Indulging in dates
Mandi Khan’s fruit orchard and Niaz’s fish farm -- perfect options for a beauteous evening
By Muhammad Saad Nawaz Qaisrani
Owning a date palm orchard where you could proceed on a lovely summer evening, sit in the comfy green lawns and pluck the choicest dates of the world and relish the moments as you slowly chew the sweet and succulent fruit enjoying the gentle evening breeze may sound real fun, but let me assure you, it isn’t so much. This is more so true if your orchard is in the initial stages of establishment.



What a city!

Many small cities and towns are indeed charming places, but experiencing la douceur de vivre of city, Paris, is something else

By Rumana Husain

Until the first theme parks were made in the early 1950s by Walt Disney, the 'form follows function’ concept of architecture in the cities got turned on its head, and 'imagineering’ instead of engineering became the key word. Las Vegas, Dubai, and Shanghai are three cities whose skylines and the streetscapes showcase the outlandish combinations of 'imagineering’. In Karachi too, the often outrageous fronts of 'shaadi halls’ in the North Nazimabad and Gulshan-e-Iqbal areas reflect this concept: outlandish gateways and structures that shimmer and dazzle at night, overwhelming the glitter and glamour of the guests invited there for weddings.

But big cities are much more interesting places than smaller ones as, in most cases, the collective impact of their architecture, culture and dynamism is incomparable. I may offend some readers by saying this, but I may be excused if you consider that I am a big city woman myself. Many small cities and towns are indeed charming places, but experiencing la douceur de vivre of another big city, Paris, this summer was something else!

Just as we once referred to Karachi as 'the city of lights’ (unfortunately a thing of the past), Paris is known as the City of Light. Our stay in Paris was the last leg of our trip to Europe which started in Amsterdam, continued in Rotterdam and Brussels before we reached the French capital. An event called 'Karachi, mega-city’, built around a book I have recently written, was held at De Waag, a building built in 1488 which used to be a weigh-house at one of Amsterdam’s city gates. This city of canals, though much smaller than the others I have quoted above is, I must confess, indeed a most charming place.

We carried the quaint sweetness of Amsterdam, the post-war modernness of Rotterdam, and the multi-personality disorder of Brussels with us as we arrived at the Gare du Nord, the Paris train station, on a smart and comfortable Thalys train.

It is said that all the roads of France begin at the Notre-Dame Cathedral. We also headed towards it on our very first outing. Dying to be at the romantic River Seine, next to the Notre-Dame, we browsed along the river, stopped at the street vendors selling photo-prints, posters, vintage books and even magnets and key-chains bearing the city’s landmarks. There, across the river, was the Notre-Dame in all its glory!

The longtime association of the Notre-Dame with Victor Hugo’s famous historical novel, the melodramatic Hunchback of Notre-Dame was perhaps a reason for my keenness to view it from up close. I was awe-struck, by its size and its magnificence. Hundreds of people were lined up for entry into the Cathedral. After walking around and taking in the majestic architecture adorned with sculpture -- the portals and the figures of saints and angels, the various monster-shaped gargoyles or water-spouts, the famous 'flying buttresses’, the tall and slender spire and the gigantic rose-window that lights the interior of the Cathedral, we too decided to queue up.

On entering, the enormity of the interior also overwhelms. The Cathedral is said to accommodate no less than 9000 people! As thousands of candles lit up the splendid interior, I recall sitting down on a pew, facing one of the fabulous stained glass rose windows, and praying for the wellbeing of our tortured country. The giant organ was playing, but there was otherwise a hushed and respectful silence. It seemed that all present were immersed in their own thoughts.

Over the next few days we visited most of the predictable places in this grand city. The Grand Louvre, which dates back to 1200, was originally built as a fortress for keeping the royal treasure and archives, and as a royal residence. The exciting history of the building of the Louvre itself is displayed in an interesting manner in one of the wings. This aspect, of a museum displaying its own history, is perhaps unique.

