Impressions of the city by the
of the city by the sea
Pakistan - a
country of which you think that you know so much, but in fact it is one of
the most mysterious countries that I have ever travelled to in my life. This
coming from a person who has
travelled all around Europe and has friends on all the continents of
the Earth. In the south of Pakistan, a country with so many controversies,
one of the largest cities in the world and the economical hub of the
country. This is the place where I work and l have lived for the past eight
months - Karachi. At first glance, the city appears to be a maize of houses,
streets and people. I met so many types of people that I keep on wondering
where the diversity ends. But also with a city this big come a lot of issues
like a high crime rate and political riots that make this amazing city
sometimes feel like a trap that would not let you get out of it alive.
As for a foreigner, life is
harder, especially if you are a woman in Pakistan. Karachi shows me
every single day a new face that I have not discovered yet. I do believe that
there are two main faces of this city that I encounter every day: one is the
mystery and beauty behind its architecture and visual effect that it has over
you. You see it at every corner
something so specific, from a rickshaw that is parked in front of a glass
building, to visiting Saddar and just sitting on the grass next to Frere
Hall. So much culture and so much history at every step. In some parts of the
city, you feel like time stopped and that for hundreds of years nothing has
changed and you have the chance to look into at a lost world.
The second face of Karachi that I have learnt
to accept is the culture side, the people that live in this city.
After eight months, I can say with certainty that Karachi is divided into
conservative and modern with regards to people's mentality.
I love the culture of Karachi, it is colourful, bright, sunny, happy
people that will do the impossible to survive and very rooted in their
religion. When I talk about conservative people and modern people, I talk
about different perception and different way of living and different
boundaries but somehow they live in a completely symbiotic world, each
accepting each other and making sure that everything works.
Personally, the most
difficult thing was to accept and adapt to the culture. As a girl brought up
in Europe you have a different education and a different kind of values and
rules than in Karachi. Here, everything is governed by clear rules and Dos
and Don’ts. For a foreigner everything is so fascinating and
you think that you don’t want to ever leave the place, that
everything is a fairy tale around you and that the people are the most
amazing around you. One of the most fascinating things that I have found in
the culture is the Pakistani love for food. There is a variety of good food
varying from very sweet like halwa puri to very spicy food like biryani. The
varieties of spices and their smell you can find at every corner of the
streets of Karachi as street vendors stay and sell their freshly cooked food.
The most amazing experience that I had with Pakistani food was when we had
breakfast at Boat Basin. It is really nice seeing families and different
groups of people gathering in the morning and having their tea and breakfast
in the outdoor restaurants. I remember that there was the best halwa puri
that I have had so far in my experience in Karachi.
Somehow the food culture reminds me a little of my own culture where
food is an important part of our culture and the way that we bond.
Being a foreigner in
Karachi is one of the most challenging experiences that I have lived so far.
It is dangerous but at the same time thrilling and filled with different
surprises and stories that during the past eight months of my life there have
been so many that I could easily write a book about it.
Karachi with all its faces
has taught me valuable lessons about life and ways to see life, and at the
end of the day, I can’t wait to get up the next morning and see what the
new day brings.
Erin Wiedmer is a
Canadian who loves to travel and learn the intimate details of other
cultures. She works on a philanthropic project to help Palestinian women
support their families.
The circumstances under
which we travelled to Karachi were perhaps unusual for most tourists.
In 2004, shortly after the death of my mother-in-law, a good friend of
ours from university decided to tie the knot, and after receiving the wedding
invitation, my husband and I figured that this would probably be a
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the ‘real’ Pakistan that we had
heard so much about.
The five days that we
stayed in Karachi were an exercise in contrasts producing sensory overload.
We were whisked past slums and half-built areas into areas of such opulence
that it was hard to imagine. The
dusty streets were full of the most lavish and extraordinarily coloured buses
that raced through the streets at night with highbeams constantly flashing.
The hustle and bustle of daily life would come to a standstill for prayers.
It was all a delightful and an exciting mix.
Of course, we felt like
royalty as we were taken under wing by the bridegroom’s family for many of
the numerous wedding events. Participating in the Mehndi ceremony was
wonderful. I felt as if I had entered into some secret society with various
members discussing the various merits of different brands, qualities, and
applications – comparisons abounded, and everyone had an opinion on which
technique should be used to have the longest lasting effect!
The pressure was on to be
properly attired for the various events and as Westerners, we were not
absolutely sure what we should wear. The
groom’s sister recommended a visit to Rizwan Beyg - it was the perfect
suggestion! A team of artists
– a term that I find most suitable – took measurements and suggested
colours and materials to design me one of the most beautiful sarees I have
ever seen and a shalwar kameez that to this day remains stunningly beautiful.
