Karachi the commercial city!!!
Trip Start Jul 02, 2004
17Trip End Sep 10, 2004
I've stayed with my Aunt and Uncle in the commercial district of Karachi on the very long and busy Abdullah Harrom Road. Needless to say, my folks looked after me so well, I've seen so much of Karachi which I'll describe but moreso, I've seen the raw side of a city that most tourists wouldn't see if they were here; the bustle of traffic, people, Donkey's, slaughterhouses, artistic buses, ancient tombs and some crazy behaviour. Just read on...
Pakistan (meaning land of the pure) was founded by Mohammed Jinna, commonly referred to as the Quaid-I-Azam
This is a true wonder, bleached white with naval soldiers guarding the four corners of the shrine and the corners of his coffin. Every 30 minutes, a whistle blows and they stretch their legs in a miniature "changing of the guards" ceremony that involves a lot of feet thumping on the floor and shouting. Pretty dramatic for what is supposed to be a peaceful resting space.
Jinna's house is also available to view for free and boy was it impressive. If you want to see how the rich lived in the early 1900's, this house is perfectly preserved down to the slippers his sister wore still being beside her bed in her room and the couches Jinna sat on still there for people to look at.
The Chawkhandi Tombs
About 45 minutes outside Karachi city is a burial site of a tribe dating from the 15th to the 18th Century. The tombs as they are described are nothing short of astonishing. The plot occupies a few acres of carved, sandstone tombs, some of which are nearly 12ft tall
When I walked out of the car, there was this very slight, pungent smell of the stones and the land drifting over the site. Almost like a reminder for any visitor that people are actually buried 5ft down below the tombs with all their material possessions for their next life with them.
I won't write much about them but say that you need to see the pictures I took of them. Most of the tombs are carved with pictures of weapons and horses if a man was buried there and jewellery if a woman was buried there. What is more impressive is that some of them have been standing for 500 years and they are not fixed down to anything, except gravity. The guard who showed us around said that despite all the storms, monsoon rains and droughts they'd had, not one of the stones had ever fallen over!
Sindh and Punjab
Although I was travelling in the same country, there was a definite difference in the people I saw in Lahore and in Karachi. You see, Lahore is situated in the Punjab district and Karachi, the Sindh. These district are not so much regional municipalities but different cultural melting pots of Pakistani people. The differences are subtle but it's nice to realise.
Sindhi people are darker in colour than Punjabi's and tend to eat food's influenced by light spices and moderate amounts of chilli powder in their food. Punjabi's put a whole load of chilli powder in their food and it's also heavier on the stomach. Lahore being the food capital of Pakistan, you're going to be eating a lot of bulky food if you feast there
Sindhi people are closer to my Gujarati origins and are far more colourful than Punjabi's through the way they dress and the amazing designs features on their public buses. It's no good for the ordinary Sindhi bus driver to drive an average looking bus, some of them are decorated so intricately they can be considered to be works of art, have a look at the pictures if you don't believe me. Of course, just because a bus is decorated well, doesn't mean that the interior will be luxurious as well, people still cram in the buses like sardines in a tin can and when the bus is full, there's nothing to stop them sitting on the top of the bus in the luggage rack. Yes I saw that happen too!
OK, now prepare for a tinge of hypocrisy from me; many of you who know about my presentations will know that I am talking about downloading music over the Internet 'illegally' and pirating software. The thing is that in Pakistan, this is taken to the extreme with entire market places dedicated towards selling pirated CD's, DVD and software.
Thanks to the local corruption, the police turn a blind eye to this with bribes but the amount of money these shops rake in, far surpasses the losses to pay off the local police commissioner. At first I couldn't understand how Pakistan could allow these markets to thrive but it comes down to the simple fact that the licenses for legitimate electronic resources are just too expensive for ordinary Pakistanis to afford. Yet, these people need to learn how to use computers at least and broadband Internet use isn't fast enough to be able to use downloading services such as KaZaa and eMule
So, my opinion: this is a good thing for Pakistan but one day it will end. The big corporates will put pressure on the government one day to shut down these shops. But for the meantime, any raids on the markets are for showing off to the press. The shopkeepers get tip offs the day before and stock their shops with all the old CD's and ones that don't work anymore. The next day, the police waltz in with some newspaper photographers, confiscate all the old stock and destroy it. So you see everyone benefits, the shopkeepers get someone to take care of their rubbish stock, the police get their name in the papers (a bit of free publicity never hurt anyone) and the government looks like it is cracking down on pirates! Of course, the next day, the new stock comes back into the shops and the cycles continue.
Reflections of Pakistan
It's easy to see Pakistan as a corrupt, unstable, developing nation, only second to India in virtually every trade in Asia but this is not true. Pakistan might be less well off than western countries but it is rich in generosity, culture and the people add to the charisma that no other country can replicate.
People here know about the lifestyles and money that can be earned in the Middle East, Europe and North America but would choose to support their family at home above everything that life throws at them. You see, family is an important concept in Pakistan, the head of the family is the eldest person in the household and the different generations are very close knit together with the youngest supporting the eldest and everyone pulling their weight to escape the poverty trap so many of them are unfortunate to fall into
It's humbling to see how the people react to Westerners. Yes, there is always a degree of being ripped off because locals see Westerners as being rich which is not entirely false when you consider that £50 a month is a good wage in Pakistan. But Pakistani's are extremely hospitable. They will help out wherever possible to help you, so long as you treat them with respect and give them a small financial token of appreciation. It's a fair cop when you're like me and don't speak Urdu and don't understand the way things work on the inside.
I will miss Pakistan, its people and culture. They have taught me so much about how to enjoy life within an Islamic context far away from the disgraceful, alcohol fuelled nightlife in the UK. I've heard many times that you have to drink alcohol to have a good time but this is not true at all. Look at the Pakistani's, some of them stay out until 2am on a weekday, the nightlife doesn't start until 10pm at the earliest in any case. There's a wedding taking place everyday part's of the city, and the traffic jams at night time show that people do have a life outside of work and really know how to work and play well!
Thank you Pakistan, the IEE crew in Lahore and Aunty Amina and Uncle Badrudeen. You all made my stay in Pakistan a safe, memorable and humbling experience.