Bala Hissar: The High Fort of Peshawar, Pakistan

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Bala Hissar: The High Fort of Peshawar, Pakistan

Bala Hissar is believed to be one of the most ancient places of the city Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. The term Bala Hissar is from Dari Persian, which means, “elevated or high fort”. The name was provided by the Afghan Pashtun King Timur Shah Durrani  who utilized the fort as the winter capital of the Afghan Durrani Empire, with the summer capital being in the city of Kabul. The Sikh empire who invaded Peshawar in the early nineteenth century named it Samir Garh in the year 1834 but the name didn’t become famous.

The Fort has been serving as the headquarters of the Frontier Corps since the year 1949. One wall of Fort Bala Hissar destroyed during the day of 27 October 2015 earthquake, but the wall has been rebuilt now.

Design

The fort stands on a large mound in the region of northwestern corner of Peshawar. Not long ago, the fort was utilized to be conspicuously away from the ancient city of Peshawar, but now the construction of latest buildings has covered gap between the ancient city and the fort. Although, the position of fort on a high mound offers a commanding and panoramic view of the city Peshawar and the whole Peshawar valley. On a clear day, one can observe the mountains surrounding the Peshawar valley and beyond. The place covered by the inner wall of the fort is over ten acres (40,000 m2) and the outer wall is over fifteen acres (61,000 m2). The height of the fort is over ninety feet (27 m) above the level of ground.

Background

Well-known historian Dr A.H. Dani in his book Peshawar-Historic City of Frontier writes that when Hiuen Tsang, a Chinese traveler, toured the city of Peshawar in the year 630 AD, he spoke of a “royal residence”.

He claims that Chinese word “Kung Shing” utilized for its importance and is described as fortified or walled section of the town in which the royal fort stood.

Hiuen Tsang then makes a separate demonstration of the city, which wasn’t fortified. This indicates that the royal residence made the nucleus of a Citadel, which must have been more secured by a moat.

Dr Dani further claims that a channel of ancient Bara River encircled by a high spot, which involves the Bala Hissar and Inder Shahr. The higher place could have been the citadel, which is the current Bala Hissar.

Peshawar has always been served as a great strategic city and its capturing and governing over it was of great significance for the invaders and kings.

“In the eleventh century AD, the Hindu ruler, Raja Jaipal of the Hindushahi era was beat in the vicinity of the city Peshawar and Mehmud Ghaznavi garrisoned the fort with his troops,” claims Dr Taj Ali. The British officials who toured the city of Peshawar in the nineteenth century highlighted that the fort utilized to be a royal residence of Afghan rulers, he further added.

The Bala Hissar has observed its construction and destruction by several conquerors, warriors, invaders and kings on numerous events. After the overthrow of emperor Humayun by the Afghan King Sher Shah Suri, the Afghans ruined the whole fort.

When Hamyun was living in it he chose to reconstruct it before proceeding to the city of Kabul. He wished to utilize the fort for his conquest of the state India at a later level. As his officials didn’t wish to stay back, Hamayun himself led the reconstruction of the fort, which was soon completed.

“The Afghan governors named it “Bala Hissar” a Persian name which means high fort while the Sikhs renamed and reconstructed it calling their fort “Sumergarh” in the year 1834 but the name did not become famous, states Dr Taj.

The fort was built on a mound with commanding scenery of the nearby area involving Shalimar gardens currently called as Jinnah Park towards its north. This offered more prominence and grandeur to the fort, he stated.

Sumergarh

In the early 19th century, the city of Peshawar was the summer capital of Kabul and the Bala Hissar the home of Afghan kings. The Sikhs battled and defeated the Kabul Barakzais in the War of Nowshera in early year of 1823. On conclusion of this war, battled on the right bank river Indus, the Sikhs chased and annoyed the retreating Afghans past Peshawar via the Khyber Pass.

The Sikhs followed this by the collapse of the Afghan Royal court and the Bala Hissar fort. In the month of December 1823, the British explorer William Moorcroft discovered the fort “a heap of garbage, and the mere utilization made of it by the rulers of the city Peshawar was as a quarry from whence to procure elements for dwellings of their own erection”.

Archival records indicate that soon after the invasion of Peshawar by the Sikhs in the year 1834, Hari Singh Nalwa started the reconstruction of the fort. The Sikhs termed their fort ‘Sumair Ghar’. The 1st Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev, had toured Mount Sumer during his travels.

Ranjit Singh was greatly happy when he toured the recently built fort for the first time on the day of 16 May 1835.

The British rebuilt the outer walls of the Bala Hissar after the annexation of the Kingdom of the Sikhs in the year 1849. This Sikh fort sustains to dominate Peshawar in the 21st century.

As a Tourism Point

The government of Tehreek-e-Insaf in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa took the step by claiming that the government needed to take the ancient Fort from Frontier Corps and turn it into a tourism point. For this mere reason, the KPK assembly approved a unanimous resolution on the day of 13 January 2014.

 

 

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