Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kot Diji Fort

Kot Diji Fort

The Kot Diji Fort, formally known as Fort Ahmadabad, dominates the town of Kot Diji in Khairpur, Pakistan about 25 miles east of the Indus River at the edge of the Nara-Rajisthan Desert. The fort was built between 1785 to 1795 by Mir Sohrab Khan Talpur, founder of the Kingdom of Upper Sindh in 1783. In addition to the fort, a 5 kilometer, 12 feet wide mud wall was built around the city. This defensive wall had bastions throughout its length and a huge iron gate served as the city's only entrance.

Fort Kot Diji

Mir Sohrab Khan Talpur, King of Upper Sindh.1783-1830
Map of Sindh. Confederacy of Talpur KingdomsThe fort was considered invincible and served as the residence of the Ameers of Khairpur in times of peace. It is, therefore, the ancestral home of royal house. During war time the zenana (female members of the royal family), would be shifted to Shahgarh Fort, formerly within the realm but since 1843, after the conquest of the rest of Sindh, it is in the Jaisalmer desert, now in India. When the Zenana moved into the comfort of palaces, it stood mainly as a decorated reminder of more violent times. Throughout its whole history, however, Fort Kot Diji was never attacked.

Kot Diji is a very practical fort constructed on a limestone hill with kiln-baked bricks. Bricks were used because the locally available limestone rock was very brittle and would have shattered easily on impact with a cannonball. The hill is about 110 feet high, above which the walls of the fort rise another 30 feet. It has three strategically placed towers about 50 feet tall.

The fort is over half a kilometer long. Its walls are segmented by about 50 bastions, and its 1.8 km outer perimeter wall identically follows the double crescent-shaped contours of the hill it stands on. This allows the fort to surround the attacking enemy on three sides on the west front. On the east, where the entrance lies, the fort is divided by three elephant-proof gates into three overlapping levels, so that the first two levels can be attacked by the next level above them in the event of the lower level being overrun by the enemy. The first gate is not a prominent portal but rather an indirect entry so that the gate cannot be rammed on a charge. The walls and bastions have arrow slits in them, allowing defenders to attack their enemy from two levels: from the battlement on top and from within the wall.

The fort was built at a time when cannons had become common and its design and position reveals that. It includes a multitude of stations for cannons and, because it is positioned high on a narrow ridge, enemy cannons would have had to fire at a great distance, permitting little accuracy. Cannonballs could either hit the hill or perimeter or would simply fly over the fort and fall on the enemies' own forces on the other side.

Kot Diji was located at the edge of the desert; this provided an advantage over enemies marching from the east, because an exhausted army could be met before it could take supplies and water from the irrigated lands. In fact, the Mirwah canal was built in 1790 specifically to irrigate the lands west of the fort and bring water to the military base.
Role under the British Empire

The Kingdom of Upper Sindh later was recognized by the British as the princely state of Khayrpur, after the East India Company had reduced its area to less than a third of its original size of over 50,000 km². The Fort was allocated the role of central military base for the Kingdom, especially to resist Afghan invasion. It was the strongest of the 20 or so Talpur forts and was named after the Persian architect Ahmed, who designed it. According to folklore it took 30 years to build; in reality, a much shorter, tactically feasible period may have been possible by mobilizing peasants and soldiers on a massive scale.

Recent history

After the merger of the State with Pakistan in 1955, the fort could have been included with the personal property of the Mir of Khairpur (as is the case with other ex-sovereign rulers who still possess their forts). However, Mir Ali Murad II thought it appropriate to hand it over to the government of Pakistan, expecting better maintenance. Since then, the fort has fallen into serious disrepair and is presently in a derelict condition. Most of the lime mortar plaster has fallen of the walls, leaving the bricks exposed. During the dictatorship of Ayub Khan, 192 cannons and mortars based at and collected in the fort were stolen or destroyed by being thrown from the bastions; other decorative fixtures and fittings were stolen as well. Apart from many indigenously made cannons, the collection included those built for Nadir Shah, the Kachar emperors, and the Kalhora, Mughal and Safavid dynasties, along with antique European cannons.
Prince Mehdi Raza exposes government corruption showing the use of sand instead of cement as mortar.Jan, 2006In 1994 the provincial government of Sindh leased out the limestone hill on which the fort stood for demolition and quarrying for limestone extraction, in order to construct buildings and form foundations for government-built roads. However, public outrage - focusing partly on the abundance of limestone throughout the region - caused the surprised government to back down.

Today the town wall is barely visible. The massive historic iron gate was sold for scrap soon after the takeover of Khairpur by Pakistan. Here, as with other places, Khairpur's heritage and history are being erased; some claim that this part of a deliberate effort by the federal government to erase the Khairpur identity. In 1995 a check of 500 rupees (approximately US$8) was provided for the repair of Kot Diji. Repeated requests by citizens for permission to repair it privately have apparently been ignored. In 2005, about 25 million rupees were handed over to a repair scheme which has apparently left it even more damaged. Sand was used as mortar to replace the original mortar and, as a result, the walls are highly susceptible to rainfall.

Recently, the federal government handed over the fort to the government of Sindh. Since Sindh, which nominally has a provincial status, is widely considered to have a corrupt government, it is perhaps unlikely that the fort will benefit. However, Prince Mir Mehdi Raza Khan Talpur (younger of the two sons of the ex-ruler) is giving personal attention to the fort and has stated his commitment to its repair if sufficient funds can be acquired.

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