Friday, March 29, 2013

A Whirlwind Road Trip to Nagarparkar - Thar Desert

Nagarparkar is located near the Pakistan - India border in Thar Desert
Being the farthest town in the South Eastern Pakistan, Nagarparkar - or Nangarparkar as locals call it - had been on my radar since long. And last week I finally got the opportunity when Farrukh told me that his crazy Couchsurfing gang made a plan.
The Duo of Farrukh and Tanveer arranged the whole crazy road trip; Thanks Gyus!
From a traveler's perspective, Nagarparkar has to offer unique opportunities to explore, however, it is the least visited destination in Pakistan - mainly due to the remoteness and the harsh weather. Surrounded by Karoonjhar Hills, the town is located near the Pakistan-India border, a sensitive area so to say, and is inhibited mostly by the Hindu population, contrary to the rest of the country. Both of these features cast profound impact on the culture, religion, and wildlife of the area.

From Karachi, it is a 500 km drive (via Mirpur Khas) one way, all paved; a significant part of which traverses through the desert. Nagarparkar pierces into the Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujrat along the rather deserted section of Pakistan-India border. 

Overall, it was a fast-forward tour, during which we traveled more than 1,000 km: crossed Thar Desert, visited the Naukot Fort, made a sojourn in Mithi, touched Nagarparkar and Kasbo village, witnessed the highlights of the desert life, saw the ancient Jain Temple, and returned to Karachi – all this in 60 hours! Oh yes, it was too tiring and hectic but the infinite fun we had in between was the crux of the tour.

Luckily, the weather was relatively pleasant in the desert and gave me the liberty to absorb the vastness of the desert from the roof of the coaster along with the much needed Vitamin D!

Goodbye Civilization!
Cutting it short, here is a detailed overview – mostly pictorial – of what we saw during those 60 hours:

Naukot Fort: Entering Thar in style
First major sight we hit was the Naukot Fort; a mammoth structure built in the 18th century at the entrance of the Thar Desert.

Reaching the Naukot Fort - where the Thar Desert starts from
Front Bartizan(?) of the fort which was built in 1814 AD by the Talpurs
Vastness of the Thar Desert from the roof of the Naukot Fort
Inside of the Naukot Fort was mostly empty
The other end of this tunnel opens up in Delhi -:P
Before visiting the fort, we took a brief stopover in the Naukot town where Mr. Mahmood, Farrukh’s longtime colleague, kindly invited us to his home.

Bazaar of Naukot
Farrukh and Muhammad Ali trying to make a deal with the Cattle Smuggler -:P
 Naukot to Mithi
The real journey started from Naukot as we had to now travel into the middle of the desert - 175 km till Nagarparkar. The landscape quickly changed from the ready wheat crop to an unending sea of sand. Fielded with trees and rampant bushes, it was not a scene of a typical desert though. I suspect that the unexpected greenery was due to the torrential rains in Thar during past couple of years. In the 2011 monsoon, only Mithi city received 1,290 mm of rainfall against the all time maximum of 114 mm, i.e. >1,100%! (Numbers double checked).

"El NiƱo", Zubair - one of the aware trip members - screamed when we were discussing about life in the desert.

But those rains should have also brought some sort of sustainability in the life of the locals - as occasional green patches in the desert could be seen from the roof.

Throughout the route we kept on seeing cattle herds of the typical gray colored Thari cows with stylish horns. And being a Hindu Goddess these cows enjoy special treatment around Thar.

Abdul Qadir was too excited as it was his first time in the desert!
2013 Dane Dune Summit Challenge starts now!
And obviously I was the first to make it to the top :-P
Reaching Mithi - the capital of Tharparkar District
View of Mithi town from the surrounding sand dune - Gadi Bhit
A hotel in Mithi city where we had karak chia (tea) with paratha
Holy Cow: no one can disturb the Goddess even at a traffic intersection

Mithi to Nagarparkar
A village in Thar between Mithi and Nagarparkar
Moon is shining over a typical Thari Igloo-like House
Life in Thar: Innocent and Colorful
A sunset in Thar
Snakes are a part of normal life in Thar

Nagarparkar Town
We finally reached Nagarparkar in the evening where Farrukh had reserved the nice Circuit House - in fact the most luxurious place in the whole Nagarparkar for the night stay. There we had something yellow in the name of biryani and something white in the name of lassi but at that moment it was no less than a treat.

