Sindh, Pakistan

The southern province of Sindh takes its name from Sindhy, an old Sanskrit name for the Indus (or Lion) River which flows down its middle, making fertile an otherwise arid, barren land. The province has three distinct landscapes: the  lush, irrigated plains along the river, the sparsely populated deserts on the either side of the irrigated belt, and the mangrove swamps of the Indus delta. Sindh is flat except at its western edge, where the Kirthar Hills from its borders with Balochistan. The climate is pleasant in winter, and hot in summer.

The irrigated alluvial soil forms some of Pakistan’s best farmland. As far as canals can carry waters from the Indus, farmers grow wheat, rice, millet, pulses, oil-seeds, cotton, sugar-can and other crops. Most of the 70 percent of Sindh’s rural that live by agriculture are tenant farmers tilling soil belonging to feudal landlords of Balochi descent.

The deserts begin immediately the irrigation ends the line between green fields and sandy scrubland strikingly abrupt. Desert tribes, some of the settled around wells, some nomadic, etc out a bare subsistence by breeding camels and goats, growing pulses and millet, and hiring themselves out as migrant laborers.

The Indus delta is a vast marshy track stretching southeast from Karachi to the Indian borders some 250 km away. Through its myriad sluggish channels meandering around thousands of mangrove islands, the Indus empties into Arabian Sea. Each year, the river deposits millions of tons of silt in the coastal waters, extending the delta and enriching the marine food chain. Fishing is the principal occupation on the coast, providing Karachi’s restaurants with the seafood for which they are just famous.

The history of Sindh goes back some 5,000 years to the Indus Civilization, which was contemporary which the better-known civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Archaeologists have identified some 400 Indus Civilization towns, scattered from Kabul to Delhi. The most famous of these, the capital of Moenjodaro, on the right bank of the Indus in Sindh, was one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. It had a remarkably advanced urban organization and archaeologists believe that the whole empire was controlled and administered from here.

Alexander the Great arrived in Sindh in 326BC and captured the principal towns along the river. In the third and second centuries BC, Sindh was part of the great Mauryan Empire of India and embraced Buddhism. Between the sixth and eighth centuries AD, Buddhism was gradually suppleanted by Hinduism and a cast system was introduced.

In AD 711, an Arab expedition under 17 year odl Muhammad Bin Qasim conquered Sindh, which marked the beginning of Islam era in the subcontinent. The province was governed by until 874 by Abbassid Caliphate, the leaders of the Sunni Muslims who ruled from Baghdad and whose court is so vividly described in The Thousand and One Night.


A hundred years ago, Karachi was a tiny fishing village clustered on three islands just to the west of the Indus estuary. It is now a sprawling city with seven million inhabitants, Pakistan's major port and biggest industrial center. The first impression is one of glass-fronted hotels, multi-storey banks, spacious British colonial buildings with domes and spires and wide lawns, and the normal hazard of any big city  fast flowing traffic.

Karachi is not old enough to be graced with elegant Mughal mosques or tombs. Its main attractions are the sea, the seafood, the busy bazaars, the museum, the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, and the tomb of Muhammad Ah Jinnah, Pakistan's illustrious founder.

As the sun sets, the fishing boats in Karachi harbor unfurl their sails and float silently out into the quiet water. This is bundar boat time when family parties and tourists sail around the harbor, fish for crabs to be cooked and eaten on board, and stop off on the Sandspit to watch the giant turtles lumber up out of the sea to lay their eggs in the sand (laying season July to November). To hire a boat (a modest Rs 50 to Rs 100 an hour for a boat seating 10), go to Keamari Harbor, 15 minutes from downtown Karachi. As darkness falls, local fishermen paddle by in rowing boats, and overhead, long lines of cormorants and flamingoes fly home to roost. For a bigger choice of seafood: cray-fish, giant prawns and fish, try Karachi's famous restaurants. Chances are you won't be disappointed.

