JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH FAROOQ SOOMRO FROM KARACHI, PAKISTAN!
Farooq Soomro is a quintessential Karachi denizen who likes to document life in Karachi and elsewhere. He is the man behind “The Karachi Walla”, where he has been archiving the city for past ten years. He collects vinyl records and books.
Pakistan is a large country – equal to the combined land areas of France and the United Kingdom, 7th largest in terms of population. The country borders with Iran, India, China and Afghanistan and has a long coastline. Internally it is divided into four provinces (Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh), two autonomous territories (Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan) and one federal territory of Islamabad.
Karachi is the capital of the province of Sindh and financial capital of the nation. It is the most populous city in Pakistan followed by Lahore, the capital of province of Punjab. Located on the shores of Arabian Sea, the city of Karachi has one of South Asia’s largest and busiest deep-water seaports.
How safe is Pakistan for tourists?
Pakistan is as much safe as any other country in west. The crime rates in its major metropolitans are as high (or as low) as any other comparable metropolitans across the globe. The political unrest and terrorist activities have disrupted life in the past but they are often exaggerated in order to make breaking news.
What is the best time to visit Karachi?
The best time to visit the mountains (North) is during Spring or Autumn when the weather is mild and mountains beautiful. A lot of local tourists visit mountains during Summer vacations but is advised with caution due to monsoon rains. Prices also go up considerably during summer vacations in North. I am myself from south and love winters which is rather mild here.
Which is the most convenient and favored transport of Karachi?
Karachi’s public transport system is basic and unreliable. Taxis and rickshaws are cheaper than other metropolitans. Best way to ride around the city is by Uber or Careem which is available at a short notice all across the city.
What are the top three must visit places in Karachi?
It’s always difficult to point out three locations but in terms of experience and comfort my top picks will be Mahadev temple, Manora Beach and MA Jinnah road.
Mahadev Temple and Kothari Parade : Mahadev temple is one of the oldest sites in Karachi. While present day Karachi evolved from a walled city around the port, some of its sites date back to millennia. Mahadev, a temple inside the cave is claimed to be the oldest edifice in the city. According to one legend, Ram and Sita have believed to visit this area on their way to Hinglaj yatra. Therefore this temple has become a popular spot during annual pilgrimage. It is a wonderful sight on a regular day with several hundred steps taking you down in a huge cave which adorns many murtis and shivling. The temple has a deck which gives panoramic view of Ibn qasim park – one of the largest in the city – and sea front. The park in discussion has a beautiful promenade which must not be missed.
Parsis businessmen contributed massively to the growth of Karachi as a port city. Many of them contributed generously by building education institutes, hospitals and parks. Jehangir Kothari was one such businessman and philanthropist who donated funds for developing a promenade and a pavilion overlooking the sea. Now sea has rolled back and a park has been built around the promenade. It still is one of the best places in the city for a leisurely walk and enjoying evening breeze.
Manora : Manora is the oldest settlement in Karachi. This is where an old fort was built many a times to protect the harbor. This is where British constructed the earliest colonial era buildings. Today Manora is a small strip of land with a mix of structures, memorial of different eras. The area is a testimony to the diversity that Karachi, that the port city has experienced. There are two churches, one gurdwara, an ancient temple and an old sufi shrine. Amongst other things of interest, a light house, an abandoned observatory and a long stretch of beautiful beach is a must. Manora can be accessed through a boat from KPT.
M.A. Jinnah Road : M.A. Jinnah road (named after founder of the country), formerly Bunder road, is one of the main roads connecting port with rest of the city. It is one of busiest road in Karachi and the earliest residential quarters and markets sprang around this very road. Start your journey from Jinnah’s tomb and drive towards the port.
You might also want to visit the Mazar-e-Quaid, the grave of M.A. Jinnah turned into a monument. It is a national landmark of Pakistan and is placed in the heart of Karachi.
There will be several dozen landmarks of cultural and historical significance which are listed in order of appearance.
Karachi Goan Association ground, Parsi Coloney, Capri Cinema, Karachi Goan Association Hall, Nasheman Cinema, A-one restaurant (old Irani café), Ratan Talao Gurdwara, Richmond Crawford Ve.t Hospital, Radio Pakistan, NJV School, Jamshed Memorial Hall, Khaliq Dina Hall, Pioneer Book House, Lady Dufferin Hospital, Anjuman-e-Taraqi Urdu office, Shri Swami Narayan temple, Bolton Market, Juna Market, Denso Hall, Wazir Mansion and Merewether tower amongst many others. In addition, stone buildings on both side of the road are a visual treat.
Note: Some of the buildings listed above may require permission for entry.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Karachi?
Karachi and south of Pakistan is an afterthought for many tourists coming to Pakistan. Most of them travel to North from Islamabad or at best to Moghal city of Lahore. The reason is lack of information available on attractions around Karachi.
Makli Necropolis : A trip to Makli necropolis is perhaps the most convenient and rewarding trip out of Karachi. Thatta was capital of three successive dynasties and a prominent seat of power from 14th century to 18th. During this time, Kings, queens, governors, warriors, saints and scholars were buried in what became one of the largest cemeteries in the world. The buildings denote the status of those buried inside and range from multistory lavishly embellished tombs to plain graves. These monuments are notable for fusion of different influences. Other notable sites in Thatta include Shah Jahan Mosque – built during Moghal emperor Shah Jahan’s – is a fine example of tile work in South Asia. Keenjhar lake is another attraction nearby which is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the country. A boat ride to legendary tomb of Noori Jam Tamachi can be one way to beat heat in Thatta.
