I landed at about 6 AM on an Emirates flight, came in about half an hour
earlier. Had my temperature taken upon arrival , and was half expecting some drama at immigration thanks to my Indian origins, of course I have a British passport now, but was still skeptical. Turned out to be the fastest immigration ever, the Indian immigration officials always seem to take more interest in my visit, despite having an Overseas Citizen id.
First impressions of Karachi airport were : desperately in need of a makeover, hardly any women in sight, particularly unaccompanied like yours truly, an anachronism – reminded me of a railway platform in the interiors of Bihar or UP. It sort of level set my expectations to an extent on what to expect for the rest of the trip. However, at no point did I feel unsafe, or faced any intimidating behaviour, which was reassuring, and not something I would say for North India. In fact, everyone was helpful and mannerly. I blended into the background, being Indian and speaking at least two local lingos ensured everyone took me for a local.
Getting the visa was actually pretty simple, thanks to the new online ‘e-visa’ procedure; a British travel document certainly has its advantages at times. Despite my Indian origins, very apparent on the passport, I wasn’t asked for any additional paperwork, and the visa was issued within the appointed time of a month. I had to follow-up a couple of times, but always got a prompt response, in fact was very impressed with the whole process. At least on paper (which is what it was, the visa was a piece of paper) the process seemed to work. There was a hiccup though, as I was soon to discover. Visiting Pakistan, and having the opportunity to explore the land of my ancestors, mine too by default, is a dream come true. Don’t think I felt this happy even when I first travelled to a ‘phoren’ country, in this case Europe, when I was still living in India.
I got down to booking my tickets immediately, and discussing travel plans with my lovely friend in Pakistan, whom helped sponsor my trip and bring my plans to fruition. Meeting her on Instagram was a stroke of serendipity.
Got a taxi from the airport, the prepaid registered types, it cost just PKR 1200. The cab driver was very kind and understanding, the poor guy had to drive me around to different ATMs, so I could withdraw some cash. The best ATMs to withdraw from are local Pakistani banks. I stuck to Allied Bank throughout my trip since they had no fee. The worst was Stanchart, each withdrawal cost me PKR 500. Although, recommend carrying some foreign exchange to allow for some initial expenses like cab fare, buying water, sim cards etc on the first day. Finding a working ATM was quite problematic, and credit card or debit cards are not common excepting in big malls and restaurants.
My friend had also very kindly organised the accommodation and a sim card, so all I had to do was get it loaded with a scheme of my choice. I did that, got a ‘Jazz’ sim card, in total I paid PKR 1500 for a 10 GB data package and some calls, and only topped up once after for a small amount. Now, I was all set to travel independently in Karachi. There is a local ‘Uber’ like taxi company called ‘Careem,’ and ‘Uber’ also operates services locally. I had both apps downloaded on the phone, but preferred ‘Careem’ because you could settle in cash, and with a local sim card it’s easier to call, give directions and be contacted. Guess where I went first?