Cruise down a sun-drenched beach to your own private (or rented) hut or feast on a bucketful of crabs, fresh from the sea, at a candle-lit restaurant; shop till you drop at a shiny, glossy mall cluttered with your favourite brands, walk down a grandiose red carpet affair or wrap up your day with a serving of popcorn and the latest movie at your favourite cineplex … it’s hardly the image the world has of life in strife-ridden, war-torn Pakistan. Yet, those within the moneyed periphery revel in the pulsating, kaleidoscopic, ever-so-slightly hedonistic Pakistani high-life.
So what if you couldn’t make the annual trip to London this year — you can still swing by Debenhams and stock up on international trends. And as long as you have the wherewithal to afford them, there are private yachts and water sports galore available, at par with any beach in the world! There are high-end beauty treatments, scintillating couture and a glitzy lifestyle that is as indelibly a part of the country as the violence outside, coexisting tenaciously, elusively. Here, Images on Sunday takes a peek into the lifestyles of Pakistan’s thin upper-crust:
Despite the doldrums, conspicuous consumers now have more ways to spend their cash than ever before
|Salons offer a wide range of treatments for all kinds of hair conditions|
The past decade has witnessed malls cropping up all over the country; varnished, air conditioned and packed with regional ‘it’ brands and a smattering of international contenders. We may not have ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics as décor or opulent snow and ski-worlds a la Dubai but some of our local malls easily rival their international counterparts. The colossal Dolmen City in Karachi shines bright under a sunlit sky-roof and is popular for the sheer diversity it offers; from groceries to lifestyle decor, designer apparel to shoes, jewellery and inevitably, food and play areas for children. Centaurus in Islamabad, is another gigantic shopping hub. Other smaller malls such as Karachi’s Park Towers, The Forum and Ocean Mall, and the Mall of Lahore have more limited shopping options but are still popular.
It’s shopping heaven, particularly for the deep-pocketed sartorialist. Now that the Pakistani design fraternity has woken up to the lucrative possibilities of flagship stores, the mall high-street is cluttered with exciting labels like Deepak Perwani, Ayesha Hashwani, Sania Maskatiya, Sana Safinaz, Nida Azwer Atelier, Daaman, Gulabo and Sheep. Also available in every mall or shopping district worth its salt is the ever-pervasive Khaadi, offering everything from unstitched fabric to pret-a-porter to home accessories to the pricier, avant-garde Khaadi Khaas.
|No price is too high for a house with its own distinctive style|
Lately, malls have also turned out to be the ideal venue to raise consumer/product awareness and media hype. Almost every other week installations, star-studded red carpets and even catwalks are raised in open spaces within malls to launch new brands, a new collection or product line. With coiffured, designer-clad models and celebrities milling about, print and electronic media flashing cameras and passing shoppers craning their necks for a look-see, it adds glamour and excitement to any launch event.
High-end shopping streets and the couturiers du jour
Rivaling the malls are popular shopping streets. Karachi’s E-street boasts Slate by Faiza Sami, Misha Lakhani and a Sonya Battla flagship store just about to open. Lahore has a brand new HSY Pret outlet and Karma, Coco by Zara Shahjehan and Elan stores, among others, dotted about the Gulberg area. The mainstream multilabels — Ensemble and Labels, namely — offer an assortment of the hottest brands.
|Shamiana prints in home decor are a top seller|
Much more exclusive are the country’s couturiers — ingenious powerhouses who can cut a classy ball gown as seamlessly as they craft an intricate bridal-dress. There’s Bunto Kazmi, the veritable queen of bridal couture, whose Eastern luxury-pret held its own on the Oscar red carpet, resplendent on a victorious Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Sana Safinaz, spinning out glamour through a sumptuous export line and custom-made designs; Shehla Chatoor’s slinky, serpentine gowns and saris, tweaked, draped and embellished to perfection; Nomi Ansari’s trysts with colour and Shamaeel Ansari’s superbly-finished regal splendor. Also bringing on the razmatazz is a host of young designers: Wardha Saleem, Sania Maskatiya, Nida Azwer and Maheen Karim, whose uber-swanky designs have all the makings of a pro. The price points are high but then again, only the very privileged wear these designs, storming the red carpet or holding fort at a society soiree. The immaculate luxury of local couture is hardly for the general hoi polloi.
