How Karavan Started


  • How Karavan was Born by Shanaz Ramzi
  • Karavan to Somewhere by Sahar Ali
  • The Lady in White .. Ms. Yasmeen Lari by Shanaz Ramzi


KaravanPakistan started out as Karavan Karachi which went through several forms and transformed into a youth and community outreach arm of Heritage Foundation in order to promote heritage for a culture of peace, national integration and development.


Its activities began as KaravanKarachi in 2001 and held several heritage street fests and other culture and heritage-related events. In early 2004, with its outreach spreading to other provinces, it was re-named KaravanPakistan. The events are organized by Heritage Wallay – Friends of Heritage Foundation Pakistan



How Karavan was Born

by Shanaz Ramzi

Day: Saturday

Time: 12 noon

Venue: Mrs Yasmeen Lari’s office.


A room with a huge table and a curious combination of people seated all around it Director of British Council, Richard Hardwick, Amina Sayed of OUP, Talat Rahim of PTDC, journalists, industrialists, actors, designers, etc. As an animated discussion takes place, with everyone contributing their views vociferously, more people keep trickling in, offering to volunteer their services. Every Saturday finds a new set of faces popping into the office, wanting to know how they can be a part of the activities. If it’s not Princess Sarwat and Prince Hassan, it’s Fatima Bajia or Faizan Peerzada or Salman Alvi. The list is endless. As it should be – for the project at hand – Karavan Karachi 2001 -- merits the enthusiasm and cooperation of every Karachiite.     


Basically the brainchild of one person – Mrs Yasmeen Lari, Executive Director, Heritage Foundation – Karavan Karachi (KK) germinated as an idea for a heritage festival, to try and inculcate a sense of pride and awareness in one and all for the over 600 notified historic sites in the city. In no time, the plan had aroused the enthusiasm of everyone it was discussed with and assumed mammoth proportions, with the result that it was decided to have festivals celebrating every dimension of this multifaceted city, so as to rejuvenate the lost spirit of Karachi.


Thus, the idea of ‘Karavan Karachi – Festival 2001’ was born -- a unique and ambitious project, targeted for the month of September. A series of events in the field of heritage, sports, film, theatre, music, literature, IT, art, cuisine, shopping and fashion to name just some, will be held during the whole of September, bringing to the fore Karachi’s cultural and historical legacy as well as its innate vibrancy. In the process of celebrating the myriad facets of this wonderful city of ours, the objective is also to breathe life into the city’s depressed economic state and draw tourists from not only the rest of the country, but also from abroad.


The most significant and all-encompassing cultural event ever hosted by Karachi, what makes it all so exciting is that KK is a team effort of all citizens of the city, on a purely voluntary basis, be they professionals, administrators, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, community participants, students or retired personnel. With the blessings of the city’s administration in particular, and with the support of government agencies such as KMC, police, Civil Aviation Authority, PTDC as well as Pakistan Navy and the cultural centers of various countries, ‘Karavan Karachi’ has begun to move at a breathless pace. 


Already, the institutions and companies that have signed in their support have begun to carry out their programs under the banner of the festival. By September, it is hoped that all institutions – academic, government and commercial – will be operating under the umbrella of ‘Karavan Karachi’. The events that have been planned for the festival will be spread all across the city so as to involve one and all in the celebrations. From street festivals, pedestrian food streets and donkey cart races to mobile cyber stations, sea sports, concerts, literary readings and jazz programs, there will be something to suit everyone’s tastes. Special tourism packages are also being designed for the festival so that visitors to Karachi will now have a plethora of unique tours to choose from. In fact, for the first time tourist traffic is expected to be reversed from the northern areas of Pakistan to Karachi. Efforts are also being made to turn Karachi into a Convention City.


While September will be a month teeming with so many activities that it would not be possible for a single individual to attend all of them, the heritage building events comprise a series of mini festivals to be held every Sunday, beginning from March 11, 2001. A host of activities have been planned around a different group of historic buildings every Sunday with streets in front of these structures being designated pedestrian zones for that particular day. These mini-festivals showcase the cross cutting nature of Karavan Karachi, drawing on young people from schools across the city to participate in workshops on art, music, theatre, judo and karate; Sindh Government agencies for cleanliness, traffic rerouting and security, and Pakistan Navy’s band.


