Ranikot exemplifies Sindh’s most talismanic wonder. Seen from five kilometers away twisting its massive undulating walls and dipping over the hills. With a circumference of more than thirty-four kilometers, its walls, built with dressed sandstone and reinforced with round bastions, stand from the ground thirty feet high, making it perhaps the world’s largest fort. Who put it up first, and why? This is an enigma which the researchers have yet to overcome.
Some historians attribute this to the Arabs, some to the Sassanians, some to the Greeks, and some even go as far as to relate it to the Romans and the Great Wall of China! While Amri’s (Aamri) prehistoric site is nearby, and fossils and animal skeletons are found within the fort on the Lundi Hills, which doesn’t provide evidence of any old town inside the fort. It does not seem that the current structure is ‘prehistoric.’ Some historians point to the 17th century AD as its first construction period but many agree that Mir Karam Ali Khan Talpur built or reconstructed the present structure at the initial cost of twelve thousand rupees in 1812 A.D.
How the Ranikot fort got its name? The Mohan Gate and the Sann Gate
This enchanting fort is located on the right side of the mighty River Indus in the Lukky Mountains of the Kirthar range at about thirty kilometers from the Sann town. A mountainous ridge, ‘Karo Takkar,’ which runs north to south, forms its western boundary and its eastern boundary is made by the ‘Lundi Hills.’ A rain-stream, ‘Mohan Nai,’ flows into the fort from its rarely used western ‘Mohan Gate’ where a small fortification guards it. It changes its name to ‘Reni’ or ‘Rani Nai’ or the rain-stream and gives its name to the fort.
Therefore, Ranikot is the ‘fort of a rain stream’ – Rani. The rain stream runs through it, tumbles to irrigate fields in a series of turquoise pools, and leaves the fort on the eastern side of its most-used ‘Sann Gate.” It then travels thirty-three more kilometers to enter the Lion River – Indus.
A mix of natural and manmade boundaries
Most of the thirty-five to the forty-kilometer-long wall is made of natural cliffs and mountain rock barricades, at places as high as two thousand feet above sea level! Only about eight or nine kilometers of its wall is man-made, constructed from yellow sandstone.
What is inside the fort?
Hills, valleys, streams, ditches, ponds, pools, fossils, building structure, bastions, watchtowers, ravelins, ammunition depots, fortresses can be found as one enters the fort-all inside the Ranikot, adding to its beauty and mystery more.
A spring that emerges from an underground water source near the Mohan Gate is named ‘Parryen jo Tarru’ (Fairy Spring). According to a tale which local inhabitants would tell you, fairies come from far and large to take bath near ‘Karo Jabal’ (Black Mountain) on Ponam nights (full moon night). One can hear splashing sounds of water falling on the rocks at another spring, ‘Waggun jo Tarru’ or the Crocodiles’ Spring, named so as the crocodiles once lived there.
The three fortresses inside the Ranikot are Miri Kot, Sher Garh, and Mohan Kot. Mirikot takes its name from the word ‘Mir, meaning top (for example, the top of the hill, the top leader of the tribes of Baloch, etc.). Both the principal Ranikot and the inner Mirikot have similar entrances-curved, angled with a safe tortuous path. “The bridge in front of Ranikot is like a smaller bridge in front of a castle in Verona, Italy,” writes Ishtiaq Ansari, the writer of ‘Sindh ja kot aaein qillaa’ and a member of the Sindh Exploration and Adventure Society. *
MiriKot – the safest fortress
From the military point of view, Mirikot is situated in the very heart of the Ranikot, at a very safe place. Talpur Mirs made use of Mirikot as their fortified house. One can explore courtyard ruins, harem, guest rooms, and quarters of soldiers within. The wall is 1435 feet long and comprises five bastions.
Each Ranikot structure has its own singularity and beauty. Looking up from Mirikot one can see another fortified citadel – Shergarh (Lions’ Abode) made of whitish stone. The position at 1480 feet above sea level makes this fortress outstanding. However, at the same time, it also makes water supply equally difficult, which can only be collected from streams of brooks and rains, hundreds of feet below! The steep ascent to Shergarh gives a commanding bird eye view the entire fort and its points of entry and of exit. One can even see Indus on a bright day, thirty-seven kilometers to the East.
Mohan Kot, the third fortress, takes its name from the Mohan Gate, due to its proximity to it. Mohan Kot is the place where military commanders lived.
The pseudo gates of the Ranikot fort
Breachs in fort wall due to the river stream entry or exit has been referred as a gate or one can call ‘pseudo gates’.
There are two more gates, rather pseudo-gates, beside the Mohan Gate and the Sann Gate. One is to the side of ancient Amri city. It is called ‘Amri Gate.’ It definitely takes its name from Amri’s ancient ruins, but it must have taken its name much later than Amri ‘s time because the fort itself does not seem as old as the Amri itself. There is a bridge over rain stream ‘Toming Dhoro’ going out of the fort called ‘Bbudhi Mori.’
