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Going Back to Karachi: Useful Tips

Posted on March 25, 2011
Filed Under >iFaqeer, Pakistanis Abroad, Society, Travel
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iFaqeer

I finally make it ‘back home’ this winter after a much-delayed hiatus. I hadn’t been able to travel for almost six years now. So getting back to Karachi was particulalry pleasant and memorable.

One thing that I found particularly helpful was this set of 10 Tips for Visiting Karachi preared by The News. It is good advice that many of us sometimes forget:

1. Things have changed: Do not expect Karachi to be the same as when you left it two years ago, ten years ago or possibly in some cases several decades ago. This is a booming town. Traffic has multiplied. New roads, more buildings, underpasses and overhead bridges have been constructed. Distances have increased. There has been a media explosion. Attitudes are changing so are the fashions and the prices of goods. The work culture has also changed along with some of the values you may be expecting to return to.



2. Some things have not changed: The city administration still grapples with an ever-exploding population. There is pollution, chaos and dirt. Gutters still overflow. There are still beggars on the streets. Buses still don’t stop at their designated points. The rickshaws still do not have proper meters. But remember, most of you come from here, and chose to leave. Don’t complain.

3. The city has a life: Don’t think that just because Karachi does not have a number of bars or nightclubs, there is no nightlife. The city may have its share of problems, but its residents can and do enjoy their lives here. There is a lot to do, a number of places to visit and a variety of restaurants to eat at. One can stroll along Sea View, or even take a nighttime boat ride on which you will be served magnificent seafood. Take a ride in a Victoria (taanga) in Clifton. Or better still, have a palmist tell you your future next to Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s Mazaar. There is fun to be had here, provided you are looking for it in the right places.

4. Have some thought for your hosts: Spare them the agony of having to drive you all over town. Hire a radio cab. It costs under Rs2,000 ($35) per day and you don’t have to worry about driving or parking, and you can enjoy the city in air-conditioned comfort and safety. Similarly, if you are staying with relatives or friends, try and make your stay as stress-free and accommodating as possible. Tip the servants generously. If you are staying with parents, see what chores they have pending; if things need mending or fixing around the house help out and get them done.

5. Check out the old and the new: The city boasts some very good museums like Mohatta Palace and the Air Force Museum. The city has several excellent parks like Beach Park, Zamzama Park and now Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim. Check out the shopping malls. Also savour some of the older places like Empress Market (now much cleaner) and Bohri Bazaar. Eat at the more well-known places like BBQ Tonite and Student Biryani. Visit the new cinemas (Cineplex) and the bowling alleys.

6. Take sensible precautions: Don’t overstretch yourself. Take it easy. Also, listen to your hosts. Don’t eat off the Thellas. Only drink bottled water from a reputable company. Don’t walk in dark alleys or roads at night. Protect your belongings in public places. Avoid dodgy food items.

7. Look at the opportunities: If you have time, check out real estate prices and what is on offer. Talk to realtors and also look for investment opportunities. It’s always a good idea to buy property here. This is a good time. The city is witnessing an economic boom. If you can buy something, then purchase and put it on rent. You can even look at buying an office space if your budget is limited or you could think about booking an apartment.

8. Buy sensibly and have realistic expectations: Just because Zainab Market is cheap it does not mean one should overload themselves with imitation designer wear. Also, think about what you need to buy. Keep your expectations realistic. If you buy from Zainab Market, the quality will be dodgy. Look at some of the more expensive items at quality shops like Labels and Khaadi. Spoil yourself and buy some high quality things particularly leather items like bags from Jafferjees or English Boot House (EBH).

9. Check out the local NGOs: See the wonderful work being done by organisations like the Citizens Foundation, Edhi Trust, Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) and Layton Rehmatoola Benevolent Trust (LRBT) to name a few. Go and visit the Darul Sukoon or the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC) to see how much work is being done by devoted professionals to help the poor and disabled people. Make a commitment here.

10. Finally, enjoy and don’t compare: Since Pakistan is a third world country, don’t compare Karachi to Dubai or the US. This is your country. Only here could you get away after fighting with the local traffic policemen. The city obviously has its share of problems. But here you are neither a suspicious Muslim nor a second-class citizen. Family values here are as strong as ever. And despite the fact that many people will bug you about their prospects abroad, just remember it is all being done with good intentions. People will make time for you. Though marriage ceremonies start at late hours, people make time to attend them. Forget your country of residence for a while and enjoy Karachi for as long as you are here!

