Derawar Fort in Central Pakistan is one of the oldest and largest intact fortresses in Southern Asia. Once a part-time residence of the rulers of Jaisalmer, it is now the part-time residence of the old royal family of Bahawalpur. Located in the middle of the Cholistan Desert, maintained in excellent condition, not easily accessible by roads, and still guarded by soldiers in traditional uniforms, the Derawar Fort may be one of the best travel experiences in Asia. The rare visitors who make it here, and the rarer still who are permitted entrance by the Abbasi family, are swept back centuries in time in one of the most authentically preserved castles still in use anywhere.
The Derawar Fort has its origins in legends dating back to the 12th century. In the 1150s, the state of Jaisalmer in what is now Northwestern India and Central Pakistan was wracked by a feud between two brothers of the Bhati dynasti. The younger brother, Vijayraj Lanjha, had been named as successor and took power upon their father’s death. He wasted no time in driving out the older brother, Rawal Jaisal, and securing the capital at Laudrva for his own.
Jaisal subsequently made an alliance with a neighboring warlord, raised an army and returned to take his revenge. Laudrva was sacked and the younger brother killed. Rather than rebuild the city, Jaisal established a new capital at Jaisalmer. He then went on to expand his realm westward into what is now Punjab. In order to secure this desert frontier he erected an early fortress at Derawar.
Amazingly, this fortified palace, which was periodically used as a residence by the rulers of Jaisalmer, remained in in their possession for nearly six centuries. Throughout the 18th century, the Derawar Fort became a strategic prize in a local war between the states of Jaisalmer and Bahawalpur. It changed hands several times.
During one period when it was held by Bahawalpur, the fortress was substantially reconstructed. Most of what is standing today dates from this period. Derawar Fort became a permanent possession of Bahawalpur in 1804. Because of its attachment to the predominantly Muslim territory of the region, Derawar Fort was incorporated into Pakistan when it declared independence in 1947, thus separating it from Jaisalmer which wound up on the Indian side of the border. The Derawar Fort remains a possession of the Amirs of Bahawalpur and is actively maintained and guarded.
The Derawar Fort is one of the most visually stunning desert castles in Asia. Built on a small rise on the otherwise flat plain of the Cholistan Desert, it can be seen from miles around. The fort has an unusual triangular layout, with massive walls that appear even higher than they are thanks to the surrounding level landscape. The fort’s most distinguishing external feature are the huge, rounded tower-like ramparts that just out from the walls at extremely short intervals.
The fortress is still owned and in active use by the Abbasi family, who have maintained a residence here since the 19th century. Among the highlights of the fortress interior are the tombs of the rulers and their families. With canon’s still displayed on the wall tops and armed guards still on patrol, Derawar Fort offers an almost unparalled trip back in time for visitors.
Derawar Fort is located outside the city of Bahawalpur in Central Pakistan, approximately 200 miles southwest of Lahore. It is not easily accessible, and requires off-road transit across desert terrain. Access to the fort is restricted, requiring permission to enter from the Abbasi family. Because of this there is no regular visitor information. Web: www.mybahawalpur.com (official tourism website of Bahawalpur).
Pakistan, like India, was home to many great fortresses of the late medieval and colonial eras. The Rohtas Fort, while not as old as Derawar, has older sections still standing and is considered to be one of the finest architectural examples in Pakistan. The Lahore Fort was built by Akbar, grandfather of Shah Jahan, who achieved fame in the construction of India’s Red Forts. Also, just across the border in India are the remains of Jaisalmer Fort, also founded by Jaisal.