Karachi is a place of vast distances, unexpected traffic jams and people who have things to do and places to go. It was the weekend and the plan was to spend it with an old friend who now resides in Karachi. Amir Jamil is a valued friend and it was a pleasure to spend two wonderful days with him and his fine family.
We spent Saturday evening at the PAF museum. It is a vast, open-air museum which was opened to the general public in October, 1997.
Amid the green lawns, different aircraft including, F-86 Sabre, F-104 Starfighter, Mirage, FT-6, F-6, T-33, U-Mig15, MFI-17 (Mushshak), Aero Commander, Antonov An-12, Beech D-95A (Travel Air), T-6G (Harvard), Huskie (Helicopter), etc and other Air Defence equipment have been displayed. A huge archives gallery houses the other rare relics like the Viking, Quaid-e-Azam’s aircraft, an Indian Gnat aircraft which was forced to land at Pasroor in the 1965 war and many more.
There are four sub-galleries inside; one depicts the history of aerial warfare through model aircraft and paintings while the other one shows different fighter aircraft models of the world. Two galleries are dedicated to the martyrs and heroes of 1965 & 1971 wars. There are two open galleries: one shows the achievements of different squadrons while the other one shows the achievements / history of PAF Bases through rare photographs and the reprints of paintings.
The ambience here was extremely festive. Families thronged the open air museum with children running around and groups of picnickers, sitting beneath huge aircraft, devouvering biryani. There were brightly lit stalls, rides and amusements and every now and then you could hear an announcement on the PA system informing of a lost or found child. I was impressed with the way the museum was being managed. In spite of thousands of visitors, everything was being looked after well; from parking to cleanliness. The weather was extremely pleasant with a cool sea breeze heralding a balmy night and we spent an enjoyable evening taking in the sights and sounds.
As we left the PAF museum, it was around 9 pm and our stomachs were rumbling. We were told that we were going to ‘Do Darya’ for dinner and it being the weekend, if we were lucky enough to get in a restaurant, we could hope for something to eat!
Do Darya is a well known dining spot of Karachi these days. It’s probably the only food street of its kind in Pakistan with many restaurants clustering at the edge of the sea and it seems you are suspended over the sea, making up a spectacular setting to dine.
The place was crowded and we were exceptionally lucky to be seated within 15 minutes. We had a magnificent sea food dinner at ‘Charcoal Grill’. The breeze, cool and heavy from the salt, the sound of waves lapping below us and the gleaming, twinkling lights from ships and the harbor made the evening all the more enchanting. During the course of the meal we were charmed to see a flight of albatrosses fly overhead, their white wings gleaming ethereally in the moonlight. Large sea fish surfaced below us, looking for tidbits from the diners.
Feeling rather stuffed we headed back home. Amir’s brother is getting married soon and so the atmosphere at home was lively and festive. As we were getting ready to go to bed at about 2 am, we realized that Altaf Bhai had given a call for a strike tomorrow and so petrol pumps would be closed. So at 3 am we were prowling the roads of Karachi for an open petrol pump to get our tanks filled!
We had planned to go to Paradise Point the next day and that is what we did but before that we dropped off Asad at the Beach Luxury Hotel where he was to help out with the orientation of the new UWC selectees.
Paradise Point, on the Arabian Sea is a sandstone rock promontory with a natural arch, which used to be an iconic site associated with Karachi but the now the arch has been eroded by the waves. The Karachi Nuclear Power Plant is also located near Paradise point.
It was a Sunday and a hot one, so thousands of people were thronging to the seaside. The road to Hawke’s Bay and Paradise point was filled with motorbikes, lorries and cars filled with merry-makers of all shapes, sizes and genders. All along the road you could see stalls selling plastic chappals and Bermuda shorts.
Eventually we reached our destination. The first sight of the beach was amusingly breath taking and instead of describing it, I will let a picture speak a thousand words. The atmosphere was feel-good, fraternal and easygoing…how it must have been at Woodstock!
There were groups of young men playing ball while whole families sat in the water waiting for a big wave to splash over and dislodge them and taking great pleasure in the whole process. A lot could be said about the non-existent safety measures but our countrymen are beyond such trivialities anyway!