The only thing missing is a direct caution – though #6 seems to cover it somewhat – that cellphone-snatching is a very present and common danger.

There are now two types of people in Karachi: those who carry cool cellphones; and those who have been mugged. Oh, and yes, especially in English-speaking circles, the word “mugged” is now not something you hear about happening in far-away New York City. There is, sadly, very regular occasion to use the word.

(Editor’s Note: This post was first published on January 12, 2007 but much of it remains very relevant today. We hope readers will update these tips and maybe add new ones.)

29 Comments on “Going Back to Karachi: Useful Tips”

  1. Daktar says:
    January 12th, 2007 2:57 pm

    These are useful tips specially for Pakistanis abroad who actually forget how to behave when they go back home.

    By the way, see the logo of the Karachi festiavl going on now. Karachi people, any news on how it has been going?

  2. Ali Choudhury says:
    January 12th, 2007 3:26 pm

    “If you are staying with parents, see what chores they have pending; if things need mending or fixing around the house help out and get them done.”

    One of the major graces of being in Pakistan is the cheap labour. I’m not sure why taking on chores would be helpful when most households have at least one servant\handyman.

    My tips

    1) If you have spent more than three years abroad, do not attempt to drive yourself around. Obtain a driver. Pretty much every car I saw in Lahore was visibly dented, even the new ones who hadn’t even obtained a license plate.

    2) Take Alka-Seltzer with you, especially if going during wedding season. I expected to go to one wedding and ended up going to five. My stomach, which had been used to an undemanding diet of fruit and Tesco sandwiches at lunchtime, found it hard to live with the food. This was not helped by the long list of visits to family who naturally insisted on treating you to dinner.

    “But here you are neither a suspicious Muslim nor a second-class citizen.”

    I could make the cynical comment that unless you’re a VVIP, you’re treated like a third-class citizen, but yes it is quite refreshing to be able to blend in with the crowd and not worry about whether the food is halal and restrict your eating choices when going out to eat.

  3. Rehan says:
    January 12th, 2007 4:13 pm

    Great post. Indeed, so many of us have left our homes for so long that we forget what it is like to be among your own kind. Walking with your head high, chest out, and a bounce in your step, with nothing to apologize for…now that is true liberty.

  4. Samdani says:
    January 12th, 2007 4:20 pm

    I think many Pakistanis who live abroad become most obnoxious when they go back home. They act as if they know everything, can soleve everything and just because theyr are walait-palat they have the right and duty to find fault in everything and gve advice to everyone. There is a certain arrogance in us that makes us think that just because we were lucky (or devious) enough to get a visa for somewhere, we are now superior. I find this tendency specially in my fellow doctors. Have met so many who will serriously talk about how doctors in Pakistan know nothing and they know everything. And yet, they too studied in Pakistan. But, no. For them their success is becuase of ‘their’ brilliance and the failures are ‘Paksitans’. humility amongst Pakistanis outside, specially in USA, will be a good start.

  5. Daktar says:
    January 12th, 2007 4:27 pm

    Karachi looks so neat and orderly in this map!

  6. January 13th, 2007 2:11 am

    Are you planning to write “Karachi for dummies”?

  7. MQ says:
    January 13th, 2007 5:02 am

    Having myself returned a couple of weeks ago to Islamabad after a relatively long absence I find many of the above tips relevant and useful. However, No. 10 seems to be based on misplaced chauvinism. Here is why:

    [quote]“Since Pakistan is a third world country, don’t compare Karachi to Dubai or the US.”[/quote]

    Pakistan was a third world country even 60 years ago and so was Dubai. Therefore, it is legitimate for a returning Pakistani to compare and wonder why Karachi got left behind.

    [quote]“This is your country. Only here could you get away after fighting with the local traffic policemen.” [/quote]

    This is not something to gloat about. In fact, this is something to worry about. Why should there be an opportunity or need in the first place to pick up a fight with the policeman? Just think about it.

    [quote]“But here you are neither a suspicious Muslim nor a second-class citizen.” [/quote]

    In spite of the post 9/11 phobia in the West and incursions the Bush Administration has made into civil liberties, the laws in the US do not treat any citizen as a second-class citizen. And it is the same in Canada and UK. (I don’t know enough about other European countries.) The same cannot be said confidently about Pakistan.

