14:00 – Arrival in Karachi
Touch down at Jinnah International Airport Karachi on my first assignment Working in Pakistan. So far all good (as I finish the last of my Moet and extract myself from my business class seat). Jostle through the terminal and I’m met by a senior immigration official to process my work visa on arrival. “Do you have the express processing fee?” he asked, quickly pocketing the crisp US$100 bill I offered him. A couple of stamps, some paperwork and I’m cleared through to baggage collection. I head out to the front of the terminal, negotiate the rugby maul that is the taxi service desk and we are on our way to the city.
Rule’s don’t seem to be an important part of driving here. Motorbikes, trucks, cars, brightly coloured buses with people clinging on, even horse and carts, all vie for the narrow strip of tar that is the highway.
We arrive at the Avari Towers hotel located in Saddar Town, the historic British-era core of Karachi. The hotel is modern and rooms comfortable (although a little tired), I settle in and change out of my travel clothes.
Surveying the street scene from the window I notice groups of locals, playing cricket. I decide to head out and spectate. I only make it three steps from the hotel foyer when I’m confronted by a huge lump of a man in a security outfit. He asks what exactly I think I’m doing. “Going to see if I can get an over or two in with that group playing cricket up the road” I reply enthusiastically. His look said it all even before his lecture on where and when I could stroll around Karachi. There was not going to be any cricket today.
I retreat back to reception and ask is there a possibility of getting a beer somewhere. I’m told to go to a room on the 8th floor. I knock expectantly and am pleased to find a nice lounge bar inside. I settle in with my laptop and order a beer.
Eat and Drink
The beer, Murree’s (a pale larger style), is actually pretty good. It’s the most popular beer in the country I am told, which is not surprising as it’s the only manufacturer in this predominantly Muslim country. I catch up on some emails and then order another “Sorry but we have run out” was the reply. I’m dumbfounded. “Will there be more later?” I ask hopefully. “Yes, of course, we will have more tomorrow” was the happy response. Oh well, time for dinner.
The Sky BBQ and Pizza restaurant is located (as the name suggests) on the roof of the hotel. It offers a great buffet spread of local dishes, BBQ meats and a very un-italian pizza (although it is cooked in a wood fired oven). Great views of the city but outside can be a bit on the warm and humid side, depending on the season.
08:00 – Karachi Day 2
This morning we drive across town to the office. I’ve seen some pretty chaotic diving in my time but nothing compared to the “drive by feel” style here. Office has more security than an Aussie airport but I still managed to enter via the fire escape after locking myself out going to the bathroom. At Lunchtime we head down to the Dolman mall, Clifton Beach. This is an impressively modern facility with all the regular shops you would expect in any capital city mall. The food court has plenty of food choices, local and Western with some of the higher end restaurants looking out over the water. The beach itself looks impressive but the water quality is questionable due to a number of recent oil spills.
14:00 – Day 3, Heading to site
Karachi domestic airport is a quite an oasis strangely enough. Its clean, neat and efficient. In contrast, my destination airport in Rahim Yar Khan has sand bags and machine gun posts on the roof. We made it through the ruck of locals, who never seem to be going anywhere or waiting for anyone, with bags in tow. My military escort is waiting consisting of 2 x special forces jeeps with machine gun on roof and an armored car. This makes me feel very special….or stupid (not sure which one yet). I can still clearly hear the head of security tell me, not 24 hours before, that the main thing to remember in Pakistan is to “not draw attention to yourself.”
The 45 min drive to site was uneventful. We passed through a few small villages, travel along a very lush green valley with towering mountains in the background. I promised myself I would return to visit those mountains one day, as soon as I break away from the shackles of work and career.
I’ve been back in Pakistan a number of times since and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have found the people to be the friendliest, the food to be amazing and never once found myself in a situation I considered threatening or dangerous. Of course, the subject will always revert to cricket so be sure to have armed yourself with the latest International cricket statistics!