Shahpir Gate and the sacred footprint
The South Shahpir Gate appears to be a pseudo gate. It takes its name from a limestone rock having a rough foot shape imprinted on it. Supposedly, the sacred footprint belongs to Hazrat Ali or some other religious personality and is venerated by local people. It seems to be a later breach in the fort wall instead of a formal gate, as one cannot find any bastion or watchtower or their remains at the site, which is needed to guard any formal entry or exit points.
Mosque, tombs, and graveyards
A mosque found at the fort appears to be a later watchtower alteration. One can keep an eye on the whole of the Ranikot from a sort of revelin located near the mosque! On top of Lundi Hills are numerous animal bones and ancient fossils. One of the three graveyards has about four hundred tombs made of Chowkundi like sandstone with sunflowers and peacocks’ motifs graved in. It is an open question whether we should call them theriomorphic and phytomorphic motifs. Another one is, probably, an Arabian graveyard. The third one is about one and a half kilometer away from the Sann Gate. It had about sixteen or seventeen tombs. But now one can only see four graves. Local inhabitants call it the graveyard of the Roman.† The fort is historically lacking in shelters and shady areas, but the view of the field from the top of ‘Shimla Hills’ is not only enticing but also mystifying!
Why Talpurs built or rebuilt the Ranikot Fort?
“The size of Ranikot defies all reasons. It stands in the middle of nowhere, defending nothing” writes Isobel Shaw.‡So why was this fort founded here on Kirthar range’s barren terrain? To answer this question a lot of theories have been developed. According to Ishtiaq Ansari, when Sindh was attacked by Afghan during Kalhoras times, the Talpurs had sent their families to Thar and Kachchh. However, they wanted a safe and secure place after acquiring Sindh ‘s rule, where they could send their families during troubling times. That may have inspired them to build (or rebuild) this fort. Rahimdad Khan Molai Sheedai claims that it was granted its strategic importance by its position in Kohistan on Sindh ‘s western frontiers.§ Talpurs had not been on good terms with Khan of Kalat and wanted a stable western border. Hence, they built the fort. Talpurs were also under threat from Durranis and Ranjit Singh and Ranikot added a lot to their defense.
The trade route theory
Apart from this, a trade route from Mesopotamia, Iran (Kirman Shah, Hamadan, Sultanabad, Qum, Bimpur), Mekran and Sindh (Amri, Sehwan, Mohenjo-daro) used to pass from this area in ancient times. Another branch of this route was passing through Thano Arab Khan, Karchat, Sann an Amri to reach Brahmanabad on the left bank of the mighty Indus River. Hence the place ‘s significance in earlier days if the fort then existed.
How to go to the Ranikot fort?
Access to this wonder isn’t easy-only by cruising the rain-stream ‘s dry bed in a powerful jeep can one reach there. Fort status is deteriorating rapidly, as is the case with most of Sindh’s archeological heritage. A third of the man-made walls have already collapsed, and the rest may follow suit very soon.
Scientific Research on the Ranikot Fort
On 24 December 2009, Professor Paolo Biagi of the University of Venice, Italy, wrote in an e-mail correspondence to this scribe: “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, from 1772-1843 Talpurs had been rulers. Thus, it is obvious that they have constructed it-at least the portion from which the examined charcoal sample was taken. Talpurs may have reconstructed previously existing fort. Whatever that may be, the current construction or reconstruction belongs to Talpur time.
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).#
Now, this new finding confirms the installation of the East gate during the times of Talpurs. This can be said with certainty, as Kalohra rulers before Talpurs did not build this fort for sure and the radiocarbon dating corresponds to the times of Kalhora or Talpurs. It can, therefore, be deduced that during the Talpurs era this fort was built/reconstructed/renovated and that its present construction belongs to that time.
Link to the Radiocarbon dating findingsProf Paolo Biagi has helped in the radiocarbon dating of some parts of the Ranikot. Findings could be checked above or by downloading the original article. Click here to download
- *Ansari, Ishtiaq. Sindh Ja Kot ai Qila, 1996.
- †Ansari, Ishtiaq. Sindh Ja Kot ai Qila, 1996.
- ‡Isobel Shaw, “Pakistan Handbook”, 1989
- §Molai Sheedai, Rahimdad Khan, “Janatul Sindh”, 1958.
- ¶Biagi, Paolo. “Ranikot Fort (Jamshoro, Sindh):An AMS Radiocarbon Date from Sann (Eastern) Gate,” November 22, 2010.
- #Biagi, Paolo & Nisbet, Renato. (2009). Ranikot Fort (Jamshoro, Sindh): An AMS Radiocarbon Date from Sann (Eastern) Gate. Journal of Asian Civilizations. 32. 1-9.
Other views, links, and videos
“Ranikot, Sindh” video 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)