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5 reasons driving in Karachi is an extreme sport

5 reasons driving in Karachi is an extreme sport

Do you drive in Karachi? Then you probably battle rain, raging SUVs, minibuses and squeegee boys on the regular
16 Nov, 2015

The vexing challenges a typical Karachi motorist faces often start in their vehicle's workshops. Usually, motorists have the option of handing over their vehicles to either the more expensive authorized dealerships, where you practically need to sell a kidney to cover a mere oil change, or try their luck with a roadside mechanic.

The professional workshops are often reliable, but require far too much time in a city where functioning without a car for a day is almost impossible.

To make matters worse, you could walk in for a simple tire rotation, and will be told about a few dozen other things wrong with your ride. Ever had Google convince you that you were dying of a terminal illness after checking a simple coughing symptom? Well, it’s the same.

Roadside mechanics on the other hand are highly unpredictable. Having such a mechanic work on your vehicle is often like getting surgery from a drunken doctor with a qualification from an Axact university: “Haan, I went to fix your hose pipe, but I discovered a few other problems. One thing led to another, and you should just probably buy a new engine now.”

Several years ago I took my Nissan Sunny to one such mechanic, who replaced my fuel pump mistakenly with the wrong model from a vehicle with twice the horsepower. Unfortunately, this one was so powerful; it burst petrol through the fuel injection system, which he had also messed around with, lighting a spark that set my vehicle on fire.

Yes, this actually happened.

Exhibit A of my destroyed Nissan Sunny – Photo by author
Exhibit A of my destroyed Nissan Sunny – Photo by author

Thankfully, I managed to escape just in time, though ended up having to sell my Nissan for scrap. Meanwhile, all the mechanic could manage was: “Ooops."

Exhibit B – Photo by author
Exhibit B – Photo by author

I suppose this is as good a time as any to speak of all the other frustrations drivers face on the road.

1) Traffic signals

Normally, stopping at a traffic signal is a good way to contemplate what you have been doing with your life, or fantasize about how you would like to cover your ex-mechanic in delicious honey and toss him into a bear cave.

Unfortunately, traffic signals are no time to relax in Pakistan.

As if the claustrophobic conditions of a traffic jam weren't enough, one has to fend off the advances of squeegee boys and their roadside peers
As if the claustrophobic conditions of a traffic jam weren't enough, one has to fend off the advances of squeegee boys and their roadside peers

As if by instinct, I instantly start shaking my finger at all those walking around me at a traffic signal as if to say, “No…no…no!”

Traffic signals are a little like Formula One pits stops, where you are quickly harassed by squeegee boys armed with wipers and water bottles, ready to ‘clean’ your already spotless windshield with their dirty soap water, or members of the well-meaning transsexual community, who will wish you the best, tell you how handsome you are even if you have a face that leaves little children crying, and openly pray that you have a dozen children with the woman sitting in the passenger seat next to you even if it happens to be your sister, at which point you politely remind tell them: “Our last name isn’t Lannister.”

More frustrating in the congested traffic is how some genius will decide the green signal is the right time to slowly shuffle across the street at a speed reserved for Hanif Mohammad, or to be stuck at this go time behind a driver screaming, crying or pleading for a gang of inspired squeegee boys to leave his vehicle alone.

On the rare occasion you find yourself unmolested at a traffic signal, you sit back and relax in your car, enjoying the peace in silent bliss, when you are suddenly delivered a heart attack by a beggar who chooses this exact moment to sharply rap on your window like a target killer high on angel dust.

2) Motorcyclists

Motocyclists have no qualms weaving in and out of traffic, causing one road hazard after the other in their wake – Photo: Dawn
Motocyclists have no qualms weaving in and out of traffic, causing one road hazard after the other in their wake – Photo: Dawn

Traffic is often congested in the city, with honking cars having the luxury of very little space between them.

