Before motorized transport, traders moved goods along routes from the coast of Pakistan inland to Central Asia using heavily decorated camel caravans. This tradition continues today with painted trucks and busses, which continue to identify ethnic groups. It is possible to look at a truck and identify which region it comes from and what ethnic group the driver belongs to.
Within Karachi, a port city of 14 million on the Arabian Sea, more than 50,000 people work in small, family-run workshops comprised of apprentices and trained artisans, each with a well-defined specialty. Every hand-painted truck, bus and rickshaw are unique. Truck owners are willing to spend a small fortune to do this. A decent paint job costs £300 to £600 - perhaps more, depending on how ‘detailed’ it is. Body decoration and repair can easily run an extra £1200, equivalent to two years of the average truck driver’s salary. As a rule, however, owners or owner-drivers pay for the decoration, although hired drivers employed by a company are often free to choose whatever illustrations they like.
This labour intensive operation usually takes six to ten weeks. During this period, many drivers hover around the workshops like part of the extended family, suggesting possible subjects and alterations, earning nothing during the time their truck is being prepared. A full makeover of a vehicle can happen every three or four years.