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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History


With an ancient past stretching back almost 4000 years, Bahawalpur was also once a princely state. Numerous palaces and forts found in the district still reflect its ancient glory.


The city of Bahawalpur lies about 5 km south of Sutlej River and just east of the Cholistan Desert. It is the capital of and largest city in Bahawalpur District. Its population as of 2011 was estimated at more than 800,000 and currently it is Pakistan’s 12th largest city. Bahawalpur is situated almost 100 km southeast of Multan. Seraiki is the most widely spoken language in Bahawalpur.

Bahawalpur   Google Maps
Bahawalpur location
(Google Maps)

The Sutlej River forms the northwestern border of Bahawalpur District and this makes the western portion of the district fertile and cultivable. Bahawalpur City lies within this fertile river valley. The district also contains the Cholistan Desert, locally known as Rohi, on its eastern border. In fact, majority of the district is desert area where the dried up Hakra River once ran through. Between the desert area and the river valley is a stretch of dry land known as the Pat, which is irrigated by canals.

Many of Punjab’s major fruits and vegetables, such as cotton, wheat, gram, sugarcane and mangoes, are grown in the fertile area of Bahawalpur. Industry including cotton ginning and pressing factories, flour and sugar mills and even soap making factories are present in Bahawalpur City.


Although Bahawalpur City was founded only a few hundred years ago, the district itself has been inhabited since the time of the Indus Valley Civilization. It is believed that the dried up Hakra River is the ancient Saraswati River mentioned in the Rig Veda of the Aryans. The remains of over 400 settlements along the Hakra have been found, indicating that while the Hakra flowed, numerous people made their homes by its banks about 4,000 years ago. As the river dried up, the land became a desert and many abandoned their homes to seek greener areas.

Over time this district, or parts of it, were claimed by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, and later the Mauryans under Ashoka. The Rai dynasty of Sindh maintained control until the Arabs in 6th century AD arrived in the subcontinent. The Arabs, under the Ummayads,set up an entire network of trade along the Indus. But it was largely the Sufis of the 12th and 13th centuries who are responsible for spreading Islam through this region. One of the most famous Sufi poets of this region was Khawaja Ghulam Farid who made the Rohi his home in the late 1800s.Mahmud of Ghazni, and later the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals ruled over this area.

Bahawalpur 3
Bahawalpur state coins
(Chiefa Coins)

In the early 1700s, the Abbasis, who were descendants of the Sindhi Daudpota tribe, began to take over the areas that are today known as the districts of Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, and Rahim Yar Khan. These areas were formally established as the princely state of Bahawalpur in the mid 1700s and a mint established in 1802, by Nawab Mohammad Bahawal Khan II at the break-up of the Durrani Empire.

Bahawalpur 4
Farid Gate
(Native Pakistan)

Bahawalpur City, its capital, was founded by Nawab Bahawal Khan I in 1748. He built a mud wall around the existing villa of Muhammad Panah Khan Ghumrani and built a town inside which he named Bahawalpur after himself. A canal was dug to provide water for the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. This new town was only 4.8 km in circumference and was encircled by a road. Beyond that, numerous gardens surrounded the city, which had 7 gates leading out: Shikarpuri, Bohar, Bikaneri, Ahmadpuri, Derawari, Mori and Multani gates. Bikaneri gate was renamed Farid gate after Khawaja Ghulam Farid and it is the only one still standing today.

Bahawalpur   Map 2
Bahawalpur State under the British
(Imperial Gazetteer)
Nwab Sadeq
Nawab Sadeq
(Government of Bahawalpur)

In 1830, Ranjit Singh sent a large force to capture Bahawalpur State. The then Nawab sought help from the British and in return Bahawalpur State became a British protectorate. While the Nawab had control of internal matters, the British were given control of all external affairs of the Bahawalpur State. The Nawabs cooperated fully with the British during the 1st and 2nd Afghan wars by providing troops and supplies.

During Partition, all princely states were given a choice to either join Pakistan or India. Nawab Sadeq Mohammad Khan V, a close friend of Quaid-i-Azam, signed an agreement on 5 October 1947 to join Pakistan. In fact Bahawalpur was the first princely state to accede to Pakistan. It secured Pakistan’s eastern border with India and ensured the flow of water from Sutlej and Indus Rivers into Pakistan. The Nawab provided an honorary guard for Quaid-i-Azam upon his inauguration as Governor General of Pakistan. Even afterwards the Nawab continued to support the newly founded state by giving 70 million rupees to the government and supported the salaries of all government departments for one month from the Bahawalpur treasury!


Noor Mahal

Bahawalpur City is well known for its numerous mahals or palaces, some of which are well maintained and many that have deteriorated. Noor Mahal is a palace in Bahawalpur that was built in 1872 by Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan IV for his wife. According to legend his wife saw a graveyard from the balcony on the first night and refused to live in the palace. Thus it was reserved for official functions only. In 1997, the Pakistani army purchased it and in 2001 the Government of Pakistan declared it a protected monument.

Other palaces include Darbar Mahal, which is a fort that resembles the older Mughal forts. Sadiq Ghar Mahal took 10 years to build and is considered to be one of the most beautiful palaces in Bahawalpur with lush green grounds that enhance its beauty. Other important palaces include Gulzar Mahal, Nishat Mahal and Farrukh Mahal.

Derawar Fort

Dewara Fort
Derawar Fort
(Jens Grubert)

The Derawar Fort is an ancient fort that spreads out for miles in the Cholistan Desert. It is located approximately 97 km south of Bahawalpur City. The fort contains 40 bastions; its walls have a circumference of 1500 meters and a height of 30 meters. It was initially built by Rai Jajja Bhatti, who was a Hindu Rajput from nearby Jaiselmer, a city now in Rajasthan India. It remained in the possession of the royal family of Jaiselmer for centuries. In 1733 the Abassi Nawabs of Bahawalpur captured the fortress and completely rebuilt the fort to what it appears today. In the 18th century over 12,000 people lived inside the walls of this fort. A mosque and mausoleum were later added by the Nawabs. Today it still remains the property of the Abbasi family.

Lal Suhanra National Park

The Lal Suhanra National Park is located in Cholistan Desert of Bahawalpur District, approximately 35 km from Bahawalpur City. In addition to being a national park, it also serves as an environmental reserve. Lal Suhanra is spread out over 153,000 acres of land, which includes desert, forest and wetlands. Many different wild animals are found in this park, such as wildcats, snakes, lizards, lions, antelopes, deer and rhinoceros. Over 160 different types of bird make their home here. The Blackbuck antelopes were nearly extinct in their natural habitat, the Cholistan Desert, before efforts were made to conserve this species in Lal Suhanra Park.

Find out more

Books & Articles

Adkins, Michael. “Bahawalpur, Princely State of India (1833 – 1947).” Dead Country Stamps and Banknotes.

Meyer, William Steven. “History.” Imperial Gazetteer of India. Vol. 6. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908-1931. Digital South Asia Library.

Tariq, Ali. “Bahawalpur.” Historypak.

“Lal Suhanra National Park.” Travel-culture.


Abbasi, A. M. “In Memoriam: The Last Ruler of Bahawalpur.” Dawn. 29 May 2011.

Syed, Madeeha. “Derawar Fort – Living to Tell the Tale.” Dawn. 20 June 2011.