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A tour of Karachi on the Super Savari Express

The Super Savari Express bus. (Photo courtesy: Super Savari Express)
Karachi is Pakistan’s largest and most multicultural city, with a diverse ethnic, religious and political make-up that most residents are proud of. But the city is often in the spotlight for being a trouble spot — and many people from Karachi are well aware of this.
Some choose to live in fear and rarely venture beyond their comfort zone. Then there are those who accept the realities of living in a city with an estimated population of between 15 and 25 million people, and embrace it no matter what happens. And some in the latter camp, fiercely loyal to their city, believe Karachi has a lot to offer and that they can help change perceptions for the better.
In December 2014, two such individuals, Atif bin Arif and Bilal Hassan, both born and raised in Karachi, came up with the idea of the city’s first guided bus tour — the “Super Savari Express.”
This was their way of encouraging local tourism, and educating the public about the city’s rich heritage. They sell tour tickets at 2,500 Pakistani rupees ($24) through their Facebook page, and aim to help both Pakistanis and foreigners access religious and historical sites that have been forgotten and are now hidden in the busy city streets.

‘Yellow devils’
One of the unique aspects of the Super Savari Express tour is that you have the opportunity to explore the city in a typical Pakistani bus. Once known as the “yellow devils,” Pakistani buses are fast, with passengers sometimes expected to jump onto the bus as it drives past a stop; others may have to sit on the roof if there is no room inside.
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be able to go on one of the Super Savari Express bus tours. When deciding where to sit on the bus, I chose the most exciting spot — on the roof.
That was an incredibly exhilarating experience, affording panoramic views of the city. However, I had to climb up using a ladder attached to the side; I had no cushion to sit on, no safety belt, and had to use a couple of rods attached to the roof to help maintain my balance. I even had a well-to-do looking man from Karachi ask me, rather patronizingly, if it was not a bit dangerous for me to be up there. Since it was such a memorable experience, I am glad that I did not let his comment change my seating arrangements.

First stop on the tour
At around 8 a.m., bright and early on a Sunday, we started our tour and briefly stopped at our first site, Kabootar Chowk, a roundabout known for its hordes of pigeons, opposite the Sindh High Court. I was surprised to learn that a statue of Mahatma Gandhi once stood there, but of course after the Partition of India, it was removed and given to the Indian Embassy in Islamabad. The roundabout is now a popular destination for families on days off.
Our next stop was at Zaibunnisa Street, located in the famous neighborhood of Saddar. I was most interested in exploring this part of Karachi mainly because it is one of the oldest parts of the city, and there are still remnants of British colonial architecture there. I had often heard stories from my grandfather about shopping on Elphinstone Street, an earlier name for Zaibunnisa Street, as it was once the most fashionable shopping destination in the city. One could find a wide variety of clothing, jewelry, watches, and shoes as well as many other items.
As it was a Sunday, no one was around, and we were able to comfortably wander through the streets of Saddar. While we were unable to go inside the New Memon Mosque, we did get a chance to peek into a Parsi temple. Later, we stopped by a small restaurant in the area for a hearty Pakistani breakfast — paratha, omelet and chai. My favorite!

Empress Market impresses
We then went to one of the most popular and busy markets in Karachi, Empress Market. Today, Empress Market is where many people from the city shop for spices, vegetables, pets and household goods. Historically, however, it is the site where many Indian soldiers were publically executed after a failed uprising against the British in 1857.
After wandering around in the market, we went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a large and beautifully designed church just a short ride away, and then on to Flagstaff House, the former residence of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. The museum in Flagstaff House is fascinating as it holds various personal items which once belonged to the Jinnah family, and some of the rooms have even been arranged to show visitors how they were used.
Our last stop was Eduljee Dinshaw Road where the Karachi Port Trust Building and Imperial Customs House are located. Eduljee Dinshaw Road felt like another world with its fountains, wooden benches, clean paved roads, and large heritage-style street lamps. At the end of the road was also a small Hindu temple that we were unable to go into. Yet it was nice to know that it was there!
The Super Savari Express tour of Karachi can be an important experience for Pakistanis living in the country or abroad. While many hesitate to explore this large metropolis due to security concerns, the trip can show you a side of Karachi that you have never seen. It can help you appreciate and accept the many layers that make up the city’s rich heritage.
I now realize that by making an effort to understand Karachi, it can only help you improve your relationship with the city and its widely diverse population.

• Naveen Shakir is an interior decorator and author of The Design Souk,, a blog about travel, interiors, shopping and home décor in the Eastern Province.