Since Karavan Karachi is all about inclusiveness, it should ideally become every Karachiite’s adopted baby. As such, whatever little that every individual and institution can do to contribute to it, would go a long way in ensuring its success. Schools are requested to not only arrange field trips for their students to at least one of the various festival sites, but also to ‘sign up’ for the Heritage Festival and participate in either the workshops or half-hour performances on stage, or both. Stalls are being given free of charge to schools for the display of their crafts and artwork. Similarly, amateur bands are welcome to register with KK to perform a couple of numbers on stage, especially their own songs on Karachi. The songs especially written and composed for Karachi will be screened, selected and then incorporated in a CD, to be released in September.


Those wishing to volunteer their services are requested to get in touch with Heritage Wallay at 5834215. The Karavan Karachi team is also looking for donations in kind, which will be used as prizes for the various competitions that will be taking place in the city under the banner of the festival. The list is available at the above number.  



Karavan to Somewhere

By Sahar Ali


Never underestimate the power of coffee. It may just prove to be the

brew that revitalizes our city, writes Sahar Ali


KARACHI: “Never accept (an invitation to) a cup of coffee at the wonderful Yasmeen Lari‚s house, because you don‚t know what you might be

getting into!”


British Council Karachi Director Richard Hardwick’s comment has become a favorite refrain in the bustling little office of architect Yasmeen Lari.


For several months now, this usually peaceful workplace has beentransformed into a cacophonous hub for the who’s who of the city. Every Saturday morning, town planners, administrators, retired politicians, educationists, adpeople, entertainers, diplomats, designers, entrepreneurs, writers, artists and a whole lot of other very

competent professionals crowd Lari’s little annex office where the coffee is as potent and free-flowing as the enthusiasm.


For this is the birthplace of Karavan Karachi. And like an extended family meeting to fuss over a newborn, Karachi’s movers and shakers have banded together for the mammoth task of trying to revitalize the city by organising a grand festival.


Karavan Karachi promises to be the most significant cultural event ever held in the city. This year, Karachiites have been invited to celebrate their own city and its achievements in architecture, art, music, theatre, film, sport, cuisine, tourism and commerce.


Karavan Karachi is a celebration of the city, a tribute to its vitality and industry, its history and culture, and most of all to the remarkable spirit of its teeming millions, who lend to Karachi‚s barren landscape their colours in every imaginable shade and tone.


“If any city can claim to be a rainbow city, it is Karachi”, quips Lari. “This is the strength of the city”, Lari continues. It’s diversity and cosmopolitan-ness. We need to celebrate it all.


The idea of a festival celebrating Karachi came to Yasmeen and two young professionals inspired by her conservation and documentation work. “We were just sitting and talking about how we wanted to promote the city. We weren’t sure what we wanted to do”, recalls Lari.


Lari and graphic designer Fariya Xaeem had worked together on the Karachi Guidebook, in which Lari presented her vast storehouse of information on the city particularly its buildings, in a guidebook format.


“The guidebook was really an attempt to reach a wider audience”, says Lari. The motive was to make more people aware of the city’s architectural treasures so that there would be stronger lobbies for their conservation.


It won over Xaeem and journalist Mohsin Sayeed and the trio agonized over what they could do to conserve these buildings. Sensing a passion within themselves, they wondered whether others would feel the same way.


And from that evolved the idea of a festival involving other equally impassioned city dwellers to focus on heritage conservation. Though it began with the thought of conserving Karachi’s architectural heritage, in true caravan style Karavan Karachi has grown rapidly to become an all-encompassing festival celebrating every aspect of the city.


“The whole thing has become so large because of the people who joined up”, says Lari, quite overwhelmed by the tremendous response to the idea. “It is really amazing how it has evolved because of the enthusiasm of people,” she says. Each individual who has joined the Karavan has brought his or her own idea, infused a new spirit into the effort. And all on a voluntary basis.


“What is extraordinary is that there has never been such a large group of professionals who have gotten together voluntarily to rejuvenate the city, to make it alive once again”, Lari points out.


“What makes it unique is the inclusiveness”, Hardwick continues. There is a deliberate attempt to involve anyone and everyone who would like to be part of this mammoth effort. Not only that, there has been consensus on the need to involve the city’s youth because it is they who will inherit the city and they must be included in all efforts that have a bearing on its future.


Karavan Karachi’s community participation programme, therefore, has become a core focus. Much of the activity has already begun with the formation of over 200 mohalla committees in District West. These are involving neighbourhoods in a series of events and competitions that reach out to everyone. Hockey and football matches, bike races, wrestling and martial arts events for the young, and best mother and

best buzurg competitions to include women and elders.


