Karachi is a coastal city in the southern part of Pakistan notorious for its contradictions and famed for its character. In the last decade or so the city has seen many a tumultuous time due to ethnic and other tensions but that will never mask the fact that Karachi is a microcosm of Pakistan as a country and a very good starting point for anyone who wishes to visit.
The old bazaars in Karachi are an essential stop for any tourist to the city. Empress market being the kaleidoscope it is, with its numerous stalls selling everything from pets in every way shape or form to carpet vendors selling intricate hand stitched rugs along with stalls of low cost bracelets and wine glass necklaces. Granted there have been reports of pets not treated right at these facilities., but still the place to go if you would like to acquire one or free one as well. Bohri bazar which can be considered a mirror to the Indian chandni-chowk is a real bargain hunter’s paradise. Nothing very posh, the maze like lanes are usually covered up top with plastic sheets to form awnings to shade the narrow streets. This bazaar is a place buzzing with activity and surrounded by colonial era buildings which gives you a taste of its rich history. In Bohri bazaar you can find anything from amazing silver jewellery to a dupatta dyeing house (dupattas are brightly coloured scarves used by Pakistani women to accent their outfit modestly) and whilst you are in this bazaar there are several mouth watering dhabas (roadside eateries)dotted around as well ranging from the local watermelon juice vendor to crisp fried samosas when you want them. Also of interest in these bazaars are various “reshamgalis” lanes where silk and silk made crafts are sold that are a must visit.
If you want thrift or our version of the grand flea market you need to look no further then Karachi’s Sunday bazaar. Remarkable in it being housed in the poshest part of town and offering dirt cheap deals on everything used under the sun. Have you ever wondered what its like to skip through stall upon make shift stall laden with goodies with sand underneath your feet and the sea about 10 mins drive from you? That is the Sunday bazaar where I have found over time amazing original comics to books and star wars figurines at prices like 0.50 USD and also really good deals on used Nikon lenses (bought a 25x80mm for 5 usd in mint condition) It is a great place to pick a good deal. A word of advice though, the young boys following you around offering to carry your bags can get snatchy with your purchases too
Karachi is also famous for its beaches, which line the southern coastline for hundreds of kilometres along Arabian sea, as it is known today. In the past this sea was also referred to as the Erythrean Sea and has many a spot for one to just lay back in an easy chair and be mesmerised by the waves. The city’s most popular beaches are at known as Sands pit and Hawks bay but they are not the only ones by any means.
Further up west from Sandspit lie the beaches of Tushan and paradise point as well as the French beach (private). Karachi also has a marine drive by the name of sea view which happens to be chock full of people in the evenings cooling off from the days heat with their families. The entire strip from Sandspit to Tushan is populated with private huts as well as huts for hire for a days outing and watched over by “Pals” our local version of life guards who are there to lend a hand incase anything untoward happens. There are also ambulance stations near the beaches in Karachi so by and large they are relatively safe to relax at. However it is not advisable to spend the night here unless you are at the French beach(private beach) as there is no electricity in most of the huts on the other beaches.
Aside from its magnificent beaches there are many water sports you could indulge in while on a visit. Charna Island, about an hours sail from Mubarak village and is a beautiful snorkelling spot with two to three adventure companies organising tours every Sunday. One can also hire a local fisher boat from the pier at Keamari and sail off just to see the sunset or sample some amazing spicy crabs cooked live on the boat at sea!An experience to cherish on a balmy, moonlit night in this city.
While in Karachi, a visit to the founder of Pakistan, the Qaid E Azam’s Mausoleum is a must. The white marble edifice is constant reminder that this is the city which he chose to live in as well. Another must see place is Frere hall which is now a large public library surrounded by a serene park but boasts an incomplete Sadequain painting on its ceiling which offers different interpretations to anyone who witnesses it. Yet another step back in time is the Mohatta palace, where the sister of the Qaid lived with its gorgeous red façades and grandeur in gardens which is often booked out for official functions and award ceremonies.
Food is this city’s lifeblood, with restaurants in the upscale neighbourhoods offering up every kind of cruise imaginable from Japanese, Thai, Mexican, Continental, Italian, French, American, Chinese, Vegan and local varieties to street dhabas and stalls in every nook and cranny offering piping hot spicy variations of local and international flavours. Even despite its issues with security most restaurants close at 1 am while the street food goes on till at least 3 am on most nights. Some of the most famous streets for food in Karachi are Burns Road in old town and Boat Basin in the Clifton area and the recently opened Port Grand & Do darya which are lined with restaurants and cafes offering local delicacies and service in an open-air seating. Add Zamzama’s upscale eateries and coffee houses and you have the perfect tasting menu for genuine foodies. Reservations needs to be made in advance for most restaurants in this city as there is usually a line at the door. Upscale eateries like Okra, Xanders, Expresso, Fuscia, Cafe Flo, Pompei or Ginsoy can usually take a wait of half an hour or more if you arrive sans reservations, but more mainstream places like BBQ tonight Bundu Khan, Kolachi, Abdul Ghaffar or Zameer Ansari also have throngs to negotiate almost day in and day out. There are off course many sheesha spots in the city open past 1 am among which the notables are Damascus,Road side café, Arabian nights, Evolution, SattarBuksh, Latte lounge in the Clifton area as well as Al Fakhir at Tariq road.
Even though Lahore is known as the cultural centre of Pakistan, visitors to Karachi can enjoy many forms of theatre or musical performances. Venues like the Arts council, Nappa school, Mad theatre & T2F keep serving up with events and performances week after week which can be followed online for booking before you arrive. This city boasts talent in magnitudes as it is constantly receiving immigrants from all areas of the country who bring their own particular brand of cultural entertainment to add variety to the lively entertainment scene. Lately as times dictate there are a variety of workshops on technology as well as spirituality in the form of yoga, dance and aerobics taking place all over the city as well as support groups one can join if introspection of a more personal nature is required.
People in Karachi are urban, closeted, hyper active and over protective of what this city represents. They have been through a lot over time and understand the meaning of cherishing things on a day to day basis. Traffic is mostly difficult at evenings and during school timings in the afternoon, surprisingly as this is a city of 20 million and is constantly active. In the past Karachi was a city with a very active night life as well, known as the city of lights and the city that never sleeps. Now aside from restaurants and its three modern movie theatres Karachi does not host the beer gardens and cabarets of olden times but does provide night life in the form of several regular venues for parties on the weekends as well as a host of permit shops where you can buy liquor as a foreigner which is supposedly banned in Pakistan.
It’s a very resilient and vibrant city bearing scars on it from many a riot and protest, but the way Karachiites see it, every scratch on its face gives the city more character rather than take away from the beauty of it. It is an unforgettable trip for any visitor and home to those who prefer chaos in life rather then the quiet tranquility of places up north in Pakistan