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Wednesday, June 07, 2023  
18 Dhul-Qadah 1444  

Karachi and its hidden gems

Some of the lesser known places that capture a flavour of the city like no other


Karachi will embrace you with open arms. The city that never sleeps paints a picture of the perfect life, endless freedom, and exciting opportunities. However, it also brings us pain, violence, and unpredictability. Recently, we’ve been on a mission to prove that there’s more to Karachi than the decaying infrastructure, noxious smells and piercing sounds, and roads that flood every time the monsoon season rolls around.

For all its contradictions and paradoxes, the city by the sea manages to capture the heart in one way or the other: from the daily grind of the millions as they prosper and suffer to the mesmerizing sunsets. If you ever choose to look hard enough, it will be clear as day that this city has a number of hidden gems from rare vinyl shops to cinemas that date back to colonial times.

Here is a list of places to go to in Karachi.

1- Hussain’s Vinyl Shop

Digitalization means everything is now accessible. Platforms and apps like Spotify and YouTube mean every song we could ever want to hear is within our reach. But there is something about the sound of vinyl. The sense of nostalgia it triggers is the same feeling one gers upon experiencing Muhammad Hussian’s vinyl collection. He has converted a three-bedroom apartment into a store with over 25,000 discs. This is likely the biggest collection of records in the country.

The cardboard boxes and wooden shelves are full of history. They include some of the biggest hits and some of the rarest phonographs. The shop is located on Vincent Street in Garden East, a stone’s throw from the Business Recorder Road.

Hussain’s father shut down the business back in 2006 as music became easily accessible via CDs and online platforms. In 2012, Hussain decided to reopen it because he realized the significance of having such an enormous collection. He has travelled around the country to try and find rare vinyl’s to add to his collection.

Skimming through his vinyl collection will give you a blast from the past. Unlikely that you will leave the place empty handed.

2- Abbasi Kutub Khana

Arguably Karachi’s oldest bookstore, Abbasi Kutub Khana is located just off Napier Road in Karachi’s business-heavy old city area. Jodia Bazaar and the eponymous Chamdra (leather) Market flank it on either side and bookstore itself is located in Juna Market.

It was founded in 1910 and is amongst the earliest settlements outside the walled city of Karachi.

The over-a-century old shop is currently under the care of Habib Hussain Abbasi, the maternal grandson of the founder of this bookstore. This make him a third generation bookseller.

The bookstore is home to some vintage editions and rare manuscripts. It includes a collection of literature in Sindhi and Urdu, along with English translations stacked up to the roof in this literary haven in the midst of Karachi’s mercantile hub.

If you’re an avid reader or someone that’s looking to add to their book collection, this is the place for you.

3- Roxy Cinema

With Karachi’s oldest bookstore on one side of Napier Road, one of the city’s oldest surviving cinemas is located on the othe side in Bhimpura. Initially called “Rama Talkies”, this cinema dates back to pre-partition times.

It was one of the three cinemas in its area where silverscreen stars were all the rage. It was the only cinema with air conditioning at that time. Today, this remains the only functioning cinema from that time.

Not much has changed in the cinema. There has obviously been wear and tear brought about by time and the elements. Those who mange it have not done much to improve functionality. One reason could be to preserve its old school mystique. The doors, layout, and names of halls have been kept the same in the hope to maintain its history and regality.

Trying to imagine the way this cinema would have looked during its heydays could make you sad - particulary if you are standing at the nostalgia-inducing entrance.

4- Kidney Hill

Newsmen have been calling Karachi a concrete jungle for decades now. Very few talk about the green patches. To be fair, they are far and few. Karachi might have the cuisine but Lahore (read Punjab) has all the green. There is the occassional tree-lined avenue or the manicured lawn. But mostly, Karachi is cluttered with cement and stone with flora and fauna fighting for breathing space with the city’s 20 million people.

But this perception changes as soon as you get to Kidney Hill. This little oasis of green is sprawled over 62-acres and is located in Kokan Society off Shaheed-e-Millat Road.

The rain, generally a bane for Karachi residents, proves a boon for this park and adds to the greenry. For a moment, we thought the pictures of Kidney Hill that we saw were edited. It’s so hard to believe that Karachi might actually have an area that isn’t already a construction site. The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation says it wants to restore Kidney Hill as a state-of-the-art urban forest. The horticulture department, Karachi zoo, and municipal services of the city have been working to restore this area for the last month and a half.

5- Beaumont Lawns

Home to some of the oldest trees in the city, the Beaumont Lawns are located inside the Karachi Zoo. It is home to trees that were planted over 100 years ago. Once on the lawns, you feel insulated from the cacophony of daily life. Whether its a sunny day or Karachi’s mild winter, the sun will shine through the trees with the lawns basking in a yellow hue.

Personally, the place is best enjoyed when visited alone, with your favourite book. However if you have friends who match your vibe, it’s a great place for a picnic.

6- The Roadside cafe

Located behind Karachi’s Boating Basin food strip, the cafe has become a favourite for many Karachi residents over the years. One of the reasons is the ambience, which has followed a similar pattern since it opened. It is one of those rare places where the focus is less on the food and more on the company you surround yourself with.

It is a place that attracts diversity. You are likely to see all sorts of people there and in that sense, it has been able to capture the essence of Karachi. With a strictly Pakistani playlist and an infamous carrom board that everyone has played at some point or another, this place is a popular hangout spot.

7- T2F

Formerly known as “The Second Floor”, T2F is a community space in Karachi that has always been a trendsetter. More often than not, you’ll find this space hosting fun cultural activities, open mic nights, drum circles, musical events, and book launches amongst many other things. Again a place that thrives on diversity, T2F really made a name for itself by setting itself apart.

A lot of people have fond memories of the place due to Sabin Mahmud, its founder, who was tragically gunned down.

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