A new project engages locals to ensure conservation and preservation of Rohtas Fort
Rohtas Fort was built in the 16th Century at a strategic site in the Punjab. It is an exceptional example of early Muslim military architecture in the Central and South Asia. The main fortifications of this 70-hectare garrison consist of massive masonry walls, more than four kilometres in circumference, lined with 68 bastions and 12 gateways at strategic points. The building and defence of the fort had great influence on the development of architectural style in the Mughal Empire.
The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) included Rohtas in 1997 in its list of world heritage sites. Rohtas Fort is one of the longest used military bases from the 16th Century till the times of Durranis and Sikhs of the 19th Century. The fort is located approximately 110 kilometres south-east of Islamabad, 220 kilometres north-west of Lahore, 23 kilometres north-west of Jhelum city and eight kilometers south of Dina from the Grand Trunk Road. Travel time by road from Islamabad is two hours and four hours from Lahore.
Over time, the encroachments in and outside the fort have not only degraded the site but have also affected the image of this historical fort. There is an immediate need to maintain and protect Rohtas as it adds a monumental reflection to the history of the country. There is a whole village inside the fort. This compromises safety and security of this monument.
Recently, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Pakistan and the Sustainable Tourism Foundation-Pakistan (STFP) – a private sector organisation working on healthy tourism and conservation - have joined hands to engage the local community especially school-going youth, in the efforts for the conservation and preservation of this world heritage site with the support of Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. Under this initiative, local youths are being trained in safeguarding their cultural heritage by developing a community-based sustainable archaeological tourism programme for the Rohtas Fort.
The project is also developing liaison with concerned government departments such as the Directorate of Archaeology, Tourism Development Corporation of the Punjab, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation and other stakeholders from the private sector to develop a sustainable archaeology. Training workshops for the local women have been held at Rohtas Fort to establish a heritage handicrafts enterprise.
Under the new initiative, local youths are being trained in safeguarding their cultural heritage by developing a community-based sustainable archaeological tourism programme for Rohtas Fort.
This group of local women now works as a community-based enterprise called Rohtas Heritage Crafts. Their handmade products are now available for sale online on the website www.visitrohtasfort.com. These products are souvenirs that attract tourists and include embroidered cushion covers, handbags, wall hangings and traditional dress frames etc. Replica coins are also on sale at the fort.
With the support of UNESCO Pakistan, training workshops have also been organised for the local tour guides at Rohtas Fort to establish a tour guides enterprise. This group works to conduct different sightseeing tours of Rohtas Fort and other tourists in the surrounding areas of Rohtas Fort.
Aftab Rana, who heads the STF, says that all over the world there is now an increased recognition of the need to involve local communities in the conservation and preservation of their cultural and natural heritage. In Pakistan, he says, there is now a growing awareness that the future of Pakistan’s remaining heritage will largely depend on the decisions and actions of the young people who will soon become leaders and decision-makers.
UNESCO Pakistan and the STF also enjoy the support of Jhelum district government and the Punjab Archaeology Department. With their support, they have recently organised a two-days training workshop focusing on engaging the community and school-going youth in safeguarding cultural heritage in the area around Rohtas Fort. This group works to conduct different sightseeing tours of Rohtas Fort and other tourists in the surrounding areas of Rohtas Fort, which will create employment opportunities for them as well.
Some of the monumental sites in the fort are Mann Singh Haveli, Rani Mahal, Royal Baoli (step well), Garrison Baoli, Royal Mosque, Langarkhana, Phansi Ghaat, Chand Wali shrine, Sohail Khan shrine and some Hindu temples. The sites near the fort include the Tomb of Kherunisa, Tilla Jogian, Ramkot Fort, Mangla Dam, the Alexander-Porus battlefield, Lehri Nature Park, Rasul Barrage, Khewra Salt Mines, Kallar Kahar, Ketas, Rawat Fort, Mankiala Stupa, Gurdwara Choa Sahib and the shrine of Mian Muhammad Bakhsh. The local youths are also taught about the significance of these sites as this increases their reach as tourist guides.
According to Rana, with this aspect in view, “lectures, presentations, group work, field survey etc were conducted by resource persons on the topic of heritage conservation, community engagement in heritage protection and heritage entrepreneurship”, to develop a sense of responsibility among local community to play an active role in the protection and conservation of cultural heritage. As a follow up of this training, trained teachers will organise awareness raising sessions at their schools to educate their students about heritage conservation. “This will help them understand the value of Rohtas Fort and other cultural heritage, enabling them to develop positive social behaviours to actively contribute to the protection of cultural and natural heritage of their community.”
The author is a staff reporter and can be reached at email@example.com