Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday Market in Karachi

Karachi is not only the largest city of Pakistan but also the twentieth largest city of the world in terms of metropolitan population. Non-governmental and international sources estimate Karachi's current population at between 12 and 18 million, a variation of 6 million (equivalent to the entire population of Jordan).

But Jordan did not come to my mind when I contemplate the possibility of visiting Karachi. What came to my mind first was the long list of attacks that Pakistan has been afflicted by in the last years and the constant headlines we are bombarded with which remind us daily why Pakistan is the most dangerous place on the planet (sorry Afghanistan, Chechnya, Colombia, Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Papua New Guinea, Somalia or other Yemen you seems to be down the ranking this year).

I have to admit that I was selfishly concern by my own security at first, but glad that I change my mind at last, and went "visiting" Karachi. "Visiting" is a big word to say going under strict private security from the hotel to one place and then back to it.

Let me just say that behind the headlines you have lines of people suffering for what's happening currently everyday in their life. These headlines seem to fuel the concern over a country which tries to manage a parallel and exponential growth in term of population and issues.

But these headlines usually do not mention the daily courage and strength Pakistanis people have to stand still every day and fight back to gain another inch of decency or pushing for another heart beat.

I won't try to throw any political analysis at you on the currently situation because I don't understand the causes, appreciate well enough the history in the region or measure the cultural bias and divergence that exist today in this part of the world.

And even thought I study hard and put my head around this problem, I will not be able in my entire lifetime to just grasp the size of the problem of the 6th most populated country of the planet, because what's currently happening is multifaceted, dangerous, and complicated.

But what can I through at you is few pictures and some travelling impressions during my quick stay in Karachi. I had a chance to be guided in my wonders around for few hours in the Sunday Market in Karachi the one close to the sea, looking at people, watching what they doing and seeing how difficult it is today to live in Karachi.

I saw color crossing black outfits, sunlight going through flying carpet hanging in the sky, coffee boy running around making a cent or two, smiles when the camera was pullout my pocket to steal a snap or two.

I saw rawness, fear and roughness in people eyes, without any age difference. Pakistan today is not a place in which you can growth naivety and kindness although people are practicing them every day in case they come back sooner than later. No, Karachi is a place full of real people having real concerns about how to survive a real life.

This contrast is even more daunting, cruel and mind blowing when you arrived like I did, from a city like Dubai, a city that is far away from real reality. This contrast within few hours of travel is just shaking but I am extremely glad I experience it.

What are you traveling for if it's not to change your references!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

To Buy or not Dubai

So far I never met someone who really likes Dubai, yet everybody keeps going back to it. You have to admit that there must be something that attracts people to this city, but I have not put the finger on it.

I am sure that it is not be the symbol of the city itself, the famous Burj Al Arab. Today the world's third tallest hotel in the world (guess where is the tallest one) is definitely not the place anyone can afford. Although magnificent from outside, and even more from inside, it does not attracted people to the same extend a Statue of Liberty, an Opera House or an Eiffel Tower does today. Many more marketing campaigns and maybe a many more discovery passes with some smashing people entertainments should help reinforce the beauty of this grandiose building in the middle of the calm and red sea.

I am also sure that it is not the new construction sites that the city keeps building along it sea shore. Apart from being sign-seeing distracting, massive side by side construction sites helps to provide a caring shadow during the hot summer months and an alternative vibrant breathing training exercise for future suffocative boiling days. From outside the city looks more like an open-heart surgery operation at night and a live scale crane manufacturer convention at day. Do I have to mention that due to a shortage of sea view, Dubai is building islands outside its shores in different shapes (palm trees or other world map). Never the less, you can imagine that driving in this condition requires a daily update of the newly born construction sites and can force you sometimes to experience traffic jams that would make any Friday afternoon L.A. drivers panicking.

It can't be the Golden Shop palaces flourishing in the old Dubai, only handful of wealthy people and foolish tourists would be able to imagine having to travel to the city only for window shopping gold, stones and other precious ornaments. The travel sheikh is not an American express.

It can't be the olds Dubai and its famous Gold, Souk, Perfume and Fish Souks. Middle eastern cities around the world have better and bigger souks where any tourists can dive and lost the few kopecks that they were willing to exchange with some local souvenirs.