There was great trepidation on my part to wear a saree to such an important
occasion. I had visions of me tripping as I walked, and greeting people while
trying to hold my saree together. But all my worry was for naught, as the
clever assistant stitched up an ingenious clasp that perfectly replicated the
authentic folds of a saree without the burden of eventual mishap for the
unsuspecting neophyte! I was introduced to the myriad of fashions,
distinctions and statements one could make by the various dupatta placements.
I’m not sure what my dupatta said about me in the end, but I
entirely embraced the experience!
From the nikkah to the
valima were moments of total cultural immersion. We participated in moments
of tension just before the nikahnama (marriage contract) was signed, moments
of poignancy when the rukhsati took place, and of course, exuberance and
opulence during the wedding and valima. The colours were beautiful, and the
cuts of the lahengas and sarees exquisite – easily rivalling other
cultures’ formal dresses as the most beautiful that exists.
We had little time outside
of the wedding programme to allow for much sightseeing, but we greatly
enjoyed being introduced to Jamil Naqsh’s serene pigeon portraits. I
suppose part of the attraction came from having a different light shed on
what is an ordinary, everyday sight. What I took to be an ordinary building
facade when driving past burst to life when examined in detail. I realised
that many treasure troves existed hidden away from the uninitiated – such
as dark shops or simple market stalls exploding with fantastic textiles in
every colour imaginable – mystery and beauty abounding in mundane
circumstances, just waiting to be discovered by the passing eye.
Immersion into a culture
creates an environment of understanding and appreciation. I saw first-hand
the generosity and warmth of the Pakistani nation. I understood the
frustration and worry that the civil strife was causing to the everyday
people – the tension created by having opposing factions vying for power
and rangers waiting at major intersections to intercept the unimaginable.
In the end, it was clear that people from all walks of life were
trying to live the fullest, happiest lives possible in the circumstances in
which they found themselves much in the way that I myself was:
celebrating marriages and mourning deaths. For all our differences, we
were exactly the same.
It struck me that this is
the real Pakistan and the real Karachi - A place where extremes and paradoxes
coexist warranting closer inspection.
Anil Sthapit is the
director at GUTHI, a social voluntary organisation working for the integrated
community development of Nepal, since 2004. Sthapit has been engaged in
various water and sanitation projects.
I had an opportunity to
visit Karachi in the second week of January 2011 to participate the meeting
of the South Asian Network on Water Sanitation. My trip to Karachi was very
short, only three days but it was very impressive and pleasant. I landed in
Karachi late at night and it was midnight when I reached the hotel. It was
very surprising for me to find the market places remain open on the way to
the hotel and I wondered about a wedding party celebration at the hotel till
midnight. I was told by my Pakistani colleagues that Karachi is wide awakes
I had to spend my day in
the meetings and had free time only in the evening after eight o'clock. We
went for sightseeing and dinner in the evening. We walked around the parks
and sea beach.
I was very impressed to
visit the public parks and restaurants in Karachi city. I found that the
public parks in the city are huge, clean, maintained and beautiful. These
parks are managed and maintained. People came to parks for their leisure and
they kept and maintained the environment of parks too. There was also no
entrance fee for the parks to the ones I visited. People came to in large
number to the beaches too; there were many food stalls and gift stalls around
the sea beachs to serve the people.
We went for dinner after
the trip at around nine o'clock. We went to restaurants in the city centre
and on the highway too which were very huge. These restaurants served a
variety of non vegetarian food. It was very difficult to find the vegetarian
food on the menu. I found many local people in the restaurant. I assumed that
the residents of Karachi preferred to go out for their dinners.
When we travelled in the
city, we passed through wide and good roads. There are flyovers in the city
to manage the traffic. There are many multi-storey buildings along the road
sides. All these showed the prosperity of the city.
I found there was a fear of
terrorist activities in the minds of most people. People were facing trouble
in their mobility due to the terrorist activities. There were incidents of
terrorist attacks in Karachi and Sindh province during our visit. There was
also the assassinated of the governor of Punjab province due to a terrorist
attack. Unfortunately, we had to cancel our planned visit to Mithi due to the
violent demonstration against the governor's killing.
I was in a dilemma about
whether to go to Pakistan or not due to the fear of the terrorist activities.
Finally, I decided to go and came back with marvelous memories. Even though
it was a short trip, I accumulated sweet and pleasant memories from my
experience of Pakistan.
