which, unfortunately, has witnessed a lot of encroachment (along with the damage it entails) over the years.     
  We reached the parking lot inside the fortress which wasn't there the first time I visited Rohtas Fort back in 1994. And neither were the vendors selling snacks and drinks (photo on left). We came with two coasters; the photos on the right show some of my travelling companions and our guide (extreme right) giving us a briefing. The entrance fee is Rupees 200,- for foreign nationals and Rupees 10,- for Pakistani nationals. Now this is not fair!    


    After our guide's short briefing, and having been instructed to return to our coasters by around 1 PM, we set off from the parking lot in the direction of Suhail Gate which can be seen ahead (second photo on left). To its left is the Sohail Akbar Khan Information Centre (photo on right). The Sher Shah Suri Museum, which we also visited, is housed in the upper part of the Suhail Gate.  
  The back view if the famous Suhail Gate from inside the fort. We were told the Muslim Saint Suhail Bukhari is buried somewhere inside. Notice the architectural details and the elegant arches which are so typical in old historical buildings in Pakistan and also common in Central Asia. We walked through the gate to the front side where a dirt track leads to it. Besides our group, there were alot of other visitors and some busy-body fort guards who enjoyed flaunting their batons and shouting orders to some of the noisy younger Pakistani visitors.   
  The front view of Suhail Gate. This is the same one I photographed on my first visit in 1994 (see top of this webpage). We stood around, looking at this impressive old structure for a few minutes. THen, I got the idea to take three photos of it and stitch them together to make a panorama (photo on the right). It came out better than I thought - despite that awful scaffolding the conservationists have erected on it.  


  After hanging around at the Suhail Gate for some minutes, and listening to our guide's historical account, we moved on around the corner to visit the Suhail Khan Information Centre. It is named after the archeological conservationist Sohail Akbar Khan who suffered a heart attack while supervising the conservation work at the fort and died there on June 22nd, 2004 at the age of 42 years. The Centre houses some interesting material which throw light on the history of Rohtas Fort and some of the main historical characters associated with it. It is not big inside - actually its just an illuminated passage flanked by large posters leading into a small hall where, on a table, is a modal reconstruction of the fort.       
      A series of photos of the posters on the Centre's walls. The man in the second photo on the left was in charge there and gave us an account of the Centre's work and the Fort. He was quite knowledgeable and very courteous.

The poster in the photo on the right is about Sher Shah Suri himself.

  This is the modal reconstruction of Rohtas Fort I mentioned above and which is laid out on a table in the hall at the end of the passage. It's simple but nice and conveys a good "birds eye view". The modal accurately shows the bastions as well as the Fort's perimeter shape. Interestingly, there is a wall-enclosed section within the fort (inner citadel) which in old times probably housed the nobles and important officials. Don't know what the white objects represent.       


        After touring the Centre we walked up to the adjacent "Sher Shar Suri" Museum in the Suhail Gate. It is very small and houses some objects like old swords and daggers, shields, coins and most interestingly, oversized mannequins of Sher Shah Suri and his two spear-bearing bodyguards in period costumes. But - NO PHOTOGRAPHY is allowed inside!!! How stupid. So I took this photos outside the museum entrance instead.


  After the brief tour of the museum, our group split up and I walked off in the direction of the imposing structures I saw from the parking lot.  There was alot of open space and some distance to cover until I reached the walls from where steps led up to a terrace  which ran the length of the wall and which would have been manned by warriors when the fort was used. The panorama on the right was taken before reaching the steps. The three persons in the photo are group members.   
  The panorama on the left conveys an impression of the fort's largeness. The ground is evidently very well kept (pleasant surprise) and is used by youngsters to play their obsession cricket.

The photo on the right shows the steps used to climb up to the terrace. The rock steps are rough, narrow and steep.