I have also a hard time to imagine that people come to Dubai to observe, study and experience a Black & White society (where men wear white and women wear black). Dubai with its 90% population coming from outside UAE, has a special status when it comes to international social behavior. Tolerance and sometime acceptance (if you can afford it though) is a stimulating living direction in this peculiar Middle Eastern place on which nobody questions your outfit as long as you respect the basic rules of faith. Surprising scenes will challenge the most sarcastic human detractor of the planet.

It could be maybe its peaceful population, the original ones, the ones who were the first fishermen and desert traders. My stay was not long enough to give me a chance to encounter early Dubaists.

It could be maybe its constant clear blue sky between sandy buildings.

It could also be maybe its peaceful river dividing the old city in equally quiet playground for late walks around for tourist (or inhabitants) in dyer of postal card shots.

What I am sure of, people come back to Dubai for the national sports: SHOPPING. Never in my life I have encounter such a big line up of malls, side by side, competing for having the longuest cab line up, shoveling wagon of wallets attached to foreign tourists. Never in my wildest dreams I had imagine shopping malls cities in which you need a full paper map to find you way around. Never in my life I saw ski slopes INSIDE a mall where shoppers watch skiers and skiers watch shoppers. This is so big, that Dubai has a Shopping Festival (DSF) since 1996!

I will be back in Dubai, like the others 7 millions tourists that visited the city last year, not for all the things mentioned above though, but certainly for another trip in the desert and watch another breathtaking sunset over sand dunes.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


"Don't expect anything" was the invariable answer I had when I was announcing people I was going to India. They were all wrong!

First of all, let me be clear with you: I did not go to India I only transited in one Indian city. Worse than that I only spent three days there from which half of my time was spent at a friend's wedding. But from my extremely limited time I had the chance to spend in the city of Kolkata I have to say that this city gave me a new perspective on urbanity and metropolitans.

The first thing that was surprising to me was the architectural contrast that exists within the city. For example, you can walk in a giant park, right in the middle of the city, in a prime real estate in which you can observe the overly famous Victoria Memorial seating on it throne. The grandiose white building, now turned into a museum, is dedicated to what was life before the independence/separation and the city history, but its importance in size and its plentiful white color contrast with the city, reinforcing (or overstating) the difference that existed at the time between the two sides in the planet somehow.

Luckily, the surroundings of the Memorial have cricket games after cricket games, been re-appropriated by the local Sunday national sport heroes. After all the Brits left the place over half a century ago and never came back to claim the rent, so better use the under used wide space for cricket practice....

On the same vein, if you spend some time around the Dalhousie Square (BBD Bagh), and if you look up in the sky, and if the pollution cloud is not too dark for once you will be able to contemplate the grandiose Victorian architecture surrounding. Only few places in the city give you enough perspective to see it as a whole, BBD Bagh is one of them and even today is still consider by many as the centre of the city.

My experience in the city would have been very different without the help of Uncle J. (ex-Calcuttan and neo-Bangalorian) who guided me in the city, its neighboroughs and its history. Never would I have been able to find the secret place of an old Bengali Palace, the Marble Palace (pictures forbidden), without his kind help. At the end of a very recluse and narrow street where only a yellow taxi could squeeze two wheels at the time, a giant mansion in a middle of another beautiful garden exhibits its marble walls and floors to the overcrowded street next door. With a modest fee which helps the privately own palace to maintain its dethroned status, one can discover a vast collection of statues, painting, chandeliers, clocks, floor to ceiling mirrors, and busts of kings and queens.

The personal tour ended in what I consider as one of the most unexpected surprise by far of my stay, I was given the possibility to contemplate "The Marriage of St. Catherine" from Rubens. This 5*4 meters master piece was hiding back in a dark room on the first floor of the mansion. This private collection was another wide contrast by which I could see the witness the difference of appreciation for what people value in life: Rubens hanging on one side of the wall, and dirty cloth used as a shelter on the other side of the same wall. This place is certainly complex to understand.

Outside these pockets of hidden properties, the city is huge conglomerate of people living together everywhere they can. Some lucky ones have a house, food everyday, a chauffeur and a cook for protection and some have old clothes, a piece of wood and sometime food, and sidewalk as a shelter. Never in my wander had I asked myself why, but often I could see my brain focusing on how … how come so many people could live together without suffocating, how do they organize themselves to have a share of something, how do they do this… and that.