Shivendra Kumar Singh
Kumar is a prolific
contributor of different Indian newspapers since 1995 to 1999. Subsequently
with Zee News and now associated with Start News as a sports correspondent.
He has extensively travelled overseas to cover various events. Kumar has
pen-downed his memoirs on Pakistan published in ‘Bhartiya Gyanpeeth’ and
‘Yeh Jo Hai Pakistan’.
It was the year 2004 when
the Indian cricket team was in Pakistan after a hiatus of 14 years. After a
practice match in Lahore, the teams were playing each other in the first One
Day in Karachi. The city is said to be Pakistan’s Mumbai. We were at
Karachi National Stadium to cover the Indian team’s practice match.
Sachin Tendulkar was the
only player in the team to have played in Pakistan before 2004. It was at
this stadium in Karachi that Sachin also began his career. When he was about
to enter the field, I dashed towards him. As I came closer, I asked Sachin to
share the same experience. Before he could finish his answer the cops pulled
me back. I could see Sachin move towards the ground. I got into a debate with
the policemen but in vain. Security officials were highly alert; it was
justified too, as the matter was directly related to the security of the
players. Then came March 13, the first One Day against Pakistan. The National
stadium was packed. The last over remained and Pakistan needed nine runs to
win. Sourav handed over the ball to Ashish Nehra. India won that
The day after the match,
former Pakistan captain Zaheer Abbas invited us for a dinner at his place. On
our way back, we wanted to see the Karachi beach. Our taxi driver took us to
the beach. Until then I do not remember visiting a beach before even in
India. We took off our shoes and went inside the water as much as we could.
Night has descended but there was hustle and bustle by the seashore. The
hawkers and eatery stalls added to the colour. The couture and make-up was
indicative of the rich and affluent comprising the crowd. Karachi, a high
security city, has such colourful nights! That’s a story…In no time I
called my cameraman, we took some shots and bytes from the perspective of
cricket, security measures and the fast reaching waves of modernisation in
Karachi, and above all with a perspective of increasing the popularity of
Indian cricket stars in Pakistan. The Indian team visited after 14 years and
that too only stayed for a few hours in Karachi. That left people only
wanting more as they could not even catch a glimpse of their favourite stars.
Our story was ready. We wanted to experiment. We concluded the PtC with a
poetry: “Umre daraz maang kar laaye thay char din - do aarzoo mein kat gaye
do intezar mein”
I still remember that I did
not have much luggage while going to Pakistan, as the trip drew to a close
and I landed at Delhi airport I was full of baggage- Partly due to my
shopping and the fairly large number of gifts that I received from the people
in Pakistan. The love and emotions behind the gifts outweighed my urge to
refuse them. It would have been impolite too. The acts of gifting started in
Karachi only when a friend’s Abba gave me a shawl and trinket box saying
“Son keep this as a souvenir from us, we will always be in your
memories.” The box still occupies a place in my home and has been passed on
to next generation - my wife would keep her jewellery in it and now my
daughter keeps her anklet there.
I revisited Karachi in
2005, and the most beautiful memory was a rendezvous with the great cricketer
Hanif Mohammad. When we reached, the door was closed. I pressed the doorbell
and Hanif saheb emerged. We introduced ourselves, apologised for visiting
uninformed and earnestly requested for an interview. Meeting Hanif saheb was
like turning the leaves of Pakistan’s cricket history.
One would be surprised to know that of the first 100 Test matches
played by Pakistan, there was not even one in which a member of Hanif
saheb’s family was not a part. We started the interview. Instead of putting
forth questions to him, I humbly requested him to share anecdotes from his
life. Hanif saheb shared how in his childhood days his ammi and abba would
dress him like a girl: he would wear a frock and bangles too! I was an
attentive listener while he reminisced.
In 2006, I had an
opportunity to visit Karachi third time. Although the Indian team had lost
the test match in Karachi, Irfan Pathan marvelled at taking a hat trick in
the first over of the match. Later, the ties between India Pakistan soured. I
have a great memory of playing a match against Karachi journalists, we tried
our hands at cricket and the venue we chose was Mohamad Ali Shah Stadium.
Shah saheb is a cricket fanatic, to the extent of having a leased cricket
ground. He was a member of Karachi Cricket Association and also associated
with the Pakistan Cricket Board. We played at the ground though I injured my
finger trying to take a catch for which my colleagues still have a great
laugh together about it.
Karachi’s food was good,
a bit spicy and oily. But, once we were familiarise with the city we got the
food of our choice. I have a
strong desire to visit Pakistan with my family. To meet all those who gave me
so much love that if I have to speak on Pakistan and its people I would need
days to finish. Good or bad, I remember every moment spent in Pakistan. As a
journalist, the stories that I did I remember the backdrop of each one. I
recall the streets and roads… I remember Pakistan.