Some enterprising entrepreneurs had created small, shady hut like places from straw and bamboo which they rented out for the day as there was precious little shade in the area otherwise. You could rent out a makeshift hut for Rs 500 or so per day depending on your haggling prowess and the demand that day.
After taking in enough sun for the day we headed toward Kemari, crossing Liyari. We stopped on the Netty Jetty bridge.
The modern Port of Karachi began to take shape in 1854, when the main navigation channel was dredged and a mole or causeway was constructed to link the main harbour with the rest of the city, over the China Creek.
This was followed by construction of Manora breakwater, Keamari Groyne, the Napier Mole Bridge and the Native Jetty Bridge. The construction of the wharves started in 1882, and by 1914 the East Wharf and the Napier Mole Boat Wharf were complete while 1927 and 1944, the West Wharf and the ship-repair berths were constructed between 1927 and 1944.
People gather at the Netty Jetty bridge here in the late afternoon and feed dough to the fish in the water below and offal to the Black Kites in the sky.
The Kites are huge ones and quite vicious in their eagerness to feed. They swoop down, eyes set on the tidbit in your hand, waiting for the moment you throw it and they expertly pluck in from the air. I came to know that, for some, the ritual of feeding kites holds religious significance as they do it to fulfill a pledge…a compensation for a wish realized…whatever the reason, the kites and the fish are the true beneficiaries in the end. I also learned that the bridge had become a favourite haunt of people wishing to end their life. Many of these jumped to a watery death in the murky waters below before the government boarded up the bridge with metal sheets. Few remain and while feeding the kites is apparently illegal, no one seemed to care till a young Pathan, feed vendor noticed a camera in my hand and shouted at me not to spoil their livelihood. Apparently, he thought I was a reporter!
We stopped over at the Head Offices of ICI Pakistan Ltd for a short break and to freshen up and the next stop was Kemari.
Kiamari is one of the oldest areas of Karachi thought to be over 300 years old. Kiamari Town is the main coastal town of Karachi on Hawke’s Bay, comprising the western parts of the city, including the Port of Karachi with an extensive coastline of sandy beaches, small islands and mangrove forests.
The waterfront has a life and an atmosphere of its own. The air from the sea is heavy with salt and the light stench of fish, living and dead. The boat people and fishermen have their own particular aura and character. We hired a launch to take us to Manora. It was a busy day at the port with a lot of visitors and so the haggling began at Rs 5000 and ended at Rs 3000.
It was a treat to be out at the open sea. The age, power and depth of the sea stir up strange feelings of awe mixed with fear and dread. The fishermen are mostly Makranis and live in Liyari. The sea is a way of life for them and they are more at home in water than on land.
Manora is a small peninsula (2.5 km²) located just south of the Port of Karachi, It is connected to the mainland by a 12 kilometer long causeway called Sandspit. According to historians, this area of Karachi, then called ‘Morontabara Island’ was the place where Alexander camped to prepare a fleet for Babylon after his campaign in the Indus valley.
The island of Manora has served for more than 50 years as the main base of the Pakistan Navy, with berths for naval vessels located along the eastern edge of the island. The island has the status of a military cantonment despite being located so close to Karachi.
Our enterprising boatmen, one of whom was just a boy of 14 but an experienced sailor, told us that his elder brother had been imprisoned in Oman for the last 20 years, after he crossed over in their territory while on a fishing expedition. He seemed less worried about his imprisonment and more proud of the fact that he had spotted him in a news report on TV recently!
On coming back to the shore and moving toward our car, I spotted a roadside stall frying fresh sea fish. The fish was silver pomfret and it was being fried whole, after being dipped in a batter.
Though as a rule I steer clear of any dubious eateries while traveling, and this was dubious enough but we gave in to the hunger the trip on the sea had ignited.
Suffice to say that it was the best fried fish I had ever eaten. The accompanying chatni and paper thin chapattis made on a tawa made it a wonderful meal and we thoroughly enjoyed the ambience of the place, to boot.
We spent the next day meeting some friends. Saima had contacted an old, school friend and she spent the day with her while I met some well-loved old students. The next day we visited some well known shopping areas like the Dolmen Mall. My old school friend, Dr Tauqir Irtaza, was kind enough to invite us to Hi Tea at the Marriot and we spent a very pleasant afternoon catching up and filling up.
