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The Largest Fort in the World
The Ranikot Fort in Pakistan, also claimed as “The Great Wall of Sindh” due to the affinity of its design with the Great Wall of China, is a colossal piece of beauty, laying 35 kilometers from Sann town, Jamshoro in Sindh Province. “…the sheer size of the fort is massive. The world’s fifth-smallest country, San Marino, would fit within its walls,” Kamal Hyder from Al-Jazeera reported in 2019 when a team of Italian archeologists decided to study the history of a fort.
It was nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993. It has since then been waiting in the tentative list of Heritage sites. A 2009 AMS Radiocarbon Study initiated on the charcoal collected from its crumbled pillar near its Sann Gate, verified that at least that particular part of the fort was renovated in the beginnings of both the 18th and 19th century, the beginnings of Kalhora and Talpur dynasties respectively.
The fact, however, that these pillars were not a part of the original establishment, leaves us to speculate its actual origins. In a 2018 documentary made by the Culture, Tourism & Antiquities Department, a local resident told that some believe Mir Karam Ali Talpur to have built it in 1752, while others advocate for the involvement of the Roman Empire; the majority, however, now believe that Cyrus the Great constructed it in 540 B.C.
Badar Abro is the first local scholar to have undertaken an extensive study on the history of Ranikot Fort, writing a 300 hundred page book titled Ranikot: The Wall of Sindh. He had been paying visits to Ranikot since 1985, rejecting the myths of its association with the Talpur Mirs. An inscription found by him is believed to date back to the Gupta Dynasty (3rd Century C.E).
This miraculous fort has four gates: the Amri Gate (North-Eastern Gate), the Sann Gate (Eastern Gate), the Shah-Pere Gate (Southern Gate), and the Mohan Gate (Western Gate). Inside the fort, there lie three fortresses: Mirikot, Sher Garh, and Mohankot. Seven rectangular and 38 crescent-like bastions are all interconnected and offer a 360-degree perspective of the neighborhood.
Apart from the fortresses, there are hills, ponds, ammunition depots, valleys, watchtowers, and a mosque within the walls of Ranikot. The Miri Fortress, the smallest of the three, is located three kilometers from the main entrance, and is said to have been the residence of the Mir Royal Family. From here, one can easily view Sher Garh, another fortress built at the height of 1480 ft from sea level for military purposes.
Where one side of the Ranikot fort faces the rugged Kirthar range, the other three are covered by the towering walls made of lime and mortar with a measured circumference of 26 km (16 miles). The whole fort occupies an area of 65 kilometers square, making it a fair contender for the title of “biggest fort”. There are a number of ponds and streams, including “Paryoun Jo Talao” (fairies’ pond), a spring turning up from an underground water resource located near the Mohan Gate.
According to myths, narrated by natives of the area, on a full moon night, fairies come to take a bath near “Karo Jabal” (black mountain). Another spring, commonly reported as “Waggun jo Tarru” (Crocodiles Spring), is said to have been the home of crocodiles in the past. A rainstream, Reni’ or ‘Rani Nai entering the fort that uses the Mohan Gate; this stream gives the fort its name. So, Ranikot is literally the fort of a rain stream.
Preservation and Restoration
There was no substantial work on the natural vegetation of this historical site until 2014 when researchers from the Institute of Plant Sciences, Sindh published their extensive work of four years (2009 – 2013). The research identified 89 different plant species belonging to 69 genera, making the site vital in terms of biodiversity as few of them were found threatened.
It also identified and suggested the needed structures and guidelines for the maintenance of these species. The initial restoration project started in 1990 but was dumped under criticism. Later, in 2006, another restoration project on the defense wall, Miri fortress, and mosque halted after serious incompetencies were exposed by Dr. Kaleemullah Lashari of the advisory committee to Sindh’s Cultural Heritage.
In 2014, the Endowment Fund Trust for Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh took over the restoration projects. Presently, the Secretary of Endowment Fund Trust, Abdul Hameed Akhund, is supervising the restoration work, and according to him, it is a relentless task. The lack of transportation facilities and water supply uphill were major hurdles in the process.
“The fort had eroded walls. The rubble lay there. It was an arduous task to reach some walls as they were quite high and were situated on rough terrain,” he commented in an interview. Work to give back this fort its glory was only half done till 2018 when the EFT team tried to restore the Shah-Pere gate in its southern wall, the longest wall.
In 2019, the Sindh government announced a 37-km road from Indus Highway to Ranikot up to Mirikot with bridges along with Redline BRT and other projects. If done efficiently, it could considerably contribute to boosting tourism, as transport and difficult terrain are a key obstacle.
Moreover, the Sindh Government has decided to develop ten potential tourist spots which include Sindh’s Heritage Sites like Mohenjo Daro in Larkana, Ranikot Fort in Jamshoro, along with Gorakh Hill Station, Nagarparkar in Tharparkar, Achro Thar in Sanghar, Sehwan, Bhit Shah, Drigh, Lab-e-Mehran/Sadh Belo in Sukkur, Langh Lakes in Kambar-Shahdadkot, and the coastal belt of the province.
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