Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Sailing between Karachi and Bombay

Updated Aug 26, 2013 12:41pm


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

Dwarka was one of the three ships that sailed between Karachi and Bombay. -Photo courtesy:
Dwarka was one of the three ships that sailed between Karachi and Bombay. -Photo courtesy:

I have a happy dream. Sometimes, when I am particularly distressed by the politics that carries on in our sorrowful subcontinent adding to its various peoples’ misery, I allow myself to be lost in this delicious dream. I imagine myself sailing to Cox’s Bazar.

The small, beautiful ship starts every Saturday from the newly commissioned port of Gwadar on the western Makran coast. It passes through Karachi and picks up most of its Pakistani and some foreign passengers from here. But I have made it a point to travel on the coastal highway to the starting point and when the ship touches Karachi, look at the city of my residence without getting down, as someone travelling in a passing vessel would. I have a long and fascinating journey before me: we’ll pass through many ports and stop at some of them:

Dwarka, Porbandar, Diu, Surat, Daman, Bombay, Ratnagiri, Panjim (Goa), Mangalore, Kozhikode (Calicut), Kochi (Cochin), Trivandrum, Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari), Pondicherry, Chennai (Madras), Vishakhapatanam, Puri, Patuakhali, Noakhali, Chittagong and our final destination: Cox’s Bazar. Since such a thing is on no one’s agenda, it is safe to predict that it is not likely to be launched for as far as we can look into the future. Which gives me all the freedom to add delectable details without a care for whether they are sensible and practical.

If there is any realistic basis for this work of my imagination, it is my journey of many years ago that covered a very small part of this long voyage along the coast of the subcontinent. The year was 1982 and I was keen to make the discovery of India for myself. Finding Muhammadi Steamship Company, handling the booking and other details, in the central business district was not difficult. I was given a fairly long list of the classes I could choose from. It was only natural for my gaze to quickly slide down to the bottom, where it said “deck with food”. I even asked if there is a class called “deck without food.” There wasn’t. I bought the bottom end return ticket for Rs 1,100.

Dwarka was one of the three ships that sailed between Karachi and Bombay. The other two — Sarasvati and Sabarmati — had completed their lives and had been taken off from service. Dwarka had been serving for the past 50 years, taking mostly labourers from Kerala and small businessmen from Bombay and Karachi to Kuwait and back. And, yes, some foreign tourists as well.

The group of five French travellers (four men and a girl) were headed towards the Himalayas, excited about the treks awaiting them. I shared some of their excitement, so they casually invited me to join them. I told them, I could not, since the Indian deputy high commission at Karachi had given me visa only for four cities. They were too fortunate to make sense of it. The only possible explanation they could come up with was: Perhaps then Bombay and Bhopal were city states, authorised to issue visa to foreigners, although they had been given visa for the entire place called India. It could only add to their astonishment that the cantonment areas of even these cities had expressly been declared out of bounds for me!

Soon after the excitement of watching a port go back in the distance for the first time in one’s life was over, my attention was drawn by the open shutters of the ship’s tuck shop out on the deck. I bought a can of beer and couldn’t believe myself when I freely drank it sitting on a bench and looking at the afternoon sun. making wonderful patterns on the surface of the Arabian Sea. Alcoholic drinks had been banned in my country since 1977 — another desperate attempt of a supposedly liberal, left-of-centre government to retain power by bowing to the whims of religious fanatics. In the words of the great cartoonist and satirist Yusuf Lodhi (“Vai Ell”), if you ban alcohol, it doesn't disappear; it just becomes expensive and out of reach of the ordinary citizens like you or me.

As the nightfall drew closer, I was happy to discover that some of the berths in the bunkers were empty, so I could spread my sleeping bag a little higher than the floor of the deck. Later, I climbed down several metal ladders to reach the canteen which served food to the lower class passengers. The food had a distinct taste and smell of Karachi’s Malabari food joints (now completely disappeared from the city) and the ambiance matched the food. The workers returning from the Gulf to Kerala were travelling with their unbelievably large metal trunks. With their bright-coloured saris, tee-shirts and lungis and their loud chatter, they seemed a happy lot.

