It had been a while since we’d gallivanted, so Bear and I dragged the Dad Man out to Karachi Company at G9 while Mars was at her Arabic class. I’d always wondered why a market in Islamabad would be nicknamed Karachi Company. It turns out that back in 1978, a construction company from Karachi built the apartment complexes in that sector.

My kids LOVE this crazy, chaotic market. There are numerous stores and makeshift stalls that sell anything and everything for much cheaper than elsewhere. Take my floss hunting for example – last week, my kids and I were practically busting out of our skins with excitement when we’d found embroidery thread going for 12 rupees a skein in our neighbourhood haberdashery. That’s S$0.17/US$0.13 per skein – a HUGE price difference from the S$0.80/US$0.62 that we normally pay in Singapore! Then we went to Karachi Company where the floss was EVEN CHEAPER at 8 rupees a skein! Needless to say, we began entertaining insane notions of buying every colour they had in stock. (We managed to contain our lunacy, don’t worry… good thing we made the supplication for entering the market!)

Here is the haberdashery that unleashed the stitching madness in us…

This is one section of the store – you can see shelves of lace and a bazillion threads all lined up against the wall. It is funny, but I have not been able to find cotton sewing threads. (I’ve been told that it is best to use cotton threads as it does not ‘eat’ into your fabrics.) This country produces cotton and most people I know prefer wearing cotton, but the sewing threads are all made from polyester.

Here is another section of the shop, with even more lace and beads that can drive you to dizziness and distraction!

These haberdasheries are known simply as “lace shops” here as it is essentially the lace that the womenfolk flock to them for. Practically everyone here wears the shalwar kameez and while there are boutiques that sell ready-made ones, most people get tailor-made ones, be they for everyday wear or special occasions. A great deal of effort goes into getting these outfits made – buying fabrics, designing the the outfits and choosing the trimmings. Sometimes ladies employ dyers to get their outfits and shawls to match *just so*. I’m often asked why I don’t wear the shalwar kameez. While I rather LIKE it and used to wear it on occasion, I find it all too bothersome (and costly!) to do all that shopping.

In addition, the world of shalwar kameez fashion evolves constantly! While it may seem to outsiders that one outfit looks much like another, nothing could be farther from the truth. Trends change every season. Last winter, long, streamlined blouses were paired with straight cut pants. By summer, the blouses were even longer (almost ankle length) and voluminous and pants were cut even wider, palazzo-style. This winter, it looks like the churidar shalwars are in fashion – these are pants that are bunched up tightly along the lower calf. Even laces are subject to fashion trends – at one time, broad ribbons were popular, then heavy elaborate laces were in vogue… it’s all too much for me!

My rowdy ruffians love clothes but they can tolerate only so much lace hunting :) They much prefer checking out knick-knacks at stalls like the one below.

This makeshift stall, located just outside the haberdashery, sells henna, bangles, ear-rings and hair accessories. If your daughters tend to lose scrunchies and hair pins like mine do, then buying them for cheap at these places is the way to go :)

We walked on and I remembered the food stalls I had seen a couple of years ago. I remembered an entire section of the market teeming with food stalls selling kachori (a round pastry filled with meat or lentils), jilebi, samosas and other sinfully scrumptious deep-fried fare. Unfortunately, those food avenues are only set up in Ramadan – the vendors operate at their smaller shops the rest of the year. We did find some other places selling food…

Here is a section of Karachi Company selling meat, poultry and fish. Back in Singapore, we had a good supply of fresh sea-food but in Islamabad, a more inland city, it isn’t as popular. Check out the man carrying the strange duster at the end of the stall – the stick with the long wispy ends. His job is to flick away the flies! Many store-owners own those witchy looking things – very useful to smack away pests and also dust.

Round the corner, we saw a traditional medical hall. This shop reminded me of the Chinese sinseh in Singapore. There is of course a strong Islamic tradition in Pakistan and so homeopathy, herbs and other remedies recommended by the Sunnah are very much in use here. Most people who suffer coughs and colds will go for honey, ginger and the ubiquitous Joshanda!

Drawers and drawers of herbal goodness.

The head honcho surrounded by remedies.

Then there are the fruit stalls… we don’t have a plethora of choice like in more developed countries. Supplies vary according to season, so you have to exercise some patience if you want mangoes in winter or oranges in summer. The fruits and vegetables here don’t look very pristine – they look quite small and brusied even at times, but trust me, their appearance belies their beautiful taste and flavour. It must be because the produce here isn’t chemically altered… pretty much organic!

Oranges, pomegranates, bananas and guavas are pretty much standard winter fare. We have apples too but other than the imported Fuji apples which are quite pricey, most of the apples are not the crispy sort. I just make apple sauce out of them!

Dried fruits and nuts are also very popular snacks here. This vendor has raisins, dates, walnuts, almonds and peanuts that you buy by weight. He also sells packaged nuts that are encrusted with sugar and sesame. I love pine nuts – they are absolutely delicious, but a little more expensive. There are strings of dried figs at his store too, hanging by the rope if you look closely.

When we got back to our car, we saw this vendor at the parking lot. He doesn’t even have a stall – he just sells his wares right off his bike! He is the Pathan man in the white cap sitting a distance away. Bear was so taken by the woven baskets that she begged for a small one. The large flat tinselly ones are often used by fruit vendors I believe.

Bear was eyeing the ones on the right – the beige ones with the brown designs. She eventually settled on a basket that came with a lid, which looks like one of these. They look a lot like the kind snake-charmers use! We just use them for our toys or needlework supplies.

That was the end of our giddy-gaddying, as we like to say it. Mars was awfully sorry she’d missed the outing but I assured her that in shaa Allah we will go back :)