Rohtas Fort is one of the largest and most formidable in the subcontinent. The 16th century fort lies eight kilometers south of the Grand Trunk Road (GT Road). It is approximately 16 km NW of Jhelum city, and is near the town of Dina. The fortress was built during the reign of Sher Shah Suri.
The fort is known for its large defensive walls, and several monumental gateways. Rohtas Fort was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1997 for being an exceptional example of the Muslim military architecture of Central and South Asia. Rohtas Fort was never stormed by force, and has survived remarkably intact.
Rohtas Fort was built on a hill overlooking the Pothohar plateau near a gorge where the Kahan River meets a seasonal stream called Parnal Khas within the Tilla Jogian Range. The fort is about 300 feet (91 m) above its surroundings. It is 2,660 feet (810 m) above sea level and covers an area of 12.63 acres (51,100 m2). The historic Shahrah-e-Azam road once passed adjacent to the outer northern wall of the fort.
The origin of the fort goes back to the Sur dynasty, where emperor Sher Shah Suri ordered the fort to be constructed after his victory over the Mughal emperor Humayun. Construction of the fort began in 1541. It was made primarily as a defense against the Mughals. The fort was designed to block the advances of Mughal emperor Humayun, who had been exiled to Persia following his defeat at the Battle of Kannauj.
The fort occupies a strategic position between the mountainous region of Afghanistan and the plains of Punjab, and was intended to prevent the Mughal emperor from returning to India. The fort was also designed to suppress the local Gakhar tribes of the Potohar region. The Gakhar tribes were allies of the Mughal Empire, and refused to recognize the dominance of Sher Shah Suri. The fort was ceded to Mughal emperor Humayun in 1555, after the local governor, Tatar Khan Khasi, deserted the fort ahead of the Mughal army’s advances.
The fort lost much of its significance as the fort’s purpose of subduing pro-Mughal Gakhar tribesmen, as well as the preventing the return of Emperor Humayun, was no longer required. Further, the construction of the nearby Attock Fort in the 1580s by the Emperor Akbar better served Mughal interests. Rohtas Fort, ironically, came to serve as capital of the Gakhar tribes that it had initially been designed to subdue and was not required as a military garrison as the local Gakhar tribes remained loyal to the Mughal crown.
The fort remained in use during the Mughal era, and was used almost continuously until 1707, though it was not popular with the Mughal rulers. The Afsharid ruler Nadir Shah camped at the fort during his attack on the Mughal Empire. Also, the Afghan chieftain Ahmed Shah Abdali had used the fort in his expeditions in the Punjab during the waning days of the Mughal empire. In 1825, the Sikh forces of Gurmukh Singh Lamba conquered the fort from the Gakhar chieftain Nur Khan. Rohtas was also thereafter used for administrative purposes by the Sikh Empire until its collapse by the British in 1849.
Rohtas Fort covers an area of 70 hectares, enclosed by 4 kilometres of walls that were bolstered by 68 bastion towers, and 12 gates. The fort roughly forms an irregularly shaped triangle, and follows the contours of the hill it was constructed on. The northwest corner of the fort is walled off from the rest of the fort by a 533-metre-long (1,749 ft) wall. The enclosed section served as a citadel for elites and was more heavily guarded. The fort’s Langar Khani gate opens into the citadel, but is actually a trap that is in the direct line of fire from the fort’s bastions.
The large fort could hold a force of up to 30,000 men. Due to its location, massive walls, trap gates and 3 baolis (stepped wells), it could withstand a major siege, although it was never actually besieged. There are no palaces in the fort except for the Raja Man Singh Haveli, which is built on the highest point of the citadel.
The height of the outer wall varies between 10 and 18 metres, with a thickness that varies between 10 and 13 metres. The fortified walls have 68 bastions at irregular intervals, with 12 monumental gateways providing access to the inner fort. The ramparts follow the hilltop’s contours.
The walls have up to 3 terraces located at different levels. Each level was connected to the other by way of a staircase. The uppermost terrace has merlon-shaped battlements from which muskets could be fired, and from which soldiers could also pour molten lead. The wall is built in sandstone laid in lime mortar mixed with brick. The gates are in grey ashlar masonry. Some portions have been built using burnt brick.
The Rohtas Fort has the following 12 gates;
The Sohail gate features some of the best masonry work of the Sur Empire, and was likely the ceremonial main entrance to the fort. It derives its name from a local saint named Sohail Bukhari, whose remains are interred in the south-western portion of the gate.
