Cholistan is locally known as Rohi. This famous desert is 30 Km from Bahawalpur and comprises of an area of 16,000 sq.km. which extends upto the Thar desert extending over to Sindh. The word Cholistan is derived from ‘Cholna’ which means moving. The people of Cholistan lead a semi-nomadic life, moving from one place to another in search of water and fodder for their animals.
|Location:||sprawls 30 km (19 mi) from Bahawalpur, Punjab, Pakistan|
|In Urdu:||صحرائے چولستان|
|Covered Area:||26,300 km2 (10,200 sq mi)|
|Livestock:||sheep, goats, and camel.|
|Culture and Traditions:||textiles, weaving, leatherwork, and pottery.|
|Products:||carpet wool , rugs and other woolen items.|
|Forts in Cholistan:||Derawar Fort Islamgarh Fort Mirgarh Fort Jamgarh Fort Mojgarh Fort Marot Fort Phoolra Fort Khangarh Fort Khairgarh Fort Nawankot Fort Bijnot Fort|
|Sports Event:||Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally|
|Local Language Name:||n/a|
|Cotton and Wool Products:||Carpets, Rugs and other Woolen Items|
|P.I.A Sales Office:||Noor Mahal Road. Ph: 4989/882303|
|General Post Office:||(GPO)|
|Telephone & Telegraph Office:||Circular Road.|
|Money Changer:||Circular Road, Bobby Plaza. Ph: 877162|
Farther east, the Rohi, or Cholistan, is a barren desert tract, bounded on the north and west by the Hakra depression with ruins of old settlements along its high banks; it is still inhabited by nomads. It is at a distance of 30 km. from Bahawalpur. The word ‘Cholistan’ is derived from the word ‘cholna’ which means moving.
It covers an area of about 16,000 square km and extends into the Thar Desert of India. The region was once watered by the Hakra River, known as the Saravati in vedic times.
At one time there were 400 forts in the area and archaeological finds around the Darawar Fort, the only place with a perennial waterhole.
The average annual rainfall is only 12 cm, and the little cultivation is made possible by underground wells, drawn up by the camels. The water is stored in troughs, built by the tribes, between sandhills and din waterholes called tobas.
The forts here were built at 29 km intervals, which probably served as guard posts for the camel caravan routes. There were three rows of these forts. the first line of forts began from Phulra and ended in Lera, the second from Rukhanpur to Islamgarh, and the third from Bilcaner to Kapoo. They are all in ruins now, and you can see that they were built with double walls of gypsum blocks and mud. Some of them date back to 1000 BC, and were destroyed and rebuilt many times. Cholistan also boasts of many old forts such as Derawar,Vingrot, Banwar, Marcot, Wilhar, Maujgharh, Mao, Phuira and Din-gharh etc.
The Unsettled Desert
Six-and-a-half million acres of sprawling desert, nine men to each square kilometre of sand — yet on that morning, Cholistan seemed very much like a small town. From the settlements near the crumbling fort to the canal-straddled fields miles away, everyone brought up the wedding in the desert, talking about it with the casual familiarity of next-door neighbours.
“Those women there, they wear too much make-up,” said Hafeeza, wrinkling her nose and lowering her voice, as if they really were next door. She lived in the desert too, but her own house, next to Derawar Fort and near a road, seemed to make her regard herself as separate from the nomads deeper inside, where the metalled road faded into the white flatness, dahar, of the desert. “And such glittery clothes…!”
Further away, on land made arable by a trickle of irrigation water and a cocktail of fertilisers and pesticides, Rasheeda’s eyes lit up. That was a family wedding, she said; most of her relatives lived there, in the deep desert. Many years ago, a plot of land had been allotted to her father-in-law; in order to cultivate it, she lived here now with a few of her sons and her daughter and her daughter’s daughter, a sombre-eyed girl of eight. Some weeks ago, this granddaughter had also very nearly been married off, in a tricky case of watta-satta – a form of bride exchange – averted at the very last minute.
“There was henna on her hands,” Rasheeda said grimly, drawing the little girl close.
A Groom at His Wedding in Cholistan
The bride at the desert wedding is only a little older — 12, they say. She sits stricken in the centre of a charpoy, bowed by jewellery and flanked by cheerful women relatives. Out in the open, the groom, older but clearly a young man still, looks equally burdened: the garland around his neck covers almost his entire frame and, for good luck, he clutches a metal stick, heavily embellished. Around him, guests cluster near cauldrons of food or lounge under shamianas — curiously, this desert wedding is being arranged by a professional caterer.
Later, a singer from a nearby town will arrive rattling on a scooter, a man in a festive yellow kameez with perfect black hair and brilliant white teeth and the self-conscious air of a minor celebrity, but for now women gather outside the hut of the bride and sing songs: old ones passed down over generations and newer ones popular on the radio, their desert dialect speckled with slang and snatches of Urdu:
- You live in the city, I am a dweller of Rohi,
- Tell me: how can we ever become one?
