I have been visiting Pakistan once a year for three consecutive years now. My family is forever hospitable and hosts me as if I had never left the place. It is a blessing to be a part of an exclusive group of people that one can call one's own.
In the past three years, the currency of Pakistan (the rupee) has fallen considerably against the dollar. In 2011, $1 was equivalent to 80 rupees, in 2012 it was 92 rupees, and in 2013 it is not 105 rupees. Likewise that which cost 100 rupees in 2011 costs 150 rupees or more in 2013. Inflation is rampant and salaries have not increased. We see the same thing here in the United States, my salary has been frozen for the past two years yet the cost of rent, electricity, gas, water, heat, etc has gone up. Nevertheless, folks work very hard to make ends meet and to try to provide a better life for the next generation.
We took a trip to Thatta and Kheenjar Lake (about 3 hours from Karachi). Families were out and about, enjoying the break in the weather and the day off in the cool waters of the lake. On the way back from the lake we stopped over at the Jame Masjid built by Shah Jahan in Thatta and then headed over to see the historical cemetery at Makli.
The mosque was as beautiful as i remembered it to be two years ago. This year it was crowded; it made me happy to see Pakistani people enjoying their own history on the day of their Independence (we went out on August 14- Pakistan independence day). The front portion of the mosque, the mihrab (where the imam leads the prayer) was redone. My favorite parts were the different ceilings (above and below). The precision, the colors and the patterns all fit perfectly with the grandeur of the mosque.
Makli Cemetery lies in the outskirts of the city of Thatta. This cemetery is five centuries and is a testament to several styles of islamic art and architecture. There are over half a million graves here. The rise and fall of several islamic civilizations are shown through the architectural designs of the mausoleums that the rich built for themselves and their families. The sands of Makli are rich in the turbulent history of the region. If folks could be buried in such ostentatious displays of fortune, what must their normal lives have been like?
The city of Thatta was once a flourishing place as one can see from the remnants of grandeur left behind. Now, it has fallen into decay and with the huge city of Karachi near by it seems as if there is no interest left to preserve it. There is a rise and a fall for everything and every place.
Istanbul is the city that Europeans and westerners go to to feel like they've traveled somewhere in the "east". There are mosques on every corner and hundreds of years of Ottoman and Islamic history, the call to prayer is heard 5 times a day and many women have interesting head coverings and styles to their hijab.
The city is drenched in history- thousands of years of it. Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, for centuries it was the cross-roads of the world. This is evident in the markets, the architecture, Constantine's ancient wall around the city still stands, the relics of Christianity are everywhere as well as the dominance and seat of the Ottoman sultanate. It has also modernized, with a navigable transportation system - probably the best thing about the city. It is convenient, cheap, taking one everywhere he/she wants to go, from the Hagia Sophia to the Blue mosque, the spice market and the grand bazaar, even crossing over into the Asian side of the city over the Bosphorus Sea. Coming from New York City and seeing a system like that made me feel at home very quickly. The tram map was easy to understand even without speaking the language.
The dome of the Hagia Sophia
Sinan, the famous architect during the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s, was behind the enormous mosques that still dot the skyline of the city, most notably the Blue Mosque and the Suleymania (pictured below). My favorite piece of architecture was the Hagia Sophia, a marvel in the feat of engineering and design, built by the Byzantines during emperor Justinians time nearly 1500 years ago. A church it was then; it was converted to a mosque after the Ottomans conquered Istanbul in the 1400-1500s. They added the 4 minarets to the building and put up huge medallions with Allah, Muhammad, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Hassan, Hussain (the names of God, the Prophet, and the successors to the Prophet according to Sunni ideology. The great thing about the Ottomans was that they left behind the original mosaics of crosses and the Virgin Mary and Jesus that had been installed in the building centuries before.
To see the history of empires past and feel like one has stepped back in time for a moment, Istanbul is the place to go.
The Hagia Sophia, exterior. The history and fascination of this building by the Ottomans can be seen with the many domed structures that are all over Istanbul.