Twice during this 40-hour journey on board Dwarka did I make the mistake (which was to be repeated several times before I was warned by a friend) of asking a Sikh fellow-passenger for a matchbox to light my cigarette. The French trekkers, travelling in first class obviously, kept coming to the deck and discussing their plans to systematically cover all the tourist attractions India could offer before reaching the Himalayas. The Malayali men and women kept chatting and listening to loud, heady music on their large cassette-players. And I kept trying to stop myself from spending too much from my less than shoe-string budget on beer, as I did not know how long a journey awaited me once I set foot in Bombay for the first time in my life.

When I did, it was the late morning on Jan 26, the Indian Republic Day, and it was not possible on a holiday for me to contact my only acquaintance in the city. I hired a taxi and asked the young driver to take me to the YMCA International House near Victoria Terminus, although I did not have a booking there. The driver welcomed me in the city of his birth with a word of caution. “Idhar Mumbai mein,” he said,“jiyada baat karne ka nein. Khali dekhne ka, kya?

About two and a half months into the journey I was in Bhopal when I received a letter from my friend in Bombay, saying that the last ship would leave Bombay on April 30 1982, and I should be careful not to miss it. I was at a complete loss to understand what the “last ship” was supposed to mean. Soon I discovered that at that assigned date the Dwarka was scheduled to sail from the port of Bombay for the last time, empty itself of its passengers and cargo at Karachi and Kuwait, and come to Gadani, on the western Makran coast not far from Karachi, to be dismantled, following its predecessors, Saravati and Sabarmati into history.


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

Comments (64) Closed

SubhSubhBol Aug 25, 2013 05:58am

Mazaa aa gaya.....enjoyed it all I can say.....(coming from an Indian)

Tariq K Sami Aug 25, 2013 09:45am

Amazing article. Even though it is disgusting to know that such restrictions on Visa. I hope that the leadership in both countries realise how stupid this sounds. Now that we know that the bad guys can get around anyway with or without visa and its only the innocents who suffer. I once wanted to visit Bangladesh and the Embassy asked me submit 2 letters from friend or relative in Dhaka. I told the Embassy staff, well do not bother I will go to London instead for my hollidays.

BRR Aug 25, 2013 10:07am

Interesting writeup. Would love to be able to do what you have in mind. Lets keep the hope alive.

Mahendra Singh Aug 25, 2013 12:04pm

Beautiful piece of writing..

Satyen Aug 25, 2013 12:49pm

Nice Nostalgia. It is ironic that you arrived at Bombay on a 26th Jan as some 26 years later a person of your name sake would also take the same route to ravage the city

Rai Aug 25, 2013 01:01pm

What a dream voyage! Also, imagine adding Colombo and Rangoon to the itinerary.

Sharif Awan Aug 25, 2013 01:06pm

This is beautiful writing. Thank you so much Ajmal kamal Sahib, for sharing such discourses.

Sharif Awan Aug 25, 2013 01:05pm

This is beautiful writing. Thank you so much Ajmal kamal Sahib, for sharing such discourses.

Ali Aug 25, 2013 01:53pm

Wonderful Article. Wishful thinking but here is me hoping that such a cruise becomes a reality. Among other things a fully stocked bar would make these trips even more enjoyable.

Rahul Aug 25, 2013 02:31pm

:) Ajmal Saab! And I dream of riding from Gurez in Kashmir to Muzaffarabad, to Rawalpindi and then Mandra. Then I ride back northwards, through Islamabad, then Havelian, Astore, to the Karakoram Highway, on my Royal Enfield bike! :)

Khalid Aug 25, 2013 03:02pm

Awesome writing! May be one day this dream can be realised!

khanm Aug 25, 2013 04:29pm

For the sake of God please wake up.... dont live in fantacy ... Ambition is not what a man would do, but what a man does, for ambition without action is fantasy.