The gate rectangular in shape, and measures 21.34 metres (70.0 feet) high, by 20.73 metres (68.0 feet) wide, and with a depth of 15 metres (49 feet). Its central archway is 4.72 metres (15.5 feet) wide, and maintains its shape throughout the gate’s depth. The gateway is with floral motifs, with richer decoration on the outer face. There are seven battlements along the outer face of the Sohail gate. The gate features room in the upper portion that have windows which open towards the fort’s interior. Like the outer arch there is a small window in the middle of the inner arch.
Shah Chandwali Gate
This gate links the citadel to the main fort. It is named after Shah Chandwali who refused to get his wages for working on this gate. The saint died while still on work and was buried near the gate. His shrine still stands to this day. This gate is also a double gate. The outer gate, the entrance of which is from the citadel is 13.3 meters wide and 8.23 meters deep. The inner gate is a simple archway which is 3.66 meters wide. There are 12 gates of the fort.
The Kabuli gate derives its name from the fact that it opens towards the northwest in the general direction of Kabul. The gate now houses a visitors’ information center, and a museum set up by the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation. The gate may have been built in two stages. It consists of an inner and outer gate which encloses a step-well. Its opening is 3.15 meters (10.3 feet) wide, and is flanked by two bastions on either side of the opening. The gate has 5 battlements on top, and has stairs leading up to it from the outside. On the southern side of the gate is the Shahi (Royal) Mosque because of which many people also call it Shahi (Royal) Darwaza (Gate or Door).
The gate derives its name from the beautiful glazed tiles used to decorate its outer arch. These tiles are the earliest examples of this technique which was later refined in Lahore. These tiles are blue in color. An inscription on the left side of the gate gives the date of construction of the fort. The inscription is in Persian and is translated as;
In the Hijri Year 948 [1541 CE] came the exalted – At that time constructed the great fort – The emperor is Sher, with long life – There is no match to his good fortune – It was completed by Shahu Sultan.
Langar Khani Gate
Langar Khani is a double gate which is 15.25 meters (50.0 feet) high, 3.5 meters (11 feet) wide with a central arched opening. The outer arch has a small window like the Sohail Gate. The outer opening leads to a Langar Khana (Mess or Canteen). There are two bastions on either side of the gate which have kitchen, stores and a well for water. The opening of this gate is L shaped. As soon as one enters from the outer gate one has to turn right.
Outside the Langar Khani Gate is the tomb of a lady called Khair Un Nisa. She was the daughter of the food minister named Qadir Bukhsh. She died here and was buried in this tomb but she was later moved to Sasaram.
This gate is 15.25 meters high and 13.8 meters wide with two bastions on either side. This gates name derives from ‘Talaq’ (divorce). According to a legend, Prince Sabir Suri entered the gate and had an attack of fever which proved fatal. This was regarded as a bad omen and the name became ‘Talaqi’.
Mori or Kashmiri Gate
The gate opens to the north and faces towards Kashmir. This gate opens into one chamber which opens into another.
Khwas Khani Gate
This gate is named after one of Sher Shah Suri’s greatest general, Khawas Khan Marwat. This was the original entrance to the Qila (Fort) because outside the gate lies the old GT Road. It is a double gate. The outer gate is 12.8 meters (42 feet) wide and 8 meters (26 feet) deep. It is accessible by only one gate and also had a very fine Baoli which suggests that it was meant for the chief and his family.
This gate has a bastion and a defensive wall on each side. On the bastion cannons could be deployed. The inner and outer gates are almost mirror images of each other. The top of the gate has five battlements. All of these have loopholes as well as machicolation. Unlike other gates of this Qila, the inner side of the gate has five battlements.
The inner and outer arches have sunflower motifs like the Sohail Gate. The gate also has a room which has windows opening to the inside and the outside. It is pertinent to mention here that when the Gakhars refused their allegiance to Sher Shah Suri, he launched an expedition to punish them. This resulted in the capture of the Gakhar chief Sultan Sarang Khan and his daughter. Sarang Khan was then killed. His daughter was then married to Sher Shah’s favourite general Khawas Khan Marwat.
It is a single gate 9.15 meters high and 6.1 meter deep. This gate faces to the village Gatali Ford (ravine) which is called also Patan Gatiali or Gatiyalian, the important point to cross the River Jhelum for the Kashmir Vally, thus the name.
Tulla Mori Gate
This is an entrance rather than a gate. It is on the eastern side of the fort. It is about 2 meters wide. There is a bastion next to this entrance.
This is a small entrance like the Tulla Mori Gate. It is 2.13 meter wide.
This is a small entrance seems to be developed by breaking main wall (outer boundary) at latter stage by the locals as a short passage to an adjacent jungle. There is a bastion next to this gate. There is also located a dipilated pond in front of this gate within the fort, since the construction of the fort, for this reason it is now called ‘Sar Gate’ as ‘Sar’ means water pond.
