Karachi Memories

Last week I ran across an interesting slide show on the Foreign Policy website.  It is a collection of photos taken in Karachi, Pakistan during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The introduction to the slide show talks about how Karachi (population 13 million) has become one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but then goes on to describe what life was like in an earlier time:

But the Karachi of the 1960s and 1970s was a much different place. The city became a stop on the “Hippie Trail,” a popular route that led bohemians from Britain and the United States across Asia on their search for enlightenment. With the influx of Westerners before the country’s takeover by Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1977, Karachi enjoyed a period of relative permissiveness, with nightclubs, bars, cinemas, and restaurants hosting the city’s vibrant nightlife. Here’s a special collection of photographs from that time, courtesy of the Citizen’s Archive of Pakistan, a non-profit organization dedicated to cultural and historical preservation. 

Since I spent my childhood in Karachi during those years, as you can imagine, I savored every photo.

People often ask me what it was like growing up there. I tell them that since I was born there and lived there as a kid, I didn’t know anything else.

I do have great memories of growing up in Karachi during that time period and these photos got me thinking about some of them. Herewith are ten of those memories, in no particular order other than how they popped into my head!

1. Summers at the pool. Karachi in the summer is hot – mind-numbing, brain-cell-melting, skin-burning hot – so as soon as school was out our family (and other families my parents worked with) would sign up for pool memberships at the local hotels.  The Hotel Intercontinental.  The KLM Midway House at the airport. We pretty much spent every summer day at the pool, swimming and feasting on shrimp and french- fries. By the late 60’s our school, Karachi American School had its own pool so that was where we hung out.

2. Winter weekends at the beach. The organization my parents worked for owned a ‘beach hut’ at Hawkes Bay, where we usually spent our Saturdays. Keep in mind that a cold winter day would be one in which the temps dropped into the upper 70’s. Besides swimming and building sand castles,we always had time for a camel ride. During turtle season, we would stay late into the night to “go turtle hunting,” which wasn’t hunting at all but rather watching the giant green turtles come ashore to lay eggs (and sometimes helping them up the beach). Several weeks later we would be on hand as the eggs hatched, and then we’d help the babies get to the ocean.

3. Riding around town in blue-smoke-belching, white-knuckle-inducing three-wheeled rickshaws. How we survived I’ll never know.

4. Midnight runs to the airport with my dad. Most international flights in Karachi landed between midnight and 5AM because of the excessive heat. My folks believed that every visitor we had (and we had a lot) should be met and sent off, no matter what time of the night they were coming or going. For a kid to be able to get up in the middle of the night to go to the airport with her dad was a big deal!

5.   Eating chicken tikka at The Spot, a roadside eatery on the highway heading out to the airport. It  had the absolute best chicken tikka in town. I know that chicken tikka (succulent chicken marinated in spices and roasted over coals) is a common menu item in Indian and Pakistani restaurants worldwide, but I have come to the conclusion that this is one food item that simply cannot be replicated outside Pakistan. The Spot, with its tikka, naan, and greasy parathas was where we headed every Sunday night after church. When my family was preparing to leave Karachi n 1973 I remember being sad knowing I would probably never eat real chicken tikka again. I did eat real tikka again, on 3 trips back to Pakistan in 1980, 1985, and 1986. I haven’t had the real deal since then, unfortunately.

6. Crab fishing in Karachi harbor. Fishing boats in Karachi are called ‘bundar boats’ and a fun thing we used to do was hire them for an evening of crab-fishing. As we caught the crabs, the crew would cook them for us right there on the deck. I didn’t like crabs (and still don’t), but spending an evening on the boat with family and friends was great fun.

7.  Christmas caroling at the Hotel Intercontinental on Christmas Eve. This was something that our church did every year. We always felt sorry for the foreign businessmen who were stuck in the hotel on Christmas Eve, so this was our way of cheering them up.

8. The arrival of television in 1968. Broadcasts were only in the evenings and not on Mondays. At first we didn’t have one, so would hang out at our neighbor’s place to watch the one English program that aired each night.  Bewitched and Marcus Welby, MD were among our favorites.

9.  Skate-boarding on the roof of our house. The roofs of our cement houses were flat, with a wall around the perimeter. My mom used the space to hang laundry while my sister and I treated the flat surface as our own personal skate-boarding park.

10. Pot-luck dinners at church.  I remember Mrs. Patterson’s chicken curry as being exceptionally divine.

There are thousands more memories, of course, but I will stop.

Perhaps you, dear reader, grew up in Karachi as well.  What special memories do you have? Please leave a comment and share one.

Rickshaw photo: Karachi Digest

Chicken Tikka photo: Infokorners.com (click on the link for a recipe)



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32 thoughts on “Karachi Memories

  1. Thanks, Jo. I think I can smell some tikka cooking right now. Karachi is much more than a place — it’s sights, sounds, smells, filth, beauty, exasperation, frustration, joy and fun. Do you agree — we really had a good, happy life during those years. Thanks for all the reminders.

  2. Love the post so many memories. One of my first was driving to Hawkes Bay just a few days after my arrival. We passed a place nicknamed by the Americans as smelly corner and by the Brits as Pooh Corner (after winnie the pooh) and the smell was so bad my fellow passenger passed out! Thankfully the pakistanis of the dispersion have blessed us with good tikka and beautiful fresh naan bread

  3. We were newlyweds when we lived in Karachi (1967 – 1968)
    I remember the little church and all the nice people there. Your parents were especially nice to us. Those were good years in Pakistan, there was not a lot of violence. Travel seemed safe and people seemed friendly.

  4. Sweet memories!!! Most of these are mine as well, especially Sunday night at The Spot. Don’t forget the Fanta…can still see your Dad waving his napkin for another bottle of that orange stuff..

