Wirasat tour: An exciting historical trip through Karachi

By: Mustafa Ansari

I have a serious question for the Karachiites – how do you spend your Sundays? The most frequent answer to the question is: nothing, just watching a good show on Netflix, scrolling through countless reels on Instagram, YouTube Shorts, or even sleeping all day long.

Thankfully, Team Wirasat, an eager group of A-Level students, executed a historical tour of the prominent landmarks of Karachi. They aimed to conduct a historical excursion with sustainable practices of those historical attractions of the city, which are well preserved, well maintained, and rather unique, i.e., only a few locals know about these attractions. These include the National Museum of Pakistan, the Quaid-e-Azam House Museum, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and to top this off, breakfast of traditional Halwa Puri at Fresco Sweets located in Burns Road, and transportation through the metropolitan culture of the city – Karachi’s very own SL Bus.

With their motto of “Discover the Lost Karachi”, five A-Level students, with a group of approximately thirty touring guests, set out to explore these distinctive historical sites, on the 28th of January 2024. These people came from all walks of life, ranging from O Level students, to university graduates, Content Writers, IT Developers, Business Analysts, Data Scientists and other occupations as well – all with the passion to explore the real Karachi.

This tour officially started at 11:00 AM and the day’s first stop was breakfast of traditional Halwa Puri at Fresco Sweets, which is a renowned sweet shop, serving customers since the inception of Pakistan. Just think, when the opening of a tour is so sweet, how is the rest of the tour going to be? This breakfast proved to potentially break the ice between the different guests, as well as foster healthy conversations among individuals.

After the scrumptious breakfast had been over, the tour officially started with a visit to the National Museum, which contained various galleries, ranging from the prehistoric and protohistoric galleries, each hosting the Indus Civilization artefacts and Gandhara Civilization Sculptures. The museum also houses an Ethnological Gallery with life-size statues of different ethnicities living in the four provinces of modern-day Pakistan.

The museum has a collection of seals and statues found at the Mohenjo-daro site. Some galleries show the clothing Muslims used to make, the pottery work done by people, glasses made by Muslims, and the apparatus that was used. Moreover, the museum also has a collection of 58,000 old coins (some dating from 74 Al-Hijra) and hundreds of well-preserved sculptures.

Some 70,000 publications, books and other reading material on Archaeology, including a rare copy of the Shahnamah-e-Firdousi, which translates as the Book of Kings, which tells the stories of kings, their battles, and their defeats.

It also includes ancient Persian legends and myths, and one copy of the Mahabharat, which is one of the two major Smriti texts and Sanskrit epics of ancient India revered in Hinduism.

Probably, the most impressive feature about this museum, in particular, is that it contains a separate “Holy Quran Gallery”; the National Museum has more than 300 copies of the Holy Quran (all are exactly the same), out of which around 52 rare manuscripts are on display.

The organisers of this event had specially invited the Co-Founder of Training Impact and Youth Impact, Mr Hamza Naseem Iqbal, as their Chief Guest, who was there to review and explain how possibly these students have put in the effort to promote tourism in their local area.

Furthermore, before exiting the National Museum and departing Team Wirasat, as he had another commitment elsewhere; Mr Hamza gave a little prep talk, in which he mainly said that Pakistanis, especially Karachiities lack the culture of visiting museums, and he also acclaimed the organisers, applauding their idea of taking the Karachi residents to a city tour of the less known sites in the city, and through this guided sightseeing, connecting them with the lesser known aspects of the city, and sparking curiosity and interest in exploring and preserving the city’s history.

Moreover, he also interacted with the attendees during the trip and found them surprisingly much more curious to learn about the city than he had expected.

The second stop on this tour was the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Karachi and is located near the Empress Market in the Saddar locality in central Karachi. The church was completed in 1881 and was also the first church in Sindh, and can accommodate 1,500 worshipers.

The visitors were specially given a guided, extensive tour of the cathedral by the Father, who also gave a short speech explaining the attributes of the Almighty and His many creations. The tourists, hence gained valuable insights into the Christian community in Karachi. Also, the cathedral’s magnificent structure added grandeur, making the tour intellectually stimulating and culturally rich. This was a much-needed initiative to foster inter-faith harmony and understanding of other cultures and religions, something which is sadly missing in today’s world.

The last stop on this enticing event was the Quaid-e-Azam House Museum, commonly referred to as the Flagstaff House. The historic building consists of arched openings, carved pillars, semicircular balconies and six spacious rooms, which include two bedrooms, two drawing rooms, one study and one dining room. A tile on the roof has the date 1868 embossed on it, the year the house was constructed.

The house was named Flagstaff House as the British Indian Army rented it and allotted it to senior officers including General Douglas Gracy, who later became the second commander in chief of the Pakistan Army.

The house was purchased by Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1943 from Sohrab Katrak, a former mayor of Karachi, for Rs115,000; Jinnah paid Rs5,000 in advance and then paid the rest later. Jinnah’s retirement plan was to move into the house.

Fatima Jinnah lived in the house for longer; she spent 16 years here, and she even contested the 1965 presidential elections from this house. After former president Ayub Khan won the elections, she left Flagstaff House and moved to Mohatta Palace.

Inside, the Quaid-e-Azam House Museum contains historical memorabilia of a bygone era, used by the Father of the Nation himself. Furniture, ancient lamps, crockery, and clothes used by the leader are creatively preserved and displayed everywhere.

The study is the room that is most elaborately furnished using a reading table and chairs, along with table lamps and essential stationery. Wooden shelves stand tall here, filled with the crockery used by Jinnah and his sisters.

While the main house has retained its exterior charm, the annexe has been refurbished, with interior walls being broken down to create a larger hall and the roof being modified to prevent the structure from collapsing. Most of the outhouses have also been converted into storage areas and offices, but one of them was converted into a library in 2003 for the convenience of students and scholars. The gardens have also been redesigned with repairs and restoration work being done to return them to their former beauty and you can even see the vintage cars of Jinnah and his sister on display in the garage, the likes of which are Fatima Jinnah’s 1955 Cadillac Series 62 convertible and her 1965 Mercedes Benz 200.

All of this information was given to us by the only tour guide available at the Flagstaff House, and therefore, participants gained a deeper knowledge of the political and historical context through reconnoitring this landmark spot.

After exiting the Flagstaff House, the organisers thanked the attendees for taking their time and being part of this galvanising experience, before dropping them at the final pickup and dropoff location of Frere Hall, marking the closure of this event at 3:00 PM.

In the end, we must appreciate the endeavour of Team Wirasat, which showed us the hidden pearl that is Karachi. Finally answering the pertinent question for all the Karachiiities: what do you do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and the answer is simple -you go on an exciting trip with Team Wirasat to discover the Lost Karachi.

The writer is a freelance columnist

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