Random Passerby Aug 25, 2013 04:47pm

After reading this, I immediately took this voyage..............on Google Earth! Sadly, that is the only way to take this journey for the foreseeable future.

Random Passerby Aug 25, 2013 04:49pm

@Rahul: Imagine travelling on Grand Trunk road from Peshawer to Dhaka, or travelling along the foothills of the Himalayas/Karakorams from Nanga Parbat in Astore through Kashmir, Himachal Pardesh, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhuttan.

ahemd ali Aug 25, 2013 04:50pm

Much more important is Gwadar or Jiwani Pakistan to Mascat Oman cruise ships. Its very close and significant Baloch population lives on both sides along with Makrani, Arabs, and other inhabitants. It will also be critical for China and central asia plus boost tourism in homeland

sanjay mittal Aug 25, 2013 06:30pm

Great writing!

reminds me of my own ship travels in India and outside. Write more. We loved it!

konkani Aug 25, 2013 07:22pm

Bravo !

HK Aug 25, 2013 08:30pm

This is a beautiful, beautiful article. Reminescences at their best. Something to savor and to feel sorry about at the same time. Savor to read about the lovely times that used to exist and to feel sorry for the fact that they will likely be no more. The article also reminds one of the close affinity - and something close to rivalry - that once existed between Karachi and Bombay, two cities of Pakistan and India who share an ethos perhaps shared only by Delhi and Lahore. Judging with th depth and quality of his experiences, i wish the author would write more often about these twilight quality experiences.

Manu Aug 25, 2013 08:50pm

Wonderful to read and imagine

S. Mehta Aug 26, 2013 03:15am

Very interesting journey. Alas, it is only a pipe dream. Let the leaders of the two countries respect each other and create a secular environment based on democracy, freedom and human rights where there is religious tolerance and you are not judged by what you pretend you are on the outside but what you are from inside. We tolerate and befriend each other when we are in foreign countries; why don't we get along when we are physically so close to each other. If there is a true democracy based on the principles I have listed earlier, not only we will be able to enjoy travel between the two countries but also rid a large number of citizens of poverty and illiteracy. Let noble minds meet and resolve our differences.

Javed Aug 26, 2013 07:21am

If some of us had not emphasized on jihad too much maybe Dwarka would have been replaced by a modern ship.

Abbas Syed Aug 26, 2013 07:32am

How can I forget the name Dwarka with which some very significant and memorable moments of my life are associated with. It was in May of 1949, I left my place of birth, leaving behind my ancestors' 350 years history, for Bomaby to board a ship that will take me to Karachi, the capital of the newly founded state for the Muslims of India. The ship that took me from Bombay to Karachi was Dwarka. After riding out the rough seas and keeping sea sick for two days Dwarka sailed into Karachi Harbour. Once I disembarked Dwarka, I ceased to be a subject of the Nizam's Dominion of Deccan and Barar and became a citizen of Pakistan which remained my home for 24 memorable years. Sad to hear that Dwarka was decommissioned in 1982. I guess like every thing else in this work ship also has an expiry date.

Prashant Aug 26, 2013 08:16am

No offence meant for the writer but the name Ajmal rings an alarm bell to us Indians after 26/11/2008.Incidently the heading of this piece of writing recounts the same journey route undertaken by the infamous Ajmal Kasab.

saylani Aug 26, 2013 08:20am

Same voyage i was on in 1979-1980 , alone , thx for reminding good old days , big attraction for people of karachi on way to bombay was film show during night in open air one could sit or lay down on top of hatch lids and enjoy I still remember chodwin ka chand , I will do same trip again if I get a chance in future.

khanji Aug 26, 2013 10:49am

Until India learns to live with its neighbors, which I believe will never happen nothing of this sort can be imagined. I fail to understand why Pakistanis suffer from this love of India? May be these people should move back to Gujrat. We are just happy where we are and don't need to go to Bombay. No offense.

