The Shrine of Sayyad Bismillah Shah: On a Hidden Hill
I grew up in the Bahadurabad area of Karachi and as a child, I would wander far and wide with my neighborhood friends in search of the perfect spot to play cricket or soccer. One of our favorite slopes to play on was located in the middle of Kokan Society, adjacent to which there was a rickety old gate. It seemed like a pathway to a wilderness. Egged on by curiosity, we decided to explore it one day.
Upon venturing in, we came across a mosque; white tiles, a small wudhu khana, and enough for about fifty people to pray together. But we noticed the passage trailing towards wild bushes and taller trees. A five-minute walk inwards and we spotted a red flag flailing ahead. This was the shrine of Sayyad Bismillah Shah. I’ve visited it many times since.
There is an easier way of accessing the shrine, as I’ve discovered over the years. On the opposite end of the hill is a passageway that leads straight to the shrine, avoiding the stray dogs and the tall grass. The shrine is surrounded by an expanse of greenery and there is a small lake in the vicinity. The malangs living at the shrine use water from the lake to bathe, wash their clothes, and cook their food.
These malangs are the caretakers of the shrine of Sayyad Bismillah Shah and I often sit down with them for spiritual musings and a smoke. They’re more than happy to show visitors around the shrine and provide a quick historical walk-through.
The actual shrine of Sayyad Bismillah Shah is centered in a courtyard with shaded seating areas on all four sides. There is a small graveyard on the far-right corner and it provides a great vantage point for looking down on the busy, buzzing streets. The atmosphere is serene as it is secluded from the rest of the city. With white polished tiles and colorful men, the shrine is a welcoming escape from the hustle and bustle of Karachi.
The malangs have no qualms about smoking hashish in the company of visitors, they cite the examples of several Sufi Saints whom they claim also smoked hashish. They say it allows them to attain enlightenment, who am I to question their ways? The malangs live a minimalist lifestyle, the shrine and its occupants depend on donations to fulfill their basic necessities.
I enjoy my solitary walks to and from the shrine. With the sun setting in the background and nature all around me, I can’t think of a more serene experience in the heart of Karachi.
There is no price to be paid here, no entry ticket or parking token. The conversations are always insightful and grounding. The hosts are generous and will probably give you a bracelet or two on your way out. There’s no real excuse to miss out on such a rich experience right here in the city.