The pandemic has really taken a toll. Feeling isolated, hemmed in, simply stuck… but a small group of friends and cycling enthusiasts decided to reclaim the streets of the city and explore it to their heart’s content. Early morning rides cruising through Karachi became a journey of re-discovery and liberation. Here’s a cyclist’s Karachi guide.
HomeLoveLifestyle’s co-founder Naeema Kapadia and her friends Dr Dinaz Ghandhi and Sophia Hasnain took charge of their own city tours. They were joined sometimes by other friends Sajida Bandukwala and Bisma Bucha.
So how did these morning rides begin?
Sophia Hasnain: Naeema and I started cycling on the roads of Karachi in 2013 with Critical Mass Karachi and have been with the group over the years. Dinaz joined a few years later. However, the pandemic hit us in 2020 and group rides became unsafe. That’s when we ventured out on our own.
Naeema Kapadia: We were bascially avoiding the large group rides of Critical Mass Karachi (CMK) which we have been a part of. Once the situation eases with the pandemic, we will definitely get back to group riding.
How does it feel to be out in the city on a cycle … all women?
Naeema: Initially we were a bit hesitant as we were always accompanied by male cyclists for the last 8 years. But once we took the plunge of riding by ourselves there was no looking back. Cycling is more engaging as we are not boxed in a car. So the senses work overtime for sure… You feel and see more. It is a much richer experience.
Sophia: To be honest, it is very liberating to venture out in the city at our own pace and determine our route on the fly. Besides this, I feel that I own this city and as we go to different parts, we explore history and culture that we usually miss out on when driving through the same places in our cars. We feel safe, in fact, people wave at us and encourage us.
Describe the experience of hitting the roads early in the morning.
Naeema: It’s almost surreal. Early morning city life is a far cry from the crazy hussle and bustle we are used to. One gets to appreciate the city and the people who are out there at the crack of dawn. Young girls learning to ride a motorcycle, boys and girls making tik tok videos on the beach…Walkers, joggers, people walking their dogs. Many fellow cyclists are on the roads as well.
With no traffic and only street sweepers and early risers going about their business, there is so much to be appreciated. The first thing is the cool breeze that hits the face and then the whole experience of being on a bicycle vs being in a car is indescribable. Sometimes it does not not feel like the same city in the early morning. It’s a friendlier city with more tolerance for sure.
Sophia: Karachi is a city that literally never sleeps. I leave my home in a car to join my friends in another part of the city. There are few cars speeding and some milkmen and poultry trucks on the roads. By the time we start cycling, the roads begin to get filled with people on essential duties such as guards, nurses etc. One actually sees the city rising and that is something I feel those who are not out there cannot understand.
For us it is always good to start early when the breeze is cool, sun is milder and there is less traffic on the road. There have been a few instances where we were kind of harassed but that didn’t deter us. Our love for cycling and ownership of the city roads increase with such incidences.
Describe how you have re discovered your own city.
Sophia: We have cycled through small alleys and have stopped at buildings that I never got time to appreciate while in a car. In our busy lifestyle, we hardly get time to explore the city. This has given us us a chance to explore culture, food, history of the city and reflect on the past and lament the present.
Naeema: We have revisited the historical buildings so many times. The old quarter of Karachi in the morning transports us into the era one has read about. Although we did group rides to these places in the past, venturing on our own allows us more time to explore, absorb and discover.
Which is your favourite area?
Naeema: Definitely the old quarters of Karachi…with so much history and architectural inspiration and wonders to appreciate. Mostly of what is left of them.
Sophia: The old city areas, from Queens Road to II Chundrigar and MA Jinnah road are my favourite. The colonial architecture and old city planning is impressive. Just like any other port city, Karachi was well planned with commercial and industrial zones developing in proximity to the port. The area also creates a nostalgia and one can understand why we continue to live in this city despite all the chaos.
Tell us about the old landmarks and architecture you can see in Karachi.
Naeema: We appreciate the hybrid architecture of the city and along with it the different ethnicities. In fact, we have been trying to document the landmarks and historical buildings.
Sophia: My favourite is the Sindh Wild Life Department building which used to be the Free Mason’s Lodge. It is well maintained and has a very mysterious feel. Another favourite is the Hindu Gymkhana that houses NAPA these days.
Any particularly interesting experience to share?
Sophia: I love it when people cheer for us and that happens more often in the old city. However, the most memorable experience was when my front tyre was punctured near Do Darya on a weekday morning. There was no way to go back. Luckily there was a motorbike rider who was kind enough to offer me a ride. I traveled 6 km facing backwards holding my cycle on a motorcycle. I will never forget that experience.
Naeema: We usually get a thumbs-up from the pedestrians in the old city. The traffic police is almost always helpful and assist us in crossing busy roads. Just a simple lassi or a chai at the dhabas puts a smile on our faces. There is also the thrill of dogs chasing you, although they seem to be sedated these days.
Do you stop for breakfast?
Naeema: Yes we usually have a lassi stop in the summer and coffee in the cooler months.
Sophia: Yes, that is a part of our Sunday routine. It doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. We enjoy paratha and chai at the dhaabas and many times just a glass of lassi refreshes us.
Ideally, how would you envision Karachi ?
Sophia: I would like to see more cyclists on the road. I know the size and weather of Karachi means that cycling is not a favourable option for long distance commutes. But at least people can start cycling to run chores. Cycling and walking make city spaces more liveable and reliable.
Naeema: Ideally… Karachi should be a clean safe cycling city…historical buildings brought back to life…where one didn’t have to just rely on cars for transportation.