I planned my tour to Cholistan desert. It was February 13th 2015 the day when my everlasting desire of visiting forts and historical places reached one more milestone. A trip was planned by a group of a professional tourism company. I along with my two friends sat off for the journey with the group. I was very excited, as it was my first tour to Bahawalpur City and there were more than one events on the trip. There was the visit to Lal Suhanra National park, Noor Mehal, Visit to Darawar fort, fireworks and sky lanterns at night, camping in a desert, jeep rally and a visit to tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam. All this was covered in just 3 days.
The journey started at 2:00 am from a pick up point in Lahore and we reached around 9:30 am at Bahawalpur, got fresh in hotel and had our breakfast quickly. Soon after everyone was done, we left for visiting these places of the Bahawalpur city. Here I want to tell a bit more about this city, it is a city of Nawabs, and Nawabs ruled in this city for many years and truly served the city. It is a historic city, very well organized and modern, up to date city, now-a-days. The people there are very educated and these places are truly worthy of visiting.
The first destination we stopped at was the Lal Suharna National Park; it is one of the largest national parks in South Asia, spread over an area of 153, 000 acres. It is famous for its diversity of landscapes which includes areas of desert, forest and water. We took a quick round trip of the park, not the whole park as it would have taken the whole day and we had many other places to visit. We took some pictures of the natural beauty and again sat off for our next destination.
I was very excited and looking forward to the next location, which was Noor Mehal in Bahawalpur. It was the residence of Nawab of Bahawalpur; princely state in 1872. It was built on Italian Chateau on neoclassical lines, completed in 1875. Its charge has now been taken by army of Pakistan and is open for tourists and researchers. It is a worth seeing Mehal, the architecture is awesome, at night it glows like a flood of light on earth.
Inside the building, articles which were in use of the Nawabs were displayed. Some pictures of the rulers and antique items were carefully preserved and showcased for the audience. It is a way to preserve our heritage for the future generations to observe and learn from the past rulers. It is a well-known reality that to move on in life, we have to learn and read the past. And then we can apply it in our future lives to improve and get better.
It was a very pleasurable visit for me, because as long as one is overwhelmed with fascination, one can’t feel the fatigue. It was evening when we got back to our hotel rooms. We were tired after a hectic day, got fresh in our rooms for some time and then we had an amazing dinner in the hotel. After the dinner was over, when everyone was resting in their rooms after the hectic day, my friends and I got out of the hotel and went to the nearby market to see the city’s bazaar(market) at night. We were just wandering in the bazaar, not bothering about any danger of the new city. Took a cup of coffee from the local coffee stall and walked on. It was cold at night, so the coffee soothed us a lot. We three friends were hanging out at night and in a new city, it gave us an overwhelming feeling. This may be called as the craziness when three friends are alone and get an opportunity to enjoy. We wandered in the city for about one hour and then came back to the hotel around midnight.
Woke up at 6 am, quickly got ready and took breakfast as we had to leave for Darawar Fort in Cholistan, 30km from Bahawalpur City. Derawar fort was built by Raja Jajja Bhatti, in 9th century AD. In 18th century, the fort was taken over by Nawabs of Bahawalpur. The area has settlements of Indus Valley Civilization and also the dry bed of Hakra River. The soil here is quite rich, because it was once the path way of river Indus. People there have Saraiki and Marwari dialect spoken now-a-days. It is a hard area to live and survive, as it is barren and receives a little rainfall round the year.
We reached there around noon, and took tea and biscuits from the local stalls. It was arranged by local people. All these were the arrangements for the jeep rally which was going to occur nearby the Fort. There were a number of people gathered for the rally. Local people had arranged camps of temporary shelters for their stay over there, as it is a barren area. For the visitors, it is recommended to go in a large group or travel with a local person, who could guide you with the best places to see.
We explored the area around, walking and seeing camels and people practicing for the jeep rally. It was a different ambiance for people living in Lahore. The soil there is not the pure sand. It felt like dust we couldn’t breathe easily. We were enjoying the adventure, as it was my first experience to touch the sand of dessert. We spent time there, although it was tough during the afternoon. Then came the time awaited the most, we moved towards the fort. First, we explored the mosque, in front of the fort. It is called Abbasi mosque, it is a replica of Moti Masjid, Delhi, India.
It is a beautiful mosque, yet quiet old, but properly maintained. We took some photographs there. It is a very golden rule to tourism: respect the culture and norms of the area. It also gives contentment to the local people as well as gives experience of new culture and traditions to the tourists. For me tourism does not mean just to see the new places, it is exploring the cultures and traditions of the people of the area, how the buildings are associated with the people’s emotions, economy of the area and social norms. So it is all about experiencing, I’m writing this to encourage people to know the worth of exploring places, so they must go and experience by themselves. Before entering the fort, I captured it from the balcony of the mosque.
The weather during February was mild cold, but the sun is harsh during afternoons. We enjoyed walking in the fort and taking pictures all around. The outer wall of the fort is 8 to 10 feet wide; it is so strong that is why it is still standing in the desert. Also it is maintained by heritage department, but the inside buildings are not much well maintained. Unfortunately the inside was not much pleasing to see, as there are ruined building parts.
The inspiring thing is the area and the way it has been constructed. We enjoyed a round trip of the fort, and as the sun set, it was time to close the fort. So we came out and sat down near our camps to take some rest, it was hectic. But it was not the end of the day, still had much more to do. Coming out of the fort, I saw a beautiful sunset which I timely captured. As it was a major event of Cholistan, fireworks were arranged at an immense level. For half an hour there were fireworks. They were the most beautiful fireworks I had ever seen in my life.
After the fireworks were over we enjoyed with our group; lit sky lanterns and chit chat of the day, showing pictures and discussions over them. It was an awesome view of sky when all of our companions flew the sky lanterns. It also gave an extra entertainment for the people of that area. It was a unique thing for the people of the area so they gathered all around and it was difficult for our group to get rid of them. That is why I have already mentioned to go that place in a large group or with some local. It would be safe for visitors. It is a worth experiencing place to go, but the level of fun depends on how much one is interested in this type of area. I shared my travel, to portray an image of the area in tourist’s minds. Allah has blessed Pakistan with a diverse environment and climate. If one wants to visit all the varieties of the blessings, Pakistan has, one must visit the Cholistan desert. By visiting, we also came to realize how tough the life of people there is!