Outside Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport, ready to start my trip to Pakistan. It was my first time flying Emirates since my trip to the USA in February last year.
Being only a ~2 hour flight from Dubai, I had been wanting to visit Pakistan for quite a while. I had originally planned a trip back in 2014, but was thwarted when I tried to apply for a visa 6 weeks prior at the Dubai consulate but was told that approval would need to come from Islamabad and that it normally takes 2-3 months.
Not wanting to be without my passport for that length of time, I had put off visiting the country in favour of other destinations.
Recently however I had heard that the visa review and approval could now be done in Dubai, with only a few days turnaround.
I had wanted to visit the country independently, but as the visa requirements included a letter of invitation, tourist company license and Pakistan National ID copy, I just opted to go through a local tour operator to organise the trip and hence get the necessary supporting documentation.
For flights to and from Pakistan (DXB-KHI, ISB-DXB) I flew on Emirates. A few days before my departure to Karachi I received an email offer for a cash upgrade to Business class for a reasonable 550 AED ($150) and which I opted to indulge in.
For my internal flight from Karachi to Lahore (KHI-LHE) I was originally booked on Pakistan International Airlines but after the flight was cancelled I eventually flew to Lahore on Shaheen Air.
Heading through to the Emirates First and Business Class terminal for check in.
And onto the Business Class lounge after heading through immigration and security. My cash upgrade didn't entitle me to lounge access, but my EK Silver status luckily did.
Emirates has seven lounges at Dubai Airport and this was my first time visiting the Concourse B Business Class lounge.
There was plenty of natural light and views of the boarding gates below.
Grabbing a bite to eat along with an interesting glass of green apple, cucumber, celery and spinach juice.
The Costa Café within the lounge with complimentary coffee and pastries.
Just after 5pm I headed to the gate for boarding.
Our EK777 waiting to take us to thr city of Karachi.
My seat, 8A.
A glass of Moët after taking my seat.
Watching the Oscar winning The Shape of Water, a peculiar but very delightful romance between a mute lady and an amphibian.
Taxiing to the runway with a Gulf Air Airbus just behind us.
Taking off on runway 30R and looking down at the rows of Flydubai 737's below.
The evening rush hour crawling below to Sharjah on Sheik Zayed Road.
Looking down on Sharjah and Ajman as we head east.
Tomato juice served soon after the seat belt signs were turned off.
Tonights menu for the two hour flight to Karachi.
I opted for the mixed grill with lamb kofta, chicken tikka and spicy chicken with garlic.
And a glass of Château Cap de Mourlin Grand Cru Classé de Saint-Emilion.
A great French red to go with dinner.
And a cappuccino to finish.
After the enjoyable dinner it wasn't long until we were descending into Karachi's Jinnah International Airport.
Heading through to immigration after arriving on time just after 9pm.
With my passport stamped after arrival into my 117th country visited.
Meeting my awaiting driver to take me to my hotel.
After waiting a few minutes for another guest, we headed out through the evening rush hour traffic.
Checking in along with a welcome drink at Hotel Mehran in the city centre.
And my room for the next two nights in Karachi. I then got some sleep before a day of sightseeing tomorrow.
Breakfast at the hotel restaurant to start at the beginning of day 1.
After meeting up with Jamal, the owner of Travel & Culture Services Pakistan, we headed out with Salim, our driver for today.
At our first stop, Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Open since 1881, it was quite amazing to see such a historic and ornate church in a country that is >96% Muslim.
Next to the church was a peace mural.
A person at prayer outside the main doors. Unfortunately the church was not open to be able to see the interior.
Just in front of the church was the Monument to Christ the King, completed in 1931 and then renovated in 2013.
Again it was quite surreal to see white marble angels that would not look out of place outside a church in Europe.
A colourful and very decorated bus that were to become a common sight on my trip through Pakistan.
At our next stop, Mazar-e-Quaid. Photography is officially prohibited at the complex, but after Jamal made a quick phone call to one of his connections the security guards waved us through with my DSLR.
Also known as the Jinnah Mausoleum, it is the final resting place of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
The mausoleum is surrounded by a large, 53 hectare garden that was a calm and tranquil oasis wthin the world's sixth most populous city.
Born in Karachi in 1876, Jinnah trained as a barrister in London before returning to British India and enrolling at the Bombay High Court, and then later took an interest in national politics.
The flag of Pakistan being circled by black kite birds of prey.
