The sandy beaches of Manora are a popular spot for picnickers | Wikimedia Commons
The sandy beaches of Manora are a popular spot for picnickers | Wikimedia Commons

Manora is a small landmass that lies southwest of Karachi city. Traditionally a fishing village, Manora also hosts naval installations because of its strategic location. It is connected to the mainland by a narrow stretch of land running through the waters of the Arabian Sea. Thanks to this narrow land corridor, Manora cannot technically be called an island; it is a peninsula that nevertheless has the soul of an island.

Its sandy beaches are also a popular destination for picnickers from Karachi. The mangrove patches on its north-eastern edges not only add to the aesthetic vista but also act as nurseries for shrimp and juvenile fish, which are a source of livelihood for the local fisherfolk.

Manora enjoys a rich ecological, physical, cultural and social history. Stories about Manora can be found in Ottoman, Arab, Persian, Portuguese and British travelogues and chronicles and also in the local vernacular literature.

The historic architecture of the island bears witness to the island’s aesthetic and cultural heritage, linking it visually to the past. This small parcel of land is filled with various historical and religious sites, such as the Shri Varun Dev Mandir, the shrine of Hazrat Yousuf Shah Ghazi — one of the four saints said to protect Karachi from disasters, a Sikh gurdwara, colonial-era buildings including a church, a lighthouse, a Deputy Commissioner (DC) guest house, an ancient defence fort built by the Talpurs (who ruled Sindh from 1783 until 1843), and various institutional and residential modern structures.

Picturesque Manora, with its rich multicultural history, has the potential to draw more domestic and international tourism than it does. But any development must be ecologically sustainable and inclusive of local communities. University students have suggested the way forward

Unfortunately, the picturesque island has its fair share of problems. Detached from the mainland, Manora faces a scarcity of freshwater, and there is a large reliance on tankers for water supply. The shortage of freshwater access is very challenging for the inhabitants. The beauty of the area has also now been marred with pollution. The seawater contains polluting materials including floating debris, oil, sewage, paper and plastics, easily visible from a boat traversing the channel to reach Manora. Pollution in the harbour areas also harms marine life and coastal economies.

Part of a design proposal includes a campsite and viewing deck along the mangrove forests and wetlands of Manora | NED Department of Architecture and Planning
Part of a design proposal includes a campsite and viewing deck along the mangrove forests and wetlands of Manora | NED Department of Architecture and Planning

The oldest habitable area of Manora is called Old Salehabad, a dense residential area of the low-income group who predominantly belong to the fishing community. The new addition, New Salehabad, is inhabited primarily by the middle-income group, mostly retired Karachi Port Trust (KPT) workers and people from different communities. The key stakeholders governing Manora — KPT, the Cantonment Board of Manora and the Pakistan Navy — are responsible for the provision, control and maintenance of civic amenities, and social and physical infrastructure in their respective jurisdictions.

The development of Manora reflects a lack of planning. Many of the ageing structures from centuries past have been left abandoned to either slowly decay or collapse. Manora’s built environment has been randomly modified by governing agencies in whatever manner expedient at various times, hence considerably stripping off its original character.

The available land has been built over with a variety of contemporary structures that have no relationship to its rich historic and ecological context. These modern structures have been developed without a planning framework for physical and visual order and, as a result, Manora is on the verge of total and irreparable damage, threatened by the spoilage of its environmental and visual assets, and loss of identity.

Due to its intriguing multi-faith and multicultural history, and beautiful long sandy beaches, Manora exhibits immense potential as both a domestic and international tourist destination. Recently, the government’s interest in the development of the island as a recreational hub has increased, but with a lack of proper understanding, these interventions can lead to disrupting the ecological, social, economic, and vernacular fabric — and, eventually, loss of the indigenous community.

Manora’s everydayness has a different quality from the frenetic urban metropolis of Karachi. Yet on a quieter scale, it evokes the same play of history, urban decay and transformation that many cities in the region are undergoing.

Aiming For Sustainable Tourism of Manora

A study was undertaken by a group of 37 students of architecture at the NED University of Engineering and Technology (NED) that presented an inclusive urban design proposal for the island of Manora and the adjoining areas of Salehabad. The students analysed the effects on the physical built environment, and on land use, governance, allied infrastructure, socio-economics, politics, overall culture and ecology.

The NED study focused on the vitality and positive potential impact of sustainable, inclusive tourism on the island. The students proposed improvements in the livelihoods of the local community, providing them opportunities for income generation by capitalising on their local crafts and cuisines. In order to materialise the vision of developing Manora, the students proposed a heritage route, which would connect all the major landmarks of Manora, starting from the entrance of the island to the final destination accessible to the public.

For those accessing Manora via boat from the Keamari jetty, the journey begins at the main Material Pier. The proposed heritage route passes the glorious old temple of Varun Dev on one side and, on the other side, the sandy serene beach. As the pathway proceeds, the recently developed beach projects, such as the Manora Beach Resort and the Promenade, come into view. Travellers can take a breather at this point to enjoy the view.

Next, this track would lead to the KPT observatory, along which is a straight road that connects to the Yousuf Shah Ghazi shrine and the DC Rest House, a colonial edifice. At last, the most popular symbol of the island, the Manora Lighthouse, along with St. Anthony’s Church, would be the ending point of the long heritage route.

Historical and cultural landmarks of the island | Courtesy NED Department of Architecture and Planning
Historical and cultural landmarks of the island | Courtesy NED Department of Architecture and Planning

The documentation, research and analysis carried out in the NED study allowed the students to explore Manora’s historicity that demands not just promotion but also protection. One of the proposals highlights efforts to preserve the natural assets of the island through ecologically sensitive interventions. Another proposal includes the improvement of physical features and the promotion of eco-tourism, recommending a viable design that would commemorate the lives of the local communities. It particularly targets the three main districts of Manora, i.e. Old Salehabad, New Salehabad and the KPT areas.

Various pocket interventions have also been proposed that would provide new economic avenues and facilities, encouraging interaction between locals and tourists. Security checkpoints, as a tourism-controlling mechanism, have also been proposed to monitor and control tourist footfall on the island.

Renewable energy sources can help transform Manora into a self-sustaining autonomous entitity. Wastewater treatment, the introduction of solar, wind and hydropower generation, and the production of biofuel, are proposed to extend and upgrade the infrastructure.

Possessing an enchanting serenity, Manora is a rich collage of natural and manmade heritage calling for our attention. A lot has to be done and there’s a long way to go to make it a sustainable tourist destination. But with comprehensive planning, ecologically sensitive design, stakeholder inclusivity, and the collaboration of all governing agencies and local economies, this little under-explored gem can have a national and global presence.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture & Planning, NED University of Engineering & Technology, and can be reached at sarahkiran@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 1st, 2022

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