Ranikot - the talismanic wonder of Sindh

By Mir Atta Muhammad Talpur
Ranikot is the most talismanic wonder of Sindh. Visible from five kilometers away its massive undulating walls twist and dip over the hills. With the circumference of more than thirty four kilometers, its walls, built with dressed sandstone and reinforced with round bastions, stand thirty feet high from the ground, make it perhaps the largest fort in the world. Who constructed it first and why? This is an enigma yet to be resolved by the researchers. Some historians attribute it to Arabs, some to Sassanians, others to Greeks and some even go as far as relating it to the Greeks, the Romans and to the Great Wall of China! Though the prehistoric site of Amri (Aamri) is nearby, and fossils and animal skeletons are found inside the fort on the Lundi Hills, there is no trace of any old city inside the fort. The present structure doesn't appear to be 'prehistoric'. Some historians point to 17th century AD as its time of first construction but most agree that the present structure was constructed or reconstructed by Mir Karam Ali Khan Talpur at the initial cost of twelve thousand rupees in 1812 AD.

This enchanted fort is located in Lukky Mountains of the Kirthar range on the right side of the mighty River Indus at a distance of about 30 kilometers from the present day town of Sann. A mountainous ridge, 'Karo Takkar', running north to south, forms its western boundary and the 'Lundi Hills' forms its eastern boundary. 'Mohan Nai', a rain-stream enters the fort from its rarely used western 'Mohan Gate', where it is guarded by a small fortification, changes its name to 'Reni' or 'Rani Nai' or rain-stream and gives the fort its name. Ranikot is thus the 'fort of a rain stream' - Rani. It runs through it, tumbles in a series of turquoise pools to irrigate fields and leaves the fort from its most used 'Sann Gate' on the eastern side. It then travels about 33 kilometers more to enter the Lion River - Indus.

The most of the thirty five - forty kilometers long wall is made of natural cliffs and barricades of mountainous rocks, at places rising as high as two thousand feet above sea level! Only about eight -nine kilometer portion of its wall is man-made, built with yellow sandstone. As one enters the fort, one can find hills, valleys, streams, ditches, ponds, pools, fossils, building structure, bastions, watchtowers, ravelins, ammunition depots, fortresses - all inside the Ranikot, adding more to its beauty and mystery. A spring emerging from an underground water source near the Mohan Gate is named as 'Parryen jo Tarru' (the spring of fairies). According to a tale told by the local inhabitants, fairies come from far and wide on the Ponam nights (of full moon) to take bath at this spring near 'Karo Jabal'! Splashing sounds of water falling on the rocks can be heard at another spring, 'Waggun jo Tarru' or the Crocodiles' Spring, named so as the crocodiles once lived there.

Miri Kot, Sher Garh and Mohan Kot are the three fortresses within the Ranikot. Mirikot takes its name from the word 'Mir; meaning top (for instance the top of hill, the top leader of Baloch tribes, etc.). Both the main Ranikot and the inner Mirikot have similar entrances - curved, angulated with a safe tortuous path. "The bridge in front of Ranikot resembles to a smaller bridge in front of a fortress in Verona, Italy" write Ishtiaq Ansari, the writer of 'Sindh ja koat aaein qillaa' (Forts and Fortresses of Sindh)1 and a member of Sindh Exploration and Adventure Society. From the military point of view, Mirikot is located at a very safe place in the very heart of the Ranikot. Talpur Mirs used Mirikot as their fortified residence. One can explore ruins of the court, harem, guest rooms, and soldiers quarters inside it. Its 1435 feet long wall has five bastions.

Every structure in the Ranikot has its own uniqueness and beauty. Looking up from Mirikot one can find another fortified citadel - Shergarh (Abode of Lions) built with whitish stone. Though its location at 1480 feet above the sea level makes this fortress a unique structure, it also makes it equally difficult for supply of water, which can only be had from the brooks and rain streams, hundreds of feet below! The steep climb upto Shergarh gives a commanding view down over the whole fort and its entrance and exit points. On a clear day one can even see Indus, 37 kilometers away to the east.