Ajmal Kamal Aug 26, 2013 10:52am

@Prashant: No offence taken. :) Obviously, Kasab was not the first Ajmal who took this route to arrive in Bombay, but he came with the purpose exactly opposite to mine. However we should be cautious about the impact of the media on how we perceive the world. It was only a coincidence that Kasab was the one among many who was captured alive; it could have someone else bearing some other name. In which case your alarm bells would have had to be activated by that name!

M Iqbal Aug 26, 2013 01:04pm


Boss, how about the Indian officer revealing all that was inside job? How about the Ajmal Kasab saying 'Bhagwan will never forgive me', which no islamist extremist can say?

Goga Nalaik Aug 26, 2013 01:53pm

@Prashant: Wasn't he indian?? One of your ministers has recently given this statment in youir supreme court!

Jeff Aug 26, 2013 02:03pm

Great article, filled with nostalgia. Being a cadet on Trainingship Dufferin, 1947-49, we used to witness these three BI ships (Dwarka, Dumra and Daressa) frequently in Bombay harbour. Many of my batchmates served as officers on these ships, including my brother in 1960s. Many senior Mariners in Pakistan have also served with BI. Only recently I reminded a Pakistani batchmate to visit website MN Pension Fund, where there is dedicated page for BI and he will find very interesting reading, and particularly, BI officer annual get together where he may recognise a few past shipmates. I have travelled on Dwarka on one occasion. These ships were also patronised by royalties in the Gulf. The catering on the ship was from famous Karim who operated a restaurant at VT station on second floor, a favourite for Dufferin boys on shore leave. The late Raja Sahib Mahmoodabad often travelled on these ships, and my brother became friend with him when he introduced himself (he was Second Officer on the ship ) to Raja Sahib and told him he was from Sitapur, the district where Mahmoodabad estate was situated, and the estate employed many from this community members. Farewell to those nostalgic days, a beautiful memory remains

sanjeev Aug 26, 2013 03:14pm

Wonderful....want some more like this of good old days when life was not so fast like this...

AHA Aug 26, 2013 03:42pm

As a kid, I had traveled on Dwarka on its Karachi-Bombay-Karachi route. It was Mumbai (and not Bombay) for us even during the 1960's.

Pure nostalgia.

Tahir A Aug 26, 2013 04:10pm

Splendid stuff.

We used to do something like this from Mombasa to Karachi. My first landing in Karachi being in 1954 in SS Karanja. Other ships being SS State of Bombay, SS Amra. Karachi looked glorious then. Amazing nostalgia.

HS Aug 26, 2013 05:16pm

@Prashant: No pun intended but Ajmal Kasab was bred by our own, no need to be naive, please stop believing that he came from Pakistan, he had nothing Pakistani about him, he had Indian written all over his face even his accent was 100% Hindi.

HS Aug 26, 2013 05:16pm

A good read... i wish the writer had more money for beers though ... if it were me in that ship i probably would have spent most of my finances on beeer...

Sandeep Aug 26, 2013 05:38pm

@Prashant: Good and Evil can take the same route and can have the same name even

Rahul Aug 26, 2013 07:14pm

@Ajmal Kamal: Sir, I apologise, for I share the same 'nationality' as Prashant, for his nadaani-bhare lafz. Pyar karna hai to shak aur shubhay kya mayene rakhte hain?

Rahul Aug 26, 2013 07:46pm

@Random Passerby: :). I extend my invitation to anybody in Pakistan, who might be interested in riding across, I can give you company! :)

SAL Aug 26, 2013 07:53pm

There was another ship of that era which traveled on this route and it was called Kalavati. I have traveled in this and Sabarmati in yester years. Dawarka used to be a off shore stop for couple of hours to/from Bombay.

thedailyjudge Aug 26, 2013 08:22pm

@Goga Nalaik: I'd like to use a lot of expletives at your lie, but they'll be wasted (and probably censored.) There was no minister, no statement, nothing of what you said. There was one single civil servant who made all sorts of accusations about all kinds of people and incidents. He had some issues, evidently, and no one, not even the Pakistani government or media gives credibility to the assertion, since they themselves found that Kasab was Pakistani, and visited his family in Faridkot.

