There are many historic monuments in the vicinity of Islamabad which have great potential for tourism but unfortunately due to the indifferent attitude of the authorities concerned, these sites have not received due attention. One such potential tourist site is the historic Rawat Fort – which is now being preserved by a team of the Department of Archaeology and Museums (DoAM). I hope that they would follow modern techniques of conservation rather than relying on the old methods which can actually prove more destructive than anything else.
The Rawat fort is situated about 5 km from Defence Housing Authority II (DHA II) Islamabad. The fort is believed to have been built by the cultural hero of the Gakhar tribe Sultan Sarang Khan Gakhar in the 16th century to defend against the frequent attacks of the Afghan army of Sher Shah Suri. Initially it served as an inn and later became known as Rawat fort when it was enlarged.
Once lords of the Potohar region, the Gakhar rulers and nobles built impressive tombs, mosques and havelis in their domain – which became potent political symbols of their power.
Sultan Sarang Khan remained resolute against the Afghans. His resistance to the Suri-led Afghan forces was unflinching and unyielding. Many people in Potohar narrate the stories of his heroism and bravery. Legend has it that he died fighting against the army of Sher Shah Suri along with his 16 sons at the gate of the Rawat fort, called Rabat at that time. Later on, he and his sons were buried inside the fort.
Today, the graves of Sultan Sarang Khan Gakhar and his sons lie in a dilapidated condition. I hope that they will also be restored as the conservation of the fort is already underway. We tend to glorify invaders rather than celebrating the heroism of local notables who died in protecting their lands. We rarely – if ever – praise the heroism of the Gakhars, Janjuas and heroes of other tribes who died protecting their lands in the Potohar region.
Although conservation work is going on, the team of the Archaeology and Museums authorities have not yet succeeded in removing the encroachments around the fort. I believe that they might have approached the CDA to take action against those who are responsible.
There exist two mausoleums, a three-domed mosque and numerous graves inside the fort. In fact, the octagonal mausoleum and three domed- mosque dominate the landscape of the fort. The tomb is a great specimen of Gakhar architecture. It has no parallel in the whole of Potohar save one at Rohtas in terms of architecture. It is built on a podium. The structure has four alcoves on four sides reflecting the aesthetics of the builders. It is decorated with panels apparently created for embellishments. The dome of the tomb rests on an octagonal drum. Nothing is known about who rests under the structure since there is no grave inside. However, some scholars believe that the grave of Sultan Sarang Khan Gakhar was located inside the tomb. Later during the Sikh period it was vandalized. It is such huge structure that if one stands atop of it, one can have a view of Tope Mankiyala, the Buddhist Stupa lying northeast of the Rawat Fort.
Adjacent to the tomb is a three-domed mosque which is also believed to have been by Sultan Sarang Khan Gakhar, whose entire facade is renovated now – thus playing havoc with the original beauty of the structure. The mosque is, in fact, the actual prototype for the Mai Qamro mosque at Bagh Jogian in Islamabad. Mai Qamro was probably the wife of Gakhar chief Hathi Khan Gakhar who built the mosque. Like other Gakhar monuments, unfortunately, of course, the mosque of Mai Qamro is also falling to pieces. The Gakhars built several mosques. The mosques at Rawat, Mai Qamro, Pharwala and Dhangali – built by Rani Mangho – are the more prominent ones.
All the graves in the Rawat fort are either built on a single or double platform and are plastered. To the south of the mosque are located remains of another mausoleum. Only the northern gate of the tomb has survived. One finds two graves in this destroyed structure of the Gakhars.
There are many historic monuments on the G.T Road but except for Rohtas Fort and Rawat Fort, no information has been provided about other sites. The Buddhist Stupa of Mankiyla, which lies very close to Rawat Town and which is conspicuous from the G.T Road, does not attract tourists due to the lack of information provided. The least that the authorities concerned can do is to prepare brochures about the historic Gakhar monuments and other heritage sites on the G.T Road and keep these brochures at the receptions of all the restaurants on the G.T Road.
Keeping in view the rapid population growth and flow of migration from different parts of country to Islamabad and Rawalpindi, in future the Rawat Fort could be a fine destination for residents of both cities – if properly maintained.
The author is an anthropologist and has authored four books: ‘Symbols in Stone: The Rock Art of Sindh’, ‘Perspectives on the art and architecture of Sindh’, ‘Memorial Stones: Tharparkar’ and ‘Archaeology, Religion and Art in Sindh’. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org