I stayed in Karachi for four nights and it was the largest city in Pakistan with more than 20M inhabitants. During the short stay, I was able to accomplish quite a lot.
I went downtown, which took roughly one hour from Shahid’s crib near the airport. The distance was only 20km, but traffic was very bad in Karachi, not as bad as Jakarta or Bangkok. Upon arrival in town, I changed money at a money exchange. I would like to point out that it was better to change money in the city center than at the airport. On a further note, the official rate on the internet were lower than the market rate in the city. Hence, if you plan on changing money, bring USD or EUR to Pakistan and change them there. You will most likely get a better rate than using your credit card.
I hung out briefly at Shahid’s office and met some of his office mates, tea makers, guards with AK47 (I should have taken a picture with that!), elevator boy, etc. It was interesting being in an office environment in Pakistan, but pretty much the same like most of the places around the world. Although, smoking was allowed in the office and I would never be able to work in that kind of environment. Furthermore, the men were lined up side by side during prayer time, right in the elevator hall way. It was an interesting scene, but that was what devoted people do there.
My next errand on the list was to go buy a SIM card, which took a bit of chasing around. Since traffic was horrendous, I had one of Shahid’s colleague to drive me around in a motorbike. If you plan on moving around town, it is best to hire a rickshaw than a normal taxi. I guarantee you now that it will be twice as fast. In order to purchase a SIM card, foreigners must bring their passport and purchase the prepaid version at the headquarter of the cellular service provider. The little stores around town will not let you open a new line, so make sure you know the headquarter location of the cellular company. There were a few providers, so ask around. I got mine from for 10 USD which included 5Gb of data and 10 minutes of calls.
Later that day, I made my way to the beach in the Defense neighbourhood. There was a 3km long beach next to the beach road and I saw loads of locals riding camels and hanging out. Some were just sitting or playing in the water, but don’t expect anyone with their tops off or women in a bathing suit. This was a Muslim country so you will barely see flesh.
I spent the rest of the evening with Komal, who had accepted my couchsurfing request, but Shahid answered first, so I stayed with him. We had coffee at one of the fashionable areas of Defense. It was not that cool compared to the rest of the world, but I drank some good tea, hung out with locals and bought five kilograms worth of pomegranate for $10 USD. I met up with Shahid afterwards and he took me to a local eatery near his place. They had some weird dishes like, pan fried goat testicles & intestines which the cook was cooking out on the street. There was an interesting display of food, but we opted for the safe bet, which were grilled beef and chicken and some yoghurt. Yummy, I loved it.
Shahid arranged his colleague to drive me around town. We first started off at the Frere Hall, which was a remnant building of the British Colonial era. During my visit, it sported art collections and a fashion show. The art collection was not worth seeing, but nevertheless it was free so I checked it out for a few minutes. There were some gorgeous Pakistani women taking photo shoots and weird dudes with cameras (not the official camera person) following around. I did not ask in detail what those guys were doing, but they must have been fans?
We then proceeded to the Empress Market, one of the most popular and busy places for shopping in Karachi. It was built in the late 1800s and there was an iconic tower.
The market had a variety of things, but mainly fruits, veggies, condiments (spices), meats, stationary materials, textiles and even animals. If you have read all my other posts, I love going to the market. Once again, I was a little boy and they had an entire section of dates. I tried the local Pakistani dates, which looked very similar to the Saudi Arabian ones, but the taste was sub-par. I ended up buying the usual Saudi dates, lasting me for a mere week only. They also sold Iranian dates, which were decent, but I give my thumbs up to the Saudi ones.
We proceeded to lunch around one of the busy streets. Shahid’s colleague took me to a traditional kebab place. Oh boy, the food was really good. I had the chicken kebab and salad, with some spicy sauce on the side. If you have not tried Pakistani food, you must. It was a bit on the spicy side, but the food was truly wonderful.
After lunch, we went to the Mohatta Palace Museum, a summer home of a successful business woman that was built in 1927. It must have been a beautiful home and it was impressive. It cost $0.30 USD to get in and it was well worth it. There was a big courtyard and garden area to lounge around, while the inside of the building was a museum, displaying maps of around the world on the 1st floor, while the 2nd floor displayed how to make Pakistani textiles. There were some famous designer clothing and pretty darn colorful.
I ventured into town alone. I wanted to go check out the sites that I missed and wanted to buy a linen shirt at one of the clothes markets. I walked around Zenab Market for a couple of hours, but was not lucky with the linen shirt. I assumed that they don’t wear linen in Pakistan or I was searching during the wrong season. There were a lot of Pakistani brands and good quality stitches for a fraction of the price in the west. For example, a collared shirt was around $5–10 and a t-shirt for around $2-5. Keep in mind that Pakistan and Bangladesh are the textile powerhouse of the world. I purchased a cool t-shirt from one of the famous Pakistani brands, which I still sport today. I tried some of the street food and fresh juices (eg orange and sugar cane juice) and they were delicious. I did not get sick, so I’m sure they were fine.
In the afternoon, I made my way to Mazar-e-Quaid (aka National Mausoleum) by rickshaw. The guy sped all over the place to get there. It was completed in the 1960s and one of the most visited tourist sites in Karachi.
Despite that, I did not see a single foreigner there for the two hours I hung out there. The place was a tomb where the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was buried. The tomb was in the center of town, but was a relaxing place with food stalls, gardens and a museum in the complex. The tomb also glows at night!
I walked around the complex for a while until I got bombarded by locals to take pictures with me. At one point, I had a line of 10 people waiting in line to take photos. I felt like a movie star for once and was not really sure why I was getting my picture taken. Did they think I was Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee? I got one of the two when I travelled around Africa, so I assumed that. In reality, Pakistanis love taking pictures with foreigners. They want to show their friends and family that they took a picture with a foreigner, which gives them a chance to brag about it… hm… interesting concept. Most of the time, only males asked for pictures, but once in a while, I got some brave women asking for selfies. I took at least 25 pictures that day. Inside the museum, there was a fine collection of art and valuables once owned by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. There was an actual car that he rode around on exhibit too.
In the late afternoon, I made my way to Dolmen Mall, one of the most luxurious malls in Karachi. On my way there, I got on one of the local buses, which was cool!
I met up with Komal again for tea and she introduced me to her friend Saira, a famous actress in Pakistan. She did not seem to have much makeup and she looked very average, but as soon as I left the mall, I saw billboards of her everywhere. She definitely looked different in the professional pictures.
For dinner, I met up with Arif, a friend of Beth, whom I know from Paris. They went to business school together in the US and have not seen each other since! Arif and his wife Farah took me to a wonderful restaurant near the airport area. They sold me about these magnificent ribs and fried fish there and oh boy, they were delicious. In all, it was a great time to hang out with them, but only hoped that it was longer.
My stay in Karachi was only four nights and it was too short. I would love to revisit Karachi again.
Next story will be on Lahore, Pakistan.