  5. Joanne,
    While it is quite safe to say that Karachi is a vastly different place than in the 60s and 70s, even in it current difficult condition there are memories to be had. Our daughter was born in Karachi in 2005 and I expect some of her memories will include aromatic dinners at Auntie Apo’s house, wide open marble floors on which to play without reservation with friends, Tandoori Parhatas, and fresh nan.

    The beach hut is still there and still offers much for a day away, but it is harder and harder to go for an overnight because of its sad lapse in condition over the past decade or so. We have a great many memories there as well.

    Many a Karachi resident sits and thinks of the days before 1977…these are hard days in Karachi and we should pray for a new day of favor.

  6. Joan,

    Most interesting. Which years were you at KAS? Class of?

    I was there from 64 through 72 – Class of ’72.

    – Babar

  7. I was in Karachi from 73-76. Did third through sixth grades at KAS! What awesome memories. Crab fishing, turtle watching, school trip to Mohenjedaro, the stink of the city on the way to the beach, the wild parrots visiting our garden, the food…chapati, chicken tikka… the Midway House hotel…my best friend’s dad was the chef there..his lobster thermidore (sp?) was melt in your mouth yum. I spent much time running around that hotel. Wish I had more photos.

  8. I have borned in Karachi in 1950 and grown up at Victoria Road in Saddar. We lived at Lyar Chamber, a Porsche flat on a prestige Area Saddar. Went to St Xavier School, on Napier Road, where mostly Anglo-indian lived. I had avery good memories from earls 1960. Gymkhana Club, hoel Metropole and Frere Hall.
    I and My elder brother were aktive with Seas Scouts at Naval Colony, near Beach Luxury Hotel. Shopping at Boris Bazar and rememereda big fire in earls 1960s.
    I left Karachi with My family in 1965 and settlled in Sweden.
    I Wentworth back in 1970s and 1980s. In 1975 rememered Disco on second floor at Metropol Hotel and swimmingpool pool at Holiday Inn.
    Tahir Babar, Uppsala Sweden. Babarone@yahoo.com

  9. In 1958 my dad worked for the Corp of Engineers/ U.S. ARMY. We were stationed in Karachi Pakistan and lived at 42b Dreg Road a two story (4 family concrete building) around a wall. The black American school bus would take us to Karachi American School everyday. I was in the 4th and 5th grade there. On the weekends we went to Hawkes Bay to swim since we are from Hawaii. We ate curry with chapati with english tea everyday. At home we had a cook, babysitters, guard, and maids to do the daily chorus. We went on the “bunda” fishing boats also, caught lots of fish! I lived in Pakistan for two years (1958-1960).

  10. Loved reading your post , Joanne. I was born and raised in Karachi; early 60s. Have fond memories myself; in fact wrote a memoir “Karachi Backwaters: My love affair with boats and other adventures”. Basically about spending family days around the Sandspit beach area. The book has some pics as well. Pls. visit http://www.karachibackwaters.com


  11. Great memories here. I was born and raised in Karachi. Now live in Canada. The beach was our second home away from home. Mostly Sandspit; and on occasion to Hawkesbay (Coleman’s Hut; i.e. the Bapitis Church hut). We would go overnite bunderboating, crabbing, the huge sailboat tacked all the way from Keamari harbour all the way to Sandspit. Spent months at Sandspit during school holidays. Even wrote a book about all the adventures. Sadly, it has changed for the worse. Friends tell me it is dangerous to go to Sandspit or Hawkesbay and overnite picnics are out of the question. Thanks for this post, Jo. All the best. Share some pics everyone. Could I??? best regs, wayne,

    • The Baptist hut you reference is the one we used. In fact, my grandfather was instrumental in getting it purchased when he visited my family in 1962. Speaking of Colemans, I and my mother and sister will be traveling to Missouri to visit them next weekend.

      • Wow. A small world indeed. Not sure if the Coleman’s will remember me. I am sure Kevin and Ann will. They may remember the Marolly family for sure as we spent our beach days with them. I remember one time we stayed at the Coleman hut for a few days (1978?). One night we got hit by a huge storm; rain, high winds, large waves crashing right over the sand dunes, right by the hut. That night they hung Bhutto. The next day most of the major roads in Karachi were flooded. We could not get back to the city for a few days. Also remember gathering seaweed for Mr. Coleman’s garden on more than one occasion.

  12. Thanks so much for these wonderful memories! My family too lived in Karachi, from 1966-1970. I was pretty young aged 4-8, but I have the most wonderful and magical memories of the place and of the time. Many of them similar to yours….. attending KAS for the beginning of my school career, the turtle watching, and crabbing in the bunder boats! Eating miniature oranges from the little tree in our yard, the wonderful smell as we drove to the ocean, the tremendous thunderstorms! Seeing the brightly colored sheep wander the countryside, the women’s gorgeous sari dresses, the little pajamas we wore, the clothes our talented tailor made, and so many more wonderful memories.

    • Thanks for writing. If you were there from 66 to 70, we overlapped at KAS! Were you a Thompson then? If so I can look you up in some old KAS yearbooks that I still have!

      • Hi! Yes I was a Thompson then, but was in kindergarten and first grade, etc.- my brother Bruce was older and perhaps he is in the yearbook. I absolutely loved KAS and my teachers, so did my brother……nothing but fantastic and very special memories.

  13. Hi Joann P.. Nice post of Karachi. I lived in Saddar from ’52 to ’77 , studied at St Pats… Played keyboards with fellow bandmembers from ’65 to ’77..our band played at Midway-house from ’72 to 74… Beautiful memories of Karachi (then days), God Bless , clarry