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Roads and railway tracks leading out of Sadiq’s Bahawalpur connect to other cities while also linking to a vast desert on the other end. Personalities hailing from this historical city include a diverse set of people such as Abdul Rehman Makki, belonging to Difa-i-Pakistan which is known for being against the war in Afghanistan. Another local is Pakistani-born British actor Art Malik who gained popularity after his role as a terrorist in a Hollywood venture.

If one is to truly understand the rich diversity that Bahawalpur has to offer, a road trip to Derawar en route Yazman is recommended. The road stretching to Derawar divides the stark contrast of the scenery in an exquisite transition between the days of the past and the time to come. The landscape offers a scenic view of the sand dunes reminiscent of the past while the lush green orchards on the opposite side are promising of the future.

While Derawar’s exact age remains unknown it can be said that the foundation was laid on the ruins of a city dating back to 2500 BC. During that time garrisons were constructed along the river course which is perhaps the reason why Derawar Fort overlooks the historical Hakra River.

 

The remains of a dried up river bed. The entire area was home to a river called Hakara which was known in the Vedic times as the Sarasvati.
The remains of a dried up river bed. The entire area was home to a river called Hakara which was known in the Vedic times as the Sarasvati.

 

A large number of Indian historians claim that the Hakra River was originally known as Sarasvati. Despite this believed connection to the goddess of knowledge and fertility, the river’s bed lays barren and devastated.

In the ninth century AD, this Harappan city came under attack by Rawal Deoraj, a Bhatti Rajput of Jaisalmeer. The victorious king then ordered several structures to be constructed as a tribute to him. But nature, through the shifting of sand dunes, took its own course on these monuments and over time most of Deoraj’s signature structures were erased. Consequently, as time passed by, the area’s name changed from Dera Rawal to Dera Rawar and finally, Derawar.

 

Standing proudly in the midst of the Cholistan desert, the Derawar Fort is a famed hallmark of Bahawalpur.
Standing proudly in the midst of the Cholistan desert, the Derawar Fort is a famed hallmark of Bahawalpur.

 

The Bhatti Rajputs were replaced by Abbasi Nawabs, who conquered the fort and made it a symbol of their strength. It was during the Abbasi rule that the 40-bastions surrounding the fort were constructed, adding to its grandeur. Further enriching this 18th century marvel are the Uch bricks. The bricks were literally hand delivered from the nearby town of Uch Sharif through a human chain acting as a conveyor belt to pass down the bricks to the construction site.

The multipurpose fort had ‘cold chambers’, which can be compared to an air-conditioned room today, as well as a tunnel which led to Darbar Mahal. Designed to stand formidable against outside military might, the architects simultaneously ensured the fort offered royal pleasures and luxury deserving of the magnificent construction.

Symbols of life are evident from the canopy and tunnel within the structure. However, in order to be representative of the inevitable as well — death — a quarter of the fort also served as the royal necropolis.

History of the Sadiqs and the Bahawals dates back two and half centuries, and the entire dynasty is buried here.

Be it smooth marbled or a pyramidal top shaped grave, indicating the religious allegiance of the Eastern and Western queens buried there, all graves shared the chilling effect of an inevitable end to mortality.

 

A camel herder leads his camels through the front of the royal graveyard of the Abbasi family. The Abbasi family was the ruling Nawab family of Bahawalpur and all previous Nawabs are buried here.
A camel herder leads his camels through the front of the royal graveyard of the Abbasi family. The Abbasi family was the ruling Nawab family of Bahawalpur and all previous Nawabs are buried here.

 

Between Derawar Fort and Deen Garh Fort, Channan Pir is enshrined. For centuries this place is revered by Hindus and Muslims alike. Starting their journey late in winter on camel backs, devotees from all over make their way to Channan Pir reaching their destination before the winter’s end. The sounds of bells announcing the caravans’ arrival during toned dusks or dawn creates a divine ambience. While imaging this scenario, my train ride seems surreal.

The mela of Channan Pir is celebrated through seven consecutive Thursdays with festivities at their peak by the fifth week. Many fables surround the origin of Channan Pir, however, the most famous among them is about a saint, Jalaluddin Surkhposh.

The saint is believed to have stayed here during one of his journeys at a time when the area was ruled by a king named Sadharan. Since the King was childless, the royal couple approached the saint who foretold the birth of their son. When the prince was born, his beauty won him the name of Channan, meaning moon in the local language.

In a twist of fate, while still a child, Channan started reciting the Kalma. As word spread about the crown prince’s different faith, his political reputation was brought to abrupt end. The King immediately ordered the execution of his son but on the Queen’s intervention the sentence was softened to exile.

Young Channa was left over a mound to fend for himself. A few days later a group of travellers saw him being fed by a deer. On hearing of her son’s fate, the Queen rushed to the desert and started staying with her son. Her defiance enraged the king who renewed his son’s death sentence.

From this point the story deviates into many conclusions. Some say when the assassins reached the mound, Channan Pir had disappeared while others believe he grew up to become a saint, enlightening the life of many faithful.

Another version, in which the king and saint’s names vary, claims that on witnessing his son’s divine arrangement, the King accepted Channan who made the mound his permanent abode.

Regardless of the version’s initial narration, they all conclude with Channan Pir either disappearing, dying and getting buried on the mound, making it a relic of faith for centuries to come.

Attempts to build a mausoleum here have repeatedly failed. A strange sequence of events results in the collapse of the structure overnight; on other occasions it is struck by lightning and in some cases the earth rambles destroying the foundation.

Finally, hundreds of years later, locals accepted the area’s divine significance and for the last two centuries have not made any attempts at construction there.

There is a tree in the vicinity of this sacred dune. Besides being known as the burial place for Channan Pir’s mother, it also used as a vessel for mannats. Visiting devotees silently express their wish list and tie a colourful strip of cloth as a symbol. If their wish is granted, they return to untie the strip and express gratitude in the form of niaz. For those whose desires remain unfulfilled, their strips of cloth continue to flutter on the tree.

Transforming travelling into education, Salman Rashid has brought a new dimension to the whole myth by quoting Ctesias, a Greek historian. In his book, Indica, Ctesias tells of “a land situated 15 days travel from the mountains where Onyx and Sardine stones are mined” (Himalaya and Hindu Kush).

He further narrates that people of this place worship celestial deities. The festival marking this religious ritual lasts for 35 days, starting in winters and continuing until the sun becomes warm.

Local estimates point to the increase in the number of visitors every year. Whether the devotees come here for celestial deities or go away after tying their wishes to branches of the tree, one thing is certain: the foundation of relationship between man and his God is all about his wishes.

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