    If getting into a fight with a policeman is your idea of freedom then you are best advised not to practice it in the US, Canada or Europe. You will be immediately arrested — Muslim or non-Muslim, black or white, VIP connections or no connections.

  8. HJ says:
    January 13th, 2007 7:20 am

    iFaqeer:

    Phone and purse snatching is a real serious problem in Karachi now. I now you at least a dozen people – including my mother – who have been victims. Worse is, the police are useless.
    Hope you enjoyed the trip, though.
    HJ

  9. January 13th, 2007 10:24 am

    Ali-
    I could not agree more with your comment that unless you are a VVIP, you should consider yourself a third class citizen in Karachi. During a brief trip this winter I witnessed several times how I was treated as a nobody, and was given the run around for menial tasks, until I called up a ‘connection’.
    As terrible as I felt for calling up ‘connections’ for stupid things, it was just ridiculous to waste my entire days due to the unprofessionalism of the ‘professionals’. I now have at least 6-7 notes with me from the same ‘unprofessional professionals’ with ideas on how I can ‘help’ them in return.
    All this ‘sifaarish baazi’ gives me jitters when I think of ever doing business there.

  10. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    January 13th, 2007 10:56 am

    Samdani: I agree with you.

    “I think many Pakistanis who live abroad become most obnoxious when they go back home. They act as if they know everything, can soleve everything and just because they are walait-palat they have the right and duty to find fault in everything and give advice to everyone. There is a certain arrogance in us that makes us think that just because we were lucky (or devious) enough to get a visa for somewhere, we are now superior. I find this tendency specially in my fellow doctors. Have met so many who will serriously talk about how doctors in Pakistan know nothing and they know everything. And yet, they too studied in Pakistan. But, no. For them their success is becuase of ‘their’ brilliance and the failures are ‘Paksitans’. humility amongst Pakistanis outside, specialy in USA, will be a good start.”

  11. Eidee Man says:
    January 13th, 2007 2:03 pm

    First of all, a great and very funny post! In response to Bilal, yes, unfortunately you’re quite right.

    However, one thing I learned in my long vacation in 2003 is that every situation requires a different approach. We Pakistanis and Muslims in general have major, major pride issues. The best thing to do is to ask very softly and respectfully at first, making sure you acknowledge the person’s position; remember, it is probably very easy to detect that you’ve been away for a long time and the other person is probably thinking that you’re looking down on him (which a lot of people do, sadly). If the other person, still doesn’t comply, then respond very firmly. Sometimes, talking in English can help you, especially if the other person has a poor command of the language…they might feel embarrassed and try to diffuse the situation. (yeah, I hate myself for saying thsi but it works)

  12. Eidee Man says:
    January 13th, 2007 2:07 pm

    ““I think many Pakistanis who live abroad become most obnoxious when they go back home. They act as if they know everything, can soleve everything and just because they are walait-palat they have the right and duty to find fault in everything and give advice to everyone”

    Yes, as a Pakistani living abroad, I fully agree with this.

  13. Jamshed Nazar says:
    January 13th, 2007 8:07 pm

    Hello there!

    nice write up. triggered a bit of nostalgia for me 2.

    Pakistan is part of us and our “belonging to the land” cannot be forgotten or replaced with new passports etc. everytime i go back, there is always a feeling of arriving at home.

    i do feel rather upset that although we have natural resources, a huge population, a buetiful country and a rich history of thousands of years, our present state of affiars is quite poor. Talk about the sixth (or is it seventh) most populous nation, and we can hardly provide drinking water, basic education or any form of half decent quality of life to our people. Look at the social institutions and political instituitions and the story is quite clear. we as well as our forefathers have failed at the fine task of nation building.

    anyway, the positve side of the story is that the new generation is refreshingly positive and is breaking away from the past. Musharraf, for all his faults, is doing a good job. If the country does nt breakup in the next couple of decades, it will surely develop into a stable society! i am optimistic!

    however, one thing i notice every time i visit – which is couple times every year for the last decade, is that i am more or less frozen in a time capsule about pakistani society and my orientation in it, whereas, the society itself has moved on every time. there is a period of rediscovery and readjustment everytime!