By 1940, Muhammad Ali Jinnah came to believe that Muslims of the Indian subcontinent should have their own separate state. On the 23rd of March of the same year, the Muslim League, led by Jinnah, passed a resolution which demanded a separate nation. The 23rd of March is now celebrated every year as Pakistan Day.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah became the first Governor-General of Pakistan after the formation of the country in August 1947.
It was designed in a 1960s modernist style by architect Yahya Merchant and was influenced by the 10th century Samanid Mausoleum in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
Just over a year after independence, Jinnah passed away after succumbing to tuberculosis.
One of the many quotes from Muhammad Ali Jinnah around the park. As tomorrow was Pakistan Day, the surrounding plinth of the mausoleum was being used for rehearsals by members of the military so unfortunately we couldn't venture any closer.
Refilling with CNG at a service station. Jamal said that 90% of the cars in Karachi ran on natural gas.
At a red light were a vendor was selling sparrows to release, which apparently brings good luck.
A towering cross outside a Christian cemetery in the city.
A man delivering fresh buffalo milk to a tea shop just outside Masjid e Tooba.
Before heading to Masjid e Tooba we stopped for a cup of chai/tea.
A shoeshine cleaning Jamal's shoes for 20 rupees ($0.17).
And enjoying a cup of Pakistani Masala chai.
After the morning cup of tea we walked over the road to Masjid e Tooba. The mosque is situated in the Defence Housing Authority neighbourhood of Karachi and is hence often referred to as Defence Mosque.
A list of statistics of the mosque that was completed in 1969. The smaller clocks on the right are marked with the five daily prayer times with the sixth for the Friday prayer time.
It was very different to the traditional mosques in the UAE and it was quite a delight to see the unique 1960's architecture.
The mosque consists of one vast dome with no supporting columns or vaults. With a diameter of 72 metres, the tentlike dome of the mosque claims to be the world's largest.
Inside the large dome with an array of fans to cool and circulate air during the hot summer months.
Looking up at the ~70,000 mirrors in the ceiling tiles that give the impression of twinkling stars.
A solitary man kneeling in prayer.
The mihrab at the front of the mosque and which represents the direction of Mecca.
Jamal showing one of the first verses of the Quran. He said that most Pakistanis were able to to read Arabic due to the similar script to Urdu, the official national language of Pakistan, but most were not able to understand it.
Crossing. We then headed back to the car again and off to our next destination.
At Clifton Beach on the Arabian Sea.
On the beach were horses, dune buggies and these colourful camels waiting to take you for a ride.
And for only 150 rupees ($1.30) I enjoyed a brief and bumpy ride along the beach!
Driving past the upmarket Dolmen Mall along the Harbour waterfront.
Looking up at the under-construction Bahria Icon Tower. Upon completion the 273 metre tall tower will be the tallest building in Pakistan.
Outside the beautiful Mohatta Palace. The Palace was a luxurious home built in the late 1920's by a Hindu businessman, Shivratan Mohatta. After he was forced to depart for India after independence, the government used the building to house the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In 1995 it was converted into a museum devoted to the arts of Pakistan. Inside was an exhibition of various works of Imran Mir. As well as contemporary artwork, Mir also worked as a commerical artist, designing logo's for many Pakistani companies as well as graphic design for their products.
Unfortunately no photography was allowed though, and we had to deposit our phones and my camera with security for safekeeping.
Driving through the city with a monument Muhammad Ali Jinnah's three pillars of nation building; unity, faith and discipline.
At our next stop, the 19th century Empress Market in Saddar Town.
Some local gentlemen at a chai stall just outside.
The market opened in 1889 during the British Raj era and was named after Queen Victoria, Empress of India.
The market was a hive of activity with lots of fresh produce for sale.
Another of the colourful stalls selling a wide range of household food and goods.
The logo of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation on one of the old market gates.
Mother and daughter out shopping.
Garlic, ginger and lemons.
Fresh chicken being butchered.
Head to toe.
Swatting away the flies.
More fresh chicken.
Cats and birds.
Ducks and geese.
After the very interesting walk through the market we headed to Zahid Restaurant just after 2:30pm for lunch.
It was quite a popular place with plenty of patrons enjoying their signature dish, nihari.
Nihari is a stew of slow-cooked meat and is considered the national dish of Pakistan. As well as beef shank our nihari came with diced brain. My first time eating brain and it only had little flavour and had a similar consistency as scrambled egg.
After the late lunch we headed to a local money exchange to get some Pakistani rupees. I tried to change a $100 note that was in perfect condition from 2006, but they said it was too old and would only change more recent $100 notes. I didn't realise US dollars had an expiry date! Luckily I had some newer notes though.
At the local telecom office to get a local sim card for my iPhone. It was possible to get one under my own name but it would take three days to activate so Jamal put it under his name. It was quite cheap, at 350 rupees ($3) for 750mb of data.
Jamal and Salem then dropped me off back at the Hotel Mehran in the late afternoon where I chilled out for abit after the busy day of sightseeing.
Just before 6pm I went out to explore the city again.
And enjoying a walk through the bustling streets.
In a large building filled with clothing shops. The textile industry is the largest manufacturer in Pakistan and contributes to 8.5% of GDP.
A rather unfortunate name for a store!
I was intrigued to see such a symbol of Americana in downtown Karachi so headed inside the nearby mall to find the actual McDonald's restaurant.
And on the top floor foodcourt where there was a large advertisement for a McDonalds promotion with the Peshawar Zalmi cricket team.
For dinner I opted instead for a meal at the nearby OPTP, a local fast food chain.
With a tasty burger, fries and coke.
And I couldn't resist a piece of chocolate cake for 260 rupees ($2.24) for dessert.
A golden number plate on a very colourful bus as I walked back to the hotel.
And back at the Hotel Mehran at the end of a great first day in Pakistan.
After a good sleep I headed downstairs to get some breakfast at the hotel restaurant again.
I then checked out and met up with Jamal and Salem to head out for another day of sightseeing.
And on the way on Shahrah-e-Faisal Road.
Today's plan was to head east to the Chaukhandi tombs before continuing on to the city of Thatta to visit the Makli Necropolis and the 17th century Shah Jahan Mosque. We would then travel back to Karachi to catch my flight north to the city of Lahore.
After making our way through the early morning traffic out of Karachi we arrived at the Chaukhandi Necropolis.
After welcoming us the site caretaker lead us to the tombs.
The tombs were mainly built during Mughal rule in the 15th and 18th centuries when Islam became dominant in the area.
They are made from sandstone that has kept amazingly well given their age. The depiction of humans and animals is discouraged in Islam so it was interesting to see birds and other figures carved into the tombs.
Jamal said that the tombs of males were topped with an intricately carved turban.
And female tombs were identifiable by depictions of jewellery such as bracelets, necklaces, rings, anklets etc.
Jamal pointing out a very small tombstone that likely belonged to a servant of a family.
Since 1993 the site has been on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list.
We then continued our journey east before stopping in the city of Gharo for morning tea along with some fresh paratha and chikad chanay.
Back on the road again where we saw some Hindu pilgrims walking along side.
There are 1.8 million (~1.6%) Hindu's in Pakistan.
Jamal said that the pilgrims were walking ~600 kilometres over 15 days.
A father carrying his daughter aloft as they head west.
Our next stop was at Makli Necropolis in the town of Maklia near the city of Thatta. Makli has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1981.
Outside the tomb of Mirza Jani and Mirza Ghazi Baig.
Covering an area of more than 10 square kilometres, Makli is one of the world’s largest necropolises and is the final resting place of more than half a million people, including kings, queens, saints and scholars.
Miraz Baig was the last Tarkhan ruler of Thatta.
Despite being an Islamic tomb there were Swasitikas carved into the tomb walls.
The rule of Mirza Jani Baig Tarkhan came to an end when he was forced to submit to the invincible army of the great Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1591.
A verse from the Quran on the tomb mihrab.
The main cluster of monuments belonged to the Arghun, Tarkhan and Mughal dynasties. The rulers of these invading dynasties were Turko-Mongol people and brought northern, central and western Eurasian influences, such as delicate floral patterns and geometric designs to Makli.
The tomb of Baqi Baig Uzbek. The Uzbeks took refuge in Thatta after the defeat from Mughal Emperor Akhbar.
Looking up at the red and blue ceiling dome. Baqi Baig Uzbek died in 1640 and was known as a particular brutal ruler in Sindh.
Outside the very grand tomb of Isa Khan Hussain II, a magnificent 2 story building surrounded by a courtyard.
The beautiful and intricate building more closely resembled a palace rather than a tomb.