This small mosque known as Shahi masjid is near the Kabuli gate. It has a prayer chamber and a small courtyard. It is the most decorated of the original buildings of the fort. To be ever ready in case of attack, stairs lead directly from the courtyard of this mosque to the top of Kabuli Gate.
The prayer chamber is 19.2 meters long and 7.3 meter deep. It is divided into 3 equal chambers. There are domes from the inside but from the outside no domes can be seen. There is a small room at the end of these three chambers. This room was for the Pesh Imam (Prayer Leader). This room has a small domed roof from the inside but no outer dome. There is no place for ablution (Wuzu) in the mosque. This mosque is built into the fortification wall i.e. soldiers walked over the mosque’s roof. The outer wall of the mosque is the fortification wall itself.
On the outer wall of the mosque are beautiful round designs in which Islamic verses are written in Naqsh script. These verses are surrounded by a Lilly going around the Naqsh script. The Lilly design was later used by Mughals in Tomb of Jahangir, Tomb of Nur Jehan and the Shah Burj Gate in Lahore Fort. The design seems to have been copied from the coins used in that time.
There are 3 Baolis (Wells) in the fort. These were made by cutting deep into the lime rock.This is used to take their horses to drink water. There are 135 steps.
It is in the middle of the Fort for soldiers, elephants, horses etc. This Baoli has 148 steps. Each step is 20 cm (8 in) wide. The upper portion has been cut in stone. It has three arches that span the length of the baoli.
It is near the Kabuli Gate for the Royal family. It has 60 steps and has small chambers that were used as baths by the Royal family.
Sar Gate baoli
A small Baoli near the Sar Gate, most likely used by soldiers.
Rani Mahal and Haveli Man Singh
The Rani Mahal (Queens palace) is near Haveli Man Singh. It is a one-storey structure. It originally had four rooms but only one room remains standing today. The foundation of the four rooms can still be seen today. The room still standing today is about 20 feet (6.1 m) high and beautifully decorated on the inside and outside. The roof of the dome like room is like a flower. The inside of the roof is decorated with flowers, geometrical patterns and fake windows. The room is about 8 by 8 feet (2.4 by 2.4 m).
This fort is an example of purely ‘Masculine’ architecture. It places function over form. This can be gauged from the fact that the fort originally had no permanent building for living.
Stonework displaying the name of God. These carvings are found on the gate and in the mosque. Most of these are engravings in Arabic and sunflowers. One of these carvings is inside the Shahi Mosque outside the Pesh Imam’s (Prayer leaders) room. The carving is of the word ‘Allah’ in Arabic. The same carving is also done on merlons on top of Shahi Mosque. The sunflower motif is on each sides of the arches of Shahi Mosque. It is also present in the guard post in between each gate.
Most of these inscriptions are on the Shahi Mosque. On the outer wall of the mosque the ‘Kalima’ is written in beautiful calligraphy on both sides of each arch of the Shahi Mosque. The Naskh script is used. There is an inscription in Persian on the Shishi gate which gives the date of start of construction. The same inscription is also found over the Talaqi gate. There are other inscriptions on the Khwas Khani, Langar Khani and Gatali gate.
These tiles are found on Shishi gate. This type of tile became extremely popular with the Mughals who further refined them. The tiles on Shishi gate are the earliest example of the usage of these tiles. These tiles were made in Lahore.
Machicolations are small drains that lead from the inside to the walls outside. They are built into the walls and are used by the soldiers on the inside to pour molten lead or other hot liquids on soldiers trying to scale the walls. The Rohtas Fort has hundreds of them and each one is beautifully decorated with geometric patterns.
The fort’s defenses were bolstered by large bastions. This fort was built in a style that draws from Turkish, Middle Eastern, and South Asian artistic traditions.
The fort was never popular with the Mughals because of its military character. Emperor Akbar stayed here for a single night. Emperor Jahangir rested here for a single night while going to Kashmir for a rest. He said the following about its location; This fort was founded in a cleft and the strength of it cannot be imagined.
Emperor Jahangir again stayed here when he was being forced to go to Kabul by Mahabat Khan. Nur Jahan, his beautiful and resourceful wife obtained troops from Lahore and ordered Mahabat Khan to release her husband. Emperor Jahangir then proceeded to Rohtas and held his court here for a while. Then he went on to Kashmir and back to Lahore to die. The later Mughals seem to have made no use of the fort. The reason is that they were allies of the Gakhars and consequently needed no troops to maintain their hold over this area.
