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.)