Sometimes, it seems as if a motorcyclist see the tiny gaps between vehicles and says to himself, “challenge accepted.” He is determined to drive through these small spaces by doing as much damage to rearview mirrors, paint jobs and bumpers as possible.

No, you haven’t driven in Karachi without your rear view mirror smashed by a motorcyclist who turns back to glare at you in anger.

Yes Mr. Motorcyclist, after zigzagging across the road like an intoxicated snake, you hit me, and it is somehow my fault.

3) Rain

There are two moments when citizens of Karachi drop whatever it is they are doing and rush home with the uncontrolled energy of a dog at a park.

The first is when Altaf Bhai is angry – because when the brother from London is upset, you know you have to head back to the safety of your house – and the second is when it starts to rain a little.

Unfortunately, everyone else in the city also has the same bright idea at this time, leaving the city resembling a race between water buffalos across a lake. No, there isn’t a citizen in Karachi who hasn’t narrated a long horrific story of nearly drowning on the street to their therapist.

Fear of drowning on the Karachi streets should be registered as a phobia – Photos: Dawn
Fear of drowning on the Karachi streets should be registered as a phobia – Photos: Dawn

Worse still is how muggers take advantage of these catastrophes to make a killing. When dark clouds form on the Karachi skyline, regular people look forward to a change in weather, but thieves see the formation of opportunity. To them, a long traffic jam is nothing but a nice tasty buffet: “Honda, Toyota, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, and Suzuki… yum!"

4) The VIPs

Few experiences are as frustrating as getting caught in a traffic jam because of a protocol of government cars driving through the streets, or even getting stuck in front of one.

The only time we find the roads clear in broad daylight is when the passage of a VIP protocol has blocked access to them
The only time we find the roads clear in broad daylight is when the passage of a VIP protocol has blocked access to them

Here, no courtesy is shown by law enforcement officials as they blast their sirens and scream and shout on their loudspeakers for you to move and let them pass, even if there is no space for you to safely do so. Clearly, the only life they are concerned with preserving is the VIP tasked to them.

5) The big boys

The two largest predators patrolling our urban jungle are minibuses and big Prados. Neither is to be trifled with.

Drivers in Karachi learn to be wary of this beast early in the game
Drivers in Karachi learn to be wary of this beast early in the game

Minibus drivers, usually high on some stimulant, make their own rules, driving and stopping when they please, squashing whatever comes in their path. Essentially, they are like fast moving, slow thinking elephants.

A minibus is only more dangerous when its driver decides that a perfectly busy road, full of men, women, and children, is the right time to race another bus. Unfortunately, the resulting traffic hazards are no laughing matter. I have, myself, witnessed disturbing scenes where a minibus crushed a poor motorcyclist on one occasion, and fell on a rickshaw on another.

Similarly to minibuses, the drivers of Prados have a bad reputation. These SUVs coast through the night as if the rules do not apply to them. Worse still is how dangerous men sometimes use these vehicles to prey on unsuspecting people.

Black Prados have also became an object of fear in the middle of the night – Photo courtesy pokal.com
Black Prados have also became an object of fear in the middle of the night – Photo courtesy pokal.com

In late 2012, there were rumors that the inhabitants of a black Prado were kidnapping women. These rumors, spread across text messages as well as Facebook, resulted in fear across the port city.

I can’t verify if these reports were true, but I can share an experience where my wife escaped a black Prado during the peak of these reports. I can confirm, because I was driving right behind her during the chase.

My future spouse and I met at Zamzama Commercial Street one evening, arriving at the location separately in our own cars.

For those unaware, Zamzama is a popular double-street in Karachi, on the either side of which are many eateries and clothing shops. There, we met at around 8pm, and spent the next three hours together, until we decided to call it a night.

As usual, I decided to escort her home by driving behind her Khyber in my own Nissan. As it turns out, it was a great thing I did.

