Thinking back to the few weeks I spent in this city always makes me chuckle. It’s one of the wildest places I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. When I first moved to New York City from California, my good friend Gabor told me “This city is all patchwork man: Problem here? Patch it up. Problem there? Just patch it up!” However Karachi takes this to a whole new level, to a point where you can’t help but marvel at the ingenuity of little fixes you see in the street. In terms of bustle and activity, it’s absolutely 110%, turned up to 11.
I was there for a good friend’s wedding and decided to stay a bit extra to wander around. To be honest, out of the handful of people I had met that grew up in Karachi, none of them really had anything great to say about it. It’s probably a great place to grow up, but for the average tourist, there isn’t yet a ton of obvious things to do or see. However, if you dig a little deeper, and are open to simply walking around and creating your own experiences, I discovered a world of absolutely wonderful and generous people, who left me disagreeing with all those sentiments about the city I had heard before coming.
That patchwork I was talking about? It’s incredible. One night while walking down a main avenue, about to call it a day, one guy pointed to a little hole in the wall, barely big enough for two people to fit in, and told me to go inside. It was an intricate network of tunnels hundreds of yards long that was lined with mini car parts shops right up against each other. It absolutely blew my mind. Even while not shooting, just riding in a car, it was like watching the most entertaining movie, where you are at the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next.
On a similar note, I need to point out that I felt safer here than in most western big cities I had been to. Granted, I get it, I’m a tourist. It automatically gives me many protections. On the first day of getting out of the nice neighborhood, I was hesitant to take out my camera in a crowd of people, but they reassured me. Two hours later I was walking around carelessly with my camera slung over one shoulder, probably with my iPhone out checking the map. There was no way I was going to get robbed. People see you as their guest, and guests are treated like absolutely royalty. Had someone grabbed my camera, I could guarantee that twenty guys would be on top of him immediately beating him to a pulp.
Another blessing is that Pakistan actually has a small white population. I don’t just mean fair skinned, I mean, genuinely looking like they are of English or Scottish decent. I’m a bit more ethnically ambiguous than that, but it allowed me to pass perfectly unnoticeable, while wearing the right clothing.
It’s good to keep in mind however, that this is a western man’s lens. The mind of a white man, driving the body of a white man. In this country, besides the very few downsides, it allows many privileges. In addition to the beauty, do I photograph the things that I find wrong in a society? Would a photographer from Karachi come to a western country and do a story on boredom and loneliness? I tried to be as aware of my Western gaze as I could, but the obvious things still stood out to me too much. It’s interesting to point out that a camel walking on the beach was just as much of a novelty to the locals as it was for me.
One evening stood out to me, after being shown a few new neighborhoods. Cruising 50 mph without a helmet on the back of a motorbike, flying by potholes deeper than you can see in, I would have thought I’d be more nervous, but I felt more alive than I had the whole trip. My new friend was speeding down one of Karachi’s main avenues as a blood red sun was setting over the neighborhood to our left, and the chanting from the mosque’s loudspeaker wailed overhead. Just parallel to us lay some railroad tracks and large dirt fields, where people walked along and congregated to play cricket. This was amazing.
After spending my last few afternoons on one of Karachi’s busiest avenues, I returned to New York where I went for an evening walk in lower Manhattan. I thought to myself “I’ve never found New York to be so peaceful and relaxing as I do now”
To sum it up, Karachi seemed to me like a strange city that I hadn’t heard many good things about by friends from there. But after my first week, even though I could see why they might say that, but I heavily disagreed. The ride from the airport alone was enough to get me excited at the adventures that lay ahead. In a city like this, without many obviously beautiful sights and “must see” locations, it takes some digging to find the gems. Here’s a brief look at what I found: