Thursday, October 21, 2010

Astola Island - A Dream Yet to Come True!

Approximately 30 nautical miles from Pasni, located a rare and uninhabited island in the Arabian Sea. The island, shown as Astola on the atlas while famous as Haftlar (seven hills) among locals, is a 200 feet high flat surface with a vertical drop on its North face. The Arabian Sea atoll is famous among scuba divers, because of crystal clear water, and air travelers who report a breathtaking bird eye view while traveling between Karachi and Makran Coast cities.

Due to its desolated nature, the island is abode to various marine species, notably green turtle and Astola viper, and birds. Astola remains inaccessible during Monsoons (June to August) but then serves as a base for local fishermen during the fishing season. A 2-3 night camping looks enough to explore the 4 square kilometer island, however, scuba lovers may enjoy longer stays as well. For seafood maniacs, the adventure camping would be a perfect treat as the place is favorite among fishermen because of the top quality lobsters, jumbo shrimps, and oysters; loads of which can be bought against few pennies. Also, ruins of an antique Hindu Mandir attributed to Kali Devi (the Goddess of Death) and a mosque attributing to the legendary Hazrat Khizr are also present there.

There is a flip side also as there is no regular transport between the isle and the mainland, instead one has to either negotiate customized trips at Pasni jetty or feel lucky if some fishermen agree to carry them along. Because of this uncertainty, I have yet to make the voyage. All I sorted out in my three consecutive trips to Pasni last month is that one should have at-least two nights to make it feasible plus a group in the multiple of 4-5 will be required to make it economically optimum. Now I am looking for a bunch of friends having a pinch of adventure and who can afford the speed boat fuel. Can’t wait!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Chicken Karahi on Makran Coastal Highway

(From left) Aziz and I waiting for the Chicken Karahi
This basic roadside hotel on Makran Coastal Highway (MCH) mainly serves truck drivers, locals and occasional travelers. This is the only significant eatery between MCH zero point and Ormara, covering a distance of more than 200km. My first experience there was a pleasant surprise, mainly due to low expectations. On our way to Gwadar, I ordered a plate of mixed vegetables, good for two, and found the meal not only sumptuous but hygienic as well, asterisk, given the conditions. Tandoor Roti, i.e. the freshly baked bread, and basic salad were free! So, we paid PKR 100 (approx USD 1.2) for the food, two cups of tea, and Imam Buksh’s tip. Overall, it was a good experience, however, the place is not recommended for Choi Moi (Humble Plant) kind of people. 

Reads Al-Hasan Hotel and pictures are self explainatory
The next time, I went a bit further and took the risk of ordering Chicken Karahi for 5 of us. One of the conscious tour mates supervised the cooking process, especially the chicken slaughter, to ensure quality.  The experience was even better than the previous one; it was oven hot even until we had finished the meal. Thanks to the hale and hearty bird and rich gravy, we survived till evening with this 11 am brunch and none of us complained of any foul-food- play. In total, we paid around PKR 800 (approx USD 10), all inclusive! On a precautious side, we used bottled water, which we took from Karachi, for drinking. Light food, for instance vegetables, and freshly cooked chicken karahi, for larger group, are recommended while heavy meals, especially meat items, should be avoided.

The hotel is located right after the Hingol River bridge on the right hand side while coming from Karachi. The Odometer suggested that we were 216 km from Hub Toll, or 128 km from MCH zero point, and it took us around 4 hours to reach to this place from Karachi, maintaining moderate speeds. The off-highway semi-paved road to Hinglaj Mandir, or Nani Mandir, also starts from this point. For people leaving from Karachi, especially around dawn, the place is optimum for a midway meal/brunch to avoid further stopovers. It is advisable to avoid pre-journey heavy meal as there are very few roadside lavatory facilities, if at all, on MCH before this place. Even here, when one of the tour mates inquired the waiter about the toilet, he responded back with a loud laughter, joined by the other staff as well, and pointed towards surrounding bushes for the luxury. However, they candidly provided washing facility in the form of lota, a traditional cattle-like pot used for toiletry purposes in the sub-continent.

The mosque, Masjide Bilal, and the ablution facility!
The food outlet also accompanies a basic mosque, Masjide Bilal, and provides night accommodation to travelers on flat but raised concrete platforms, which are used for dining in the day time, for meager charges, if any. In case of an emergency, or to satiate ones free surfing appetites, the place is good to stay. Upon talking to locals over there, it appeared that there are no cliche security threats as such and the place is also safe from occasional burglary and opportunism, which are more peculiar to civilization.