Homeland: Jewels in the ocean
Pakistan is a land of varying topography — you have jagged, snowy mountain peaks in the north, to hot yellow desert sands in the south, to smooth plateaus and even beautiful islands, with miles of pure white sand and sparkling turquoise waters.
Miles and miles of pure white sand and crystal-blue waters makes one wonder if one is in some Caribbean paradise or a resort in the Far East. But, believe it or not, Pakistan has its very own island paradises, in fact 12 gorgeous islands!
And of course, if one is looking for an exciting day out, what better way is there than to take a trip to these islands and spend a day marvelling at the beauty they have to offer.
Let me tell you about some of them:
The largest island of Pakistan is Astola island, which lies 39 kilometres south of the fishing port of Pasni. It is part of Gwadar district, Balochistan, and can be reached after a road journey from Gwadar or from Karachi to Pasni via the Makran Coastal Highway, and a further journey of five hours by boat. It is a rather long journey, but absolutely worth the few hours one would get to spend on the island.
Astola is home to beautiful coral reefs and several species of animals such as the endangered Green Turtle and the Hawksbill turtle, which nest on the beach at the foot of Astola’s cliffs on the north face of the island.
The island also has ruins of an ancient Hindu temple of the goddess Kali, and the Hindus called it Satadip Island. All in all, the wildlife, coral reefs and the seven small hillocks on the island, which earned it the local name of ‘Haft Talar’ or ‘Seven Hills’, make it an idyllic spot for a short visit, camping, fishing or scuba diving expeditions during the calmer months of September-May.
One of the most interesting facts about Malan island, off the Makran coast, is that it literally rose out of the water overnight! One day there were clear, blue waters and the next, an entire island appeared!
Malan is actually an offshore mud volcano that appears, disappears and reappears!
It first appeared in the Arabian Sea, three kilometres off the coast of Balochistan in March 1999, but after a year, it disappeared and reappeared in 2010.
Churna is the second-largest island of Pakistan, where people go, clad in wetsuits, to swim, snorkel, dive, fish and marvel at the abundance of marine life. The waters around the barren island contain species such as barracuda fish, tuna, angelfish, narrow-barred Spanish mackerel, sea urchins, oysters, and if you’re lucky, a rare green turtle!
In fact, some people even speculate that there are more than 60 types of corals alone found in the waters near Churna Island.
A visit by boat to Charna Island from Karachi doesn’t take too long — it’s only a distance of 60km from the city, so it would make for a nice outing for the family.
Manora, as some of you may know, is a tiny peninsula located just south of the port of Karachi, whose beaches merge with those of Sandspit and Hawkesbay. This tiny island has a rich history, and its earliest record lies in the writings of one of the men of the army of Alexander the Great, during his expedition of Sindh.
There also used to be a small fort located on the island, built in the eighteenth century when Karachi traded with Middle Eastern states. This mud fortress was attacked by the British in 1839 because of its closeness to Karachi, the city that they wanted to capture. The fortress was completely destroyed by the bombardment of the British flagship 74-gun H.M.S. Wellesley. Soon afterwards Karachi was captured.
The remains of the fort have long since disappeared, but a lighthouse remains standing on the island as a reminder of the British presence there — it had been built by them in 1889 to assist boats leaving the Karachi harbour in the dark night to weave their way through the sea and avoid rocks.
This impressive lighthouse in the tallest one in Pakistan (91 feet) and it still stands in its red-and-white glory today. On a clear night, the light of this lighthouse is visible from up to 20 nautical miles away!
There are also the ruins of an ancient Hindu temple on the island, called the Shri Varun Dev Mandir, a temple dedicated to Varuna, the goddess of the seas, and while the first temple must have been very old, the current structure was built in 1917! The temple used to be visited quite frequently and the well inside its premises contained sweet water, but now due to erosion and vandalism, this historical building is in a state of disarray and is deserted. There is even a small church on Manora, right next to the lighthouse, Saint Paul’s Protestant Church, built in the year 1865. So the island of Manora, which is only a short drive away from Karachi, has a rich history behind it as well as boasting sandy beaches and lush mangrove plantations.
These are the few more prominent islands of Pakistan, and others, such as the Bundal and Buddo Islands, which once boasted pristine shores, have now been littered rubbish, and before we know it, this pollution may spoil all of Pakistan’s beautiful islands and the unique wildlife that comes with it. Thus we, as citizens of the country, should take it upon ourselves not to litter, especially our waters, as the garbage travels and is deposited on the beautiful shores of these islands and spread awareness about them, so that the government may take notice and help preserve their unique natural beauty.