The Louvre houses a vast collection of Oriental, Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities as well as paintings encompassing every European school from the 13th century to 1848, and sculpture from the Medieval, Renaissance and Modern times. Milling around from wing to wing and room to room, viewing the priceless artworks and artifacts, taking pictures or sharing a picture-shot with the Mona Lisa was, of course, a breathtaking experience.

The Musée d’ Orsay, a former train station tastefully converted into a museum, showcases more than 4000 paintings and sculpture from 1850 to the early twentieth century. It features works by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masters such as Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir, Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Seurat, Gauguin, Rousseau and Toulouse-Lautrec. This museum has become one of Paris’s most popular destinations.

Speaking of Toulouse-Lautrec, the Moulin Rouge and café women paintings reminds me about the outdoor café and pub culture of Europe, which gives the streets such a festive air during the summer. Hoards of tourists mingle with the locals. There is romance in the air -- the fragrance of blooming flowers, and the music -- sometimes live music by street musicians, and also dancing in the streets by carefree men and women! The hundreds of cafés and pubs that spill out onto the broad footpaths are an integral part of the urban landscape, with people sitting around from morning to midnight eating, drinking, reading, chatting, slandering, laughing, daydreaming or simply watching the world go by...

The Beaubourg, also known as the George Pompidou Centre, is the third museum in the series, and displays contemporary art. This daring and novel building which opened in 1977 radiates a distinctly high-tech look even today. Designed by architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, it contains exhibition galleries, a library, a music research centre and cinemas. It was a treat to browse through creatively designed and exquisitely crafted items in the gift shop inside the large hall at the ground level.

This building, obviously futuristic even today is, according to my architect husband, an 'inside-out structure’. Its glass and metal construction reveals and boldly displays all that is normally hidden in other buildings: the service ducts and plumbing, the inside of the lift shafts, the machinery of the moving escalators and walkways. Expressed on the exterior in bright colours and identified for their various functions, these ducts and pipes are a unique feature of the building… another feat of imagineering, albeit based on a philosophy of truthfulness and transparency in the real sense of the word!

After being on our feet for over four hours, we sat on its sixth floor restaurant. The relative quiet and sophisticated white environment of the café was accentuated with tall clear-glass vases, each containing a single red rose, symmetrically placed on every table. It was like a composition by Mondrian. The cafe also offers a great view of Paris all around. The Grande Arche in the high-rise office district of La Défense, the magnificent Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, a white church that sits on a hilltop in the Montmartre area which was the centre of artistic life in Paris, could be seen to the north. The engineering feat that is the most recognized symbol of Paris, nay France itself -- the Eiffel Tower -- was visible to the west. Although its original purpose was to act as an observation tower and look out at the city in awe and wonderment, the Eiffel Tower, while continuing to serve the intended purpose, has itself become a spectacle and a wonder. Still seated, one also caught sight of the evocative Parisian rooftops and could not help uttering 'What a city!’



Indulging in dates

Mandi Khan’s fruit orchard and Niaz’s fish farm -- perfect options for a beauteous evening

By Muhammad Saad Nawaz Qaisrani

Owning a date palm orchard where you could proceed on a lovely summer evening, sit in the comfy green lawns and pluck the choicest dates of the world and relish the moments as you slowly chew the sweet and succulent fruit enjoying the gentle evening breeze may sound real fun, but let me assure you, it isn’t so much. This is more so true if your orchard is in the initial stages of establishment.

A tension that accompanies any fledgling orchard is the anxiety to know what your fruit would taste like. Both me and my father have always been quite eager to know what kind of fruits our newly established date orchard would produce when it matures. Luckily, this is easy to be assessed and can be done by visiting orchards that are already producing dates of the same varieties. As July is date season, a trip to some date orchard was pretty much in the books when I went to Tibbi Qaisrani, but at what cost, I couldn’t say.

I get to be back in my village only about once in two months. When there, having fun with cousins is the real attraction, and if they turn out to be ones I’m seeing for the first time in my life (there are many such yet to be discovered!), it only gets better. This time too I was having a ball with some new found cousins when all of a sudden my father dropped a bombshell.

"Should we visit Mandi Khan’s orchard in Layyah today?" A seemingly harmless inquiry, it concealed a verdict. We would be going there.