Next morning while the breakfast had to arrive I thought to have a quick walk around the town:

Nagarparkar or Nangarparkar?
Karoonjhar Hills surround the town of Nagarparkar
Kekra: WW-II trucks can still be seen around Thar and Nagarparkar
As compared to Thar, water can be found easily in Nagarparkar
After a day's of donkey work!
An abandoned temple in Nagarparkar
This looks like a temple specific for the market?
Nagarparkar bazaar from the roof of the coaster
Kasbo Village - Deep into the Desert
After the breakfast, we headed to Kasbo village, very close to the Indian border
It was India's good luck that our coaster got stuck up in the sand
Surprisingly, Kasbo was well irrigated thanks to the water from the jabal - i.e. Karoonjhar Hills
Onion is the most lucrative crop around Kasbo, Nagarparkar
Hard sell: a Punjabi salesman selling bedsteads in the desert
We enjoyed the bull race while the coaster was still stuck up
Guys had lost all their energy in the desert :-P
Another herd :-P
Ultimately, Farrukh called the Desert Rescue Service!
Jain Temple
Our last and the most importance site was one of the ancient Jain temples which are located around Nagarparkar:
Nagarparkar is also famous for its Jain temples
This picturesque Jain temple is located right in the Nagarparkar town
Intricately designed entrance of Nagarparkar's Jain Temple
Wall drawing of an elephant in Nagarparkar's Jain Temple
Trip Timeline and Cost

After an eventful journey, we returned back to Karachi ~5am Monday morning!

22nd March, Friday
17:00 started assembling                      
23:55 reached Mirpur Khas
23rd March, Saturday
10:00 left Mirpurkhas
13:00 reached Naukot Fort
16:00 Mithhi Viewpoint - Gadi Bhit
18:00 stopped for sunset and village tour
21:00 reached Nagarparkar
24th March, Sunday
10:00 left Nagarparkar for Kasbo village
14:00 back to Nagarparkar for Jain temple
18:00 reached Mithhi and had food
23:00 reached Mirpur Khas
25th March, Monday
05:00 reached Karachi safe and sound Alhamdolillah

Cost: ~4,500 per person

As obvious from the above timeline, we could not manage the schedule effectively mainly because of the large group. On the other hand, cost per head was lower for a comparable trip as Farrukh and Tanveer voluntarily added a lot of value to this event!

So it had been a nice explore indeed, however, I would have liked to spend more time to see the life more closely. Next time, when I will visit Thar inshallah, I would like to have local food along with attending a local festival.

In fact, I feel that the above post does not describe the adventure fully so you may expect a few more posts in the coming days covering some of the above described sights, most importantly the Jain temple, in more detail, inashallah.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Coming Soon: a Weekend in Nagarparkar

Karachi to Nagarparkar (Source of the map: Googlemaps)

Last weekend I finally got the opportunity to visit Nagarprakar, which can be rightly described as the last town in the Southern Pakistan – thanks to Farrukh and his crazy bunch. From Karachi, Nagarparkar is ~500 km across the Thar Desert and pierces into the Indian states of Gujrat and Rajasthan along the rather deserted section of Pakistan – India border.

In those 2 days on the road, there was ample opportunity for me to take a bird eye-view of the most densely populated desert of the world from the roof of the coaster!

This is a snapshot of what we explored during the whirlwind tour:

  • Naukot Fort – a gigantic 200 years old structure at the brink of the desert
  • Gaddi Bhit – a sand dune overlooking Mithi city top of which is accessible through a paved road!
  • Thari village – a closer look of life in Thar and its colorful sunset
  • Jain Temple – an ancient place of worship
  • Sand adventure – tractor pulling our coaster out of the deep sand ~10 km from the Indian border!
  • Rural surprise ditching the group, having goat milk live and then riding the racing bull-cart
  • Holy Cow – in the most literal sense
  • Post trip cramps – exploring new areas in the body which can produce pain signals
  • Farrukh and Tanveer – the lethal duo who made impossible possible by taking a couple of dozen rotten eggs from one corner of the world to the other and then bringing all of them back unbroken!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Boating around Karachi’s Oyster Rocks

A Beautiful Karachi Sunset Around Manora Island

Oyster Rocks
There is a bunch of small islands in the proximity to Karachi’s southern coastal line with Manora in the West and Clifton’s Sea View in the East. These islands are usually frequented by amateur fishing enthusiasts but can also be a really good family excursion in a city which is usually dubbed as a commercial hubbub with little recreation opportunities.