Emily Donahue works
as a News Director at KUT Austin, Texas. She was a part of a delegation of
U.S. journalists who visited Pakistan earlier this year on behalf of The
International Center for Journalists.
I arrived in Karachi –
one of the10 U.S. journalists on an exchange programme with the International
Center for Journalists – straight from the green and verdant city of
Lahore. Karachi was to be the last stop on what had turned out to be a
whirlwind tour of this fascinating country. One of the first things I noticed
about the city was the extraordinary light that falls softly over the
metropolis, bathing it in a warm, golden glow. The effect was breathtaking,
especially as it fell on Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Mausoleum.
The monument is an
extraordinary sight on its own – and I remember standing high on that hill,
with the gardens falling in geometric precision out below me and looking over
the vast, colorful city. It was so peaceful. Of course, as I descended from
that serene space into the city proper, the noise, sights, smells and sounds
hit me like a wall. Karachi is a vibrant, loud, hustling, bustling,
ancient-meets-modern financial and commercial hub.
Although I currently live
in the small city of Austin, Texas, I have lived in New York, Los Angeles,
London and other large, international cities. Nothing I had seen had prepared
me for the sheer mass of humanity or the layers of history I encountered in
Karachi. It seemed everywhere that I looked, there were elements of somewhere
else: from the port on the Arabia Sea to the modern commercial towers and the
Mohatta Palace, the city seems built on and over influences of the past.
“Of all the places
you’ll visit in Pakistan, Karachi is the best,” I heard from many people
as I prepared for the trip. Some had visited in the days before 9/11, when
the world was more open to Americans and Americans were more open to the
world. Some had worked there and said the citizens were extraordinarily warm
and friendly. And some were from Karachi, which was, simply, home. I found
that I did enjoy Karachi. From the camels on the beach to the markets inland,
I saw things I’d never seen except in photographs. Near the sea, I was
reminded of Los Angeles, with the beautiful homes and pacific gardens where
residents were insulated from the roar of the city and the stifling, choking
smog. In the centre, I saw such beautiful people, textiles, products and
architecture. At the port, we looked back from the water at a city draped in
lights to celebrate Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi. It seemed magical.
And yet on that night,
above all, we were advised to be exceedingly cautious, to avoid open crowds
and be wary of anyone who might be provoked by our very presence in that
place on that day. Another reminder that as beautiful and fascinating as this
city is -and as many of my fellow travelers have remarked - Karachi is, like
Pakistan itself, a place of stark opposites.
I remember thinking how
open the commercial centers seemed – so many different nationalities in one
place. But this is the city from which emanate frequent reports of sectarian
murders, kidnappings and brutality. We were met with warmth and extravagant
generosity, dined on fare and in venues that, in the U.S., would be far too
rich for most of us working journalists. We saw gleaming high rise ‘luxury
condos’ soaring over a canal clogged with garbage that was home to refugees
who eke out a living and raise families on its stinking piles of refuse. We
saw astonishing charity and commitment to helping those same people. It
seemed, on the surface at least; that Pakistan’s wealthy can be generous to
the unfortunate. And still, we were told repeatedly by Pakistanis, ours is a
feudal society. A society in which the wealthy and powerful protect their
wealth and power at all costs, costs which are borne most often by the
country’s poor. I do not know if this is true. My trip was too brief to see
more than the superficial. But I was struck by the stark contrast between the
haves and the have-nots, which was most evident in Karachi. Perhaps, as
Karachi came at the end of our visit, I was more attuned to some of the
realities of this country. Perhaps it was simply the city. With 20 million
people crammed into one place an observer is likely to witness more of
everything – the good, the bad and the ugly.
The food was amazing. One
of the highlights of the trip was an amazing voyage into the harbour on a
crab fishing boat. We floated out into the night looking back at the city
draped in lights. The crew fashioned a fabulous meal, with crab, potatoes and
other wonderful tasting delicacies. It was magical.
On our last day, we went to
an open market. I'm afraid I cannot remember where it was but it was one of
the only places open because of the holiday. It reminded me of the open
markets in London and New York and San Francisco, but dwarfed those in
comparison. A mass of humanity hustling, bustling and shoving. So many voices
talking at once, bargaining (oh the bargaining was so much fun!) and
bickering and grabbing. It was such a scene!
For me the shopping was one
of the best opportunities to meet people and talk to them. And yet people
here were indeed open, interested and friendly. It is a city like no other,
and one of the most wonderful I've ever visited.