|The desi food lover has plenty to please his palette|
Ensconced in the hot and happening areas of cities is an array of restaurants frequented by the glitterati. Lit up and decorated elegantly, these are the places for a bit of celeb-spotting, where people go to see and be seen — and eat, of course! The gastronomical offerings vary; from knockout breakfast and meals at Butler’s Chocolate Café to Parisian ambrosia at Café Flo to the eclectic offerings of Café Aylanto, Koel Cafe and Okra to Japanese food and a bird’s eye-view at Fujiyama in Karachi’s lofty Avari Towers.
For Thai food, there’s always Fuschia, Pompei rules the roost in Italian cuisine, Hook, Line & Sinker offers assorted sea-food, Tai Pan and Red Emperor specialise in Chinese and the swanky Xander’s Café owned by the debonair Sikander Rizvi dishes out breakfast and meals, from morning till the late hours of the night.
The desi-food lover has plenty to please his or her palette. Local food restaurants usually come ladled with delicious spices, choice meats and breathtaking views. Karachi has an entire host of lit-up restaurants bordering the sea shore. The newly opened The East End, located deep within the lanes of Clifton, offers a delicious five-course meal of local food-with-a-twist in a rustic, ethnic ambience. Lahore lays claim to the infamous Cuckoo’s and Andaz, with their awe-inspiring views of the Badshahi Mosque and the multi-coloured Peeru’s Café, at the far end of the city. Islamabad has Monal Restaurant, serving sumptuous local cuisine atop the Margalla Hills and the quaint, touristy Saidpur Village with its melange of eateries as well as the hit breakfast place known as Chai Khana. Pakistani foodies — anybody and everybody — form the clientele.
|Elegant eateries are watering holes for the elite where they go to see and be seen|
Malls have turned out to be the ideal venue to raise consumer/product awareness and media hype. Almost every other week installations, star-studded red carpets and even catwalks are raised in open spaces to launch new brands, a new collection or product line.
Multiplexes have finally taken over in Pakistan, popping up one after the other, in larger than life 2D and 3D. A far cry from their predecessors is the outcropping of brand new cinemas with their plush seating, colossal screens, air conditioning and food options. Karachi’s Nueplex, particularly, is a hot favourite with its high-tech screens and sound systems. Among others, the Atrium in Karachi, DHA Cinema in Lahore, Cineplex in Islamabad and Cinepax in Rawalpindi often run ‘house full’ when hit movies are circuiting the airwaves.
And every now and then, the stars step out from their on-screen avatars and onto Red Carpet premieres for exclusive, private shows at these cinemas. Movies now mean big business in Pakistan, with the cinematic culture having swung into full-gear and eager crowds gathering to buy tickets for the latest Hollywood, Bollywood and Pakistani offerings, released on-the-dot, in fantastic original print. This means that such invitation-only premieres are now quite the order of the day, adding a bit more oomph to going to the movies.
For the extravagant, there’s the Gold Class cinema at Nueplex complete with its own leather recliners and attendants. Ticket-prices are steeper but then again, you get pampered like royalty!
Colour me beautiful
Steamy saunas wafting with the smell of Thai aromatic oils, special therapeutic massage parlours and salons that offer anything from a spot-on 15-minute blow dry to extensive hair and facial treatments —this is where the bold, beautiful and inevitably rich head out to for their regular beauty regimes.
One doesn’t have to go to Thailand to get a Thai massage. Salons like Oxygen in Karachi, Nirvana in Islamabad and Aramish in Lahore have an entire selection of massages on offer. Popular salons like Nabila, Sabs, Nina Lotia, Angie’s, Depilex and the Toni&Guy hair institute have a range of treatments on offer like the very latest Kerastase ritual customised for treating varying hair-types, wacky colour treatments a la Hair Chalk and on-trend hair dyes. For the woman — or man — on the move, there’s Nabila’s very popular express blow-dry which gets you raring to go with picture-perfect hair in a mere 10-15 minutes.
