The Cholistan desert; is also known as Rohi by local people. It is derived from the Turkish word Chol means desert. It is located thirty kilometres away from Bahawalpur in the province of Punjab. It stretches over an area of 26,300 square kilometres. It also extends to the Thar Desert, which connects Sindh with India. The dwellers of Cholistan live a nomadic or semi-nomadic life; they travel from one place to another and stay for longer periods at a place where they find resources to pasture their animals. The culture of Cholistan is vibrant and colourful. Men like to wear bright turbans, and women wear bright clothes with very discreet embroidery. The major source of livelihood revolves around cattle breeding and business related to it. In winter, the cattle population decreases, and inhabitants switch to other sources to earn income, such as cloth weaving, pottery, and leatherwork. The pottery industry is the forte of Cholistan due to its rich soil, like pitchers, glasses, piyalas, and surahies. Nonetheless, Cholistan is famous for the production of high-quality carpets. Other textile products are also made in this area, such as Kaddar. Besides this, the desert comprises various tourist attractions such as Derawar fort, camel caravan route, camel safari, etc.
Tourist Potentials of Cholistan Desert
The Derawar Fort is considered one of the major landmarks of Cholistan and is located 48 kilometres from Dera Nawab Sahib. Once, the whole area around the fort was well watered from Ghaggar River (now called as Hakra River). After 1960 a new agreement was signed, and water from the sutlej was diverted to India. This dried area of the river consists of over 400 archaeological sites, and its history dated back to the Indus Civilisation 4500 years ago. The fort is considered among Pakistan’s top forts and attracts foreign tourists because it is part of the world’s oldest civilisation. The white marble mosque in front of the fort was constructed for Nawab’s personal holy man, Pir Ghulam Farid.
Home to 47 Ancient Forts
Moj Garh Fort
Moj Garh Fort is located 70 kilometres from Bahawalnagar beside the Yazman-Fort Abbas Road in Thandi Khoi. The historic structure was erected by Emperor Maroof Khan Kehrani in 1743 AD. It was built using solid bricks and mud. It was decorated with glazed tiles and is surrounded by a single dome which stands 400 yards south of the fort. Its interior and exterior walls are prominent, and only 50% of the relics are left. Moreover, the road leading to this fort is damaged and weary, which creates a hassle for the tourist.
It is located 68 miles awry from Bahawalpur in Tehsil Fort Abbas, District Bahawal Nagar, in the heart of the Cholistan desert. The area in which said the fort is located was once an imminent commercial town which was situated on the bank of the river Saraswati and also called Hakra.
It is located 114 kilometres east of Bahawalpur, 36 km from Fort Abbas city and 9 km from Fort Abbas and 9km from Fort Mirgarh within Cholistan. This fort is made of beautiful bricks, most of which are still in their original shape. It was built by Jam Khan Marofani in 1788. The fort is square in shape and spans 114 feet on all sides. Its walls are 28 feet high, and there is a round bridge crossing the four corners. To the east of the fort is a 9-foot dome-shaped gate. The outer part of the fort is wide. It is in slightly better condition, and only 30% of the buildings have collapsed. External and internal structures are conspicuous, and the remaining parts can be restored.
The Cholistan Desert is home to 47 forts, most of which are dying and need the government’s urgent attention to restore them. Protecting these forts will create great opportunities for the tourism sector to grow in the region.
Camel Caravan Route and Camping
A chain of forts was built at a distance of 29 km from the Cholistan Desert. This route leads toward guard posts for the camel caravan routes, including three rows of these forts. The first line of forts started from Phulra and ended in Lera, the second from Rukhanpur to Islamgarh, and the third from Bilcaner to Khaploo. Due to negligence, these forts are ruined now. This path is ideal for camel riding as well. Cholistan desert is also famous for its Camel Safari. Moreover, Camel rides around the desert, giving mind-blowing experiences and glimpses of nomadic life. Camping in the desert is a distinct adventure. Stary sightings and having dinners in the desert gives tourists immense pleasure and a memorable experience.
Historical City of Uch
From Derawar fort, drive out of the desert to the historic city of Uch, and tourists will enjoy local lifestyles and rural landscapes. When tourists reach Uch Sharif they will enjoy the most beautiful tombs with blue glazed tile- reflecting a distinct influence of Central Asian architecture. During the 13th century, it was the centre of Islamic learning, and many famous scholars and saints lie buried in this small town. Visit the spectacular tomb of Bibi Jawindi with its beautiful glazed tile decorations and the tomb of Jalal-uddin Surkh and explore the colourful covered bazaars before proceeding to Multan.
Shrine of Bibi Jawindi
Bibi Jawindi’s shrine is one of the five monuments in Uch Sharif and is cited in the list of UNESCO. An Iranian prince built this shrine in 1493. This shrine was built in the spirit of the historical sufi premier Bibi Jawindi of the Suhrawardiyyah order. Built of glazed bricks on an octagonal base with turrets on each of its eight corners, it is known as one of the most ornate monuments in Uch Sharif. The inside and outside of the shrine are enriched with Islamic scriptures, carved timber, and bright blue and glazed white mosaic tiles.
Cholistan Jeep Rally
The Jeep Rally was organised to promote tourism and national integration among the citizens. It is one of the most thrilling adventures of Cholistan and an off-road race called the Cholistan Jeep Rally. The Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) introduced this in 2005. Every year this event happens in February in the vicinity of Derawar Fort in the eastern side District of Ahmedpur. The TDCP arranges the event in which around 100 people participate from the whole country and avail a great opportunity to expose their talent on such a huge platform set by over 100,000 visitors.
This year several countries will participate, including Norway, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, UAE, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Bahrain, Jordan and other Gulf countries, will participate in the rally. Its track will cover Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan and Bahawalnagar. This rally will impart a soft image of Pakistan, and tourists will learn more about Pakistan’s tourism potential and archaeology.
This rally offers a complete cultural event covering various forts, such as Derawar, Mojhgarh, Dingarh, Meerut, Khangarh, Bhajnot, Majgarh and Jamgarh, where tourists can go and be mesmerised by the cultural heritage of the city. Moreover, it provides overnight camping stays to tourists with bonfires, local food festivals, camel rides, Sufi nights, etc.
Why does Government need to Promote Desert Tourism?
Travel and tourism have a deep affiliation with allied industries and boost the country’s economy. It helps increase foreign direct investment, trade, private investment, local development, and public infrastructure. Pakistan has rich potential because of its vibrant culture, history and geographical and natural biodiversity. Among different kinds of tourism, desert tourism has hidden potential for the country to nurture its economy. It will attract people who seek adventures and thrill.
The desert of Pakistan is full of historical landmarks which tell the tails of bygone eras. The government and private sector should work together to protect and highlight these landmarks by enacting measures to educate and attract local and international tourists. The concerned authorities should make efforts to increase tourism by arranging desert sports such as rallies, horse and camel races, and sand surfing. Desert activities like surfing and camping are some of the activities that will play a significant role. The empty wasteful land has the ability to generate money and create seasonal jobs.
The tourist attraction in the Cholistan desert can boost revenue for the country. It has various tourist destinations apart from jeep rallies such as Derawar fort, camel caravan route, camel safari, etc. The well-performing tourism industry will attract foreign investors and tourists, which will help boost the overall economy and create job opportunities in this sector.