Ghulam Muhammed Aug 26, 2013 09:10pm

@HS: Times of India boldly printed a Front Page news quoting VS Mani, an undersecretary in Union Home Ministry, writing a letter leaked to Times of India, that the 'Attack on Indian Parliament' and '26/11' Mumbai attacks, both were organized by the government of the day - BJP and Congress. The boys were all from India.

Ahmer Aug 26, 2013 10:00pm

No point in talking of a past that will never return.

Zecchetti Aug 26, 2013 10:17pm

"I bought a can of beer and couldn

Dahir Aug 26, 2013 11:04pm

Excellent piece.In my time,some people inconvenienced passengers from trincomalee to Kuwait.i lost even my citizenship in the altercation.

raja hindustani Aug 27, 2013 12:00am

@M Iqbal: You have said with such a confidence that "Muslims extremist couldn't say word- "bhagwan" (as it is Un-Islamic). So, killing innocents are not un-Islamic? Still how come thousands of Muslims extremist are present in Pakistan and killing people? Do you really think these Islamic terrorists are very religious people who do every thing as per Islam???

By the way...I am hindu and I can say "Allah" .........but please do not doubt on me that I am not hindu. :)

Sonal Aug 27, 2013 12:19am

@Ajmal Kamal:

Great to see you acknowledge Ajmal Kasab and his deeds :) (though I know you don't speak of behalf of Pakistan)

Great article, by the way. Seems from a fairytale, given where we are today.

Sonal Aug 27, 2013 12:29am

@Goga Nalaik: @M Iqbal:

He came on a ship from Karachi, and his family lives in Pakistan. No Indian can manage either of those things.

Even if he's not Pakistani, the US has placed a $10 million bounty on a Pakistani who orchestrated the Mumbai attacks. We all know that the US doesn't put it's money on something without getting its facts right. Are you saying that a Pakistani trained a random Indian to go on a shooting rampage? That's just too much, isn't it?

Khalid Aug 27, 2013 12:40am

Our young generation can not imagine what they are missing. Trips toKashmir or Bombay or Simla are just dreams now.

G.A. Aug 27, 2013 03:32am

The new generation of Pakistanis and Indians seem to be more accepting of each other. There was more animosity 20 years ago. These ships may yet sail again if we too 'have a dream'.

G Aug 27, 2013 03:33am

@Goga Nalaik: It is true that truth bites sometimes ...

Vick Balaji Aug 27, 2013 09:11am

Thank you. Enjoyed reading the article.

Pramod Aug 27, 2013 12:22pm

@M Iqbal: Whole world including many Pakistani channel has shown his house and his parents which later could not be traced. Even Pakistani govt had accepted it that he and other 9 terrorist were Pakistani.

But Pakistani as usual have some story may be cooked up by Zaid Hamid. But Pakistani people still denies it.

@Prashath : Every body with a name Ajmal or even Ajmal Kasab is not a terrorist.

Anand; India Aug 27, 2013 12:59pm

@Prashant: Honestly you made me feel embarrased. You could have done better by not being so snooty in your comment. It's more important to be nice than being smart, easier too. You wouldn't have made that comment if only you knew the author's credentials. Among others he regularly contributes in ET. You can have a look in their archives.

Sonal Aug 27, 2013 03:34pm

@Anand; India:

I didn't quite get why you feel embarassed? I thought the original comment was quite politely written, and pointing out what is a coincidence - that the author's name is quite similar to the terrorist's, and that he talks about the same journey the terrorist made.

I felt the personal impact of the shootings - my best friend survived two bullets - so I had somewhat similar thoughts in my mind when I read the title of the article and then the author's name. Nothing embarassing or snooty about that.

Gul Aug 27, 2013 04:07pm

I look forward to this beautiful dream to become reality Great story....

Tashfin Gul Aug 27, 2013 04:17pm

Ajmal - I was looking forward to more of your adventures. The last paragraph seemed untimely and the article ended quite abruptly. Would love to hear more.