- You live in a palace-like bungalow, we have only our humble huts,
- You drink from coolers of cold water, we have half-empty earthen pots,
- You travel in jeeps and cars, we sit atop camels,
- You eat fruit, we survive on mushrooms,
- Tell me, then: how can we ever become one?
It is the hyperbolic lament of a doomed lover – a sad song, technically – but the women don’t sing it in that manner. They sing it triumphantly, twirling their hands, transforming the song into a celebration of difference: desert-dwellers thumbing their noses at the settled life of cities. All around them, past the caterer-provided shamianas, past the tractor trolley piled high with stacked chairs, the desert stretches endlessly: sand in the air, sand on the ground, small eddies of sand swirling into the horizon. This entire vastness belongs to them, in theory if not on paper: when this pond of water, their toba, shrinks to a puddle, they will gather their animals and move away, to wherever the presence of water leads them. It is what their forefathers have done, for hundreds of years.
Places Of Interest In Cholistan
Derawar Fort is located 48 Km from Dera Nawab Sahib. It is still in a good condition. The rampart walls are intact and still guarded by the personal guards of the Amir of Bahawalpur. The tombs of the ex-rulers of Bahawalpur and their families are located in this fort. The tombs have nice glazed blue tile work. Prior permission of the senior Amir of Bahawalpur is required to enter the fort.
Shrines of Channan Pir
The Shrine of Channan Pir is located 45 Km from Derawar Fort. Channan Pir was a disciple of Makhdoom Jahanian Jahangasht. The annual Urs is held at the beginning of March. A colourful fair known as ‘Mela Channan Pir’ is held here. Devotees gather on the night of full moon to offer “Fateha” at the tomb of the saint.
Another interesting place worth visiting here is the Nawab Family burial ground where many of the old Nawabs and their families are buried. The tomb here is attractive, built with marble and decorated with blue glazed style.
Uch Sharif, 75 km from Bahawalpur is a very old town. It is believed that it came into existence way back in 500 BC. Some historians believe that Uch was there even before the advent of Bikramajit when Jains and Buddhist ruled over the sub-continent. At the time of the invasion by Alexander the Great, Uch was under Hindu rule.
The surviving shrines, sanctuaries, cemeteries, and mausoleums, including the Bibi Jawandi tomb, incorporate glazed tile and brick revetments, lime plaster panels, terra-cotta embellishments, brick structural walls laid in earth mortars, and ingenious corner tower buttresses. The famous shrines existing at Uch include those of Hazrat Bahawal Haleem, Hazrat Jalaluddin Surkh Bukhari, Makhdoom Jahanian Jahangasht, Shaikh Saifuddin Ghazrooni and Bibi Jawanadi. The shrine of Bibi Jawandi is a Central Asian design, titled in the blue and white faience.
Culture and Traditions
Various fairs and festivals are common in the Indus Valley. The Aryans were fond of beauty and soma- intoxicating liquors. The sages of Vedas expressed delight in the charm of female beauty. However certain festivals gradually became part of their religion as they settled in the sub continent. The story of Ramayana is enacted in the form of a drama festival called Rama Lilla. The festival culminates with the burning of effigies of the wicked Ravana and his associates. But in Aryan society such festivals were limited and their purpose was to teach people the values of conjugal fidelity, brotherly love, and obedience to paternal authority. However in Indo-Scythian society fairs, festivals, and melas were a permanent feature of the social life. These fairs and festivals were not held for the sake of pleasure alone, but their venues also served as places where city dwellers, farmers and nomads would meet once or twice a year to exchange their wares and good directly or through the intermediary of bazaar dealers. In the desert areas of Pakistan the utility of such fairs cannot be denied that are parts of valley’s social structure now. But what makes Cholistan most conspicuous in this respect is that here the greatest Mela of the Indus Valley is celebrated in the best Indo-Scythian tradition. It is held every year in March in the desert settlement of Channar Pir.
The Local Dialect
The language of Cholistan also reflects a number of features of its historical and geographical background. The local dialect was believed to be spoken by a rough, rude, and warlike people who liked to disobey every law and rule of grammar imposed by the so called super-cultured class of the Brahmans and their purified and gifted Sanskrit, which was the language of Indian Hindus.