The third fortress, Mohan Kot, takes its name from the Mohan Gate because of its proximity to it. Mohan Kot appears to be the living place for military commanders.

Beside the Mohan Gate and the Sann Gate, there two more gates, rather pseudo gates. One is towards the side of ancient town of Amri. This 'gate' is called the 'Amri Gate'. Certainly it takes its name from the prehistoric ruins of Amri, but it must have taken this name much later than the times of Amri as the fort itself doesn't appears to be as old as the Amri itself. In fact there is a bridge over rain stream 'Toming Dhoro' exiting from the fort called 'Bbudhi Mori'. The breach in fort wall due to the river stream has been referred as a gate. Similarly, the Shahpir Gate to the south also appears to be a pseudo gate taking its name from a limestone rock with a rough shape of foot imprinted on it. The sacred footprint supposedly belongs to Hazrat Ali or some other religious personality and is venerated by locals. It seems to be a later breach in the fort wall instead of a formal gate because one can't find any bastion or watchtower or their remains at the site, needed to guard any formal entrance or exit points.

A mosque found in the fort appears to be a later modification of a watchtower. From a kind of revelin located near the mosque one can keep eye on the whole of the Ranikot! Scattered animal skeletons and prehistoric fossils can be found on the top of Lundi Hills. One of the three graveyards has about four hundred graves made of Chowkundi like sandstone with engraved motifs of sunflowers and peacocks. Whether we can call them as theriomorphic and phytomorphic motifs is an open question. Another one appears to be a graveyard of Arabs. The third one, about a mile away from the Sann Gate, had sixteen or seventeen graves earlier but now there are only four graves. The local inhabitants call it the Roman's graveyard.2 The fort is notoriously deficient of shelters and shady places but the view of the terrain from the top of 'Shimla Hills' is not only attractive but mystifying too!

"The size of Ranikot defies all reasons. It stands in the middle of nowhere, defending nothing" writes Isobel Shaw3. So why was this fort built here in the desolate terrain of the Kirthar range? Many theories have been developed to answer this question. According to Ishtiaq Ansari, the Talpurs had sent their families to Thar and Kachchh when Afghan's attacked Sindh during the times of Kalhoras. However, after acquiring the rule of Sindh, they wanted a safe and secure place where they can send their families during the troubled times. This might have prompted them to build (or rebuild) this fort. Rahimdad Khan Molai Sheedai holds view that its location in Kohistan on the western frontiers of Sindh gave it its strategic value4. Talpurs were not at good terms with Khan of Kalat and wanted a secure western frontier. Hence they constructed the fort. Talpurs were also under threat from Durranis and Ranjit Singh and Ranikot added a lot to their defense.

Beside this, in olden times a trade route from Mesopotamia, Iran (Kirman Shah, Hamadan, Sulatanabad, Qum, Bimpur), Mekran and Sindh (Amri, Sehwan, Mohenjo-daro) used to pass from this area. Another branch of this route traversed Thano Arab Khan, Karchat, Sann an Amri, to reach Brahmanabad on the left bank of the mighty River Indus. Hence the importance of the location in earlier times, if the fort existed then.

Access to this marvel is not easy - one can only reach there by cruising the dry bed of the rain-stream in a strong jeep. The condition of fort is rapidly deteriorating, as is the case with the most of archeological heritage of Sindh. One third of the man-made walls have already collapsed and the rest may soon follow suit.

Professor Paolo Biagi of the University of Venice, Italy, in an email correspondence to this scribe, on December 24, 2009, wrote: "I have just received the result from an AMS radiocarbon date obtained from an Acacia charcoal sample from the eastern gate of Ranikot fort. The date is 160+/-30 BP that corresponds to some 1720-1820 cal AD in calendric years (41.6% probabilities) or 1720-1890 cal AD (61.6% probabilities).