Despite all my furtive efforts to somehow postpone or abandon the trip by offering alternatives, father was determined to get through with the date tasting business. And so, I was driving the car to Layyah, only 20 kilometers afar in a straight line but ironically worth three hours of driving, thanks to the fact that the closest bridge to cross the Indus River lies as far south as Muzaffargarh (Taunsa Barrage). I was however hoping to be able to get through with this date tasting business soon and get back with cousins, whom I was sure were equally eager in continuing the ball and thus would wait for my return.

Our hosts in Layyah were two gentlemen; one an ex-banker and a former classmate of my father’s (Niaz Shahid) and the other a Pashto-less Durrani Pakhtun (Mandi Khan). After the rendezvous with both, we made a beeline for Mandi Khan’s date orchard.

After spending quite a while on crooked roads as they made their way to the riverain belt along the Indus River, finally near Kazmi Chowk, came the orchard. The orchard, we were practically closer to Karor Lal Eisan than Layyah itself. So much for seeing an orchard in Layyah!

Time at the orchard was flying by. The orchard was not as much of a date grove as it was a mixed fruit farm, but the setting was quite close to perfection. Date trees lined the driveway and branches of timeless Chaunsa Mango trees draped across the garden while little pomegranate, apricot, guava and plumb bushes seemed to be battling each other for the only way up. Just adjacent was a beautiful little guesthouse, next to which were running about moorhens and waterhens in a reedy swamp. In effect, it was possibly the perfect place to spend a delightful evening; where one could cherish nature’s little treasures of the eye and the taste both. Here Mandi Khan treated us with something his bloodline had not lost; traditional Pakhtun hospitality. Brought forth were loads of Chaunsa Mangos, Basra Dates, Layyah’s fabulous own produced Grapes, milkshakes and a list of fruits that were or were not grown in this little dream spot.

However, unlike Mandi Khan’s mixed fruit farm, this one was dedicated exclusively to date trees. And so it was here that we had our first tastes of Halawi, Khadrawy, Zahidi and Shamran dates. All of these dates are Iraqi by origin and were introduced into Pakistan by our much despised British masters in the early 1900s (Yes, they did good things as well). Of these, by far the king was Halawi, seconded only by Khadrawy. These two dates can with ease make it to the list of the best dates produced in the world in general and Pakistan in particular.

After having stuffed our stomachs with enough dates so as to leave no space for any kind of a lunch, we again made it for the car. As I made for the driver’s seat, my father came and took over. For me, this meant there was more touring to be had, and it shattered my hopes of finally getting back home.

I was beginning to feel the heat when I overheard that the last stop was to be at Niaz’s fish farm on the outskirts of Layyah city.

Like Mandi Khan’s fruit farm, this was set to be an exemplary farmhouse for the whole family to spend out quality time together. A lake was set about some 20 feet below the surface with three small hillocks and one large one in between; in fact more so islands set in the middle of the lake than hillocks. The large one housed a complete setup for family residence in case one wished to stay over. A bridgeway was created to duly cross over the lake to reach the house compound.

Not only was the setting immensely captivating but the lake was also overstuffed with fish such as Rahu and Mahseer. Niaz disclosed that he intended to create an angling club for interested anglers who could have a catch of their own by paying some fee. It seemed quite a novel idea , but considering it was Layyah, I had doubts about the interest people would show. There was an abundance of fruit trees, though one element was lacking dates.

Talking of the perfect setting for a beauteous evening, these were wondrous options that I had seen on this single day. What would be more mind-blowing the Mandi Khan’s fruit orchard and Niaz’s Lake cum orchard. And guess what, when I got back from Layyah on that day, which happened to be a couple of hours before dusk, the cousins were all gone.

Postscript: My father’s decision to visit Layyah’s orchards on this July day proved right. Mandi Khan’s orchard, otherwise six miles away from the main Indus River, was inundated by more than six feet of water by the time the 'next time’ had arrived, i.e. two weeks later.

|Home|Daily Jang|The News|Sales & Advt|Contact Us|