The Gadani Ship breaking Yard and its Gems

A lagoon at one of the beaches of Gadani
Sea or Vitamin Sea as you can say really is medicine for your mind and body. According to science, people who live by the coast are known to have better physical and mental health ... well provided if you let the coast remain healthy as well, our beloved beach, Sea View is a different story altogether. SO! Let's talk about Gadani instead!!!

Sea waves are known to calm your nerves as their sounds and visuals activate your parasympathetic nervous system and  eventually help relax you. Thank God, for much of Earth is covered with water! Imagine how much wilder would we have been with less of this resource. But we're sufficiently wild enough ... we still serve the purpose.

Considering this weekend (including the flower show) it had been a while since I had used my camera like crazy; a while here means a couple of days only and going to Gadani with like minded crazies on Sunday seemed like a viable idea. Imagine snapping almost 1,200 pictures, I hope that's crazy enough. Well 'crazy' isn't the keyword here so let's get back to Gadani, shall we? Oh yes!

It takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to travel from Karachi to Gadani which is quite a picturesque place no matter which particular beach you hit. This trip was arranged by Dream Merchants headed by the astute wildlife photographer, Mirza Naeem Beg who along with fellow photographers shoots birds with his camera and documents these as well.  

The picture above shows a lagoon at the first beach out of the three we went to and the ship breaking yard was another sight to see altogether. The soft sandy beach with water so clear that you could see tiny fish swimming along the waves gave a feeling of a fish spa although that I believe was a fad as I don't see these anymore in Karachi. And, there was a sea snake too which tried to pretend it was dead ... 

Below are some more pictures of this beach we first went to.

And then there were more spots we went to ...

The snake charmer

One of the group members brought a drone camera and all the dogs of the beach went berserk, gathering and trying to chase the flying alien, I'm sure they are not accustomed to alien or UFO sightings like us ...

Finally it was time to reach the SHIP BREAKING YARRRRRD! 

Did you know? I guess you didn't that the Gadani ship breaking yard is the third largest ship breaking yard in the world. It's almost like a necropolis of ships coming ashore to be dismantled and recycled. In other words, this place is the ships' afterlife where they are judged based on their remaining potential to serve the world again. Whatever is left of the Pirates of the Caribbean should be shot here, Gadani is that good. 

Hats off to the diligent labourers who make this ship breaking projects happen as they truly earn by the sweat of their brow, working a 12 hour shift from 7 AM to 7 PM. Their perseverance is just astounding! Let me show you the faces reflecting immense efforts and hard work.

The eyes say it all

Who appears to be our local Long John Silver and I must mention that it was love at first sight for some people because they couldn't stop taking his pictures

Finally taking a break

You can see more pictures on my National Geographic Your Shot account. In the picture below is the ship being put to rest that we went to ... it was enormous and made us wonder what mighty presence it would have had when it would have been in its full glory while young, hale and hearty ...
The dying ship we went aboard
One cannot simply imagine how labour intensive the job of ship breaking workers is, amidst the fumes and flames and those random sparks. The smell of the ship's death was quite overwhelming and people like us can only watch these strong people perform in awe. This ambiance and place also reminded me of the song by Gordon Lightfoot called 'The Wreck of Edmond Fitzgerald', it's simply beautiful, good music has become extinct and perhaps the taste too. 
Here are the men of steel in great action!

Where tow trucks have a different purpose (no chai paani ... all paani paani)

Amidst the rubble there is new life

The dying ship, the end of an era ...

Here's our wonderful host, Mr. Shahab who guided us throughout and sent us back home with some extra knowledge. Thank you!

Our host, Mr. Shahab (Photo Credit: Farhan Siddiqui)
Our final destination was the third beach which didn't seem to be haunted by any human being for several hours at least because unfortunately there was some trash lying, however, it was still very, very clean and allowed to be left in its natural form as the sand felt too good to be sand itself. Something quite funny happened, thanks to my forgetfulness, I had taken a glass globe along for the purpose of some creative photography and didn't realise I had it until almost the end of the trip. This ball did become famous quite instantly however and we made as much use of it as possible! It inverses the image.

