Karachi Cantt station area has a cluster of hotels but within the cluster of small narrow hotel buildings are some notworthy british buildings. This articlle appeared in daily Dawan about these buildings.
STRAY dogs have become an integral part of this scene. It is hard to define their pedigree. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours and move freely from one corner of the locality to another. The children who play cricket in the evening here are not too bothered about these dogs. The young batsmen and bowlers know they do not bite. They bark, that too when their fellow creatures get their goat. Not all of the dogs have an extrovert outlook on life, though. Some find comfort in lying low in the shade of an old market and a hotel that are either not occupied or in decrepit state. New hotels have emerged in the last two decades, but the canine for some odd reason find solace near the ones which were constructed before partition of the subcontinent.
Karachi receives countless visitors from other parts of Pakistan on a daily basis. A majority of them travel by train. These days it is not easy to opt for the railway route since excessive delays often prove to be quite an unhinging experience. Karachi’s Cantt Railwy Station bears most of the brunt of the arriving and departing trains, as a result of which die area around Cantt Station is usually seen brimming with people catching a cab or a bus to those parts of the city where their stay is arranged.
A decent number of them stay at hotels right outside the station compound, and this is where seeing remains of vintage Karachi architecture can be nothing less than a disheartening experience.Get to Fatima Jinnah Road (formerly Bonus Road) and ask anyone about the famous Bombay hotel. There would be hardly any person you would draw a blank from. Everybody knows where Bombay hotel is. Right next to the bridge that connects Fatima Jinnah Road to Adam Road, the hotel stands, well, in a not so desirable way. This hotel, according to a waiter who works for another eatery, is at least 70 years old and has served many a guest over the years. Come to think of it, anyone who has not had tea here is missing out on quality beverage.
This is the spot where a cluster of inns make the locality worth visiting. However, once you enter the area you realise it is not just what it looks like. This is old Karachi gone haywire. First, let’s move along die Bombay hotel service road because of two reasons: one, the niswar kiosk; two, a building in the corner on which Firdos Mahal is written in a large font. Let’s overlook the niswar shop for it might make you a weenie bit dizzy.
The mahal is not a striking work of architecture; still it seems to have that essential ‘feel’ which takes you back in time. And that’s where its significance lies. Locals say it has been lying vacant for quite a while for reasons best known to its owners.
Now step into this intriguing area and a little behind the building discussed above you will see a stone structure. It’s a single-storey building with different portions. It was introduced as a KMC market and the KMC to date has not faded out along with the date of it construction, 1927, on top. Sadly, the market is not in decent shape and most of its shops have turned into something that might not be the intention of their makers.
There is another structure behind it, which lies empty with shattered windows and fractured walls. This area used to be an essential part of the Cantt Railway Station but these days it is known as Ghausia Muhalla.
If you reposition yourself from the KMC market to face a bunch of hotels, you will inevitably take note of a comparatively tall building which seems to have been abandoned. The triangular lawn in front of it suggests there must have been a time when it was treated as a special facility. It’s called Nishat Hotel. Even in its present condition you can clearly make out that in its heyday it would have been nothing less than a cracker jack work of construction.
Architect Arif Hasan says: “This area was significant because the railway station used to be the grand emblem of colonial power. In fact a plan to make a grand axis which would connect this place to the Empress Market was also made but it never got implemented. The other thing is that these areas always had hotels; one of the early ones was Carlton where Mohammad Ah Jinnah used to stay.”
The sun has disappeared. The children have put down their bat and ball and are ready to head home. The dogs too are tired and are languidly moving towards an old, empty building where they will dose off soon.