A Design Lover's Guide to Karachi in 24 Hours

Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) Building | © Furqanlw/WikiCommons
Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) Building | © Furqanlw/WikiCommons
Photo of Noreen Gulwani
11 January 2018

Exploring the cityscape of Karachi is like taking a journey through time. Admiring the city’s diverse design offerings come with an added bonus of getting a class in the history and culture of this distinct metropolis. Using an Uber or a day rented car is the best option to move around, so read on to get the most precise route to see the best of the city.

Mazar-e-Quaid (Quaid’s Mausoleum)

Start at the center of the city with the final resting place of Pakistan’s founding father. The mausoleum is a minimalist take on the Uzbek Samanid Mausoleum but it doesn’t lose its awe by any measure. The large structure was built in 1970 and follows the 60s modern style of design. The entire building is made of white marble with copper grills and curved moorish arches. The main entrance to this cube shaped building is paved by 15 fountains, where as the other three gates face green lawns, making this an eye catching structure. 30-40 minutes are all you need to explore the inner chambers and the small display room of Quaid’s possessions.

Mazar-e Quaid | © Shahid1024/WikiCommons

Marvel at the beauty of St Patrick’s Cathedral

Move out from the city center and take a 10-minute drive to our next exciting spot. Following the mesmerizing design of the European Gothic revival architecture, the site was previously home to one of the earliest churches built in 1845, in the province of Sindh. Then in 1881 the present day cathedral building of St Patrick’s Church with all its glory and luster was erected. The need for a larger place of worship had become apparent as the catholic community flourished in those days. While the exteriors are striking, the interior is even more so with stained windows, oil painted walls and wooden fixtures. The ground also boasts a beautiful statue of Jesus Christ in white marble.

St Patrick’s Cathedral | © Swerveut/WikiCommons

Drive or walk around Saddar, MA Jinah Road and I.I Chundigar Road

After seeing the best in the city’s heart, move on to its economical and business locale to check some of the oldest areas of this coastal town. Driving around these three areas is advisable either early in the morning or on a Sunday, as at other times the place is highly crowded. Many noteworthy buildings in great numbers can be found on these roads. The City Court, KMC Head Quarters, Denso Hall and KPT Building must be glimpsed at M.A Jinnah Road. Moving on towards II Chundigar Road, the Merewether Clock tower, the Standard Chartered Bank’s Head office and once Karachi’s tallest, Habib Bank Plaza, are worthy of attention. Finally, numerous buildings line the roads of Saddar giving the area its vintage, rugged and classic look. These include the Jehangir Kothari building, Ilaco House or the Ideal Life Assurance building, the Katchi Memon Masjid and the Mohmmad Ali building among numerous others. From here take a short 10-min drive to our next stop.

Ideal Life Assurance Building, Saddar | © noreenGulwani/Flickr

Breakfast at Burns Road

While you are in the vicinity, it’s a must to grab breakfast local-style at Karachi’s most famous and oldest food street, Burns Road, which is only a few minutes drive away. Try the city’s staple breakfast of Channa Puri, Halwa and Chai Paratha at Fresco roadside restaurant.

Wonder at the Mughal style building of NAPA/Hindu Gymkhana

A short seven-minute drive will take you to our next amazing destination. The Hindu Gymkhana building which now hosts NAPA or the National Academy of Performing arts, is a colonial era structure worth stopping by. Like Mohatta and St Pat’s Cathedral, the building isn’t just a work of art but also evidence of the city’s once radiant and diverse religious demographic. The Gymkhana was built in 1925 and served as a leisure club for the elite Hindu classes who lived in Karachi before the Indian partition. The architecture of the building is of Mughal style inspired by the Tomb of Agra’s Itamad-ud-Daulah in 1628.

NAPA, Karachi | © M.Imran/WikiCommons

Take a tour at Flagstaff House

Next up is a spectacular museum only an eight-minute drive away. Also known as the Quaid-e-Azam House, this building is another capsule capturing the colonial times that Karachi saw. The building shows off a handsome stone and brick facade. Stone carvings, circular balconies and decorated arches that further add to the allure of the structure. The building is also home to a museum where relics related to the nation’s founder can be viewed.

Flagstaff House | © Farahnasir2/WikiCommons

Spend some time at Frere Hall

On the same road, take a five-minute walk to find another treasure. A Karachi design tour would be incomplete without a stop over at Frere Hall, not only to wonder at its Venetian Gothic style architecture but also to marvel at the spellbinding mural on the ceiling made by the world-renowned Pakistani artist Sadequain. Built in 1865, the building speaks volumes about its colonial past not just in design but also in name, which was given to the building after Henry Bartle Frere who was a governor of Bombay. The building also sports one of Karachi’s largest libraries, and an art gallery.

Frere Hall, Karachi | © AsimIftikharNagi/WikiCommons

Wander around the Mohatta Palace

To arrive at our grandest spot you must take a 10-minute drive. Mohatta Palace is one of the city’s major spaces for art, culture and tourism. The building is magnificently built in Rajistani Princely style, in pink Jodhpur stone and yellow stone from Gizri. The palace was commissioned by the Hindu Prince Shivratan Chandraratan Mohatta of Rajistan as his summer home in Clifton, one of Karachi’s posh areas. The Indo-Saracenic architecture gives the building a royal charm. For a design lover there are countless enchanting features of this building like its domes, windows, balustrades with floral motifs, stone brackets and spandrels that are a sight for eyes sore from the boxy grey concrete of the city.

Front view of the palace | © SameelNoman/WikiCommons

Pass by Bahria Icon tower

On the way to our next destination, pass by the Icon Tower on the 26th street. Karachi is to soon become a city in the clouds with work underway on over 100 skyscrapers. Tallest of them all currently is the Bahria Icon Tower. While still not officially launched because of work being done on the interiors, the building is a one of a kind structure to witness. It is among the tallest structures of the Indian subcontinent.

Work in progress, March 2016 | © SheikhM.Junaid/WikiCommons

Bask in the serenity at Masjid-e-Tooba

Take a 20-minute drive or Uber ride, which is very affordable in Karachi, to our last spot, the Tooba Masjid. Tooba Mosque’s large rounded dome roof is one of its most captivating features. Made of white marble in 1969, it’s often claimed to be the largest single dome structure in the world with a 236-foot roof supported by no center pillars, but only low side walls. A definite sight to see! The mosque is the 19th largest in the world with capacity to allow around 5,000 devotees to perform prayers.

Masjid-e-Tooba | © _gulwani/instagram

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