And you know what? Young boys and girls just like to have fun ... ;)

Photo Credit: Farhan Siddiqui

This is what we had been doing the entire trip ...

Both boys are great at photography! Their teachers are considering appointing them as prefects ... Farhan (L), Saeed (R)
It was a weekend spent well with the flower show happening and then this trip on Sunday with all these amazing people most of whom are hobbyists and yet exceptional photographers, no less than professionals themselves. 

Gadani is a must visit place, it's really one of the gems in Balochistan that you should have been too but it's never too late!

The Scenic Beauty of Quetta and Ziarat

Long weekends are quite rare and when they happen, a lot happens along with them. A group of us took advantage of the holiday of December 25 and went for a trip to Quetta and Ziarat with Rover Adventure Club

Those of us who work 9 to endless whatever need a break every once in a while to charge our internal batteries in order to stay functional. This seemed like to a good escape.  

So off we went on Friday night for what turned out to be an almost 12 hour trip. I have a slight motion sickness issue so popped in a tablet of Gravinate which lulled me to sleep within half an hour, much to the envy of my friends who were somewhat feeling uneasy being stuck in one seat. Surprisingly, I could barely sleep on the bed the next night and I slept throughout most of our trip to Quetta.

The highway roads were so smooth and were indeed a delight for us people from Karachi
who perhaps don't even have one smooth road at our disposition, even if the roads get fixed, they are bound to get bumpy in the nick of time. 
The next morning we had finally arrived at Gardenia Resort Hotel in the cold city, Quetta, although very warm in its hospitality. The hotel facade itself seemed to be giving us a warm welcome.

The hotel then served us with a very appetising breakfast comprising of deliciously round parathas, omelette, and chickpea gravy. Although I am not a tea consumer but got to know from those around that it was exceptional, so the origin of our roadside dhabas, 'New Quetta Hotel' something something was witnessed in Quetta itself, not just in the hotel but at various other spots too.

Gardenia's service turned out to be pretty decent from their proper heating, warm running water, good food, and rooms with a good view. After settling down and resting for a few hours, we headed off to Hanna Lake and Orak Valley.

The lake looks beautiful in pictures because there it has water in it, unfortunately when we went, it was completely dry despite which there was an element of serenity and calmness surrounding it. See for yourself!

Here you can see the small island that used to lie in the middle of the lake which now has been neglected

There was a small shop and the owner was inviting everyone in for a free kahwah as a goodwill gesture as he considered us guests. Hanna Lake is perhaps another example of  present dayneglect. This water reservoir is a little more than 10 km towards the East side of Quetta was built in the British colonial era in 1894 along with a wall between two mountains. The purpose of the water filled ecological land was to collect water from snow melting from mountain tops and to divert water from Murdar and Zarghoon mountain streams. One can imagine the amount of fish lost and ecology destroyed as a result of the lake completely drying up.

After having spent a good time amidst the Earth's ochre and umber, and the sun's showering gold, we headed off towards the Orak Valley. It was a combination of dried foliage and small rural spots. Although the sunset was beautiful, there wasn't much to see.

Tip of the day: There are some renowned places that serve traditional food comprising of lamb and even chicken cooked in lamb fat which some people certainly love, however if you don't like lamb like me, it's best to avoid it. You should eat less and drink less anyway while travelling. Trust me, drinking less it recommended, considering the lack of proper public bathrooms on the way, our government seems to pay zero heed to such basic needs even though domestic tourism is on the rise in Pakistan. We all love travelling don't we? And you have to be flexible considering the inevitable downside, just have the traveller's spirit.

The same night we went to visit the city centre and thank God we went there. Had we not gone there we would have assumed Quetta to be village only which is still not bad. This was not part of the travel itinerary and the organisers were open to suggestions which was the best part about them and the travel group too comprised of very decent people. We got to know about Liaquat Bazaar from some locals and went to literally hunt for dry fruits. There we flocked into a nice and presentable dry fruit shop which was indeed an eye candy but it was limited to that attraction only since the prices were higher than in Karachi. A very thoughtful policeman outside suggested that we commute for a few minutes and explore the dry fruit street a couple of meters away. 

