“The sea looks so different every time you look at it,” I said as we drove past the Gwadar port with Rafiq Chacha , our tour driver, on the third day of our recent trip to Gwadar. In a low pitched sweet Balochi accented Urdu, Rafiq answered, “We believe the sea in Gwadar has seven colors.”
That was Gwadar for me on our five-night stay in December 2015. Full of nature’s colors and breathtaking natural beauty, and still unharmed by us humans. The contrast of whitish mountains and blue sea was always pleasing and exciting to look at.
We really did surprise a lot of people with our decision to choose Gwadar as our holiday destination. Here is why we decided to go to: We wanted to visit a beach that comes with nice weather, stay at a quiet place where we can just spend some good family time together, relax and be away from the city’s hustle. We also didn’t want to go to Dubai or any other beach areas nearby because we had already seen many of them. Nothing like being fascinated by your own country’s beauty! It is a different feeling.
I will try and answer the many questions asked from us by everyone we met after the trip. To start with, Gwadar is easily accessible now, since there is a regular PIA flight to Gwadar via Karachi, or from Quetta via Islamabad – 5 days a week! We took a flight from Islamabad to Karachi, stayed one night in Karachi, and then took a flight early the next morning to Gwadar.
A small plane flies to Gwadar, and takes about an hour and a half to reach its destination from Karachi. You really feel you are heading towards Balochistan when the women boarding the plane with you are seen wearing Balochi dresses. What a treat to watch! It brought back such beautiful memories of a summer spent with my grandparents in Quetta. I so wished I had packed my Balochi dress!
As the plane approaches the Gwadar area, you begin to see miles and miles of clear blue water. The pilot was really blown away by the view as well, as he narrated what he saw directly from the cockpit. How we wished we had his view! The city of Gwadar is nestled in two crescents of clear blue water, and in between lies a white strip of land and two mountains.
The airport is as basic as it can get. You can actually walk to the waiting lounge area, and as an added bonus, absorb real fresh air, clear blue skies and the beauty of the mountains.
We were picked up by the Zevar Pearl Continental van. The airport is about 20 minutes away from the main city. The first thing that hit me – after the natural beauty – were the well maintained, paved roads, and the optimism of the driver towards developments such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Gwadar Port.
I have never seen a Pakistani so enthusiastic, and so positive about developments in their area. The Chinese promise is really working for the people of Gwadar, who understand the possibilities and the impact of the project. It is almost like a fairy granted their wish; magical for people who spent 40 years seeing absolutely no development in their region, but always knowing and believing in the rich and God-gifted place they were located in. It really was music to my ears as a Pakistani!
Every turn on the road towards our destination was filled with wows and bursts of “Oh my God, that is so pretty!” I was even more surprised, as for once, I hadn’t Googled anything about the area or seen any of the pictures while planning for the vacation. You do come across a few check posts, as most of the area has now been taken over by the Pakistan Army to give protection to Chinese workers in the region.
After spending a crazy day in Karachi, Gwadar seemed empty, you could see miles and miles of nothingness, and when you enter the city, its brick houses, a few shops and even fewer people. You get to see some activity around the bay area with boats parked in water or fisherman doing their daily work.
The Pearl Continental hotel is located atop a hill. The winding road goes up the mountain, crossing the entry of the much talked about Gwadar Port! You can see huge hangars and buildings waiting to receive ships. It was so exciting to see this finally happening!
We were super excited to see the hotel. It is beautifully built, with golden marble and gives off a clean and modern look. We were welcomed with a glass of juice, and from the hotel lobby we could tell that we won’t be seeing many people! A total contrast to PC Karachi, which was so crowded that it didn’t quite feel like a hotel!
The moment we stepped into the glass elevator, we knew we got the best view for our much deserved vacation. From the elevator, you can see a panoramic view of Gwadar, with the strip of land in the center and water on both sides; port on your right, and the mountains on your left. We picked a room with the best possible city view (you can choose between the ‘sea view’ and ‘city view’).
