Manora feels like an island community lost at sea. Manora Island is at the tip of a 12km sandspit connected to mainland Pakistan. Along with neighbouring islands, Manora forms a protective barrier between the city of Karachi to the north and the Arabian Sea in the south. It’s strategic location has been known to great civilizations far back in time. Alexander the Great is said to have launched his fleet for Babylonia after his campaign in the Indus Valley was from Morontobara, Manora’s ancient name. In 1554 the island was visited by the Ottoman admiral Seydi Ali Reis and mentioned it in his book Mirat ul Memalik,which was considered one of the earliest travel books in Turkish literature. In the 18th century a fort was constructed on the island when the port of Karachi traded with Oman and Bahrain. In 1839 the British East India Company conquered Karachi after taking over Manora from it’s Talpur rulers and later annexed it to British India in 1843.
I have thought of visiting Manora for several years. It takes roughly 20 minutes by boat to get there from Karachi. After the chaos in Karachi, Manora feels like heaven. We arrived at the boat launch mid-morning and were quickly surrounded by eager boat owners and hawkers who struggle to make a living because of the decline in tourism to Pakistan. After bargaining a bit we settled on return trip boat ride to the island for 2,000 Rupees (approximately US$20). However, in the end we got a free ride on navy boat going to the island but that’s a story for another time.
Our first reaction on the island was a feeling of freedom. After weeks being in Karachi we felt free to roam about. The people of Manora were very friendly and welcoming. What was striking immediately was the religious diversity among a small population of Pakistani’s that live on the island. Manora is really a place from another time. Standing in one place I spotted a catholic church, a Hindu temple, a Sikh gurudwara, and mosque within a stone’s throw from each other. What’s better is that they all get along really well together!
We decided to tour the island in clockwise direction. After we got off the jetty, we followed a road up to the tallest lighthouse in Pakistan. It was built by the British after taking over the island. Unfortunately we were unable to climb up to the top because of increased naval presence on the island. With guns pointed in our direction I was in no mood stick around the area either. We decided to take a few steps back and visit the tomb of a Muslim saint, Shah Ghazi Maud i.
A narrow alley next to the tomb led us to a spectacular view of the beach and the vast Arabian Sea. We walked right down to the calm, tepid waters and went in to the sea. Since we did not come prepared for swimming we decided to walk along the beach and enjoy the beautiful breeze. While the beach was not packed with people there were many who came out to enjoy the beautiful Saturday afternoon. Horses and camels we available for hire so we decided to hope on for a different view. Our camel’s name was “Raju”. The camels master was a native of the island who spoke English very well. It turns out he was born under the British rule and it showed through his fine etiquette. He told us of a golden age for tourism in Pakistan. They were peaceful times and travelers from around the world loved to visit. Tourism business was good back then. Now it’s hard to make ends meet.
After a visit to secret underground tunnels built before the time of the British and a relaxing ride along the beach our new friend we got dropped off in front of the Varun Dev Mandir. The Hindu temple is devoted to Varuna, the god of the oceans in Hindu mythology. The site of the temple is considered to be centuries old, however, the present structure was built back in 1917. The temple seemed like the perfect location for the next “ Lara Croft “ (Tomb Raider) movie set because it’s exotic look and surroundings. During our exploration of the temple we met the priest who offered us a private tour of the temple and the ruins.
Around 2 pm in the afternoon we had to head back to the jetty to catch our boat back to mainland. I was not ready to leave. The island has no cars and no pollution. The gentle breeze and soothing sounds of the sea held me captive. Luckily due to a misunderstanding the boat forgot to pick us up as well. “ Perfect!”, I thought to myself. Now that we had to wait, we decided to owe patronage to a nice little restaurant by the beach and enjoy some freshly caught fish. For just 320 rupees (roughly US$3.00) we had a half kilograns of fresh fish cooked right in front of us with a bottle of soda. It was perhaps one of the best meals I have had in the last 3 months in Karachi. The owner of the restaurant, a native of the island and retired school teacher from Karachi, offered shared stories which had me want to stay even longer.
Before heading back to the jetty to catch our ride back to the mainland we stopped to see some local crafts at a couple of souvenir stands along the road. Most of the products were made with natural materials like shells and stones from the beach. Due to the near absence of tourism we did not have to bargain to get incredible prices. Imagine 10 cents (US$0.10) for a pair of beautiful shell earrings!
Since visiting Manora and learning about its heritage I have started to view Karachi with a different lens. I believe that with the will of the people, its rich history, culture, and beauty the city can be much more. It can once again be a destination enjoyed by travelers from around the world. Let’s hope that this region continues to welcome and inspire people as it has since ancient history until as recent as a couple of decades ago.
About The Author
Urooj Qureshi is pro Adventurer and storyteller. Follow his adventures on Instagram @uroojqureshi.
Originally published at http://www.living-being.com on March 9, 2013.