The buses stood there in full glory as we turned in; they could have been two fantastic beasts from Percy Jackson, colourful creatures ready to ride the waves of the city that sprawled ahead. This was the Super Savari Express in Karachi; an unforgettable ride around the city by the sea that never sleeps, and a bus that was armored with every colour under the sun to help it stand out and bounce around like a florescent ball illuminated for attention.
We had booked ourselves on the Super Savari Express Midnight/Sehri Tour, which ran every Saturday (through Ramazan), left the SSE headquarters at 10:30 and gave you a unique view of the city before bringing you back by 3:30, for Sehri. Around 64 individuals had booked themselves on this maiden journey and luckily, most of them were known to each other so there was an atmosphere of fun and adventure in the air. Around 15-16 people were allowed on the bus-tops (no better way to experience it) and it was impressive to see men and women of all shapes, sizes and ages clamouring up the tiny ladder that clung to the bus’s decorated body. We even had a pregnant lady aboard; I’m not sure how advisable that was considering the craters that lay ahead. As it turned out, getting up was simpler than coming down and someone did cut their hand and rip their trouser on the descent. A safer way to the roof would be recommended.
The bus embarked a little before 11pm and made its way to the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine, which frankly, was a bit of a disappointment since everyone had already seen the shrine. Had everyone climbed up the steps, though? No. So all 64 of us were asked to remove our shoes and trek our way to the very top (over 75 stairs: too many for the old and unfit. It should have come with a sit-out option). It’s something I’ve never done despite living in Karachi so I was very happy to put it down on a checklist. The shrine is a historic part of Karachi but its renovation has compromised its original, Sufic vibe.
Traipsing back to the bus, taking turns on the roof-top (I didn’t), the adventure continued in happy spirits. Karachi weather is cool and breezy by night – at least it was that night – so even the inside of the bus was pleasant and chilled bottles of water were passed around to keep everyone hydrated. Alamgir, circa the ‘90s, reverberated through the beast, keeping the samaa very festive and patriotic. “Bollywood?” Jahanzaib, asked to a unanimous “no!” in response. Atif and Jahanzaib are the two young and energetic spearheads of this venture and their energy, above everything else, is what adds immeasurable value to the entire experience. It’s infectious and amazing and no one wanted to hear anything that wasn’t Pakistani.
Not so amazing was the route to our next destination, the Kemari port, where a boat trip had been arranged. I don’t know why or how, but the driver decided to take the bus through Shireen Jinnah Colony that was neither picturesque nor very necessary. An extremely nervous and jittery ride took us to the port, where we were to embark. Most of us living in Karachi have taken numerous boat rides in our lifetime but I can understand the value of this adventure to a visitor. It’s an integral part of being in the city.
Two double decker boats were lined up and as they set sail, notes of ‘Ishq Aap Bhe Awalla’ by the rustic and magical Chakwal Group and Meesha Shafi from Coke Studio set the mood for the hour ahead. It was truly mesmerizing; we were lucky to embark under a full moon and the silent, dark water rippled under the silvery ribbons of moonlight. It more than made up for the bus ride to Kemari and the only thing lacking was a good cup of tea. Tea and snacks. We were served Maal Puras but cold and soggy, they weren’t on their best behavior. Better refreshments or a note advising people to bring their own snacks wouldn’t be an unwelcome idea.
The boat ride lasted a little under an hour after which the buses made their way to Café Bogey, a little space on Chundrigar Road that has transformed several defunct train bogeys into a restaurant. Tables were waiting for the ‘Savaris’, who were also given a range of board games, cards etc to keep themselves entertained. This exercise was to encourage meeting new people and affiliating yourself with passengers you didn’t already know but most people stuck to their own groups. Freshly baked pizzas gradually made their way to the tables, which was a bit of a dampener because – in the spirit of the entire adventure – chai, parathas, puris and traditional food would have made much more sense.
It was 3am and an unusually quiet and clutter-free Chundrigar Road was a sight in itself. The Super Savari Express had, in fact, allowed us to view and understand the city from an entirely new perspective. For visitors, it provides a guided tour but for people living here it provides a deeper understanding of the core that we tend to ignore; it’s the part we tend to oversee or look away from. The SSE did manage to reignite a lost connection, a missing link and an essential sense of ownership. As a service it does require fine tuning but in essence, it had more soul than one could have hoped for and at the end of the day, that’s what mattered.