I love to be surprised when I travel – the pleasant, unexpected moments that travellers encounter can't be beaten! Pakistan is one such country that often throws up such beautiful, serendipitous experiences; partly because of the hospitable culture, but also because so many people have such little expectation when it comes to Pakistan. For most outsiders (and a too many city-dwelling, non-travelling locals), Pakistan seems like a lawless place and devoid of meaningful history. But this is simply untrue – while "Pakistan" may be a relatively new nation state, the land on which its built is filled with the stories of various people past and present.
So for many foreign travellers, to come across something like Qila Rohtas (Rohtas Fort), just off the Grand Trunk Road between Lahore and Islamabad, must be nothing short of astounding. Here stands an expansive stone structure, crowning a hilltop in the rugged Potohar Plateau, with a story dating back to the 16th century!
Rohtas Fort was built by Sher Shah Suri, a warrior from the Pathan region which straddles the modern day Pakistan/Afghanistan border. In 1540, Shah Suri overthrew the Mughal emperor Humayun, and began a short-lived rule across northern India from the capital in Delhi. The Potohar tribes resisted his rule, so one year into his reign Shah Suri ordered a massive fort to be constructed on the Grand Trunk Road to crush any possible rebellion. However Suri never lived to see the fort completed; he passed away in 1545, four years before the final stone was laid.
The Suri dynasty only lasted 16 years in total; in 1556 Humayun was restored to the throne in Delhi, and as if to prove his distaste for Shah Suri, installed a Potohar tribe in Rohtas Fort to rule the local region. Nowadays the fort is open for all to see. The sheer size of it means that you can't get all the way around it without some hiking – it's more than five kilometres around, and many of the walls simply drop off into a valley seemingly miles below. The small museum at the site is well worth a visit, but the glory remains with the stunningly huge arches, towers and ramparts, still standing after all these years.