Pakistan Maritime Museum — Karachi

Columnist Col (Retd) EAS BOKHARI visits a naval museum.

I was in Karachi last month in connection with a Media Workshop arranged by the Pakistan Navy and had the opportunity of visiting the Pakistan Maritime Archives. I was much impressed by its layout and the contents. It was indeed interesting to see the historical exhibits and other items.

The museum is housed in an elegant building and is based on modern concepts of presentation and interaction. It was a treat to be there and if you happen to be in Karachi next time do go there. It is an education. In some cases here realtime operations can be experienced by the visitors which is very enjoyable and yet instructive.

For example it is possible for a visitor to board a ‘real’ mine sweeper and see its exclusive equipment and operational devices used for destroying and demining underwater mines. It is all full of thrills for the uninitiated. Visitors could also operate the gun mountings of naval guns, board a submarine and peep through its periscope and even climb the replica of a lighthouse.

There is “an abundance of maritime and naval heritage which has been incorporated through attractive dioramas, relief sculptures, mural and miniature paintings, touch screen computers, taxidermy and vintage equipment”. There are six main galleries of the museum, which are:

  • Maritime History Gallery.

  • Pakistan Navy Gallery.

  • Ports and Harbours Gallery.

  • Marine Life Gallery.

  • Photographic Gallery and,

  • The Chief’s Gallery.

The centre piece of the Maritime History Gallery is the metallic armour which was found off the coast of Ormara during recent dredging operations. It dates back to the 8th Century when Muhammed Bin Qasim’s forces passed through this desolate region. This gallery also exhibits Mohenjodaro’s riverine trade, Ancient Trade routes, mural paintings of Bin Qasim’s Attack on Deybal, early Muslim Navigational instruments, maps and miniature paintings.

The Naval Gallery is a fine projection of the Pakistan Navy’s operational achievements during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War. A large stone finished relief mural depicts the return of triumphant fleet after a relentless and devastating bombardment of the Indian coast at Dwarka. It is a journey through the naval past besides multitude of vintage naval equipment. Two computers with CD-ROMs facilities have been provided for access to worldwide naval information here.

Ports and Harbours Gallery is a comprehensive representation of Pakistan’s harbours through expressive exhibits and paintings. The Karachi harbour has been depicted in a large diorama giving the viewers an opportunity to relish a bird’s eye view of the channels, its surrounding habitat, and the rare mangroves. Extremely articulate sculptures representing the Traders of the East, a Ropery and the unique vintage lantern are the other main exhibits here. Yet another noteworthy display is the painting of the Manora’s Fort Qasim.

The Marine Life Gallery has been set up in the second floor and is fairly large one. It provides the visitors a clear perception of the variations of coral and marine life from the sea surface to the continental shelf down to the deep sea. It is most exotic and educative experience for the visitors.

The paintings are the work of a number of masters of national and international fame. Just to name a few virtuosos like Zahoor-Ul-Akhlaque, Masood Kohari, Shahid Sajjad, Noor Jahan Bilgrami, Khalil Chishti, Ruby, Masood Akhter, Ather Jamal and Shoab have all rendered lasting expressions which are housed here. The themes are topical such as regional maritime heritage, tributes to Naval Shuhadas, Pakistan Navy’s Deeds of Glory, eloquent naval episodes and evolution of Pakistan Navy. “National College of Arts and Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture have also been associated to give the museum an authentic, aesthetic and modern look...”.

I could see the uniforms of the Naval Chiefs kept in the almirahs and in some cases they needed a little more effort for preservation and upkeep. With the climate of Karachi being what it is, a concerted effort is needed in the preservation of papers and uniforms.

I had been to New Delhi a decade back and there I had an opportunity of looking into the Indian National Archives and was much impressed to see a foolproof method of preservation. Special sprays were used and some of the oldest documents/other items looked new and original. There I saw the first copy of the Indian Constitution, the bugle that was blown over the Red Fort on the Indian Independence Day and even a manuscript of Abul Kalam Azad’s ‘Ghubar-i-Khatir.’ All these were in immaculate condition.

There is yet another breath taking mammoth Balaenoptera whale skeleton which has been suspended from the ceiling in vicinity of the Marine Life Gallery. The whale had been washed up on the shores of Karachi more than a decade ago and was retrieved by local fishermen. The whale is about 45 feet in length and is occasionally found in tropical waters.

To make the place more visitor friendly the Museum has a souvenir shop well stocked with miniature marine artifacts which are sold at nominal prices, and a Museum Cafe. And on the whole I thought that the PN has done well on this count, and it is a real education to be there even for a short while.