  A good view of the terrace and another set up steps leading up to the battlements (photo on the left and extreme right). The first photo on the right is the only one taken of me that day which started quite ominously. March 2007 has been a very wet month in the Islamabad region and when I saw the thick grey clouds when I woke up and looked out my window in the morning, I thought that the trip to Rohtas Fort would be cancelled. Fortunately, not a drop of rain fell that whole time. It was only on the return journey to Islamabad that a drizzle started. This was bad because we were visiting another fortress close to Islamabad when the drops fell.       
    The battlements (see photos on the left) from where warriors and archers would have stood in bygone centuries with their spears, rocks and arrows interested me alot. They look just like the ones you'd find in European medieval fortresses. It was a somewhat eerie feeling to think of the scenes these walls must have witnessed in times of conflict and to visualize hundreds of excited warriors running around looking death in the eye. But, according to one report I read, no fighting took place here actually and in any case, the fort lost its strategic value after the construction of great Fort at Attock by Mughal Emperor Akbar later in the 16th century.    
  Another view of the rocky area outside the fort, this time from a crumbling section of the wall (see photo on the left) and from near one of the 60+ imposing semi-circular bastions which ring the fort's perimeter.    
  A view of the grounds inside the fort where Pakistani youngsters are enjoying their favourite pastime cricket. My favourite pastime this day, it seems, was making panoramas and the photo on the right is the result of another one of my several attempts in this regard.  
  This is my favorite panorama from Rohtas fort. It gives a good view of a vast swath of land outside the fort walls and the rolling, foreboding hills on the horizon are clearly visible from here. I wonder if and to what extent the landscape has changed in the 460 years since the forts construction. One unfortunate thing I noticed though was the graffiti which has been carved by visitors onto the arches. It's sad how little regard some people have for such an architectural treasure which is not only a national heritage but also a UN-protected monument.
  This intriguing building built into the fort wall appeared while I was on my way so I photographed it. I don't know what it is but its simplicity piqued my curiosity. Could these have been rooms for sentries who stood watch at the walls? Or armories? Or jail cells? I peeked inside but was promptly put off by the nauseating stench which is as if cows or goats were residing there. Apparently little - if anything - is being done to conserve and maintain structures such as these.   
  Another panorama plus two "normal" photos of structures I took while I continued my walk along the terrace.        


  One of the highlights of my walk through Rohtas fort (actually the real reason why I was particularly keen to visit this part of the compound). This is the notorious execution tower. Beheadings and hangings supposedly took place here. According to one report I read, captives were also thrown from here. Now I can't say for sure what forms of execution really took place here but beheadings were more likely.  
  This is the stone block (left photo) on which the executions took place. In its center of the stone block is a hole about a foot across and beneath it is a chamber from where I took the two photos on the right. In the second photo, one can see the hole in the chamber ceiling.    
  Views of the execution tower, its surroundings and stairway. People sure got to take in a good final view before being dispatched by the executioner into the next world.      


  The structure on the left (Maan Singh Haveli) is one of the major landmarks of Rohtas fort and is located within the inner citadel. Named after Raja Maan Singh I of Amber (a Hindu who served as a General under the Mughal Emperor Akbar), it is sadly in a rather desolate condition now. Probably lavish at one time, the structure was erected in the Hindu style of architecture after the Fort was constructed. Part of the building has since collapsed but under the Rohtas Fort Conservation Programme, a project is underway to preserve the remaining structure.   
  This simple structure, located close to the Maan Singh Haveli, is the Rani Mahal (Queens Palace). Most of the structure has disappeared over time leaving only their foundations. It is a later addition to the Fort and is also constructed in the Hindu architectural style topped by a flower-shaped dome.  

At the Rani Mahal one does get a feeling of solitariness. Its a place though where one can sit and relax, picnic, enjoy the splendid view of the surrounding plain and reflect on various things.   

  This panorama was stitched together from 6 photos taken from near Rani Mahal. It conveys a feeling of the power of Rohtas fort and its command over the surrounding Area. Rohtas fort must have been an awesome place in its heyday.


  After enjoying the view from the vantage point near Rani Mahal it was time to start walking back to the parking lot. On the way I passed the Shah Chand Wali gate (photos on the right) which was the only entranceway to the inner citadel. The gate is also under restoration and parts of it were recently reconstructed.    
  Continuing my walk towards the parking lot, I passed this gate (photo on the left) and saw some crumbling sections of the Fort's wall (photo on the right). An interesting sight was seeing the cow grazing near a set of graves with the Rani Mahal visible in the distance (photo on extreme right).    
  Back at the parking lot somewhat earlier than required, I had some minutes to observe other visitors (of which there were plenty) to Rohtas Fort. I observed two categories: (1) hordes of boisterous, cricket bat-wielding youngsters, who were probably on a school or college day outing and (2) typical middle-class Pakistani families comprising parents and their young children who strolled all over the place and were particularly evident on the terraces and in the vast grounds. Some foreigners, besides the ones who were in our group, were also visiting. On my first visit back in 1994, there were far fewer visitors. Evidently, Rohtas Fort has gained the recognition it truly deserves.    
  This set of photos was taken in the moving coaster. We are leaving the Fort now. It was really a splendid outing and surely not my last. Anyone visiting this part of Pakistan should not miss out an opportunity to visit Rohtas Fort.    



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