Named after the Balochi chief that founded it, Dera Ismail Khan is home to Seraikis, Pathans, Balochis and Urdu speaking migrants.
Last Updated: 24 Feb. 2015
Dera Ismail Khan, popularly referred to as DI Khan, is situated on the west banks of the Indus River in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province. Located approximately 320 km northwest of Lahore, DI Khan is the capital of the district by the same name. Dera is a Seraiki word meaning settlement or abode hence Dera Ismail Khan means the abode or settlement of Ismail Khan.
As DI Khan is the last major town in southern KPK, many different groups of people reside here. The presence of Seraiki, Pathan and Balochi residents as well as Urdu speaking migrants has contributed to the diversity and richness of this town. While Seraiki is the dominant language, Pushto and Urdu are also spoken by a large segment of the population.
DI Khan is renowned for its handcrafted goods such as glass and ivory ware, lacquered woodwork, and lungis (sarongs). Industries in DI Khan include soap making, textiles, and oil milling.
The original town of DI Khan was founded in the late 15th or early 16th century by Sardar Ismail Khan Baloch, the son of Malik Shorab Khan. At that time, the area was under the dominion of Sultan Husain of Multan. Unable to protect his territories, Sultan Husain called upon the Baloch warrior Shorab Khan to protect the areas between the Indus and Sulaiman range; that area would later become known as the Derajat. Sohrab’s sons, Ismail Khan and Fateh Khan, founded two cities in the Derajat and named them after themselves: Dera Ismail Khan and Dera Fateh Khan. Another Balochi chief founded a third city nearby by the name of Dera Ghazi Khan. Thus the presence of these three deras gave the area the name Derajat! The original town of DI Khan was swept away by a flood in 1823 and rebuilt by Nawab Sher Muhammad Khan Sadozai in 1825, just a few miles west of the original site. Sadozai chose to keep the original name.
DI Khan was ruled for almost 300 years by the Hot Balochi tribe. In 1750, Ahmad Shah Durrani took the area from them. In 1794, the Durrani emperor gave DI Khan and its surrounding areas to a Pathan by the name of Nawab Muhammad Khan. His successor maintained their hold over DI Khan after having lost their territories east of the Indus to Ranjit Singh but paid a small tribute to the Sikhs. Eventually in 1836, the Sikhs took DI Khan, but allowed the Nawab to receive a small revenue from the land. In 1849, after the Sikhs final defeat by the British, the British annexed DI Khan along with Punjab. Sir Henry Durand, a Governor General of Punjab, is buried in a church here.
A Sikh holy temple or Gurudwara is found in the Chota Bazaar of DI Khan. It is said that Guru Nanek Devji visited DI Khan and his devotees built this gurudwara in the place where he stayed. Today this building is used as a government school.
Bilot Fort is the site of a number of pre-historic temples, located 48 km north of DI Khan near the town of Bilot Sharif. Situated upon a hill next to the Khurram Valley, Bilot Fort overlooks the Indus River. The ruins are more than a 1000 years old, possibly built by the Hindu Shahi kings who ruled over this area from the 8th to 10th century. In order to maintain their control these kings built forts at strategic sites and later added temples to satisfy the spiritual needs of the populace. Currently, the boundary walls of the fort have mainly disintegrated but the ruins of the temples are still visible.
Rehman Dheri is the site of an ancient town that existed before the Harappan Civilization. It is located 22 km north of DI Khan. People settled Rehman Dheri more than 4,000 years ago. They laid out the city in a rectangular shape and built streets in a grid like manner. A huge wall made of mud bricks used to once surround it. Today, only a mound remains of this once bustling city. As one of the earliest examples of urbanization in South Asia, it has been nominated to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.