(Zoom out for a clear picture of Oyster Rocks Location)

View Larger Map

Two in One: Rock Climbing with Seafood!
While pondering about where to take our expat guests who were not so impressed with the favorite local pastime, i.e. wandering around shopping malls, I shared this idea which got immediate support from the younger generation. After taking a nod from the family bureaucracy, I called Hasan – who is usually a quick resource in our friends circle for all things fun – and as expected, he knew someone at Kemari who arranges boating and crabbing tours. After a little haggling, I got a Rs. 10,000 deal which included sunset jaunt to the rocks along with the onboard seafood menu for 15 people (~650 per head).

We reached the jetty around 3:30 pm where Arif, that ‘someone’, received and helped us in parking our cars in the adjacent private parking – which was not an easy task otherwise due to the heavy traffic. By 4:00 we all got settled in the locally made boat and reached our destination in an hour or so. The sea was smooth and the weather was just perfect to enjoy both the cool sea breeze and the warm sunshine.

Our captain Ibrahim anchored the vessel rather casually around one of the rocks before we leaped onto the pebbly surface. The baccha party was really excited and within minutes they all reached to the top of the cliff with their parents yelling and following. Sights from the summit included Habib Bank Plaza on one hand and the open waters of the Arabian Sea on the other.

After an hour of fun, we descended back to the boat where Ibrahim was giving dum to the much wanted karak tea – included in the menu.

After having tea and snack, we left the makeshift harbor to catch the sunset near Manora Island. Behind us, jets of the KPT Fountain started blowing water high in the air while the sea started getting a bit rough, which only added to the fun of the excursion.  Once we entered back into the channel, where the water was much calm, Ibrahim docked the boat again, but this time in the middle of the sea, to prepare food in the onboard kitchen.

For me, the best part had yet to come, i.e. Seafood: Prawn Masala, fried fish, and crab lollypops; all fresh and supplemented with potato cutlass and spicy potato bhujia! I was so overwhelmed with the food that you can excuse me for not capturing those freshly cooked scrumptious dishes with the camera. 

The best part was also the last part, and we returned back to the jetty around 8 after another memorable picnic, Alhamdolillah!

Tourist Boat with the Carpeted Upper Compartment (Kemari, Karachi)
A Passenger Boat Leaving for Manora Island from Kemari, Karachi
A Liner Sailing Out of Kemari through Baba Channel (Karachi)
Fishermen Going Back to Kemari (Karachi) after a Day's Catch
Oyster Rocks (Karachi) Visible from the Boat
Giant Oyster Rock, Karachi
Summiting Karachi's Oyster Rock
Artificial Enclave Around Oyster Rocks, Karachi
Open Waters of the Arabian Sea near Karachi
Entering Back to the Chartered Territory
Fresh Jheera Prawns to be Served Shortly
Fresh Saram Fish

Warm clothes: Take layered clothing, especially hooded uppers as it gets windy and cold in the open sea even if the mercury is on the rise in the city center.
Parking: Car parking is available on an adjacent private facility for Rs. 100. Don’t bother taking the car into the Port.
CNIC: There is a Navy check-post right in the sea which requires showing CNICs of atleast each male voyager.
Season: Daytime is the best during winters (October-March) while evenings suit the hot summer weather.
Photography: Since it is a cantonment area, therefore, photography is prohibited, or discouraged actually, so being discrete as much as possible. (Btw, I used my cell phone for photography, and that too in the moving boat – the reason for low resolution pics)
First Aid: Keeping basic medicines would be wise, however, the whole journey remains in the city precinct and one can rush back quickly in case of an emergency.
Directions: See the below map from Karachi City Center (Hasan Square)
Advanced Booking: Though experienced folks go directly to the jetty and negotiate directly with the boatmen – booking one in advance was a good experience especially with the family in the tow in the chaotic port environment and pushy touts.

Other Interesting Day Trips Around Karachi:
The Great Canyon; Long Drive Around Makran Coastal Highway
Fish Massage and other Mysteries of Ranikot
Heritage Buildings Around Karachi's M. A. Jinnah Road