As excited as we were, and to the dismay of that shop, even those of us who had packs in hand, ready to be purchased, left them as they were and marched towards that God sent street. It was indeed a funny moment and a depiction of how one can instantly lose customers looking for value for money. We all ended up buying a handful of dry fruits from that long street.
The following morning we were to witness the astounding beauty of a few other spots as we embarked upon the journey to Ziarat, the calm abode of the father of our nation. The route from Quetta to Ziarat takes about 2.5 to 3 hours and I once again found comfort in that van seat, snapping pictures on the way.

The next stop was at the PTDC Motel and knowing the limited options there are in Ziarat, this was the only place we could go to. My sincere suggestion would be to skip this altogether and only visit Ziarat rather than staying there because PTDC was the complete opposite of Gardenia in terms of service and cleanliness and everything else. This is an opportunity the government should definitely explore by investing for once in tourism, especially in the neglected province, Balochistan but everything seems in vain other than the natural beauty that stubbornly prevails inspite of us trying our very best to destroy it.

One extremely unfortunate recurrence that we observed was the pollution and trash left behind by humans! There was so much of plastic (bottles, plastic bags, and wrappers) even at remote spots where human beings were not visible that it had become pretty evident that we are capable of massive destruction. We are doing our best to destroy this planet and have maintained a good success rate unfortunately.

We were very eager to visit the Quaid-e-Azam Residency and ended up being part of a very happening and festive place since it was just a day left for Jinnah's birthday and celebrations were being planned on account of that very day. I won't write all the details about this place as it deserves a separate blog post altogether. So until the next post, I'll share a few pictures below. Among everything else, the security was very prudent and we were allowed inside the house itself upon request, no bags or cameras were allowed, instead phone cameras were acceptable.

This tree was enormous, one had to be several feet away to capture the complete version. I wish we had spared many old ones in Karachi.
After several selfies and quick pictures inside the residency, we left  ... well it was like we were Cinderella's about-to-return-to-the-original-state pumpkins that were extremely time bound, this had to be done to restrict movement inside the well preserved place and it was getting crowded by the minute. There were people guarding the house religiously to keep maintenance intact as if it was their own, one of them was moping the floor with what smelled like turpentine oil and ridding it of the last remaining stains. I hope that prevails among all the sincerity.
Point Zero was our last visiting spot and it indeed felt like zero.
On the way back to the motel, we decided to get off a little distance away and walk. There was a small dhaba that we went to for tea and naan refreshments.It felt and appeared very welcoming.
The night sky of Ziarat was breathtakingly alluring with countless stars, thanks to minimal air pollution. I regretted not taking my tripod for astrophotography as it's an essential gadget to have to shoot a starry night, I could have even given it a try without it, at least I could have tried but I didn't as I immersed myself in the beautiful moment and soaked my soul in the cold night (to be honest all my body fluids were freezing so there was no possibility of experimenting, nah none whatsoever, no fooling around with the camera). It was minus 2 at night and it was fun indeed. :P
Ok there were a few more hours before we could leave Ziarat, this was supposed to happen after breakfast but we requested the organisers to leave at night only so that we don't reach Karachi too late in the night. After consensus from all (even those who weren't around were approached to seek their opinion, had there been even one person who wanted to stay, we would have been in Ziarat till the morning) we decided we would wrap up soon, thankfully all agreed. However, we also agreed with the fact that the drivers were human beings too and would need some sleep before hitting the road, that is something we couldn't have ignored for our own sake. We finally left at 3:40 am. Yey!  

A brief summary:
Departure time: Friday night at 10:50 pm
Losts of fun in between
Arrival time: Monday at 8 pm
Cost of the trip: PKR 14,450
Rover Adventure Club's Management: Good

Sunset in Hub

What Alex and Dr. Pepperberg taught me through their Book

Coco & Me with Alex & Me

Alex & Me is one such book that I had been eagerly searching for, however as unfortunate as it may sound, it hasn't been available in Pakistan. So, knowing my craze for parrots, a friend of ours got it from England ... thank you Fawzia, I owe you for this! 

