close to the village of Dma on the main Grand Trunk road, is perhaps the
most impressive of the medieval forts still extant in Pakistan. Built
between 1540 and 1545 by the Delhi ruler Sher Shah Sun to intimidate the
local Ghakkar tribes and as a military base, the fort was completed by
his son Ismail Shah Sun. According to Eastwick, an inscription on the
eastern Takali gate (one of the fort's twelve gates) read:
"When the following date
Had passed from the Hijrah 948 years, The gate of the fort was built
In the reign of the Emperor Shir Shah the Pivot of the World.
By the good fortune of the 2nd Ayyaz, Shahu Sultan, who completed it."
Eastwick wrote that the fort cost Rs. 7,712,975 and
6 and half annas to construct. It had 68 bastions and
1956 battlements. The fort stands on a hill 130 feet
above ground and is set on a ridge protected on its
southern side by a deep ravine. The area of the fort
extends over almost 5 kilometres in perimeter. With
its undulating stone walls and intimidating massive towers, it remains
even today a solid gauntlet of weathered stone, a formidable challenge
to those who aspire to explore it.
Lithograph by T.and E. Gibbs from a drawing by
Lieut. W. Barr and published in Barr, W. March from
Delhi to Peshawur and from thence to Cabul (London,
1844), facing p. 161.
Lt. William Barr and his detachment of Native horse artillery marched
with two 24-inch howitzers via Lahore and Jhelum to Peshawar. Entering
the Kahan valley, Barr and his small party struggled over the rocks and
sand crossing the seasonal river (a tributary of the river Jhelum) until
they reached the base of Rohtas fort. His initial sight of it on 7 March
1839 left Barr somewhat despondent:
'Our first glimpse of it was very characteristic, and well calculated
to fill the mind with gloom, only one corner, forming the centre of a
dismal hollow, enclosed by bleak and barren hills, being visible. Its
wall is in a ruined state, and so horribly blackened
by time that had we not known otherwise, we should have pronounced it
to have been stained by the action of fire; and the surrounding cliffs,
dark almost as itself, hideously harmonized with the whole. A narrow path
led up to it; but being impracticable for guns, we had to continue ascending
the bed of the river. At length we reached an opening in the hills, and
a beautiful view of the extensive plain, backed by lofty and irregular
mountains, was displayed to our sight.'
After a delay caused by an accident in which Barr almost lost some of
his horses in quicksand, Barr finally reached the fort and explored it:
'Rhotas is built on not the highest part of a long ridge of hills, and
why the spot was ever chosen as a place of defence it is difficult to
say, as in many places it is commanded by neighbouring heights; but the
wall, which is of stone, is strong, and further defended by numerous bastions.
The road leading to the gateway is steep, and by no means calculated for
large horses, being nothing more than a bad "puharnie" [hill]
track: however, up we went; and though there was a good deal of stumbling
over the smooth worn rock...we ma aged to enter the fort in safety. Ascending
a ed causeway, inclosed on either side by lofty walls, we passed beneath
a second gateway, over which is inserted a Persian inscription, cut in
white marble, purporting, I believe, to commemorate the founder.'
Guided by a 'decent-looking individual', Barr and his companions were
conducted around the interior of the fort. It was perhaps this guide who
provided the information recorded by Barr about the origins of the fort.
'After Shah Shere had firmly seated himself on the throne of Hindoostan,
he conquered the Punjab and issued for the chiefs to come and make obeisance
to him. They all did so with the exception of Rai Sareeng, whose dominion
extended over the mountainous tract of country situated to the west of
the Jhelum, and his absence so exasperated the emperor that he was heard
to express his determination" to throw such a wedge into the breasts
of the Kakurs that it should stick there till the day of the resurrection".
According to Barr, who quotes as his source Niamat Allah's History of
the Afghans, the work of superintending the construction of the massive
fort was done by 'one Toder Khuteri' who managed to
bribe the hostile but avaricious Ghakkars into building the fort by offering
them one gold ashrafi for each stone laid. As the work proceeded, he reduced
the rate gradually until the fort was completed.
Barr toured the expansive area within the fort and noticed particularly
the decrepit building associated with Raja Man Singh, the Rajput general
who during the reign of Akbar had campaigned as far as Attock. He described
it as 'the ruins of the old palace, an edifice constructed of cream-coloured
stone, and looking airy and light. It is, however, very much dilapidated,
and on one side a complete ruin, the rooms being wholly exposed to the
influence of the weather; but the other is more perfect, and being built
on the edge of the hill, forms a lofty and noble object, and commands
an extensive view of the surrounding country from its upper windows. Opposite
to it stands a gateway, which probably formed the "Noubat Khaneh",
where the royal band played. [Barr had been misled by the circular platform
on the top of the central northern gate and thought it to be a bandstand.
It is known nowadays, equally implausibly, as the execution tower.] Our
attention was directed to the key-stone of its arch, which has slipped
from its position, and appears as if it would momentarily topple to the
ground; but our guide assured us it had been thus for eighty years'.
'Crossing a bridge which spans a ravine filled with brushwood and wild
shrubs, we were taken to the entrance in the southern face of the fort,
which is built &f similar stone to the palace, and being free from
all tawdry ornaments, looks simple, chaste, and massive. Two balconied
windows, elegantly and curiously carved above and below, are on either
side of the archway, and a smaller one between these stands out in bold
relief from the plain surface of the building, and forms a pleasing contrast
to the unadorned parts.' (Barr (1844) 161 - 163.)