The realms of cosmetology are currently lead by Dr Mabroor Bhatty and Dr Afzal Lodhi, specialists in Botox and peels. Facials, in general, are a staple service at all salons but the go-to beautician for the procedures is veritably Peng Qureshi of Peng’s Salon. With nearly 34 years of experience, Peng usually has a busy schedule, pre-booked by her throngs of regular clients who pre-book and file in for anything ranging from hi-tech machine-based Double Ionization treatments to fruit-based and herbal facials.
Beauty, after all, lies not just in good genes; regular regimes and easy spending play pretty important roles also!
The distinctive home
The home is certainly where the heart is and it’s difficult not to lose one’s heart over the range of home décor and upholstery now in the market courtesy Gul Ahmed, So Kamal and other well-recognised names in home furnishings.
Khaadi Home, having set up shop less than a year ago, is a colourful mix of ethnic inspirations with the high-quality textile that is the brand’s signature. From furniture imported from Thailand and upholstered in-house to bed-linen and mats, right down to the variety of cushions, prettily embroidered or with saucy truck-art digital prints, it’s a shop that screams individualism.
Just as unique is Veranda at 5 by accessory designer Mahin Hussain and her sisters Zainab and Mariam Hussain with its kitschy, cheeky home decor. The chairs are upholstered with the now-redundant traditional Shamiana print, furniture printed with emblems dating back to old Karachi monuments such as the Metropole Hotel and Empress Market and cushions embellished in vibrant shades — these are furnishings that are irresistible and make statements all on their own. Veranda at 5 is available at Islamabad’s Nomad Gallery and the first floor of Ensemble in Karachi, where it shares space with brands like the funky Good Earth by Ratankara and the elegant La Maison.
On a more sophisticated level, there’s the team behind YOC’A, blending leathers with custom-made printed upholstery, polished wood with brass, bona fide gramophones with safer retail options like shelves, bucket-chairs and etched work-tables. In a matter of years, YOC’A has established itself to be a brand that is very fashion-savvy, even creating a theme-based furniture collection with designer HSY last year.
There are so many other options: Sana Safinaz’s custom-made home furnishings, Italian imports at Natuzzi and high-end established brands like Galleria Gultex. There are fiber-glass fountains and rockeries, wooden carvings, gilted baroque mirrors, wallpapers and an array of beautiful carpets at the longstanding Afghan Carpets.
They all cost a bomb and then some — a price that many are willing to pay for a home with its own distinctive style.
Polo, scuba diving and hitting the highway on a Harley
A myriad sailboats and speedboats remain parked at Karachi’s Marina Club, primed to sail out to sea whenever the weather conditions are favourable or the owners are in the mood for a cruise. Also along the city’s shoreline, a modicum of water sport-based groups lead aficionados deep into the ocean, as they snorkel and scuba dive deep into the ocean. Boats from the sandy Mubarak Village travel to the Chota Talaar and Charna island — the city’s prime scuba diving locations — in select months when the water isn’t too choppy and diving is safe.
Deep within Pakistan’s recesses, niche sports activities exist, operating in limited, select numbers. Heavy bike enthusiasts travel from coastal Karachi to mountainous Nathiagali on their Harley Davidsons, groups of bicyclists traverse the cities, adventure societies organise mountain-climbing and skiing along the slopes of Fairy Meadows and Malamjabba and equestrian jockeys practice the princely sport of Polo in the extensive grounds of the Punjab. High in the Himalayan mountain range of Baltistan, regional Polo teams annually combat for winning glory in Shandur.
Traversing the mountains
Mingling scenic beauty with extravagance, the Serena chain of hotels is located in some of the country’s most beautiful and historic locations: at Shigar it is situated right next to a roaring waterfall is a renovated 400-year-old palace that belonged to the royal family of Shigar; at Gilgit it nestles amidst the Karakoram mountains, in Hunza it overlooks the great valley; in Swat it is located at the foot of the Hindukush and Serena Khaplu Palace is again a restored royal residence converted into a boutique hotel. There are also, of course, the very popular Pearl Continental Hotels in Bhurban and Muzaffarabad which attract large crowds during vacations.
The five-star facilities mean that room rentals are steep but for many, it is worth the expense. What better way, after all, can there be to enjoy the Pakistani high-life than by enjoying the untarnished beauty of the country’s majestic mountains while living luxuriously?
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 15th, 2014