The Blue Mosque, opposite of the Hagia Sophia. Almost as if Sinan was trying to mimic the Hagia Sophia hundreds of years later. It is still used as a mosque. The courtyard is majestic. Tune in for more pictures as soon as I can organize them!
Vases at the British museum in London.
A couple of years ago I took a trip to visit a friend in London. We got a chance to see the famous British museum and the Islamic art exhibit there was gorgeous. I realized that i use many, many Islamic art motifs in my henna designs and now I look to them for inspiration. The floral patterns and geometric patterns and intricate mathematical algorithms look amazing on these mosque lamps and look just as stunning on henna patterns on ones hands!
The mosque lamps below were my favorites. They were lit up and looked exquisite in the light. The style of writing is beautiful.
If you would like to know more about Islamic Art - check out the Islamic Art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A restaurant on the ocean, Clifton, Karachi.
Pakistan is in the news again today, yet another bombing in Karachi, targeting the Shi'ite minority. Violence is disgusting, aren't we all Muslim? Why can the Shia not have their own views without being killed for it? May those who were killed find peace and be granted Heaven.
In part two of my Pakistan segment I try to bring forward the beauty of the country in these pictures. I visited Karachi again last summer and had the opportunity to travel north to Islamabad (the capital) and to Muree (a mountainous, tourist town). We took an early flight from Karachi to Islamabad and reached there in about an hour and a half. The weather in Islamabad was miserable, 95 degrees and incredibly humid, much worse than we left behind in Karachi. Karachi is very brown and Islamabad is green, it was like driving through parts of New Jersey or Pennsylvania, very suburban. Upon arriving in Islamabad, we packed up our things and drove to Muree, roughly 2 hours away. It was a long road into and up the mountains but we were more than pleasantly surprised upon arriving there. The temperature was a chilly 60 degrees, there were lights up for Ramadhan and many people were out and about in the town.
We set our bags down in our hotel and got to exploring, staying out on the main road until two in the morning, shopping, eating, and talking with the shop owners. The green tea and coffee was exceptional in Muree. We were practically giddy with excitement, my cousins and I. At night the town was very much alive, the lights looked like spaceships in the distance, each town carrying lights higher and higher in the mountains. The next day we explored some of the sites with a guide (encountered breathtaking views and a Santa Claus) and had some horrid and frightening driving experiences. Driving on those road is definitely not for the faint of heart; I can't remember ever praying so much for my survival. At the end of the day, we drove back to Islamabad. The next segment will feature my findings in Pakistan's capital city. Stay tuned!
Grave of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan)
Pakistan has been and continues to be in the media as of late. The media will never give us good news or tales of generous deeds and adventures from this country, rather one hears only the worst possible things about this place. What comes to mind to the average American when they hear the name of Pakistan? Terrorism, probably. Or death, destruction, instability, corruption, etc (as if these things never happen anywhere else in the world).
Nevertheless, the next two segments will be dedicated to the beautiful Pakistan that I have known and visited and grown to love. I have been blessed to travel to Pakistan for the month of Ramadhan (Islamic fasting month) for the past 2 years and God willing will continue to do so. The people are great, the sites are amazing, the textiles, culture, landscapes, and history are spectacular. I have enjoyed and loved every bit of time that I got to spend there. I bring you here some of the pictures of Karachi and Thatta, in the southern province of Sindh, Pakistan.
Karachi is a port city, grand and luxurious. There is extreme wealth and also extreme poverty but a middle class is establishing themselves. Thatta was eye opening as it was falling apart, with this mosque one could see that this indeed was once a grand city in the Mughal empire. Now, it was reduced to a mere fraction of what it once was.The streets were lined with people who had nothing but the clothes on their back. There were refugees from the north who escaped flooding. It was devastating. There were many people at the mosque, taking comfort in the shade of the corridors and in the free food given away during the iftaar (breaking of the fast) at sundown.
May we always give back to those who are less fortunate than us and remember them in our prayers.
I'll be adding pictures and commentary of the things I love. I am an ordinary person in an extraordinary place. There is no special purpose to this blog other than to project what I am thinking of at any given moment.
All the photos are mine (unless stated otherwise). Please do not use without permission. To learn more about me, check out my linked in profile below.