It was Ramazan of 2003, and though it was October the sun was shining in all it’s glory over Pano Akil (Sukkur District). We were all packed in a bus ready to leave for Khairpur. I wasn’t really excited about the trip; for one, I had to give up on a school trip with my friends for it, and second, I didn’t really know enough about the city to be excited about the trip. My dad had given us a whole briefing on the city’s historical value and what a great learning experience it would be (he was the mastermind behind the trip for his entire brigade).
It’s an hour long drive from Pano Akil to Khairpur. I slept through the entire way and woke up when we made a stop at the Ghanta Ghar (Clock Tower) Rest House in the middle of the city to freshen up. I was still a little behind on the excitement part when my dad announced that our first stop would be the Kot Diji Fort. The very mention of the fort immediately got my attention. This is because as I developed my interest in reading, I also developed an interest in history (this too is courtesy of my father, who made sure I read enough history books and encyclopedias). I had remembered reading something about the fort in one of these books, and was now pretty psyched to see the place.
The Kot Diji Fort is a daunting monument, located just at the edge of the Nara-Rajhastan Desert, and truly is a sight to behold. The desert area around the fort is spotted with date palm trees. The only entrance to the fort is known as the Shahi Darwaza (Royal Door), and is a work of architectural genius. The door is studded with 234 iron spikes (I remember trying to count them all). These were placed in order to prevent enemy attacks, especially from armies that used elephants to knock down fort gates.
Credits: Punctilious Pakistan
Inside the fort you can clearly see the places for canon bolts atop the higher points of the fort (some are as tall as 30 feet on top of the 110-foot-tall hill on which the fort is built). Standing atop the fort, you can see the entire Khairpur District stretched out in front of you. It’s quite a sight, and you should definitely make it your first stop if you visit the city.
By the time we were finished exploring the entire fort, we had only a few hours left till iftar time. I was beginning to love the trip more and more as we made our way to our next stop, Faiz Mahal. Faiz Mahal is a beautifully constructed 16-room palace, and belongs to the royal Talpur family of Khairpur.
Credits: Tanwir Jogi
We were welcomed by the palace staff, as the prince himself was not in the country at the time. The staff showed us around and insisted that we stay for iftar. I decided to kill the remaining time by taking a stroll in the palace garden. The garden of Faiz Mahal is a delight to the eyes; with an assortment of different flowers and manicured lawns. Soon enough, it was time for iftar, and we were seated in the grand dining room of the palace where the table was filled with a variety of dishes ranging from pakoras to Shahi Tukre.
However, one thing really caught my eye: a dish laden with various varieties of dates. The royal cook had mentioned that these dates happened to be the pride of the Khairpur region, and are exported all over the world. Aseel Dates are larger in size than your average dates, and have a distinct taste, making it impossible not to love them.
As the sound of the azaan broke, I took a date to break my fast and I was astonished by the flavor. I had never tasted something so divine. The date was filled with a mixture of dried fruits including almonds, pistachios and walnuts. Other date varieties at the table included Dates Filled with Cream, a Date Chutney and the surprising Date Pickle.
I hardly remember eating anything else on that table – I was too busy devouring these little pieces of heaven. Mind you, I’m not really a huge fan of dates, but I was immediately obsessed with this delicacy and begged my dad to take me to the local bazaar to get more. The bazaar was filled with vendors dealing in all varieties of dates. You can easily get the dry fruit or cream-filled version, as well as the chutneys and pickles from here.
I had hoarded quite a lot of these by the time we made our way back to Pano Akil. This time I was wide awake and saw the date palm tree orchards on the roadside. Almost the entire length of the highway was scattered with these trees.
Khairpur is forever etched in my memory for it’s history, and I cannot help but crave for it’s dates as I write this. My love for these dates didn’t end there, however. Each Ramazan, a friend of my dad sends us all sorts of filled dates and date condiments straight from Khairpur. And as I take a bite of these delicacies, I am transported right back to Faiz Mahal, and the Ramazan of 2003.