By day, you can laze on the miles of smooth sand, swim in Hawkes Bay, or visit the aquarium and take camel rides along Clifton Beach. At the fish harbor on West Wharf, hundreds of small fishing boats with colored sails line up to unload. Nearby, boat-builders using old-fashioned tools still make wooden fishing boats in the traditional style.

A Bazaar Time: Karachi's bazaars are good sources of antique silver and copper, tribal embroidery, oriental carpets and a multitude of modern onyx, brass and wooden ornaments. The most colorful bazaars are in the old city, to the north of M A Jinnah Road (also known as Bundar Road), behind Boulton Market. Here nomad women in full red skirts over baggy trousers and tribal men wearing enormous turbans, stride through the narrow alleys. In the wider streets, camel carts jostle with laden donkeys and hooting taxis. Each lane is a separate market selling a different commodity. The Sarafa Bazaar is lined with jewelry shops offering both modern and antique pieces. Deeper into the bazaar is Bartan Gali, selling copper and aluminium pots and pans. Next comes the wholesale cloth bazaar, and beyond that the Khajoor (date) Bazaar full of carefully arranged pyramids of fruit, and hawkers selling everything from twigs to clean your teeth, to pyjama cords to hold up your trousers.

Karachi's newer markets are in the Saddar Bazaar area between Abdullah Haroon (Victoria) Road, and Zaibun Nisa (Elphinstone) Street (both the old British, and the new Pakistani street names are used). These have less local color, but offer a good selection of new copper and brass, onyx, inlaid woodwork and hand-printed cloth and applique bedspreads.

A wander round Empress Market shows the modern Karachi housewife doing her morning shopping. The market, opened in 1889, is a huge Victorian Gothic building with a square clock tower, housing hundreds of stalls selling fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and groceries. Behind the market.


This white marble Mausoleum with its curved Moorish arches and copper grills rests on an elevated 54 sq. Metres platform. The cool inner sanctum reflects the green of a four-tiered crystal chandelier gifted by the Peoples Republic of China. The memorial slab framed with silver railings, draws people from far and wide who come to pay their respects and watch the impressive changing of the guards ceremony that takes place thrice everyday. Today the Quaid-e-Azam’s Mausoleum is a prominent and impressive landmark of Karachi . Nearby are the graves of the Quaid-e-Millat, Laquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Quaid’s sister, Mohatarma Faitma Jinnah.


This museum, on Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed Road, contains an important collection of items to Pakistan’s heritage. Well arranged galleries display Indus Civilization artifacts, Gandhara sculptures, Islamic art, miniature paintings, ancient coins and manuscripts documenting Pakistan’s political history. There is also an interesting ethnological gallery.


Situated in the Defence Housing Authority area, close to the market, is the Masjid-e-Tooba, said to be the largest single-dome mosque. The dome covers a central prayer hall with a capacity to accommodate a congregation of 5,000. The mosque’s minaret stands 70 meters high.


Karachi’s golden, uncrowded beaches stretch for miles. The more accessible of them are SANDSPIT, HAWKESBAY and PARADISE POINT which are within a radius of 10 to 20 kms from the city and about 30 minutes drive away. A ride on a gaily decorated camel is a must for most visitors. Beach huts are dotted along the shore, some available for hire. For reasons of safety, care must be taken to swim only in the safe areas as there is always a strong under-current. In May and June watch out for jelly-fish. On moonlit nights, during the months of September and October, giant green turtles lumber ashore to lay eggs in the sand. The turtles are under the protection of the Wild Life Management Board.


The French Beach, located half way between Hawkes Bay and Paradise Point is, in fact, a small fishing village know to the locals as Haji Abdullah Goth. Surrounded by a boundary wall, it has some 20 huts constructed by villagers for hire. The village has neither running water nor electric power. Its rocky beach and clear waters are ideal for snorkeling and skin-diving. Boats for scuba-diving are available for hire. Visitors need to bring there own equipment as well food and drink supplies.