As my wife-to-be drove out of the Zamzama parking lot with me on her tail I noticed a hulking black Prado behind us, snarling through the night like a mechanical beast. What happened next was nothing short of a Fast & Furious-style car chase, albeit with decidedly less glamorous vehicles. For several minutes, the black Prado proceeded to stalk my wife, speeding up when she sped up and slowing down when she did.

At one point, the Prado accelerated ahead of my wife's car and parked in the middle of the road, as if to block her path. We only escaped the situation by taking a U-turn at a poorly lit spot that the Prado had obviously overlooked in its pursuit.

Later, I learned from my wife that she only saw the driver of the vehicle who was a man in his late 30s. But I had certainly seen more than one occupant, and I'm loathe to think what would have happened if I hadn't been following her...

So there you have it… the good… the bad… and the ugly… of driving in Karachi.

Comments

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overcast Nov 16, 2015 03:09pm
No different in India , in fact it is worst than Pakistan.
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a Nov 16, 2015 04:48pm
Thats so Mumbai, except for the stalker !!
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Noman sultan Nov 16, 2015 04:53pm
My work is drive around the City .Nowadays I drive motorcycle ,although I have facility of Car from company but I decided not to drive car in Karachi . Driver of Motorcyclist and owner of old cars as well as low maintenance motors are reckless. That is why, I decided to ride motor cycle rather than my car.
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Jahanzaib Nov 16, 2015 04:59pm
Once I was driving from my university to sadar using Google mail I ended up in mowach goth. :-p
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Mir Taqi Nov 16, 2015 04:59pm
You've put it very aptly. Quite funny on occasions. I think most people who've driven in Karachi would have experienced similar incidents.
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khanm Nov 16, 2015 04:59pm
driving depicts the nature of a nation.... i guess driving a car It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.....
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Skeptic Nov 16, 2015 05:28pm
No, its no Sport. It's torture and suicidal to drive in Karachi. And if you're a poor pedestrian, than say your prayers before leaving home!
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A. A. Nov 16, 2015 05:53pm
You failed to mention duplicate cheap cell phones and wallets in the car in most likely scenario of snatching at gun point while waiting on the signal!
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ar Nov 16, 2015 06:03pm
It's such a torture to drive in karachi...I usually never abuse others but while driving words just automatically slip from mouth for these motorcyclist and minibus drivers..
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SAB Nov 16, 2015 06:20pm
How about traffic coming wrong way!!!
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AMIR BANGASH Nov 16, 2015 06:33pm
Lack of discipline and patience are the two main reasons for traffic jams on the roads of Pakistan. Traffic jam is a routine matter not only in Karachi but in every small and big city. Every driver tries to get out the traffic jam site and instead of following other vehicles in a single line, over takes other vehicles thus making many lines which completely block the road for transport from opposite direction. We can,t wait for minutes but than have stay for hours in the traffic jams.
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sajjad Nov 16, 2015 07:08pm
You have written an Extreme Truth. But quite missed some aspects still. Tanker mafia, container trucks, open garbage carriers, small sized roads (hardly two lanes), destructive roads conditions that make drivers a severe disorder patient, guessing snatchers out of motor riders, police tullaa mafia, drivers who drive very slow on first lane......... All these aspects make a smiple lawful driver SICK.
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Talha Khan Nov 16, 2015 07:43pm
@Jahanzaib ha! Good one
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Talha Khan Nov 16, 2015 07:45pm
My dad always say 'If you can drive in Karachi, you can drive any part of world'. 100% agreed with him, got my UAE license and UK license in first attempt due to my Karachihite's driving skill
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Bravos Nov 16, 2015 08:04pm