The support from the British Council has also given the whole community participation programme an education dimension and 13,000 schools all over Karachi are to be invited to participate in Karavan Karachi in an inclusive rather than competitive manner, says Hardwick. “It would be easy to organise competitions, but they tend to become exclusive. We‚re not going the standard route. We want inclusion not competition,” Hardwick points out.


“It has gone beyond a festival,” Lari adds. The potential of doing something useful in these communities is also materialising, something that will go beyond September 2001, the festival month.In fact, although it was intended to run during September, KaravanKarachi is already on its way. As more people become aware of the event

and are infected with the spirit and enthusiasm, events throughout the year are being latched on to Karavan Karachi Festival 2001.


Collaborative efforts are afoot, for instance, between Karavan Karachi and next month’s infotech event ITCN 2001 Asia. A concurrent software competition as well as a mobile cyber station to take computer awareness

to the masses is being organised.


“We want Karavan Karachi to be an umbrella under which a whole range of activities take place. That doesn’t mean Karavan Karachi has to organize the event (or reap the benefits of that effort), Lari points out. No effort to try and rejuvenate the city can be a success unless it brings about an economic improvement. As Lari puts it: Revitalization of the city is the basis for economic rejuvenation, and vice versa.


That’s where the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation comes in. “Karavan Karachi is a Godsend for PTDC”, pronounces PTDC’s lively general manager Talat Rahim. While traditionally tourism traffic has flown from south to north, Rahim says Karavan Karachi has given her a chance to divert traffic from north to south and bring in tourists from upcountry. “It is basically a tourism event”, says Rahim, who is actively promoting Karavan Karachi Festival 2001 both at home and abroad. She is busy designing special tours that will allow people to see places in Karachi that have not been visited.


The tourism highlight, of course, will be Karachi’s beautiful buildings. With the patronage of the Government of Sindh, 60 of the city’s most historically and architecturally significant buildings have been chosen to be highlighted during the festival. The Heritage Foundation, an NGO founded by Yasmin Lari which is at the forefront of all heritage activities within Karavan Karachi, is planning a series of mini

festivals that will kick off later this week and continue till September. Each Sunday events are being planned around a different group of historic, notified buildings. Roads in front of these structures will be pedestrianised for a day to allow for activities like tree-planting, street theatre, musical performances, martial arts demos, an art workshop, art exhibition, a sound and light show unraveling the history of the building, and a mobile cyber station that provides hands-on information about the city’s architectural heritage from Heritage Foundation archives.


Rahim believes there will be a ripple effect all over the country, and in many associated trades. The hospitality industry, shopping, local arts and crafts, transport and tourism will all improve their productsand infrastructure to cater to both Karachiites and visitors.


“We’ve chosen the month with care”, Hardwick points out, for in September the weather will allow the use of Karachi’s beaches for many outdoor activities and events like water sports, beach bazaars and turtle-watching.


The list of events scribbled on the walls of Lari’s office includes a vintage car rally, nautanki, indigenous plant exhibition, donkey cart race, story-telling, culinary conference, walking tours, night cricket, floating food bazaar and film festival.


Such will be the uniqueness and diversity of Karavan Karachi Festival 2001.



The Lady in White....Ms Yasmeen Lari

By Shanaz Ramzi


Almost invariably clad in a simple white suit, Yasmeen Lari strikes you as a sweet natured, docile lady, who might be past her prime, but is more focused in achieving her goal in life than many younger men and women. She certainly doesn’t strike you a super-charged, motivating force that would create such a stir in Karachi this past year, particularly in the month of September.


The minute you walk into Lari’s office, you get an inkling of the kind of activity that goes on at Heritage Foundation, the umbrella organization under which the Heritage Wallay have been conducting their activities this year.


Born in Dera Ghazi Khan, Lari was brought up in Punjab, where her father was serving as an ICS officer. Living in Lahore till the mid 50s, she did her early schooling from Queen Mary’s, then studied at Abdistan-e-Suffiya before joining Kinnaird College. Hardly had Lari spent a couple of years at the college, when her father, who had become the chief executive of PIA, decided to move to England, so Lari continued her education there.


Transferring herself to Oxford School of Architecture, Lari graduated from there, meanwhile also becoming the mother of a daughter and returned to Pakistan in 1964. With a supportive husband and father-in-law, Lari set up her own practice in Karachi, an unusual phenomena for a woman those days. Lady Luck was smiling on her, for her father had retired and started his own business, which involved the setting up of factories. Lari got the break she needed, and her first assignments became for the family.