Shopping in Karachi is a delight. There is Sarafa Bazaar , a typical Eastern market in the city’s old quarter, which is the main market for gold and silver. Among the many colourful shopping areas offering a wide variety of local goods is the Zainab Market where cotton T-shirts, dresses and handcrafts are available. Shops in the Saddar Co-operative Market have a wide collection of handicrafts made from onyx, wood and brass. Since prices are not fixed, bargaining is advised. Leather goods and ready-made clothes usually have fixed prices but sell at a fraction of what they would cost overseas.

Bohri bazaar is a colourful market where almost everything is available. Other modern shopping centres are Clifton area, Zaib-un-Nisa Street, Abdullah Haroon Road and Mohammad Ali Jinnah Road. The typically Eastern bazaars are at June Market, Kharadar, Mithadar and Jodia Bazaar area, which are worth visiting.

For souvenirs of brassware, carved silverware, gold and silver jewellery, embroidery, delicate mirror-work of Sindh handloom tapestries, printed fabrics, lacquer-ware, camel skin articles and carved wood-work etc., tourists are advised to visit the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA) shop on Abdullah Haroon Road and the P.I.D.C. Cottage Industries show-room, where prices are fixed and quality ensured. There are a number of other shops in all main markets of the city.


Thatta fis well worth a visit for the Shah Jahan Mosque and its bazaar. The mosque is a reminder of Thatta’s past asd a thriving port and the campital of Lower Sindh before the Indus abandoned it for new channels to the east.

Some experts believe that Thatta was the site of the ancient city of Pattala, where Alexdander the Great rested his weary troops before his near-fatal mach across Makran Desert in Balochistan, and where his admiral Nearchus readied the fleet for the voyages along the Arabian Sea coast. Alexander built a wall around Pattala’s citadel and a dockyard known as the Wooden City (timber being the only marterial to hand) at the head of the Indus estuary.

Thatta’s known history goes back at least 600 years. From the 14th to the 16th century it was the seat of the Sammahs, the independent Muslim rulers of Lower Sindh, who controlled the lucrative spice trade to Indonesia, burned and ransacked the town, and in 1529 it became a part of the Mughal Empire. For the next 150 years it was a prosperous port, famous its handloom cotton-weaving and its wood-carving. In the 18th century Thatta declined; not only had the Indus shifted its course, but Britain had begun exporting cotton lunghis from India which were better and cheaper than the once-famous Thattta product. By 1815 the population had fallen from its height of 300,000 to 7,000. Today only a dazon or so of the old carved wooden hours remain near the bazaar.


The border of Pakistan and India runs through desert for 500 km from the Rann of Kutch to Bahawalpour in Punjab. The That, Rajasthan and Cholistan deserts form a continuous belt of dry, sparsely populated land.

The Thar Desert, however is not an inhospitable, empty wasteland, but is often called with good reas, the “Friendly Desert”. It is accessible, not too hot and colorful, and makes a perfect four-day trip from Karachi.

More than half a million people, 70 percent of who are Hindu, live in the desert, spread our over 13,000 square km. The women wear long, full red or orange skirts and cover their heads with embroidered or tiedyed shwls. Married women encase their arms in bone of plastic bangles from writs to shoulder (widows wear bangles above the elbow only, single girls wear the only round the wrist). The people live in round mud-walled busts thatched with grass and surrounded with thick thorn hedges. There is always plenty of activity in the villages: women come with pots on their heads or with donkeys to fetch water, herds of camels and cattle drink from the pond. The wells are generally very deep and animals are needed to haul the water up-a 50 meter deep well requires the strength of a camel, while the shallower wells can be worked by two or four donkeys harnessed together. Wandering Sindhi musicians sometimes sit by the wells or at the shires and give impromptu concerts.


Sehawan Sharif is famous for the shrine of Shah of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, renowned for his great learning and virtue and for his ability to perform miracles. The twon is a permanent carnival with a holiday air.