On your way back from Makli, a quick stop can be made at Bhambhore. It is more popularly known as the site where Muhammad Bin Qasim, the Arab Muslim general, who landed here defeated local ruler. However, the city could be much more ancient and the ruins and a small museum near the creek can be a worthy stop. Chowkandi tomb near Steel mill in Karachi is another cemetery which is fine example of local craftmanship.
Sehwan and Ranikot : Ranikot Fort also known as ‘The Great wall of Sindh’ is thought to be one of the world’s largest fort. Ranikot, with a circumference of about 26 km, is one of the largest fort in the world. This fort is easily accessible from Karachi through the National Highway. A lot of tour operators manage a day trip from Karachi but the ideal would be to couple it up with night stay in Sehwan which is one of the most revered shrines in Pakistan. It takes around one and half hour to reach Sehwan from Hyderabad, covering a distance of approximately 150 kilometers.
Sehwan or ‘Seevistan’ as it was called centuries ago, was an important stronghold for regional traders flocked its serai amidst their journeys to faraway places. The narrow alleys around Lal Shahbaz’s shrine re full of shops selling everything from flowers to chaddars to plastic toys and Chinese electronics. There’s never a dull moment there: People sipping tea, smoking pipes, sharing joints, shopping and lighting clay diyas throughout the night.
If you feel more adventurous then you can visit Gorakh hill and tributaries around Gaj river where you can find several ancient rock art sites.
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Karachi?
There are certain neighborhoods that are particularly interesting during certain religious events. Ramadan is much celebrated time of the year with most of the Karachi not shutting down at all during the night. Old quarters are lit up with extra lighting under which you will find people playing cricket and to certain extent football. Food becomes integral to the celebration and seasonal recipes and stalls mushroom around busiest of streets. A walk around Gari Khata near Pakistan Chowk and Bohra Pir in Ranchor Lines is my pick.
Diwali celebrations in Karachi’s temples is a great sight also. The biggest celebration happens at Shri Swami Narayan, one of the biggest temple in Karachi.
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Karachi? Is it a vegetarian friendly city?
It may sound cliched but Karachi truly is a melting pot as far as linguistic and culinary art goes. Food is Karachi’s favorite pass time and every week a new restaurant opens its doors for denizens of the city. While you can find almost all popular global cuisines, there are some fine restaurants specializing in some of ethnic cuisines such as Bohri, Afghani etc. Roadside stalls deal in more popular items.
Burns road in Saddar town remains closest to a proper food street in Karachi. Chinese cuisine is very popular in Karachi and is quite customized to local taste palette and so is the case with Irani and Middle eastern ones.
It’s perhaps difficult to put a definite list but a visit to Burns road, Javed Nihari, Kolachi at Do Darya, East End (Bohri food) is recommended. Karachi is has a long coast line but you will perhaps don’t find much focus on seafood in the menus. A boat ride off Kemari port is highly recommended during which, staff prepares crabs, fish and vegetable.
Where to head for shopping in Karachi?
There are several shopping malls in Karachi which offer safe and standard experience. However ‘Saddar’ and other old quarters have several specialty markets which must be on itinerary even if you don’t plan to buy anything.
Bohri Bazaar, Empress Market, Lea Market, Bolton Market, Juna Market and Soldier Bazaar are popular with locals and quite colorful too.
Zainab Market in Saddar is popular for clothing and has a separate section dealing in gift items and local crafts. Tali gift shop in Clifton is perhaps one of the coolest gift shops in the city and a weekend craft bazaar in Burns Garden is a quick way to find majority of local craft shops at one place.
Several Sunday flea markets dealing in grocery, clothing, second hand items can be found all around MA Jinnah road and major neighborhoods. A book flea market is setup at Frere hall and another at Regal Chowk for decades and are popular with second hand books enthusiasts.
Which is the local craft or souvenir of Karachi?
Most of the tourist buy everyday items painted with ‘truck art’ – colorful patterns painted on Pakistani trucks – however if you feel its overdone then you can explore several handicraft shops spread across the city which showcase artisan work from all over the country most notably Hala and Thar in Sindh.
Which are the best streets in Karachi worthy of taking a stroll on?
M.A. Jinnah road and its connecting streets on a Sunday morning since there’s a lot of traffic on usual days.
A heritage walk is being conducted around Pakistan Chowk area. You can take a walk in that area (again on Sunday morning) even if it is not organized for the day.
A leisure walk at Seaview is highly recommended which remains, perhaps the best place to see denizen of the city in an unassuming location. It is perhaps the only multi class public space in the city also.
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of the city?
Hill Park in PECHS neighborhood, Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine in Clifton, Jahangir Kothari Parade in Clifton.
Do you suggest any shows on music, culture or art performed by the locals?
Art, theatre and music scene in Karachi is booming. There are several events every weekend and the best way to track them is through social media.
Arts council Karachi and NAPA has regular theatre performances and there is a host of art galleries such as Canvas, Koel and Sanat which display works of established and upcoming artists of Karachi and rest of the country.
Qawwali is quite popular in Karachi and pop music scene is on the rebound. The second floor (T2f), Pakistan Chowk Community Center (PCCC), Alliance Francaise Karachi and Salt Arts and other such places organize concerts and gigs very frequently.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in your city?
There are not any local apps apart from Careem and Uber that should be in your mobile while you are in Karachi. For information on the city and events you should be following below Facebook/Instagram/website accounts. Arif Hasan, Salt Arts, National Academy of Performing Arts Karachi, Karachi Arts Council, T2f, PCCC, Alliance Francaise Karachi, Goethe Institute Karachi.