I simply adore the personality of Alex, the Grey Parrot that is the center of attention of this book. Having one myself, as you can see above, I can so relate to the tantrums and mischievous demeanour of this species. And as I got to acquaint myself with both characters, Alex and Dr. Irene Pepperberg, the bird owner (although our type isn't exactly classified as bird owners but rather slaves) I fell in love with both. This lady's perseverance deserves all the respect in the world; despite being let down several times she continued working for what she believed in. Proving the cognitive ability of a bird in a world of ignorant humans was indeed a taxing task, however both came a long way.

Imagine sending a research proposal for a grant to carry out your study and being asked what you are smoking (Dr. Pepperberg's first attempt at acquiring a grant) is something one might not even directly ask a person who is perhaps even smoking weed ... oh yes, in that case the person would need help but in an intellectual case as this, the researcher is dealt with scorn. A drug addict is sent to a rehab and what do you do with an ambitious scientist? You ask her about her choice of drug ... how very cool. :P Never mind, human race can be funny sometimes, not knowing the real meaning of 'bird brain' as Alex later proved that this term could actually be used as a compliment.

As you go along Alex and Dr. Pepperberg's journey through the pages, it hits you hard given the sheer intelligence of a small bird which was not sought out before and the stark reality that there will never be another Alex. It's as if the author is directly talking to you.

I came to admire the fact that she did not believe in training the bird through operant conditioning based on which animals are starved and then given a treat when they respond in a desired way, quite an inhumane way indeed. Keeping the research of Otto Koehler, a German Zoologist in mind who did his research about Greys in the 1950s, she introduced a training model based on 3 components:

1. Reference (what the word/label means)
2. Functionality (pragmatics of how the word is used)
3. Social Interaction (the relationship between trainer and subject characterised by enthusiasm and kindness, as if talking to a child, hence leading to efficient learning)

She also introduced the rival method according to which she would have another person present during the training sessions and when asked a certain question if he/she would answer before Alex, that person would be rewarded. This sped up the learning process as Alex would try to win it ... eh, front benchers versus back benchers in class. :)

Alex was so intelligent that he even started coining his own terms. For example, when he was given an apple he called it 'banerry' perhaps thinking that it tasted somewhat like banana and looked like a large cherry. All attempts at emphasising upon the word 'apple' failed as he was persistent on calling it banerry quite vehemently and in the same cadence which apple was mentioned in. The author writes, 'No matter how hard we worked to get him to say apple, he stuck with his label. As far as Alex was concerned, "banerry" it was and "banerry" it was going to stay.' This way of picking parts of two words and adding them together into one word is called 'lexical elision'. Imagine a parrot not inclined towards rote learning but conversing and rather arguing for what he thought was correct.

At one occasion, Alex is described as being naughty. When shown a number of objects and asked how many of a specific colour they were, he deliberately started giving wrong answers after which Dr. Pepperberg decided to give him and break, took him to his room and closed the door. Immediately, Alex started calling out the correct answer, "Two ... two ... two ... I'm sorry ... come here!' he exclaimed. 

I know for a fact that these birds love to have their heads scratched and do not shy away from demanding some pampering, in Alex's case, he would say, 'You tickle' and as far as mine is concerned, she would grab my finger and drag it to her head, the rest is my duty to serve my mistress.

It is mentioned that someone sent Alex a toy bird, he went toward it, bent his head down and demanded, 'You tickle', ofcourse, the toy was unresponsive to which he said 'You turkey' and walked away. Apparently, some students sometimes said this to Alex when he involved himself in dumb acts.

Coco's demands are endless too. Sometimes, she would act lazy and not climb down towards the water bowl to drink water herself but would rather say, 'Coco wants water' and I have to oblige, these calls are at times fake and a means to lure my hand in for some scratches.

And she enslaves other bird species too, on her whim.