Sehawan Sharif is the oldest occupied town in Sindh Mud houses huddle on top of a mound of mud debris that has accumulated over thousands of years. The ruins of a massive fort dominate the town at the northern end and command the route from the upper to the lower Indus, through which all invaders from either north or south had to pass. Possession of the fort was essential to the success of every campaign, so Sehawan figures constantly in Sindh’s history.

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is honored and loved as one of the greatest Sufi saints in Pakistan. Born in Persia in 1177, he was celibate, mystic wanderer and missionary, as well as a scholer, poet and philologist who wrote several books in Persia and Arabic that are still widely read today.


Meonjodaro (Mound of the dead) is the ruins of a 4,000 year old brick city of the Indus Civilization (also known as the Harrappan Civilization after the first site to be excavated), on the west bank of the Indus in Upper Sindh. It is a one of the most important archaeological sites in the subcontinent, and a must for anyone interested in ancient history. Enthusiasts should allow a whole day there to tour the ruins and see the excellent museum.

The Indus Civilization flourished from 3000 to 1500 BC making it contemporary with the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia.  At the height, it comprised at least 400 cities and twons along the Indus and its tributaries, covering most of the present day Pakistan and stretching northwest as far as modern Kabul and east as far as modern Delhui. The waterways were the principal highways connecting the empire, and flat-bottomed barges, almost identical to those still used today, plied the rivers from city to city. Few of the cities have been excavated; what little we know of the civilization has been pieced together from the finds at Moenjodaro, Harappa and Lothal in India.

According to archaeologists John Marshall and Mortimer Wheeler, the Indus people had as a strong central administrative system. The cities appear to have been built according to a single, height organized plan, with a raised citadel in the west and streets laid out in neat blocks deined by wide avenues intersecting at right angles. At its height there must have been about 80,000 inhabitants. Much like the modern Islamabad, different sectors were reserved for different functions, so that there was an administrative sector, a residential sector for the wealthy, another for the working class, and separate sectors for various kinds of artisans and tradesmen. Even the different cities were specialized to produce different crafts which they traded with others. Lothal, in India, specialized in making exquisite carnelian beads, towns in what is now the Cholistan Desert made bricks and pottery and smelted copper, and a colony at Shortugai in Afghanistan worked the lapis lazuli mines.


Kot Diji, is the another place of interest on the National Highway. It is a magnificent early 19th century Talpur fort perched on the right of a steep, narrow hill just beside the road on the right. The Talpurs ruled Sindh from 1789 to 1843 and built a number of huge brick forts at strategic points. Kot Diji was constructed by Mir Suhrab Khan (1803-30) and is the best-preserved and most interesting of them all.

The entrance of the fort is located in the village on the other side of the hill and is barred by enormous spiked elephant gates set between massive round bastions. The gates are protected by a projection wall with battlements erected so they could not be charged. A steep road between high walls leads up to the narrow top of the ridge. Extensive soldiers’ quarters, a royal residence, a pavilion with fluted arches under which the commander sat and a parade ground fill with space at the top the hill which is surrounded by a crenellated wall.

The pre historic site at Kot Diji is the foot of the hill is not less exciting for the archaeologist. The people who lived here were the forerunners of the Indus Civilization. The lowest levels of the site are under water and can not be excavated, but from their discoveries here archaeologists have found that the Indus Civilization borrowed or developed some of the basic cultural elements of the Kot Diji in about 2800BC.

The site consists of two parts: the citadel area on high ground where the elite lived and an outer area for the artisans and workers. The people built houses of mud brick on stone foundations and made pottery which differed in the style and technique from that of the later Indus people, who nonetheless seem to have adapted Kot Diji designs-horizontal and wavy lines, loops and simple triangular patterns. There are hundreds of shards at the site. It is not clear yet where the people of Kot Diji came from or how they disappeared.




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