Parvez Aug 27, 2013 04:38pm

This brought back memories of decades ago when at theage of ten I sailed to / from Bombay on the Sarasvati and clearly remember when the sip was approaching the Kutch coast to make landfall to pick up passengers ( I think ) the depth of the water was measured and called off by a sailor swinging a marked rope with a weight at the in the days of sailing ships. Wonderful enjoyable article.

HS Aug 27, 2013 05:44pm

@Sonal: I am sorry to hear that about your friend, but it is high time that people wake up and stop believing what is being fed, I think everyone has seen the video of Mr Ajmal Kasab being interviewed by the policeman, and then your own people have leaked that this was an inside job just like samjhota express, isnt that proof enough.. secondly we have bigger worries on our heads that we need to resolve rather than training and sending millitants to your country. I hope you think about it and try to understand that India's real enemy is not Pakistan but infact lies within your own great country.

Imtiaz Faruqui Aug 27, 2013 07:03pm

Get it when you can,good times do not last for ever. Those were the days my friend I thought they will never end.

Gooch Aug 27, 2013 07:15pm

Sentimental fool. I must admit i have never craved taking a trip to pakistan, there is every chance i may not come to india in one piece. At the same time i would rather pakistanis did not come to india. We just divided this country on the basis of religious incompatibility and now we want to be pally pally. It doesn't work like this. Let us not pretend, there will never be peace between india and pakistan. That is our future. Lastly pakistan should look towards China, their soulmate not india.

Sohaib Aug 27, 2013 10:00pm

@sonal, Pramod, G, raja Hindustani

This is all very touching, men and women from across the borders coming to Pakistani news websites and reading articles, commenting with love, ignoring the animosity, actually getting to know each other without the bias of the media. All this under the cover of lovely story of a voyage; which I believe, is not only possible, but inevitable in the near future. It is the law of nature.

I restrained myself from commenting as it would ruin the mutual love and respect displayed below by both the beautiful people of India and Pakistan. But you guys are just deaf. Too deaf to recognize your own accents. Too deaf to differentiate between Urdu and Hindi.

Kehte thay, gussa aur badhlay ka junoon insaan to andha ker deta hai

Veeresh Malik Aug 27, 2013 10:37pm

Great article, thanks. Visited the DWARKA when we were cadets, huge cabins for officers with doors opening on to wooden decks, style amidst steerage. By the way, you forgot to add Colombo in your list of port of calls around Sri Lanka/Ceylon.

An Indo-Pak shipping service is kind of out of the question for now, I think, but there are some cargo ships which take passengers. Good luck.

Rahmat Aug 28, 2013 12:19am

@HS: So you believe what someone said to someone else and when that 'someone' was confronted he declined to say anything. But you don't believe what was directly telecast to worldwide audience where Kasab was found roaming wielding a gun. Please watch documentary by Farred Zakaria and you will get additional proof. Are you so guilable that you are willing to discard the evidence and go by a rumor spread by one person. If it was bogus claim why did your media go to the lengths of identifying where Ajmal Kasab came from, and why is still a case going on in Pakistan itself. So stop acting like an ostrich and face the truth. Yes India has many problems created on its own, but Mumbai attack is not one of them - rest assured.

Dahir Aug 28, 2013 02:15am

In AD 702, a ship was sailing from Sri Lanka to Iraq.most sources say it was full of pilgrims whereas some say there were slaves in it which was nothing unusual in those times.some pirates attacked the ship and looted it off the makran coast.The khalid a of Baghdad blamed the king of Sindh Raja Dahir and attacked and captured Sindh by sending his general muhammad bin Qasim.muhammad bin Qasim is considered first Pakistani and dahir is stateless.this beautiful article with the names of these historic ports on his dream journey to Bangladesh and comments of readers about various gulf ports brought back memories of an era nobody wants to know about

Syed Aug 28, 2013 03:30am

Thanks for taking us back on such a wonderful journey. Being a past Master Mariner myself, reading the article was like experiencing again the soft rolling and pitching motions on board a vessel, sailing the glassy waves of Arabian Sea during autumn season.