The ending of the book will make any pet lover emotional as it did to me, that's how the narration is ... so palpable! Even though it started off mentioning Alex's death, Dr. Pepperberg made the journey of her relationship with him so realistic that it almost felt like the brainy bird died yet again or that until then he was still alive.

Their last conversation and the parting exchange:

"You be good. I love you," Alex said to Dr. Irene Pepperberg.
"I love you, too," she replied.
"You'll be in tomorrow?"
"Yes," she said, "I'll be in tomorrow."

 This would squeeze anyone's heart! He died at the age of 31 in 2007 ... 10 years ago.

Alex's conceptual knowledge was equivalent to that of a 5 year old human's while his communication skills can be likened with a 2 year old's.

For the lovely person this lady is, she even replied to my email a few days ago for what was perhaps the last or the remaining few condolence messages. May she find peace in the thought that she made the most of the time she spent with Alex. 

What I learned through their relationship and perseverance is that if you truly believe in something you can make that happen, despite obstacles and hardships. Forget what people are saying now because tomorrow they will regret for not recognising what you were worth - their loss not yours. You don't really have to stand with the rest of the world ... stand out, make it happen and then enjoy the outcome. Relationships will be sacrificed along the way, people will leave you but that's life and in the end you would have achieved something and found true friends who were meant to be your pillars of support.

Don't run after those who were not meant to stay with you while you struggled ... make room for those who cherish and respect you.

History lives on through TDF Ghar and its Vintage Treasures

A couple of weeks ago my colleague and his daughters invited me to join them for a visit to the TDF Ghar which almost made us time travel to an era bygone. Everything on display; from the gramophone to the vintage bookshelf, the vanity table, and chess boards seemed to have a soul within them and were eager to be observed. Everything on display had its origins and information quoted. The kids were quite surprised to see the analogue phone with the rotary dial and the giant radio. Given the spacious old houses, these huge things still appeared small especially considering the high ceilings of the house as opposed to small boxes of apartments constructed these days. 

The Gramophone

TDF Ghar aka The Dawood Foundation Ghar, located in Jamshed Quarters was constructed in the 1930s and now owned by this particular entity that has presented it as a new public place for the citizens of an agitated city. Special emphasis has been laid on restoring the house and presenting it in its original form so that people get acquainted by history in its true essence. This particular society was built by Karachi's first mayor, Jamshed Nusserwanjee into the very heart of diversity where Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis, and Jews lived in harmony while the city's middle class soared. 

The purpose is also to utilise the space for trainings, seminars, workshops, and exhibitions; something like what is offered by T2F and PCCC (Pakistan Chowk Community Centre) however, in a larger space.

"Informal learning spaces play an important role in helping society in using the right to speak in a constructive manner. People can share their ideas and materialise them for larger benefit of the public. Incubation centres and other similar projects are gaining popularity because of their inclusive nature. TDF Ghar, will connect the visitors with the rich and vibrant history of Karachi while giving them a place to talk and discuss ideas," Hiba Zubairi Communication Team Leader, The Dawood Foundation.

Present in the living room are antique artifacts and vintage collectables that one would only see in museums now. The tiles are also handmade and belong to the same era, the decade of the 1930s. Meanwhile, the first floor had almost got its renovation completed till the time we visited, it awaited antique furniture display, some of which was already stacked for its turn.

The Revolving Bookshelf

The Sehan Cafe arranged along the likes of Iranian cafes that existed till the last decade or so (even though some can be found inn Saddar) welcomes the early bird with Hulwa Puri.

As you go upstairs you see a pictorial display of Karachi's history, the time when intellect was widespread and people used to mind their own business, a time of prosperity somehow planned on a different tangent.

The rooftop offers a spectacular view of the quaid's mausoleum.

What we are not taught in history books is something that we found here; the concept and inspiration that led to the creation of this mausoleum. The design was influenced by the Samanid Mausoleum in Uzbekistan. You will find more details when you visit TDF Ghar.

The flora and fauna is quite meticulously arranged on the rooftop.

My colleague, Khurram Zia Khan with his daughters, Nabeeha and Zainab