    Although my chinease, indian or israeli freinds easily relocate back to their home countries, for me it is much more difficult due to lack of suitable work. I think this is also the case for many of us – engineers, doctors, lawyers, scientists – there is no banglore back home. so skills transfer / jump starting a tech eco sytem is still a distant dream.

    having said all this, i have met so many local collegues in the countries where i have worked, US / canada / middle east / germany / france etc, who live, work, retire in their home countries even home towns without a need / desire to move to other places – “would not want to leave family / freinds” situation. Why does Pakistan not have these opportunites?

    JNZ

  14. Eidee Man says:
    January 14th, 2007 2:29 am

    Jamshed, you’re quite right about your last comment. However, these changes have to be brought about by private citizens; I personally think that if it were harder for Pakistani professionals to leave, Pakistan would be much better in terms economy, etc. Think about, even the ex-pats on this blog, say if they were to move to Pakistan…wouldn’t that have a noticeable effect?

    As for your Israeli friends…well, we haven’t quite found a group of people we can force into apartheid….just a joke folks :).

  15. Osman says:
    January 14th, 2007 5:50 pm

    I agree with Eidee Man.
    Iff you dont want to come back you will find a 100 exccuses not to. When you do want o come back you will find a 1000 ways in which it can happen. I returned from UK after studies and thought it woudl be ddifficult. It was but it was not impossible. Now I have my own business (export) and doing better than I could ever have done in UK. Does not mean that those who did not come back made a mistake. That is their choice. Just means that if you DO want to really come back, then come back and things will work out if you work hard. Just like anywhere.

  16. Kashif says:
    January 15th, 2007 12:31 pm

    Karachi is under construction. If you are planning to cross the bridge (clifton bridge, that is) be prepared to face long traffic jams, sudden road closures and suicidal bikers.

    Also, do check the weather forecast. Karachi has a tendency to go under-water after few inches of rain.

    For people coming from the US, here is some “official” advice:
    https://www.osac.gov/Reports/report.cfm?contentID=61903

  17. Baber says:
    January 16th, 2007 12:18 am

    11. Don’t use your mobile phone in public.
    Increase in mobile phone theft in city.

  18. January 16th, 2007 7:32 pm

    well nice stuff

  19. TURAB says:
    January 17th, 2007 12:45 am

    i love karachi to death!
    i look at the black outs, traffic, large swimming pools, and all other problems with a lot of love because that is more what defines the city for me when I was growing up there!

    wierd but true!

  20. Hashmi says:
    February 6th, 2007 1:04 am

    oversees pakistanis are getting far from pakistan day by day, they might come once a year for a 2 weeks or a month max. but then they will come back to pakistan after2 or 3 years…. and the secong genaration of oversees pakistani parents wont even come to pakistan maybe once in a life …and the childen of these parents wont even call them pakistanis….same like white americans or black americans dont know nothing about the ansestor country.

    so my advice come back to pakistan for the sake of your future generation here you will not make dollers but you will get everything else.

  21. Irfan Ahmed Vayani says:
    February 14th, 2007 4:38 pm

    I am 36 years old and settled from London U.K to Karachi with my family after spending 14 years. I love this city, food is great, people are helpful, life is so cheap compare to London, you can hear the beautiful athan and so on. I have seen people who as soon as step their feet in west do odd jobs, mugged by blacks and dont complain even when they earn 2 quit an hour, but as soon as they in pakistan they start about all sort of negative views about Pakistan. I am here since a year or so i go around Karachi in expensive car, have wicked mobile phone, come home very late never had any problem.. allhamdolliah. Punjab is well developed as far as Karachi is concern 2 years from now inshallah Karachi will be have no basic problems, mega billion rupees have been spend by companys like Emaar, Siemens, international food chains etc. Now you can see Bmw, Merc, Rolls Royce, all sort of 4×4 (imported) on Karachi roads. Economy is booming, crime is down, tourism is increasing, i have myself seen so many foreigners in my area called Clifton moving without any fear. So come and enjoy the best part of world and dont listen the west media propaganda. As for the overseas pakistani’s contribute what you can for this country and if you cant atleast seal your lips not to say bad stuff about your homeland. Did you see any irish living in US says negative stuff about ireland and spanish about spain? good or bad every city have there own problems. The only troule free zone is the life here after for ‘jannaties’. Wasalam

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