04 August 2010 Travel

16 Feb

Part 5 of Dubai and Pakistan Trip Journal

5:40 AM

The night is hot and sticky. Even in a t-shirt with the fan on, I can’t sleep well. This is the winter season, and it’s till too warm for cotton t-shirts. I’ll have to wear light dress shirts if I want to keep from sweating outside. Perhaps another thing keeping me awake is the anticipation of our tour of Karachi. Finally, we’re going to immerse ourselves in the local flavour.

There’s a mosque next door to Hasan and Shahnaz’s house - which means the first call to prayer of the day should be resonating through the neighbourhood soon. There are five calls to prayer throughout the day.

The flooring in this house is entirely stone tile and marble. The custom is to keep footwear on at all times, even inside, on account of the dust that builds up everywhere. At least that’s what Shahnaz says. This house is kept immaculately clean.

3:25 PM

I got some email access this morning, so it was good to have some fleeting contact with the world back home before going to explore Karachi. Our guide, Azmat Khan, showed us through the city streets where stray dogs lay next to piles of burning garbage, to the breathtaking art of the Mohatta Palace Museum, and to the Mausoleum where Pakistan’s founder is buried.

First, we went to a very unique mosque. Whereas most mosques have a dome on top, the entire structure of this one was a single dome. On the inside, the curved ceiling was covered with 70,000 tiny mirrors - the small amount of light given off by the lanterns near the doorways was reflected again and again to illuminate the entire building (which has a capacity of 5000 people). The acoustics we such that the tiniest whisper was echoed around the entire room. Aside from the barrier enclosing the women’s area, it was the most awe-inspiring, egalitarian place of worship I’ve ever seen.

Next, we went to the Mausoleum where Pakistan’s founder is buried. Our guide managed to get the guards to unlock the entrance to the underground chamber, where the body is actually buried. I was stunned at the extensive use of marble for everything from the casket to the pathways outside. This marble comes from Baluchistan, and is relatively cheap compared to Canadian prices. It’s the ultimate material for building public spaces with beauty, durability, and accessibility.

We were then treated to a ride around the neighbourhood on a rickshaw - the three-wheeled, 2-stroke vehicles that act as taxis all over the city. The joke is that they’re so bumpy, a pregnant woman shouldn’t use them lest her child fall out.

Then, we took a ride on a horse-drawn carriage around the block. It’s amazing to see all these different modes of transportation - cars, buses, rickshaws, bikes, motorcycles, donkey carts, horse-drawn carriages, pedestrians - all sharing the same street. Everyone is conscientious of everyone else. Rather than following rules of the road, they follow a sort of collective common sense.

Our next stop was a visit to the Mohatta Palace Museum, where there was a photography exhibit, as well as a showcase of ancient ceramics and tilework. After that it was off to Clifton Beach, where we had the pleasure of taking a camel ride. The beachfront is largely barren, but there is massive high-rise residential development about to happen here. At the moment though, all that exists is a block of luxury apartments and a golf course. There are also a variety of food outlets right along the beach.

11:45 PM

We spent the evening at BBQ Tonight, a four-storey barbecue restaurant in KArachi. Every time we eat, I’m introduced to so many new kinds of food! I had vegetable kabobs, with yogourt dip, dal, spinach with cottage cheese, fried bread, and vegetable curry. The carnivores had all sorts of meat that had been roasted on a spit over hot coals. It was quite the dining experience, especially since we got to sit on the top floor. Pakistanis typically eat their dinner very late - around 9:00 PM. When we left the restaurant at 11:00 PM, there were still families with children going in to eat.

Food is the ultimate form of hospitality here. Everywhere we go, our relatives lay out any number of exotic dishes for us to have. It doesn’t matter if we’re hungry or not, they will offer us everything under the sun. “Eat, young Sam!” Hasan will say, scooping yet another spoonful of dal onto my plate. There’s little I can do but smile politely as he watches me eat.

I met Nida, Romina’s daughter, tonight at dinner. She’s done a master’s in the USA for Special Education. We talked all night about all kinds of topics. She has invited us he The Second Floor tomorrow to see a talk by the author of Hacking the Planet.

Sam Nabi

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