It was almost afternoon when we settled into the hotel and looked at the menu which was pretty limited. We decided to order a seafood pizza as a snack. Yes, we were serious when we said we were there only to eat seafood! It was average, your regular over cheesy thick crust pizza (but later we had their Bar B Q pizza and it was really nicely done!).
On the first day, we walked down the hotel and watched the sunset. It was a beautiful clear day and you could see the sun dipping into the water. The expressions on our two-year-old’s face when the sun vanished into the sea was priceless. He was beyond upset to see the sun vanish!
We soon realized that the menu and food options are very limited at PC for a four-night stay. The hotel does mention at the front door that it runs on ‘limited services’. They have a two page menu that is good for all their restaurants. On seeing the disappointment on our faces, the PC staff offered to cook sea food for us, if we buy some from the local Jetty. Ah! What more can a chefling as for?
The first night, we ordered the Gwadar Special Fish; fried and served with roti. With the first bite, you could taste the freshness of the fish!
As security concerns in the area are high, the hotel’s administration doesn’t suggest going off to many places outside its area, but we were adamant to explore. After taking some advice from locals, we set up our itinerary for the next three nights.
The following morning, after having the basic buffet breakfast, we headed towards the beach. You can hire a driver and car on an hourly basis from PC. Rafiq, our driver, was from Gwadar originally, but shifted to Karachi and has lived there his whole life after beginning work. Now, he was back in his city, but without his family, who stayed behind so his daughters could study in better schools. Rafiq dropped us at PC’s private beach, which is about 6 kms away from the hotel. We told him to pick us up after three hours.
With a toy bucket, a shovel, towels, water bottles and snacks, we were all prepared to spend the whole time at the beach. Gurab Beach, the hotel’s private section of beachfront, once had small huts. These had sadly been closed for the last two years due to security concerns. The beach was as perfect as you can imagine. You have to climb down the mountain to access the beach area. As the water gets really deep after a few meters, you have to be careful not to get too far into the water.
Gurab Beach is a little haven; beyond perfect. We spent about three hours making sand castles, trying to find sea shells, bringing water for baby Z, and dipping in the nice cold water. We had the beach to ourselves – a true private beach.
We were starving by the end of all this, and decided to find a local restaurant to have some good food. Rafiq took us to this small resort in the middle of the city named Sadaf Resort. One of the boarding options for tourists coming to stay at Gwadar.
We ordered fish karahi, fried fish and fish kebabs. The karahi was excellent. The fish was cooked perfectly in tomato gravy. The kebabs too were excellent.
The fried fish was in bits, and we didn’t quiet like that. This scrumptious lunch was followed by a really nice cup of kadak chai.
Over lunch, we talked to Rafiq and learnt a lot about the area, the fish and what else we should try in the city. We went around for a tour and bought groceries from a local super market. We were truly amazed to see the variety of food available here. Name anything and you will find it at these local grocery stores. Karachi being only 8 hours away, you can find a lot of things in Gwadar. Our biggest buy were water bottles from the area, as they help you save money in comparison to buying water from the hotel (which is quiet expensive).
We took a city tour, our driver showed us the ‘ladies market’ named Jannat Market; the only place where I could see women roaming freely in the streets. Women and girls are seen wearing Balochi dresses, clad in either big shawls or covered in Burqas.
At the end of the Day 1, we bought some fresh fish for the night from the Jetty. The jetty is extremely important for fishermen in Gwadar. This market enables them to sell fish to locals and sell them to brokers who take the fish abroad.
You can buy a variety of fish, crabs and prawns from this specific market. This Jetty is all set to move to ‘Sur Bandar’, once the port takes over the whole bay side of Gwadar City.
We told the Chef at PC to cook the fish in the traditional way for dinner – and weren’t we happy to experience that? They served the fish cooked in a light batter and deep fried to perfection. The fish was served with an Imlee-Mirchain sauce (tamarind with green chilies) – a traditional condiment served with fish in Gwadar. It was the perfect combination.
It was a perfect day! There is still so much to be told. Stay tuned for more soon!