Ranikot Fort is the world’s main and biggest fort with a circumference of about 29 km or 18 miles. Since 1993, it has been on the list of unsure UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
It is situated in the Kirthar Range, about 30 km southwest of Sann, in Jamshoro District, Sindh, Pakistan. It is approximately 90 km north of Hyderabad. Fort Ranikot is located in Lakki Mountains of the Kirthar choice on the right side of the mighty River Indus at a distance of about 30 kilometers from the present day town of Sann. A mountainous ridge, Karo Takkar(Black Hill), running north to south, forms its western boundary and the ‘Lundi Hills’ forms its eastern boundary. Mohan Nai, a rain-stream enters the fort from its rarely used western ‘Mohan Gate’, where it is guarded by a small fortification, changes its name to ‘Reni’ or ‘Rani Nai’ or rain-stream and gives the fort its name. Ranikot is thus the ‘fort of a rain stream’ – Rani. It runs through it, tumbles in a string of turquoise pools to irrigate fields and leaves the fort from its most used ‘Sann Gate’ on the eastern side. It then movements about 33 kilometers more to enter the Lion River – Indus.
Most of the twenty kilometers long wall is made of natural cliffs and barricades of mountainous rocks which at places rise as high as two thousand feet above sea level! Only about 8.25 km portions of its wall are man-made, built with yellow sandstone. This was first measured on foot by Badar Abro along with local direct Sadiq Gabol. As one enters the fort, one can find hills, valleys, streams, ditches, ponds, pools, fossils, building structure, bastions, watchtowers, ammunition depots, fortresses – all inside Ranikot, adding more to its beauty and mystery. A spring budding from an underground water source near the Mohan Gate is named as ‘Parryen jo Tarr’ (the spring of fairies).
According to a saga told by the local inhabitants, fairies come from far and wide on the Ponam Nights (full moon) to take bath at this spring near ‘Karo Jabal’! Splashing sounds of water falling on the rocks can be heard at another spring, Waggun jo Tarr or “the Crocodile Spring”, named so as crocodiles once lived there.
Within Ranikot, there are two more fortresses – Meeri and Shergarh, both have 5 bastions each. Meerikot takes its name from the word ‘Mir’ meaning top (for instance the peak of a hill, chief of any Baloch tribe, etc.). Both the main Ranikot and the inner Meerikot have similar entrances – bowed, angulated with a safe tortuous path. “The bridge in front of Ranikot resembles to a smaller bridge in front of a fortress in Verona, Italy” writes Ishtiaq Ansari, the writer of ‘Sindh ja koat aaein qillaa’ (Forts and Fortresses of Sindh) and a affiliate of Sindh Exploration and Adventure Society. From the military point of view, Meerikot is located at a very safe and central place in the very heart of the Ranikot with inhabited arrangements including a water-well.
Beside the Mohan Gate and the Sann Gate, there are two more gates, rather pseudo gates. One is towards the side of ancient town of Amri. This ‘gate’ is called the ‘Amri Gate’. Certainly it takes its name from the prehistoric ruins of Amri, but it must have taken this name much later than the times of Amri as the fort itself doesn’t appears to be as old as the Amri itself. In statement there is a bridge over rain stream ‘Toming Dhoro’ exiting from the fort called ‘Budhi Mori’. The breach in fort wall due to the river stream has been referred as a gate. Similarly, the Shahpir Gate to the south also appears to be a pseudo gate taking its name from a limestone rock with a rough shape of foot imprinted on it. The sacred footprint supposedly belongs to Hazrat Ali or some other religious personality and is venerated by locals. It seems to be a later breach in the fort wall instead of a formal gate because one can’t find any defender or watchtower or their remains at the site, needed to guard any proper entrance or exit points.
A mosque found in the fort appears to be a later alteration of a watch tower or a later construction. Scattered animal skeletons and prehistoric fossils can be found on the top of Lundi Hills. One of the three graveyards has about four hundred graves made of Chowkundi like sandstone with engraved motifs of sunflowers and peacocks. Whether we can call them as thermophilic and phytomorphic motifs is an open question. Another one appears to be a graveyard of Arabs. The third one, about a mile away from the Sann Gate, had sixteen or seventeen graves earlier but now there are only four graves. The local inhabitants call it the Roman’s graveyard.
Who constructed it first and why? Is an riddle yet to be resolved by researchers. Some archaeologists attribute it to Arabs, possibly built by a Persian decent under the Abbasids by Imran Bin Musa Barmaki who was the Governor of Sindh in 836 CE. Others have not compulsory a much earlier period of construction attributing to at times the Sassanians Persians and at times to the Greeks. Despite the fact that a prehistoric site of Amri is nearby, there is no trace of any old city within the fort and the there structure has little evidence of prehistoric origins.
Archaeologists point to 17th century CE as its time of first construction but now Sindh archaeologists agree that some of the present structure was reconstructed by Mir Karam Ali Khan Talpur and his brother Mir Murad Ali in 1812 CE at a cost of 1.2 million rupees (Sind Gazetteer, 677).