Although, over the years Yasmeen Lari has designed a number of important commercial projects, including the PSO House, Finance and Trade Centre and the ABM Ambro Bank, she has concentrated her energies on low-cost housing schemes. She is particularly thrilled with her design of a village in mud, as she has always favored indigenous materials and low cost solutions to everything. The other housing scheme she speaks of is PNS Dilawar, which was originally supposed to be a multi-storeyed high-rise and she suggested instead apartments with more open spaces.


It was in the 60s, when Lari had visited Multan, that her interest in heritage had taken root and she realized that she didn’t have a strong understanding of her own cultural heritage. In order to make her work relevant to its surroundings she knew she had to have a deeper knowledge of the country’s architectural history and simultaneously, “unlearn” a lot of the things she had been taught in England. However, much to her chagrin, she discovered there was no proper documentation and research that could help her and other architects in their work.


Hence, research became an integral part of Lari’s work, just as much for her own personal development as to help others, and the very first documentation that she did was of old town Thatta, in 1980. With the whole family pitching in – Sohail with his writing and research experience along with his photography skills, as well as her two sons and daughter -- the stage was set for the Heritage Foundation to establish itself in1981. Lari started dividing her time between documentation and research, and architecture, becoming more and more selective about the latter.


It was not until 1986 that Lari produced her first work on documenting Karachi, beginning with the buildings on Zaibunnissa Street. From the early ’90s The Heritage Foundation started working systematically on the buildings of the city. Meanwhile, it also effectively made its presence felt by creating a furor for the conservation of the Quaid’s House and the Hindu Gymkhana that were to be demolished. Their efforts bore fruit and the 600 buildings documented by the Foundation were declared protected by law. So, much of the eighties was spent in conservation work and documentation, giving way also to books like ‘The Dual City – Karachi during the Raj’.


Her ‘Karachi Guide Book’ was published, which while focusing on Karachi’s historical buildings, shows for the first time how much Karachi has to offer to its visitors. What Lari didn’t realize at the time was that the book would create a stir in more ways than one.


For the guide book became the taking off point for Karavan Karachi. Says Yasmeen Lari “I had just finished the book and wanted to do nothing more than concentrate on more writing when Mohsin Saeed excitedly approached me. He had read the book and wanted to do something to expose the various aspects of our multi-faceted city. I agreed and thought that all I would be required to do would be to furnish background material and maybe provide secretariat facilities – I had no idea I would get so deeply involved or that the project would become so gigantic. I talked about it to various people and they were all enthusiastic about the idea, jumped on the bandwagon and Karavan Karachi more or less evolved.”         


Hence, July 2000 not only saw the publication of the Travel Guide, it also sowed the seeds for what was to become the biggest festival Karachi has witnessed in its history. “We came up with ambitious plans to hold streetfests every Sunday outside a historical site as a forerunner to the actual month-long festival in September, and although we may not have held every event you see marked on the charts here, we did accomplish a lot…. and didn’t want to restrict it to any class, creed or age group of people, and that was our greatest success. Anyone who volunteered was more than welcomed to join the Karavan, and our activities were diverse enough to include every layer of society.


It was also a first for street theatre groups to be performing together, and for so many theatre groups to perform at the Arts Council, due to the efforts of Sohail Malik and Arif Bahalim. Karavan Karachi also initiated the first Fashion Week in the country, thanks to Shaiyanne Malik and for the first time a tribute ceremony was held, acknowledging the contributions of the people in the fashion world. Fisheries Harbor also held a seafood festival for the first time as a parallel event. We did however, manage to get funding for the controversial Karafilm festival, a subcommittee of our Art committee, spear-headed by Durriya Kazi.


Our other objective of holding the Karavan was of course, the city’s heritage, which remained the core behind all our activities. We laid the foundation for creating awareness about heritage and a feeling for Karachi and in this we were greatly helped by the media.


One would have thought that after such a hectic year, in which so much was achieved, Yasmeen Lari would want a break from activity. Far from it. The Karavan Karachi team already has a long year planned out as they feel that the city is now ready to appreciate its historical legacy.


One gets exhausted just hearing about Yasmeen Lari’s ambitious plans for the future but one must admit her boundless energy and enthusiasm is contagious. Let’s hope she can continue the excellent work she has started.