"So, that part of the construction is some 3-2 hundred years old. Do you know who were the rules of Sindh in those periods, and do you have any suggestion useful to understand the result?
" 5

Of course Talpurs were rulers from 1772-1843. It is thus clear that they constructed it - at least the part from where the charcoal sample tested was taken. Maybe, Talpurs re-constructed previously existing fort. Whatever, the present construction or reconstruction does belong to Talpur period.

Prof Biagi writes in a paper "Archaeological Surveys in Lower Sindh: Preliminary Results of the 2009 Season"; Journal of Asian Civilizations, Vol.33, No.1, July 2010, pp 1 & 2: "Along the main road from Sann to Ranikot Fort, a few gravel terraces were systematically surveyed. Flint and other chippable rocks were collected from two different areas 1) 19 km from the fort (25°58’40.114N – 68°03’29.643E), from which comes also one probable blade-like flake (fig. 2, n. 1), and 2) 12 km from Ranikot (25°56’10.258N – 68°01’36.262E), where small flint nodules of several colours were recovered (fig. 2, n. 2). More pebbles of good quality flint of a very dark grey colour (7.5YR3/1) were collected also inside the fortification walls at 25°53’08.687N – 67°54’41.984E. These data reinforce the impression that all the area inside and around Ranikot is favourable to prehistoric settlement due to the abundance of good quality flint from the Ranikot formations (see also ABRO, 1996). Another brief survey was conducted around the eastern entrance of Ranikot Fort (HASAN, 2006). Acacia sp. charcoal fragments were identified from an exposed surface of the collapsed pillar at Sann (Eastern) Gate (fig. 2, n. 3), from which one specimen was radiocarbon-dated to 160±30 uncal BP (GrA-44671). This result indicates that this part of the fort was constructed (or restored) in historical times, most probably during the Talpurs rule (BIAGI and NISBET, 2009).6

Now this new finding confirms that the eastern gate was installed during Talpurs' times. This can be said with certainty because Kalohra rulers before Talpurs did not construct this fort for the sure and that the radio-carbon dating corresponds to Kalhora or Talpurs' times. Hence, it can be deduced that this fort was constructed / re-constructed / renovated during Talpurs times and that its present structure belongs to that period.

1 Ishtiaq Ansari, "Sindh ja koat aaein qillaa", 1996.
2 Ishtiaq Ansari, "Sindh ja koat aaein qillaa", 1996.
3 Isobel Shaw, "Pakistan Handbook", 1989.
4 Rahimdad Khan Molai Sheedai, "Janatus Sindh", 1958.
5 Paolo Biagi; Email message to Mir Atta Muhammad Talpur, December 24, 2009.
6 Paolo Biagi, Archaeological Surveys in Lower Sindh: Preliminary Results of the 2009 Season"; Journal of Asian Civilizations, Vol.33, No.1, July 2010, pp 1 & 2.

(11 November 2003. Updated on February 28, 2010 - ed)

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Ranikot, Sindh

By Aziz Sanghur

Rani Kot is the mystic fort with a boundary of about 26 km or 16 miles. It has an approximate diameter of 6 km. Its walls are on the average 6 meters high and are made of gypsum and lime cut sandstone and total circumference is about 20 km. While originally constructed for bow and arrow warfare it was later expanded to withstand firearms. It is located in the Kirthar Range, about 30 km southwest of Sann, in Jamshoro District, Sindh.
It is reputed to be the largest unexplored fort in the world. The purpose of its construction and the reason for the choice of its location are still unknown.
Who constructed it first and why? Is an enigma yet to be resolved by researchers. Some archaeologists attribute it to Arabs, possibly built by a Persian noble under the Abbasids by Imran Bin Musa Barmaki who was the Governor of Sindh in 836 CE. Others have suggested a much earlier period of construction attributing to at times the Sassanians Persians and at times to the Greeks. (azizsanghur)


Shoddy Ranikot repairs defacing heritage. Dawn