Out of the many loves that engulf my life, there is one that keeps flickering no matter how strong the winds blow, that is my love for Karachi. This city, no matter what the Western media says, is magical in its own dusty, humid and wonderfully sunny way.
Not only was this the first capital of the newly formed country of Pakistan in 1947, today it is the financial hub of the country, where 18 million people live – partaking in the hustle and bustle the megacity offers in all its forms – from great food to brilliant art, and some of the most beautiful scenes the Arabian Sea has to offer.
Many of you have heard of Pakistan, but Karachi, perhaps not. Karachi is located at the southern tip of the country, serving as the country’s primary sea-port. When you enter this city, the first thing that will catch your attention on the roads are the hand-painted busses that jingle their way past you. This is the main form of public transportation. However the roads will also offer you bizzarre scenes; such as the one depicted above where a donkey cart pulls a rickshaw on its way to the workshop for repairs.
Now let’s begin our tour. Let us begin with some landmarks, as these can many atimes be overlooked unless some event is taking place. One of the most beautiful buildings in Karachi is Frere Hall, not only does it host one of my very favourite book fairs but it is also home to the Sadequain Gallery. The name Sadequain is a household name in Paksitan and in fact many art lovers seek out pieces by the artist, however his work remains hidden from the Western mainstream media. Fun fact: it was Sadequain that illustrated Albert Camus’ The Stranger, a fact not many Europeans are aware of. Surrounded by lush gardens, the Hall provides an oasis of tranquility in the midst of the hustle and bustle.
Another landmark and tourist magnet is the Quaid-e-Azam (Urdu for Father of the Nation) Masoleum, where the
founder of Paksitan rests. A trip to the memorial is only complete with a trip to Guru Mandir’s food corner, known for its hunter-beef burgers from Hanifa’s. You drive up right infront of the street restaurant and place your order. To slurp it all down, the desert and cherry on top is the shareefa shake (sugar apple milkshake) that the neighbouring restaurant has on offer.
My other favourite place, that I visit almost every time I am in the city, is the wonderful museum of Mohatta Palace. As a centre of art it hosts exhibitions for a span of two years, ensuring there is always something new taking place; this is over and above the supernatural hauntings that have become part of the urban legends surrounding the city.
A little well-kept secret (even from the locals) is a secret underground tunnel that leads from the Palace to a nearby Hindu Temple, (1km away)!
Let’s pause the landmarks. Let me describe the food scene. Being a foodie, a Karachi experience is incomplete without having performed the food pilgrimage. The one thing I long for the most, when not there, are the 3 am drives down to Boat Basin where we sit on the charpoys, leaning down on gao takkias (bolster pillows) while facing the lake awaiting our orders of halwa puri – all while sipping hot sweet chai (milk tea with cardemum). The halwa puri arrives! This sweet manna together with small fried breads are typically served with a potato and chickpea curry. It will knock you out, but that’s what a true late night out is meant for.
Then there are the infamously delicious chicken rolls. Signature to Karachi, they consist of a paratha (flatbread made with butter) stuffed with marinated pieces of meat or chicken, fresh off the skewers where they’ve been grilling. This is topped with whatever you want – mint chutney, garlic mayo, or simple cheddar cheese. The place to go – Khaddah market (in Clifton Cantonment area). These are the street foods that are a must. If you fancy to spend a little more (by Paksitani standards) then head over to BBQ Tonight. A landmark in its own right, you will find people from near and far; families, couples, locals, tourists – all in search for the same quest: the best grilled and barbequed food town has to offer. The good part: there are two outlets, one in Clifton and one in Malir Cantonement.
The one place that combines the food, the landmark status and just the right amount of crazy has to be the Itewaar Bazaar (Sunday Bazaar). Her you will find everything ranging from books, jewellry, household items and never-ending stalls of beautiful cloth. The market takes place, (you guessed it) every Sunday. For people that enjoy markets, this is definitely one that needs to be visited; the market under the sun, where you walk on sand while browsing through prospective goods. Another market, that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves, is the Empress Market. Unlike the Itewaar Bazaar, it is both indoors and outdoors. Food, shoes, spices, toys, all in the heaploads. The building itself was erected in the 1800s and is one of the legacies of the British Raj.
Zainab Market – this is the one everyone talks about and the place you want to be (for household items as well as clothing). The local khussas can be found in all designs and patterns (picture to the left). You will have a tough time deciding. Be warned, you have to be good at bargaining. This applies to all markets. The vendors can spot a newbie a mile away. So, my best advice, either take a local bargaining master with you, or just stand your ground.
This bargaining skill can also come handy when at the beach, encountering the horse/camel vendors offering a ride. There are lots of beaches to choose from; Clifton Beach, Hawke’s Bay beach (where you can view the hawks bay turtle lay their eggs and then wander back into the sea), the French Beach and many more. If you have the energy, hop onto one of the camels, it always makes me laugh.
I think this is a good start to pique the curiosity of a wandering soul. Another little fun fact: a roughly 2 hour plane ride from Karachi, you will find the ruins of one of the oldest civilizations of the world – the Indus Valley Civilization of Mohenjo Daro.
Tips: more food: Mr. Burger (Clifton Cantonement), Chatkharay (Khadda Market, Defence Housing Authority Phase V) And because it deserves it, do pay a visit to the Karachi Port Area , after all this is what drives the country’s financial hub. And finally, Zamzama is where ice-cream is served up like art installations – frozen yoghurt meets Karachi.