Karachi Travel Guide

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still life ( Handi Craft) photo + computer painting

still life ( Handi Craft) photo + computer painting

Amin Kasmani

There was nothing much at Karachi until the Mirs of Talpur seized it from the Khan of Kalat in 1795 and constructed a mud fort at Manora. Under its protection, a small town grew up, whose population had reached 13,000 by 1818.
Not much happened thereafter until 1st February 1839, when a British ship - the Wellesley - anchored off Manora. Two days later the little fort surrendered without a shot being fired on either side. The fickle finger of fate had
suddenly shoved the sleepy back-water towards becoming a megalopolis, a world city.

WRESTED FROM THE SWAMPS: The settlement was remote and swampy, isolated by hundreds of miles of bleak desert in every direction but the sea. Nonetheless, within four years, the capital of Sind was transferred there and building began in earnest. By 1847 the Napier Barracks (now governinent offices) were completed. A census next year showed that the population had already reached
50,000. The filth and squalor proliferated, everything became plastered with smelly black mud from the mangrove swamps, so a Municipal Committee was formed

to levy funds and provide public utilities. In 1848 the municipality's income was Rs.6,000; in 1849 it was Rs.18,000 and in 1850, Rs.27,000 - an increase
reflecting the mind-boggling population explosion.

The committee laid out a whole network of roads, named after itself; in what is now Central Karachi. Preedy Street was named after the Revenue Commissioner; McLeod Road after the Collector of Customs and so on. Even in those days Karachi had a traffic problem. There were so many carts and carriages that the roads had to be paved with gravel chippings (an unheard of refinement, way ahead of London.) The streets were watered daily by municipal bullock carts, to damp down the dust. As revenues increased, public works were undertaken on a grand scale. Frere Hall (a museum and library) was finished in 1865,
Mereweather Clock Tower in 1867, Boulton Market in 1883, Empress Market in 1889... The town turned into a city.

As people poured in, the drinking water problem, always difficult, became acute. There is no natural source of water in Karachi; all water consumed there must be fetched from somewhere else. Last century, water drawn from the Indus was brought by camel train to the cantonment. The wealthier merchants sent mule carts to the sweetwater springs in nearby Clifton. Less fortunate people bought
drinking water from municipal watercarriers until household pipes could be laid. Though provision proceeded apace, demand has always been ahead of supply. Karachi's poor, in places like Korangi, are still waiting for safe drinking
water.

At the turn of the century a public tram service commenced from Saddar (the cantonment) to the new harbour at Kiamari. The horses wore straw hats to avoid sunstroke and water for them was provided by the philanthropic "Drinking Trough Society of Karachi." The troughs can still be seen here and there in the city. Modernising the harbour commenced in 1860, proceeding by fits and starts. By
1882 the Mereweather Pier was completed and pilgrims for Mecca no longer had to embark at Manora. By 1900, Karachi was one of the the biggest and best outfitted ports in the world. Nonetheless, it continued to be troubled by the ague and the plague until the sanitation system was completed, just after the first World War. The war itself brought immense prosperity to Karachi's
merchants. Clifton's promenade, pier and park were gifted to the city by Sir Jehangir H. Kothari OBE in 1919. The complex Cost Rs.300,000 to build, an absolute fortune in those days. Other public parks, including the Zoological
Gardens on Garden Road were laid out at this time. Even more new roads and buildings were constructed in the interwar period. As the population approached the quarter million mark, those who could moved out to the suburbs, building houses in a style best described as "South Asian Hollywood." commuting arrived with a vengeance and one of the world's first rapid transit systems was inaugurated.

MELTING POT: The building of Karachi attracted Goan cooks, Anglo-Indian bartenders, Sikh bricklayers, and Chinese washermen. Parsi, Hindu and Jain merchants came from Gujarat and Rajasthan. Until Partition, their camel
caravans regularly crossed the Thar. The Parsis built a Tower of Death out at Korangi. A few of the merchants' big mansions still remain downtown. The Lebanese community became sizeable. People of African descent can also be seen in and around Karachi.  Abyssinia  i.e. modern day Ethiopia  is called  Habashah in Arabic, Persian and Urdu.  This became a generic name for all persons originating from Africa except for those coming from North Africa. Africans were captured and sold as slave to Persian and Baluchi rulers. These people who populate Makran are called Makranis or Habashi.

At Partition, Hindus, Armenians and Jews left the city en masse. Muslim refugees from India, calling themselves Mohajir, migrated in by train, boat, air, truck, even on foot. It is not known how many millions arrived. Karachi,new capital of a new country, was so pushed for space that its government servants had to sleep in the public parks and gardens in tents! The travler further diversify the ethnic mix of the city. Many English stayed on, their ranks now depleted by age. Vintage couples can be spotted at their usual watering holes, the Metropole Hotel and the statelier clubs in the early evening.

Subsequent decades have seen the influx unabated. The Karachi Development Authority instituted the upgrading of amenities on a massive scale: new housing colonies, public buildings, roads, schools, colleges, markets, bazaars, business centres, to keep pace with development needs. Cycle rickshaws have now been replaced by thousands of scooter-rickshaws.

After Pakistan's civil war in 1971, thousands of Biharis (Urdu-speaking Muslims from Bangladesh) arrived by boat. In the 1980s Afghan refugees joined migrant workers from the Frontier who have laboured as dockworkers and porters for decades. Meanwhile, "economic refugees" from Pakistan's less developed areas, like Gilgit, Chitral and Hunza head for Karachi in search of jobs. The original
Sindhi speaking population is now a minority in the city.

Gas supply lines from Sui in Baluchistan were laid, the Hub Dam Scheme extended the Greater Karachi Water Project and the Circular Railway was completed. In the 1960s, two huge industrial areas were built, at Sind Industrial Estate and Landhi and in the 1970s three more: the Export Processing Zone, Pakistan Steel Mills Complex and Muhammad Bin Qasim Container Port. In the following decade, work on KANUPP, Karachi's nuclear power station, was inaugurated. Industrial growth has been spectacular.

RICH AND POOR: Original home of Pakistan's film and music industries, Karachi in the 1980s made more films and exported them to more countries than Hollywood. It houses the very latest in modern technology. The city works and sleeps in a haze of brick dust as buildings barely 30 years old are relentlessly torn down and replaced with something more up to date. The population of seven, maybe eight, million now extends over several hundred
square kilometres along the coast and into the desert, residing in modern apartment blocks, prestigious cooperative housing societies called "Colonies",
seaside mansions and sprawling shanty towns on the outskirts, areas of such appalling poverty that it is difficult to see how residents will ever be extricated from their plight. Working 16 hours a day, poor youths toil like
slaves, earning a pittance to produce elegant costume for the city's elite.

Part or or all of this text stems from the original article at: shahid.tanha@yahoo.com

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July 19, 2007 change by tanha

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