Karachi Calling

Whenever people find out that I’m going to Karachi their eyes glaze over. “What’s to see in Karachi?”

As it turns out, quite a lot.

If you’re into museums and such, there’s the National Museum of Pakistan to begin with. Established in Frere Hall in 1950, has eleven galleries, including one dedicated to the Quran, which holds about 52 rare copies of the Islamic holy book, out of the 300 or so held by the museum.

Apart from the Quran Gallery, the museum also houses displays collections relating to the cultural heritage of Pakistan. These range from Indus civilisation artifacts, to Islamic art, to more modern manuscripts documenting the political history of the country. Going to this museum will undoubtedly be a horizon-broadening experience. I can only hope they allow photography inside.

Another museum worth visiting – especially for an anglophile like me – would be the Mohatta Palace. Constructed out of pink Jodhpur and yellow Gizri stones, Mohatta features displays from Pakistan’s colonial past, including representations of Queen Victoria and the soldiers of the Raj. Of course, the “English” displays comprise only a small section of the museum, which is primarily devoted to Pakistani arts. Over the years, Mohatta has showcased a number of prominent artists. Like now, for instance, one of the current exhibitions is called Drawing the Line: Rare Maps and Prints. But as stoked as I am for that exhibit, the one that I really wish I could’ve seen was the showcase of the works of an artist called Asim Butt. Now that would have been something to see.

Mohatta Palace

Since we’re on the subject of culture, I have to mention the mausoleum of Baba-i-Qaum, Muhammad Ali Jinnah – founder and first Prime Minister of Pakistan. The revered leader led a long life in the service of his people, almost single-handedly forging a Muslim nation out of the newly-independent but predominantly Hindu India. Also, the man walked, talked, and even argued with Gandhi! It’s a sure bet that I will pay my respects at the Mazar-e-Quaid.

The Jinnah Mausoleum

Another mausoleum I feel compelled to visit, is the final resting place of the legendary lovers Sassi and Punnun, in Bambhoor. Sassi, so the story goes, was born a ranee of Bhamboor, under very unlucky stars. A soothsayer foretold that she would bring dishonour to her family, and so her father set her adrift on the river in a wooden box. The box was later found by a washerman who then adopted Sassi as his own.

Sassi grew up renowned for her beauty. And as these stories go, Punun, the prince of the neighbouring Kingdom was smitten and determined to marry her. Sassi’s father, who wanted a washerman for a son-in-law, devised a test for Punnun, to prove that he was worthy of Sassi. The prince had to do the village laundry, otherwise, he would be sent packing. Punnun, unsurprisingly failed and ended up tearing the laundry to shreds. But before he returned the wash, he sewed gold coins into the seams. The villagers, receiving tattered clothes heavy with gold knew better than to complain, and so the task was reported as a success.

Punnun’s father, annoyed at his son’s stubbornness, sent his brothers to attend the wedding feast. The brothers promptly got Punnun drunk as a skunk and, in the dead of night, spirited him back to their Kingdom. The following morning, Sassi awoke and found her love missing. Distraught, she wandered the desert, searching for Punnun, for days and days.

Eventually, she came to a river and had to turn back. But on turning back, she ran into a goatherd who wanted to have his way with her. Out of fear, and despairing of ever finding Punnun, Sassi called out a prayer to Allah who took pity on her and opened up the ground where she stood, burying her there, forever safe. The goatherd, having witnessed a miracle, immediately repented and dedicated himself to caring for the grave.

In the meantime, Punnun – safely ensconced in his father’s Kingdom – couldn’t take the separation from Sassi anymore and started the journey back to Bhamboor. Along the way, he met the goatherd and shared his story of love interrupted. The goatherd then shared his story – presumably omitting the rapey parts – and showed Punnun Sassi’s grave. Punnun grieved mightily and Allah heard his cries. The ground opened up again and swallowed Punnun, setting him to rest beside his beloved.

No word on what happened to the goatherd, but in 1980, a simple mausoleum was erected over the shared grave of the doomed lovers, and it’s still there today.

Of course, Karachi isn’t all museums and mausoleums. There’s a number of more modern attractions that I’ve found mention of online. For instance, there’s Dolmen Mall, touted as the best mall in Karachi. However, from pictures, it looks very similar to malls here, particularly Glorietta and maybe Power Plant, and that sort of dulls my anticipation of seeing the place. More interesting, I think is Paradise Market which (and I could be very wrong here) has a more soukh-y vibe that I dig. And I bet there’ll be a hookah lounge somewhere nearby as well.

I imagine it’ll also be great to visit Do-Darya one cool night. Or maybe Port Grand. Both are apparently well-known food spots, both with the sea view for which Karachi is famous. I’d be good with either, and going to both would be a treat.

And speaking of the sea view, as I was scouring the internet for places to visit in Karachi, I came across a curious entry that had me laughing. One site – I can’t find it now, though – actually recommended having breakfast at a McDonald’s. To be fair, the picture accompanying the article showed an awesome view of the sea, so that must’ve been the point.

In any case, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of western-style creature comforts in Karachi, which isn’t surprising when you consider that this capital of the Sindh is the country’s most cosmopolitan city and is considered Pakistan’s financial and industrial centre. In fact, this post is leaving out tons of places to see and visit. And because Karachi is situated on the coast of the Arabian Sea, there are beaches that just look lovely and promise beautiful diving – not that I dive. I sorta… float.

So anyway, I’m off to the City of Lights soon.

Watch this space.

Leave a Reply