Mar 25, 2012

Karachi - The City of Lights

By Fizza Ali

From Kolachi, a fishing village, to Karachi, this cosmopolitan mega-city is the undisputed heart of the country’s economy, being the financial and commercial centre for the nation. Spread over an ever-expanding area of 3500 sq km, it hosts more than 18 million people, making it one of the largest cities in the world. Given its size and economic importance, it is not surprising that people from all over Pakistan come here to make a future. If you want to make it anywhere, the saying goes, you have to head for Karachi.

From ethnic Sindhis, Punjabis, Pathans and Balochis to Mohajirs and Afghan refugees, Karachi is home to all, including significant Hindu, Christian and Parsi minorities. Dominated by Urdu-speaking Mohajirs who settled here when it was the newly-found country’s capital, it hosts mostly the middle-class stratum of society. Given this diversity, it is inevitable for the city to have a reputation for civil unrest and communal violence. This constant danger coupled with insane traffic, frequent power cuts, overstretched infrastructure and, to top that, sweltering heat will make for a very challenging stay. And perhaps this is what lends charm to the life, buzz and colours of this fast-paced city.

Karachi brings together all that Pakistan is known for: different cultures and traditions, crowded markets, heartbreaking poverty, indifferent elite, authoritative foreigners, uncontrolled inflation, juicy history, and the true colours of life. Where you see a bare-footed old man in torn clothes sitting on the roadside with arms outstretched, you would also see the BMW’s and Mercedes that race past him. The mini-buses and rickshaws still remain the charm of the city though.

Heart-touching Urdu poetry, or witty or sarcastic remarks painted on their backsides, along with paintings of imaginary creatures, folktale heroes or martyrs, and intricate designs and patterns make the red mini-buses a beautiful but cheap source of transport. Other modes of transport include larger, more comfortable buses with slightly higher fares, taxis or cabs available for hire.

There are multiple tourist attractions in Karachi, apart from the charm itself. Festivals like Hamara Karachi, aimed at putting to productive use the citizens’ love for the city, Karachi Literature Festival, which showcases the city’s literary society, and Karachi Fashion Week, which caters to the more fashion-oriented classes, among others are all events where one gets to see the life of the city. Other than that, Karachi’s beautiful beaches – Sandspit Beach, Hawke’s Bay Beach and French Beach, the most beautiful beach of the city – have ever been major tourist attractions, especially Clifton Beach, once considered the most popular silver-sand beach and health resort. Port Grand, established as an extensive food street and entertainment complex in Downtown Karachi, houses various restaurants, shopping malls, art galleries, a tavern area, Hindu temple, pedestrian-friendly tier and view of the Karachi Harbour.

Colonial architecture can be seen in the old city centre Saddar, with examples being the Frere Hall Library, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Mereweather Tower. Pakistan’s own history can be traced through museums such as Mohatta Palace, Pakistan Air Force Museum, Pakistan Maritime Museum and the Quaid’s Mausoleum, which remains a symbol of the City of the Quaid.

Summing it up, a visit to Karachi will clear any misconceptions people may have about Pakistan, while showing the lighter, brighter and livelier side of the country.


Areeba Jibril said...

Loved your piece.
It was great reading someone else's opinion of Karachi. I've never even heard of the Mereweather tower :p

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