The Afsharid ruler Nader Shah camped at the fort during his invasion of the Mughal Empire. Thereafter it was used by the Durrani ruler Ahmad Shah Durrani during his invasions of the Punjab against the Sikhs. Timur Shah Durrani retook Multan from the Sikhs in 1780 after defeating them at Rohtas, he then secured Bhawalpur and Kashmir. By 1788 he even attempted unsuccessfully to ford the plains of Punjab to rescue his brother-in-law the weak Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II who was blinded by a eunuch Ghulam Qadir. Unable to succeed he wrote a letter to Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, requesting that the British protect the Mughal dynasty.
After the takeover of the Punjab by Emperor Ranjit Singh, Gurmukh Singh Lamba captured the Rothas Fort from the Ghakhar chief Nur Khan, father of Fazil Dad Khan in 1825. Ranjit Singh gave the fort to Mohar Singh who was succeeded by Gurmukh Singh Lamba. It was subsequently leased to different people and the last person to manage Rohtas was Raja Fazal Din Khan who joined Sher Singh in rebellion.
Rohtas Fort is an outstanding example of early Muslim military architecture in the South Asia which incorporates features from elsewhere in the Islamic world. It also had a profound influence on the development of architectural styles in the Mughal Empire (and hence on the European colonial architecture that made abundant use of that tradition). It is also outstanding by virtue of the refinement and high artistic value of its decorative elements, notably its high and low relief carvings, its calligraphic inscriptions in marble and sandstone, its plaster decoration, and its glazed tiles.
There are no surviving examples of military architecture of this period on the same scale in the South Asia which survive to the same degree of completeness and conservation. Fatehpur Sikri (India) which is already on the World Heritage List represents the full Mughal realization of a form and style that owes everything to its precursor, Rohtas Fort. The recommendation by ICOMOS (the organization that makes the World Heritage list) made the following recommendation;
Rohtas Fort is an exceptional example of the Muslim military architecture of central and South Asia, which blends architectural and artistic traditions from Turkey and the South Asia to create the model for Mughal architecture and its subsequent refinements and adaptations.
Most of the fort is in a very good state of preservation. In the portions that have fallen away (Haveli Man Singh) one can still see some part of the original construction. The central archway of the Chandwali Gate has been rebuilt recently so that is the only ‘fake’ part of the fort. In early 2005, seepage, heavy rains, and general neglect caused the left inner face of the Talaqi Gate to collapse, and the right flank and foundation to become detached from the original structure.
The Gatali Gate forms one of the original entrances to Rohtas. Over time, its right bastion and supporting wall have collapsed as a result of permeated rainwater and the erosion of its foundations.
World Heritage Status
Rohtas Fort was designated a World Heritage Site in 1997, having met the following inclusion criteria:
Criterion (ii): Rohtas Fort blends architectural and artistic traditions from Turkey and the Indian subcontinent to create the model for Mughal architecture and its subsequent refinements and adaptations.
Criterion (iv): Rohtas Fort is an exceptional example of the Muslim military architecture of central and south Asia during the 16th century. The fort was also noted for its high-level of integrity, and authenticity.
Himalayan Wildlife Foundation
The Rohtas Fort Conservation Programme was conceived by the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation in 2000 to help protect the sixteenth-century Rohtas Fort near Jhelum, and develop it as a heritage site conforming to international standards of conservation and tourism. It is undertaking the following projects in conjunction with the Royal Norwegian Embassy.
Government Eviction Notice
In 1992 the government ordered the locals of Rohtas to leave the inside area of fort and state that the government would construct houses for them outside the fort. Zafar Chughtai the chairman of Rohtas opposed the stay order from government declaring that no government will take the properties of Rohtas locals. The stay order is still effective but no subsequent government has pursued its execution and has allowed the fort residents to reside there.
Until the construction of the new Grand Trunk Road, Rohtas was a halting place on the main Peshawar-Lahore road. This road had serais about a mile apart. One of these is about one Mile (1.6 km) north of the Rohtas Fort. It is in a fair state of preservation.
Access from Islamabad
The dual-carriage Grand Trunk Road takes you past Gujar Khan and Sohawa, to the small city of Dina 110 km away. Just past Dina you will drive over a railway overpass, stay to the right of the road and take the first U-turn to drive back towards Dina. After about 100 meters to your left you will find a signpost, which indicates the way towards the road leading to Rohtas Fort which is 8 km away, past the small holy village of Muftian home to the Mufti Tribe. Drive on the road to enter into the fort and keep driving till you reach the parking area.
Drive on G.T. road past Gujranwala, Wazirabad and the city of Jhelum. About 10 minutes’ drive beyond the Jhelum bridge just short of the city of Dina, you will find a signpost to the left directing you to Rohtas Fort.