Lahore is Delhi, Karachi is Mumbai
When people said that Lahore reminded you of Delhi and Karachi of Mumbai, they were absolutely right. Pakistan's financial capital bears an uncanny resemblance to India's --- and this is even without visiting the beach areas.
But the towering posh buildings that loom over busy roads, the yellow and black cabs, the roadside vendors and milling people efficiently going about their business in all the melee, the clock tower and faded, peeling monoliths left over from the Raj --- they're Bombay to the core. For someone who's on a first visit to Pakistan, it can be a little weird.
Anyway, my very efficient cab driver Mohammad Shamim, with relatives in Agra, takes me through a history of the city in rapid time. A Sunni, born and bred in Karachi, he was at great pains to tell me he had no problems at all with Karachi's large population of Shias or Gujarati Hindus. "I came to see the majlis on the eighth, ninth, 10th day (during Muharram)," he says.
And then, before I knew it, we were at the Lakshminarayan temple in Kemari area, where I was greeted with open arms by some of the city's 25,000 odd Gujarati population. Lakshman Jugraj Chauhan, a third generation Karachiite, was obviously very proud of his city.
"This city has been given a bad reputation but my family's been here with no issues," he says, adding that his grandfather had moved here from Gujarat and never looked back. "Not even the Partition moved us, or any of these families," he says, pointing to the men and women taking a dip in the nearby, rather polluted ghaat. "My father has seen your Balaji temple in Tirupati once," he adds conversationally.
I manage to leave and tell the driver to keep the Shiv Mandir, made from a natural cave in Clifton area, for another visit and instead ask him if there's anywhere in Pakistan we can find vegetarian food. He says there is, at another temple in the Lighthouse area.
I pass the beautiful Qaied-e-Azam mazaar made of white marble and patrolled by the army, three cinemas in a row on MA Jinnah road, Capri, Nishaad and Prince, all showing Jackie Chan-type martial arts movies, vividly decorated mini-buses with dancing peacocks on the top, called Mazda wagons and the more expensive, boring-looking regular "coaches".
We finally get to the Swaminarayan temple, bang opposite the Sindh city courts, with prominently displayed signs in Urdu proclaiming its existence. It has obviously celebrated Holi in a big way. At the gateway to the compound, we ask Raju, the Marathi gatekeeper with relatives in Mulund, for permission to drive in. He smiles as I tentatively ask "kasa kay? (how are you?)." "I understood, but I speak only Urdu. I dream of Bombay though," he hastily adds.
My turn to smile. He introduces me to Mohanlal, who runs the "pure-veg" dhaba inside the premises and my happiness is complete.