The Saraiki language is an Indo-Aryan speech, and is spoken in Cholistan as well as in a large part of central Pakistan. It is no more a neglected language, once attributed to the camel-driving Jats and semi-nude Baloch tribes. It has always been as orthodox and conservative as the people who speak it. Even today the likes, dislikes, attitudes, and values of the people are the same as their forefather centuries back. Khwaja Ghulam Farid was a Sufi poet, who through his mystical writings and poetry not only developed the language a lot, but also gave it a boost. The language suffered a great loss when the Saraiki-speaking Hindus migrated to India during the Partition, and were replaced by the Muslim refugees from there. However, the majority of them lived in the cities and a very few in the Greater Cholistan. During the Partition, they moved to the safety of the neighboring Hindu states of Bikaner and Jaisalmar.
Arts and Crafts
In a harsh and barren land where rainfall is very sparse and unreliable, Cholistanis rely mainly on their livestock of sheep, goats, and camel. However, in cold nights of winter they huddle indoor and engage themselves in various arts and crafts such as textiles, weaving, leatherwork, and pottery.
As mentioned above, the Indus Valley has always been occupied by the wandering nomadic tribes, who are fond of isolated areas, as such areas allow them to lead life free of foreign intrusion, enabling them to establish their own individual and unique cultures. Cholistan till the era of Mughal rule had also been isolated from outside influence. During the rule of Mughal Emperor Akbar, it became a proper productive unit. The entire area was ruled by a host of kings who securely guarded their frontiers. The rulers were the great patrons of art, and the various crafts underwent a simultaneous and parallel development, influencing each other. Masons, stone carvers, artisans, artists, and designers started rebuilding the old cities and new sites, and with that flourished new courts, paintings, weaving, and pottery. The fields of architecture, sculpture, terra cotta, and pottery developed greatly in this phase.
The backbone of Cholistan economy is cattle breeding. It has the major importance for satisfying the area’s major needs for cottage industry as well as milk meat and fat. Because of the nomadic way of life the main wealth of the people are their cattle that are bred for sale, milked or shorn for their wool. Moreover, isolated as they were, they had to depend upon themselves for all their needs like food, clothing, and all the items of daily use. So all their crafts initially stemmed from necessity but later on they started exporting their goods to the other places as well. The estimated number of livestock in the desert areas is 1.6 million.
Cotton and wool products
Cholistan produces very superior type of carpet wool as compared to that produced in other parts of Pakistan. From this wool they knit beautiful carpets, rugs and other woolen items. This includes blankets, which is also a local necessity for the desert is not just a land of dust and heat, but winter nights here are very cold, usually below freezing points. Khes and pattu are also manufactured with wool or cotton. Khes is a form of blanket with a field of black white and pattu has a white ground base. Cholistanis now sell the wool for it brings maximum profit.
It may be mentioned that cotton textiles have always been a hallmark of craft of Indus valley civilization. Various kinds of khaddar-cloth are made for local consumption, and fine khaddar bedclothes and coarse lungies are woven here. A beautiful cloth called Sufi is also woven of silk and cotton, or with cotton wrap and silk wool. Gargas are made with numerous patterns and color, having complicated embroidery, mirror, and patchwork. Ajrak is another specialty of Cholistan. It is a special and delicate printing technique on both sides of the cloth in indigo blue and red patterns covering the base cloth. Cotton turbans and shawls are also made here. Chunri is another form of dopattas, having innumerable colors and patterns like dots, squares, and circles on it.
Camels are highly valued by the desert dwellers. Camels are not only useful for transportation and loading purposes, but its skin and wool are also quite worthwhile. Camel wool is spun and woven into beautiful woolen blankets known as falsies and into stylish and durable rugs. The camel’s leather is also utilized in making kuppies, goblets, and expensive lampshades.
Leatherwork is another important local cottage industry due to the large number of livestock here. Other than the products mentioned above, Khusa (shoes) is a specialty of this area. Cholistani khusas are very famous for the quality of workmanship, variety, and richness of designs especially when stitched and embroidered with golden or brightly colored threads.
The Cholistanis are fond of jewelry, especially gold jewelry. The chief ornaments made and worn by them are Nath (nose gay), Katmala (necklace) Kangan (bracelet), and Pazeb (anklets). Gold and silver bangles are also a product of Cholistan. The locals similarly work in enamel, producing enamel buttons, earrings, bangles, and rings.
Love for colors
The great desert though considered to be colorless and drab, is not wholly devoid of color. Its green portion plays the role of “color belt” especially after rains when vegetation growth is at its peak. Adding to that the locals always wear brightly colored clothes mostly consisting of brilliant reds, blazing oranges shocking pinks, and startling yellows and greens. Even the cloth trappings of their bullocks and camels are richly colored and highly textured.
Forests in Cholistan
There is a rain forest in Cholistan named “Dodhla Forest”.
Forts in Cholistan
- Derawar Fort
- Islamgarh Fort
- Mirgarh Fort
- Jamgarh Fort
- Mojgarh Fort
- Marot Fort
- Phoolra Fort
- Khangarh Fort
- Khairgarh Fort
- Nawankot Fort
- Bijnot Fort