I was constantly fascinated by the alive living aspect of the street. I am not only talking about what happen in houses and streets, but also on sidewalks and crossroads. The concept of sidewalk itself is as vague as the concept of snow in the desert: we heard about it, but not sure we will be able to see it in our life time.

Like a giant ballet without any previous rehearsal, the crow is able to move from one place to another among the multitude of stool. Here you find a hairdresser, there an orange seller, or public writer; any sidewalk place is a business opportunity for someone. If a cluster of people block the flow of movement, then the street is taking over by overflowing people and a rough and sometime violent battle start with cars on who is allow to stand still on a forbidden place. Only when cars have the naivety to stop at red lights that kids or other half disembodied professional beggars knock on dark widows for a dime or two.

This is not the only psychological violent scene that Kolkata offers to visitors you will be able to test your limits on every corner of every road. The amount of people, the diversity and density of genre, the constant flow of activities trigger an ongoing brain behavior, challenging your values and question your inner sense of human being.

I did not expect anything from my trip to Kolkata, but I receive a lot form it. My three days there help me to experience a new sense of urban space, or how people take over a city and make the city theirs rather than the opposite. I experience the constant life, anywhere, anytime of a megalopolis, not like I had experience in the past for fun and entertainment, but for survival and fight for extra day. This crossroad called urbania could be a fighting place, among thousand and thousand people for an extra day in someone life.

For sure this place is complex, dense, and rich in layer while behaving in cluster. I can't wait to explore more of India.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Kolkata address


  • Tollygunge Club
    Is a bit far away from the city center but with the railway system is just 15 minutes from all main destinations. Quiet and piecefull if not golf tournament in schedule during your stay. Place of various weddings
  • Oberoi Hotel
    Next to New Market, this 5 starts hotel is a luxury close to shopping chaos. I would recommend this expensive place very central and easy access.

[[Restaurants ]]
What could be said there ... so many that I sould do an entire blog dedicated to these topic itself, but from the ones that I personally tried (in 3 days remember!?!)

  • Bar-B-Q (Park Street) is a very nice and affordable Chinese restaurant.
  • Flury's (Park Street) is more than a tea shop, and the pastries are heaven
  • Oh Calcutta! (Forum Mall on Elgin Road) is a very good Indian and Bengali Cuisine


  • Park Street
    is one of busiest places in Calcutta. It is a place where you will find everything, from books to clothes to food - anything you wish. You can buy jewelleries in Oysterz Bay, books and novels from Oxford Book Store, choose from a wide variety of clothes in the garment stores, buy music albums for Music World, watches form The World of Titan or any other shop, mobile phones from the Nokia Showroom and top it all up with a light meal at One Step Up! or at Barista.
  • South City Mall (Address: Prince Anwar Shah Road)
    The food court has sitting arrangement for around 2000 people on the last floor. The shopping experience is western standard with western price. Place to check out : Ritu Kumar and Zodiac for men's ties
  • Forum Mall (Elgin Road)
    It is a clothe complex, from denims to formalwear for both men and women. You can also find cosmetics from International brands, and accessories. Exclusive cuisines at Oh! Calcutta. Place to check out there : Ritu Kumar, Satya Paul, Cottonworld
  • Sir Stuart Hogg Market or New Market (Lindsey Street)
    This place is a Landmark in Kolkata city and still remains very popular among the well to do Bengalies despite heat & smell. The market used to be the first organised supermarket in whole of Asia, with all kinds of shops selling from shoes, dress, vegetables, florist, jewellery, Bakery, Grocery & livestock products. It still remains till date as it was before but looks very dirty , smelly & hot. There is no air conditioning except the shops. One part of New Market was devastated by fire in 1985 then it was rebuilt but this side lacks that old charm. Ask for Chamba Lama, the best jewellery in town
  • Sabiha Satchi / Tarun Tahalani
  • 85 Landsdowne Road (guess? 85 Landsdowne Road)
    This is designer wharehouse for the best saree in town, sometime a bit pricy, but fantastic outfit