Isa Khan II was a governor of the area under Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and died in 1644 at the ripe old age of 90.
The carvings on the Islamic tomb were especially interesting (top-left) and featured the Christian cross (top-right), Swasitikas (bottom-right) and the Star of David (bottom-left).
Jamal said that at the time adherence to and interpretation of Islam was less strict and hence the mixing of the different religious symbols in tomb carvings.
Some locals coming to pay their respects to some of the Sufi saints that are buried here.
A snake charmer plying his trade as we made our way back to the entrance.
And gingerly getting close to take a photo of the dancing cobra.
We then headed to the nearby city of Thatta to visit the Shah Jahan Mosque. It was outside of prayer time however and unfortunately the mosque was not open.
We walked to a nearby madrassa to try and find the Imam to get access to the mosque but he was unfortunately away in a nearby town and wouldn't be back for another hour.
Stopping at a goat market on our way to lunch.
Two gentlemen with a newly purchased lamb on the motorbike.
Jamal said people were buying young goats to fatten up before sacrifice in August at the start of Eid Al Adha.
A gentleman wearing a turban and a large bushy beard from the Pakistan province of Balochistan.
And a few ladies who were keen for a photo too.
For lunch we headed to a roadside restaurant on the outskirts of Thatta.
A very full truck parked just outside. Jamal said that it was loaded with wheat stalks which were relatively light.
And enjoying some fish, okra, rice and bread for lunch. The total cost including bottled water was 720 rupees ($6.20) so very reasonable for a meal for three.
Over lunch Jamal said that my flight at 6pm to Lahore on Pakistan International Airlines had been delayed to 8:30pm, and based on his experience, would likely be cancelled. To make matters worse, the airspace around Lahore was due to be closed tomorrow for an air display as part of Pakistan Day.
He had checked if any overnight sleeper train tickets for the ~18 hour journey were still available but they were unfortunately soldout. He said he was working on other options and promised me everything would work out.
We then headed back to Shah Jahan Mosque which was thankfully now open for the midday prayer.
Looking up at the intricate tiled ceiling. The mosque is considered to have the most elaborate display of tile work in South Asia.
The mosque was completed in 1659 in a mixture of Mughal, Safavid, Timurid architectural styles.
Built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the mosques design is influenced by Central Asian architecture, a reflection of Shah Jahan's campaigns near Samarkand in now present day Uzbekistan.
The Christian Cross visible in the details of the brickwork.
The mosque ceiling with one of the 93 domes.
The mosque has been on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list since 1993.
The beautiful and slightly dizzying circles on the ceiling.
Men performing the Zuhr prayer after midday.
After the very interesting visit to the mosque we started the drive back to Karachi.
Following another very overloaded truck.
Stopping to refuel with CNG again. Jamal said he had finally been able to secure a seat on another airline, and I would hopefully make it to Lahore after all.
A bottle of red anaar (pomegranate) juice to rehydrate.
At the entrance to Jinnah International Airport where they were using 'magic wand' fake bomb detectors to screen cars for explosives. I had seen the discredited devices at Kufa mosque during my trip to Iraq and was surprised to see them in use at a major international airport.
I said farewell to Salim while Jamal went to the Shaheen Air office to get a copy of my freshly purchased ticket.
And thanking Jamal for the very interesting last two days and for managing to pull off a minor miracle with the last minute flight booking to Lahore.
I then headed through to check in for my flight 40 minutes before the 5pm scheduled departure. The terminal was built in 1992 and I really liked the slightly-retro and stylish architecture.
Airside with my boarding pass. As Jamal had bought the ticket over the phone the spelling of my name wasn't 100% correct but luckily there were no issues.
Our Airbus A320 waiting at the gate.
The Flight Attendant about to give the safety demonstration. The plane was 100% full with not a spare seat to be seen.
Sandwich and cake served on the ~90 minute flight.
And some hot coffee.
Being met on arrival with my driver from the Best Western Hotel.
Making our way across the city. The most direct way to the hotel went through a military area prohibited to foreigners so we took a slightly indirect way instead. Interestingly the route chosen by Google Maps avoided the military area too.
Family of three.
And my room at the Best Western Hotel for the next two nights in Lahore.
After checking into the hotel I went out for a walk in search for something to eat for dinner.
And treating myself to a burger and fries at a street stall for 260 rupees ($2.20) at the end of day two.