We all agreed that a trip to Karachi would not be complete without paying a visit to the Quaid’s mazaar. Completed in the 1960s, the Quaid’s amazaar is an iconic symbol of Karachi throughout the world. The Mausoleum building was designed by famous architect Yahya Merchant. It is made of white marble with curved Moorish arches and copper grills. Though the mausoleum has many gates, only one is opened for public and visitors were flocking to it. I was informed at the gate that I could not take my camera inside. The strangely oxymoronic instruction was that I could take pictures but not take my camera inside! The atmosphere here too was festive and children ran here and there enjoying the spacious vastness of the place.
The time of our visit coincided with the daily changing of the guards and so we too witnessed the simple ceremony. There is a museum under the mausoleum which exhibits personal memorabilia of the quaid and one thing is certain, the quaid was a man of expensive tastes! The ticket checker at the museum gate asked us not to take any pictures inside and there were many notices on the walls with the same instruction. Soon we were incensed to see everyone talking pictures and even making movies. When my son complained to the bored-looking in-charge, he said what could he do and that we were welcome to take pictures too. Sadly, such blatant disregard of rules has resulted in a mindset that disrespects rules as a norm.
This was our last day in Karachi and as we filled our ice-box with victuals for the homeward journey we couldn’t help but feel sad at parting from our loving hosts. A scrumptious farewell dinner at ‘BBQ tonight’ officially marked the end of our trip.
We left Karachi early the next morning with one passenger less as Asad was staying on till 24th.
We planned to reach Ghot Machi by sunset where we were to stay at the FFC Guest House. I had planned it such so that we could meet two old friends who are nowadays working at the FFC school there. It was a joy to spend time with Raja Ishaq, Iqbal Khokhar and their fine families. Both are wonderful humans and extremely talented artists.
We left early the next morning with the objective to reach home by sunset. This could not be achieved because we decided to make a detour to Bahawalpur to see the Nawab’s Mahal over there.
The construction of Noor palace was undertaken by Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan the fourth, who was also known as the Shan Jahan of Bahawalpur because of his passion for constructing beautiful buildings. Mr. Heennan, an Englishman who was the state engineer at that time, designed the building. The foundation of Noor Palace was laid in 1872 and most of the palace’s materials and furniture were imported from England and Italy. The construction of the palace was completed in 1875 at a cost of Rs. 1.2 million. Noor Palace covers an area of 44,600 square feet and has 32 rooms including 14 in the basement, 6 verandas and 5 domes.
According to legend, Nawab Sadiq IV had the palace made for his wife. However, she was only there for one night, as she happened to see the adjoining graveyard from her balcony, and refused to spend another night there.
In 1956, when Bahawalpur State was merged into Pakistan, the building was taken over by the Auqaf department. The palace was leased to the army in 1971; in 1997 the army purchased it for the sum of 119 million.
The building was declared a “protected monument” in September 2001 by the Department of Archaeology.
Army jawans were selling a Rs 20 ticket per head for entry and a Rs 200 souvenir mug, sitting in the shade of a tree. They asked me not to take pictures but relented when they learned of my army connections!
We had a near uneventful homeward journey. We bypassed Multan and drove thorough the cotton and chili fields of Khanewal.
We took the Chiniot Road from Faisalabad; not a very good decision as the distance was less but the road and driving conditions made it longer. We emerged onto the Motorway at Pindi Bhattian and managed to reach Khewra by 11 pm.
So this was an account of our journey. I guess we were just lucky that we did not face any mobile-snatching, target killing or any other law and order situation, though most karachites we met had at the very least faced a mobile snatching situation.
For any who would like to take a road trip to Karachi…go ahead, you will enjoy it but keep the following in mind:
- Good weather will make the journey more enjoyable so March / November should be a good time.
- Two drivers make it more comfortable and less stressful. I was alone and it’s a long day!
- Keep foodstuff with you. Take along an ice-box. Do not depend on getting food on the road.
- Keep to the main highways. Do not take side roads to cut distances.
- If the weather is hot, monitor the tyre pressure constantly and quite obviously see that the car is road worthy before you start.
- Use the day light effectively. Start the journey early, but after a good night’s rest. Try your best not to travel after sunset.