I’ll be honest, flying into Karachi, I was expecting very little. To be honest, I was thinking the city would be hell on Earth and that I can’t wait to be done with Karachi and get back to Dubai to just relax. Karachi, Pakistan marked a 4 day stretch where I was in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and moving non-stop in all of them. So I was tired of all the searches, scans, pat downs, airports, questions and just wanted to get a good night’s sleep and relax. Luckily, Karachi really wasn’t that bad a place to be and wasn’t nearly the calamity of a sub continent city I was expecting.
The city of Karachi is said to be the third largest city in the world in terms of population and is a megalopolis in all senses of the word. It is big, really big, and really spread out. There are a ton of people, some 20+ million in the city itself. There is madness in the streets with cars, trucks, rickshaws, motorbikes, bikes, animals of all sorts and other unidentified moving (some with wheels) objects inhabiting the streets. The people drive like maniacs and in fact I have concluded that they might be categorically insane. That aside, it’s basically what you’d expect from a big hazy, polluted city like Karachi.
The comparisons to Indian cities are easy to make and inevitable. It looks like an Indian city and feels like an Indian city although I know the two countries are extremely far apart politically and the weather was much cooler in Southern Pakistan. The glaring difference between Karachi and the many Indian cities I have been to is Karachi has wider boulevards which seem to handle to traffic better than India, the traffic lights seem to work better and people seem to sort of follow traffic laws a little better. Not to say they don’t drive like animals, but it’s simply saner and less claustrophobic than what I’ve seen in India, and there seems to be more room to operate.
I stayed in the Karachi Sheraton hotel on a free night from Starwood and it was a pretty nice little reprieve from the madness of the city. It had a decent restaurant and a good and very cheap driver service to shuttle me to the sights in town. It is located right in the central area of town where many of the businesses, airlines and embassies are located. In fact, the US Consulate is right next door. Karachi used to be the capital of Pakistan before it was supplanted by Islamabad several years ago. The hotel was a good base to see the city and off I went.
There really aren’t too many must see sights in Karachi. In fact there are two main sights. The rest of the experience comes from simply being around the city and seeing the people, the culture, the crowds, the madness, the cricket, and the beach.
The first sight is Clifton Beach (much different than the Cape Town, South Africa beach of the same name) which is affectionately known as the Sea View by the locals. It features a wide beach of pretty poor quality as far as beaches go but for a city like Karachi on the Arabian Sea, it’s not that bad I suppose. The locals seem to love it.
The problem to me lies in the fact that it is inhabited with peddlers selling horse and camel rides all over the beach. There are kids and merchants harassing you at every step and you feel surrounded at all times, much like you would in India. The peddlers don’t give up or take no for an answer. They simply can’t grasp the fact that you don’t want what their pushing, even if it’s some crappy little trinket or whatever.
The camels and horses are in very poor condition and they shit all over the beach which makes it even less appealing. If you follow my site regularly, you know I have ridden (actually raced) camels on beaches before but they were much nicer and there were also people cleaning up after the camels…here they just left it to fester. It was relatively disgusting to be honest.
The other main sight to see in Karachi is the mausoleum or tomb of the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnabai. It is called Mazar-e-Qauid and it lies outside the city center in an area all to itself. It is a very nice and unexpectedly peaceful place to walk around and view the tomb from many different angles in the afternoon sun. The grounds are well kept and the workers are very nice and helpful. They are proud that you as a foreigner are visiting their hero’s final resting place.
The inside (below) is a beautiful marble pattern kind of thing, somewhat similar to the inside of the Taj Mahal and it is very tastefully done with the tomb simply in the middle of the big room with 4 entrances. The dome above is not designed but simply green and unassuming. The chandelier is gorgeous and is really the centerpiece of the room hovering over the tomb itself. There are guards everywhere who every few minutes do a sort of sweep of the room where they switch sides of where they are standing in unison. I don’t know why but it was kind of cool to see.
After the mausoleum, there are some busy shopping streets to walk around. They also have shopping malls but I have had enough of malls and souks after the time spent in the past week in Istanbul, Cairo, etc. and the upcoming time in Dubai, where everything happens in a mall! So I just walked around the main streets, had a look in some shops and headed back for an early night.
One day, in better times I may return to Pakistan and hike in the mountains up north, but now is obviously not that time and I do hope to one day see the Khyber Pass on the road between Kabul and Islamabad. Sadly, that historic and beautiful pass once used by Alexander the Great, may never reopen due to security reasons.
As I said, it’s been a long 10 days or so fighting jet lag and exhaustion and especially the past 4, I have been running on fumes. I feel great right now though on the Air Arabia (great airline) flight back to Sharjah (the emirate next to Dubai) and am excited to get back to Dubai, or as a friend of mine put it, Arab Disneyland.
I am not exactly sure of my plans at this moment but I will stay in Dubai a few days. I may then head to East Africa to Ethiopia and/or Kenya with the hopes of reaching Somalia and Somaliland and also Lalibela and/or Axum if possible or simply tool around the Emirates and Oman for a few more days. We shall see, I am going to use today (with a hopefully good internet connection-I haven’t been able to access Skype the past few days) to check flight changes.
My British Indian Ocean Territory trip is officially cancelled much to my frustration. The 16 person vessel we had assembled was unable to get the proper permits necessary to land in the Chagos Archipelago and there is much discussion/infighting about what will happen. Many people are pulling out understandably and awaiting a refund. Some however, are set on staying in the Maldives for a week as they cannot alter their flights so who knows what will happen with everyone. It’s really too bad because I was really looking forward to that trip to Chagos-one of the hardest places on Earth to get to. After the Middle East I am headed to Singapore and several other Asian destinations before coming back home for Thanksgiving which I am excited for.
So anyway, it should be a fun next few weeks once I get set on my plans. Thanks again for all the emails and I am glad so many people and so many new people are following this trip. A trip like this is a true privilege and I waste no time in recognizing that fact. It is unique and fun to do and it really makes it worth it to know that so many people are reading my posts and following my trip. If I haven’t responded to your email, I will try to do it when I get set up over the weekend as the connections the last week or so have been awful if at all. Check back with me soon!
Let’s Go Giants! Both football and baseball and yes I saw game 2 and half of game 1 so I was pumped. If the Yankees aren’t in it, the Giants are my National League team. The New York Giants are going to walk away with the NFC East as I predicted to all my Cowboys, Eagles, Skins fan friends. Truthfully though, I am so happy they beat Dallas and put them out of their misery. A bunch of my friends had a suite at the Monday Night game in Dallas, where I would have been if I was in the States and I heard it was a sick time. I really do want to see that new stadium, maybe Superbowl this year, we’ll see.
Yes I know I am rambling but just passing the time on the plane!