It was a typical, Monday morning as I forced myself to sip on the tasteless, instant coffee to stay awake.
Suddenly, an email popped up on my screen that changed everything (dramatic, I know – but it really did).
The college where I work was taking students on a trip as part of architect Zain Mustafa’s Cube Education initiative and Human Heritage Project. Many Pakistanis are unaware of our history and his edu-tours were planned for this purpose.
Located in the Jamshoro District of Sindh, Ranikot is approximately four hours away from Karachi. To be honest, I didn’t know much about it and had only heard of people going there on camping trips.
When I did my research, I quickly discovered that it was home to the LARGEST fort in the world! I couldn’t believe how less I knew about it, although it was so close to me. The fort, which stretches for 26 km, is thought to be older than the Great Wall of China and just within my midst.
With my excitement level building up, I instantly sent a text to my fellow TCK friend who I knew would be interested in an adventure.
She immediately replied and said, “I’m in, I’m in, I’m in!”. I smiled to myself and mentally started counting down the days.
It was an incredibly early start on Saturday morning. Only getting a few hours of sleep, I woke up at 4:30 AM and hurriedly took a shower and changed my clothes.
My backpack was already filled with all the essentials, including everything else (let’s just say, my entire home!).
I picked up my friend at 5:30 AM, who was already standing outside her gate in the darkness. She was just as pumped up about the trip as I was.
While we were driving to college, it felt as though we were on our way to the airport to catch an early morning flight!
Finally, we reached college and waited for a few more students to arrive before setting off on our four hour bus ride. It reminded me of my days at college and the excitement of going on a field trip!
The students were incredibly energetic and talkative, even at 6 AM. I think their energy was very contagious because my friend and I were both feeling the same way.
We made a pit stop for breakfast at Usmania Restaurant, a very dhaba style place. In my mind, I was thinking “There goes my diet down the drain!”.
We were served fresh, crispy parathay, omelettes that looked like pancakes, and amazing cups of dhoodh patti.
I had a few bites of the paratha dipped in my chai as my poor, sensitive TCK stomach isn’t accustomed to oily, spicy food here.
It was a chilly morning as we sat on the charpayes and talked about architecture and film; a truly authentic experience.
We hit the road again with the students annoying pop music blaring in the background on their portable red speaker.
It was a long journey, but I didn’t realize the time because of thankfully being in the company of my friend. We always had endless, thought provoking discussions about our life experiences.
Finally, we reached Ranikot and stopped in a very busy commercial area and were waiting for our police escorts who were fashionably late.
We weren’t going to the safest area, plus the added responsibility of taking college students to a remote location was an even bigger risk in Pakistan.
This was something completely new to me as I had always lived in peaceful, secure countries where I didn’t have to think twice about where I was going.
A little while later, two policemen got into our car and I saw a few police vans zooming past us. We literally had a VIP protocol, which many elite Pakistanis have in the city (just to make a statement – it has become a trend now).
The bumpy bus ride to the fort was quite a contrast to the smooth sailing National Highway we were cruising through four hours.
It wasn’t a road at all, in fact, only a dirt path leading towards the fort. We passed by the desert and mud brick houses with the rare sight of camels in the distance, which was reminiscent of long drives in Saudi Arabia.
I didn’t know what to expect when we were reaching the fort, but I was secretly praying that this trip would be worth it. I hoped it wouldn’t be anti-climatic.
Finally with a bated breath, I saw the fort in the distance. The driver parked the bus and we hurriedly scrambled out in anticipation.
The first thing that struck me was the ABSOLUTE SILENCE. I felt as though I had been pulled into a vacuum. My inner self couldn’t comprehend how quiet it was. Coming from one of the busiest cities in the world, Karachi, this was no surprise.
My friend reached down to study the unusual rocks that lined the dirt path. It felt as though we were in another realm.
It was so unusual that I will honestly never forget it.
Zain ushered us towards him to gather in a circle and instructed us to close our eyes for a mini-meditation before taking in the space.
We all readily obeyed and as I inhaled and exhaled, I was struck by the absolute peace. All the noise and chaos of my life magically withered away, just like that.
We imagined our purple balls of energy flowing through our bodies, engulfing us in a positive state of mind. In a low voice, Zain reminded us of the absolute sacredness of the space we were in. The untouched glory of the Ranikot fort, which was bigger than ourselves. It stood here for centuries and saw more than we ever will in our lifetime – it was even beyond human comprehension. We were nothing compared to the magnitude of this fort.
This was our heritage, we needed to start taking ownership of it. Not many people knew about the beauty of this fort and it was important to not commercialize it and create it into any other tourist spot.
We need to start becoming it and loving it for what it represents. Where have we all come from? This fort is us and we are it.
As we opened our eyes and started walking towards the fort, I couldn’t believe the great extent of it.
I couldn’t even see how far it stretched out, it was beyond my comprehension.
We climbed up the stairs and came to a landing where there was a large mat and board with a map already set up.
After settling in, I took in my surroundings. It felt unreal that I was in the midst of this 2,500 year old site.
There was a cool breeze as Zain began taking us into a journey of our past.
“Rani” (pronounced runny, not RANI as I thought), means water and “Kot” means the houses around it. The fort was believed to have been built by Indo-Scythians for the protection of their water supply.
Currently, the stream that was alive from an Indus tributary is now only a small river.
To add to this, it is very far from where the villagers live and quite low to reach since the water supply has become very limited.
This project Zain is involving the students with includes providing water supply to the villagers by building a tube well. Many NGOs had been approached for several months, but to no avail.
His talk reminded me of how much for granted we take our country and landmarks. This strong standing fort which had lived through unimaginable circumstances wasn’t even a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There were restoration projects underway, which are very tricky. The architects of the fort were very intelligent to have used materials such as sandstone and limestone.
I noticed white patches of cement, which was crisis management for the deteriorating parts of the fort.
We also met the guide of Ranikot fort, Gabol, who is a member of the indigenous community here. People before them lived the same way but the only difference is the way they eat, which isn’t organic anymore.
With the influx of mass production, they also have to go to local stores to buy their produce. With the water access also limited now, their health is deteriorating.
There were so many lessons to learn here. As we walked through the fort, I noticed how cool the stones were.
Oddly enough, some of them had even turned a strange shade of purplish blue which made me reminiscent of the purple ball of energy that I had imagined was circulating within me during our meditation session.
We explored the area with our maps and marked places where the mere 254 villagers lived, with their 45 jhonpris scattered in the midst of the fort.
The children of the community, with their watchful eyes and tattered clothes, observed us from a distance.
Their eyes were speaking to us in the form of thousands of words. They had seen life in ways we couldn’t even begin to imagine.
Will there ever be a spark and look of comfort and joy in their eyes?
If we don’t reach out to this destitute community, I doubt there ever will be.