Kashmir fort defenceless in quake

Invaders over the centuries failed to bring down the walls of the Red Fort in the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, but the massive 8 October earthquake did so in seconds.

    Quake survivors pass debris of the Red Fort in Muzaffarabad

    The 500-year-old fort looks north over the entrance to the Neelum valley, set on a point of land in a kink in its river and commanding an ancient route from the high Himalayas to the lowlands.

    "Enemies always failed to undermine this fort, but we are helpless against nature," Mehmood ul Hasan, director of Pakistani Kashmir's information department, said as he surveyed the ruins of the devastated city's main historical site.

    The epicentre of the 7.6-magnitude earthquake was 10km (six miles) or so to the north. It killed more than 55,000 people in northern Pakistan, most in Kashmir.

    When the quake hit, many parts of the fort's thick walls of oval-shaped river stones and pinkish mortar crumbled, spilling out onto a main road along one of its sides.

    Six of its eight battlements and three ramparts have been destroyed, some debris tumbling into the Neelum river.

    No key needed

    The main gates to the heart of the fort are locked, and in the chaos after the earthquake, no one knows who has the key, but nimble visitors can scramble up a pile of collapsed wall stones, squeeze along a ledge and enter along a rampart.

    A caretaker surveys the damage
    to the Red Fort

    All of the fort's corners, where torches were once fixed to light it, have collapsed. What was once a stable, where more than 100 horses were kept, has been reduced to rubble where stray dogs roam.

    A signboard still hanging on a broken fence asks visitors to "Keep the Garden Clean", but survivors of the quake have ignored the plea and turned part of it into a latrine.

    Restoration

    But the authorities in Kashmir hope that one day the fort can be rebuilt, along with their city where 70% of buildings were destroyed and another 20% left uninhabitable.

    "It's our history, it's unfortunate that it also fell victim to the earthquake, like the rest of Muzaffarabad, but we will definitely seek international help to rebuild it," Hasan said.

    "It will be an uphill task because of the extent of the damage; but we will ask for international help and hope that the world community will hear us."

    Centuries of history

    Inside the fort, signs in Urdu and English tell its tale.

    The first people to build a fort on the site were the rulers of the Chuk people, a Persian tribe, in 1549, to check attacks from the Mughal rulers of India.

    Sultan Muzaffar Khan, the founder of Muzaffarabad, which was once known as Chakrhi Bahk, completed construction in 1646.

    Mughals, Afghans and Sikhs all controlled the fort over the centuries, but its importance as a defensive position waned.

    The fort was badly damaged by floods in the 1990s, and city authorities built barriers along the river to protect it from high water.

    Despite the damage, the people of Muzaffarabad are determined the fort, with its splendid views over the mountains and the snaking Neelum river, will survive, Hasan said.

    "We're hopeful that this landmark will remain."

    SOURCE: Reuters


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