Uneducated absolutely undisciplined corrupt elements of ministers or affiliated to ruling party of Sindh roam about in Land Cruisers or Prados,and scared common citizens of Karachi and bullying the traffic staff too,by show of arms by their so called guards,this was the regular scene before Rangers started snap checking of corrupt on roads and status of their vehicles without number plates,all such goondas got hide in their ground holes,and now less visible.As for other problems of traffic are only because of too many vehicles on thin roads,the unruly buses,the youngsters on bikes,and the rickshaws,all is tolerable except the sirens of VIP fleet,which not only disturb the people,although he seems proud,the people knows another corrupt VIP on Karachi roads. God bless Karachites.
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Atif Khan Nov 16, 2015 08:19pm
"Yes, this actually happened." Love that statement! Great writeup
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Mudabbir Nov 16, 2015 08:40pm
Hiliarious yet true my friend . I am just glad that khi today is altogether a different and safe city , courtesy Rangers . The driving mentality of the public , ofcourse , is the same and truly brings out our very best and vigilant self when on road .
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Pakistani Nov 16, 2015 10:40pm
No place to put your foot in Karachi. I think the only solution is that villagers must go back to their villages. They came in search of better life, whereas in Karachi people can't earn good money. In Lahore it is 1000's time better and more jobs opportunities. Even a Rickshaw driver is earning 60 Thousand per month.
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Shahzad Akhund Nov 16, 2015 11:34pm
Here in NYC, it's the same. If you go to "the authorized" dealership to fix a minor problem, they would charge a fortune by the time you drive out with your car, and the roadside mechanics, although far less expensive, are not so reliable. However, I have been fortunate, even when I was in Pakistan, to have mechanics, who were/are not only good and reliable, they've been honest as well. Well, good luck to all.
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Muhammad Nov 17, 2015 12:15am
Side-mirror*... He couldnt possibly have smashed into the rearview!
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Hasan Nov 17, 2015 02:50am
Wait, Heavy Rain?? When was the last time you saw a Heavy Rain in Karachi? I can't even remember. What about the massive number of street-beggers? What about the risk of losing your wallet+mobile on gun-point? What about the road sense, lack of discipline, and noise pollution? I'd say these are the worse of all, than the mentioned points.
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Omrna Nov 17, 2015 04:28am
real Picture, though i am out of Khi for more then a decade but still on my visit i see more worse then better..good article
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Naveed khan Nov 17, 2015 08:56am
“challenge accepted.” lols
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PK Nov 17, 2015 09:07am
A paradox. A story well told.
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Farhan Nov 17, 2015 09:21am
Aptly described. But you seem to have missed two irritants that I encounter on daily basis, within the first few minutes of my commute. Maybe it depends on which area you mostly drive in. Karachi is huge. 1. Jaywalkers. Signal-free corridors and not enough foot bridges have created chaos 2. Traffic coming onto you from wrong side of the road. In my estimation around 20% of traffic in Karachi flows from the wrong side of the road.
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Ot-Teri Nov 17, 2015 09:32am
The BIGGEST nuisance on Karachi roads are motorcyclists and auto-rickshaws. Period! With a significant decline in the number of public transport, bad mini bus driver is more of a stereotype now.
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Ayan (Super Hero not Super Model) Nov 17, 2015 10:39am
Whatever the issues are, I love my city, my Karachi! Love you Karachi and I am too sad living abroad.
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Pak Khan Nov 17, 2015 10:52am
Nicely done. Agreed
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Umar Nov 17, 2015 10:53am
"Our last name isn’t Lannister.”.......... LOL
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FARHAN Nov 17, 2015 11:27am
@Talha Khan it should be Mumbai because it is more congusted than karachi , so if you can drive in mumbai you can drive in karachi and any part of the world
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Arslan Nov 17, 2015 11:09pm
“Our last name isn’t Lannister.” hahaha ...
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Habib Abdullah Nov 21, 2015 08:21pm
@Talha Khan - I do not agree. If you are used to driving ing Karachi, you cannot drive in civilised places because you have to obey traffic rules there . If you obey rules in civilised cities why don't you do that in your own country. Is it because you consider it your right ?
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