Photography: Hammal Salaar
Balochistan is little known to outsiders about its ancient history, cultural heritage and how it had one of the oldest settlements in the world. As historians and archaeologists argue, Mehrgarh was the precursor of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
It has all types of landscapes - ranging from sea to deserts and barren mountains. Not more than 6km northwest of Turbat city on the right bank of the Kech river, with its magnificent landscape lies the awe-inspiring Miri Fort, the second oldest settlement after the Neolithic site of Mehrgarh in Balochistan. The fort is in a small village of Turbat, known as Miri.
The literature tells us that this fort can be dated back to 6000 B.C. Throughout its history, various tribal kings have ruled Miri Fort, with the "Hoth" tribe being the first to reign for nine generations. Subsequently, it passed into the hands of Mirs in Kulaanch (a village near Gwadar, the port city of Balochistan) and then the Gichki tribe.
Miri Fort is known as the Sassi-Punnu Fort for being associated with the timeless love story of Sassi and Punnu. Mir Punnu Khan, the son of Mir Aalii, was the son of Mir Jalal Khan, the ruler of Balochistan in the 12th century. Punnu, the area prince, falls in love with Sassi, the daughter of the Raja Bhambore of Sindh. Their love remains a tragic romance that is popular in Sindh and Balochistan to date. Miri Fort holds a significant position in the world of archaeology.
Many national and international archaeologists excavated the area. Most of the surveys and excavations were carried out by the French Mission Roland Besenval. The researchers suggest that the site was encroached from 6000 B.C. to the Islamic Era. The surveys have found ceramics with characteristics more similar to those found in the Iranian Plateau than those found in the other parts of Pakistan.
Ceramics like Miri have also been found within the Bampur valley. The Kerman and Miri wares allocations appear to display that in the first half of the 4th century B.C., the two major ceramic traditions governed the south-eastern regions of the Iranian Plateau, the production and distribution of Kerman wares occurred in the areas of Kerman and the Bampur valley.
These areas were well-known for their roles in creating and dispersing Kerman wares. The potteries were coloured brownish, light red, and gray wares, of different shapes and identical adornments. Wide globular jars and bowls in thicker glass, decorated with paints and ridges, were of excellent quality and were discovered in Miri Fort.
Archaeologists have also discovered sea-shell objects and fish bones at Miri Fort, indicating that the people there either imported or exchanged food with the seafood from Oman. Archaeological artifacts on the site’s surface reveal that they have been inhabited for years. The remnants of the fort indicate that it was once a thriving hub of social and possibly strategic activities. According to local accounts, although now in ruins, the fort’s massive wall was once splendid.
The absolute negligence led it to rapid deterioration over the past century. The fort underwent construction and reconstruction multiple times under different rulers, with the latest renovations focused on fortification and defense. The heightened walls and castle heights, reaching up to 125 feet, are a testament to the emphasis on security.
As per the written literature, the fort was 80 feet high and consisted of four floors; the ground floor had 200 rooms and accommodated the army; the first floor was for offices and policy making, the second floor for storage of groceries and weapons, and the last floor was the king’s residence. According to local myths, a fascinating story comes about the construction of Miri Fort.
The King of Miri Fort had many workers. He ordered them to transport stones from Koh-e-Murad, which was approximately 25 kilometres away from the site. The tale narrates how these stones were passed one by one from Koh-e-Murad to Miri, leading to the fort’s eventual construction. Furthermore, in the centuries leading up to the creation of the princely state of Makran, Miri Fort was ruled by the Mirs, and it later fell under the governance of the Khan of Kalat —becoming a key garrison for the defence of Makran.
The western portion was used as a garrison, while the eastern part fell under the control of Gichki rulers, allying. There is a 300-yard length between the southern and northern flanks of the fort. The castle’s base, now in ruins, stands approximately 30 feet above ground level, which indicates that it was constructed on an elevated mound. At their maximum elevation of 130 feet, they were strategically designed for archers into castles and epic gatherings.
The Inner Fort, the oldest part of the castle, currently lies in debris, concealing thousands of years of the world's buried antiques awaiting further exploration. The lower elevation of the inner fort, the standing part of the castle, and standing around 50 feet above the debris, suggest a construction of solid clay and mud bricks.
Years of erosion have necessitated occasional repairs by the ruling class, utilizing rough stones to prevent the further decay of the lower portion, the construction integrates both mud, rocks, and stone, particularly in the upper walls and towers; a technique also observed in the later castle of the Nawabs during the Makran period.
Miri Fort’s historical significance, architectural elements, and the legendary romance of Sassi and Punnu continue to capture the imagination of those who encounter its ruins with its layered past and glimpses of the region’s rich history. The fort stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Balochistan.