It is better not to read too much about Karachi before you go there. To be warned that you will be setting foot in the world’s most dangerous city that is not located officially in a war zone or one that is voted year after year as amongst the least desirable places to live not only takes away the joy and serendipity of judging the city for yourself, it is also acceptance of a view that is a little misleading and overplayed.
A long time ago before Pakistan became a country, Karachi used to be a pretty pleasant place, a salubrious port city of tidy lighted streets and swimming beaches on the Arabian Sea closer to Muscat than to Mumbai. To its original Sindhi and Baluch population were added Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsees from all across the Indian Subcontinent. In fact up to 1947, on the eve of the partition of India the majority of Karachi’s people were Hindus by faith. Today most of the Hindus have gone, mostly to India, small communities of them as well as Christians remain but they and their places of worship except for a few colonial churches are inconspicuous and not so easy to find.
Today unabated migration into the city from all across the country and from Afghanistan and its borderlands (in the 1980s) has turned Karachi into one of the most populated urban areas in the world, the city with world’s biggest Afghan population and also the largest city in the Islamic world.
Karachi is an urban planning nightmare suffering from lack of water and frequent power outages that has affected its industries and encouraged many of its factories to shut or move abroad many to Bangladesh.
Despite its reputation as an unsafe city and a fighting turf for guns and gangs, Karachi has a soft, savvy and sophisticated side with shiny shopping malls selling stylish and high quality clothes, great restaurants serving world class food and a population that donates more to help its own poor than any other big city its size in the world. Since my first visit in 2008 I have visited Karachi many times, each occasion vowing never to go again.