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Friday, November 8, 2013

Islamabad innit!!!!!

Islamabad more popularly known by the locals as Isloo, is the national capital of Pakistan. Located about a four drive north of Lahore, Islamabad along with its neighboring twin city of Rawalpindi form Pakistan's fourth largest city. The twin cities as the locals like to call it, for a new visitor if it were not for the sign boards it would be very hard to tell when one Islamabad ends and when Rawalpindi begins. Both cities are quite different from one another one, Rawalpindi is an old pre-partition era urban center, which since partition has been home to the Pakistan armed forces and before partition it served a HQ for the British Indian army, the locals are proud to hail from Pindi, while people from Islamabad are even prouder of their city. Islamabad is a purpose built well planned city commissioned by the then president of Pakistan Ayub Khan to serve as the future capital of the nation. At the time the nation's largest city Karachi had served as the capital of the newly formed nation since its inception in 1947.

My recent trip to Islamabad carried with it a lot of excitement, as though I was not a first timer to Islamabad I had never gotten the opportunity to actually explore the city and its laid back vibe. My previous trip in 2010 to the twin cities featured a wedding in Rawalpindi which did not leave time for exploring Isloo, and the trips before that were either express visa trips into the diplomatic enclave or transit stops for journey onto hill stations like Muree, Bhurban or Nathiagali.  I can not even describe how excited I was to explore our nation's capital and the best part about it was going to be that for the duration of my stay, I would not have to worry about the state of safety and security which is a natural cause of concern for all those who hail from the city by the sea Karachi, which has a ridiculously high crime rate.

I am usually not the one to believe in the envious eye but my trip to Islamabad did not exactly kick off to such a great start. To get to Islamabad I hopped on the afternoon Daewoo Bus Service from Lahore to Rawalpindi (which is where the Daewoo stop is)  and half way through shortly after the mid point rest stop, the engine fan caught fire and our bus had to make an emergency stop around Kalar Kahar near the Salt Ranges of the Punjab province. We got on a replacement bus an hour or so later and made our way to the twin cities. I arrived in the twin cities a few hours but just in time for dinner. We had dinner reservations at this lovely outdoor-ish Italian restaurant by the name of Tuscany Courtyard, which as the name suggests had a nice spacious courtyard. The food was absolutely brilliant and worth every penny, considering we had a 4 course meal for 2K pp, so all in all good value for money. It wasn't long before we spotted our first parliamentarian. As we stepped out, speaker National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq walked in with his family and surprisingly no security escorts, maybe its just a surprising thing for us Karachi City folks to see politicians with security left right and center.

Then began the touristy trail the following morning, I had already made a list of To Do Things and Must visit Places in Islamabad for my short trip. Due to the constraint length of the whole trip, I did not get the opportunity to visit Saidpur Village or the new Centauras shopping mall. We started Saturday with a visit to Lake View park located alongside  Rawal lake. The picturesque lake side park is not only a vast spread of green but also features a bird park for bird brains and bird lovers, paddle boating, hiking trails as well as a Go Karting for the the adrenaline junkies. All that fresh air was intoxicating.

Followed by Lake View park, we made our way to Shakarpariyan and the Pakistan monument, the latter being a monument made during the era of president Parvez Musharaf. The stunning monument in its impressive pillars carry equally impressive carving which are a reflection and testimony to national symbols and national pride. The impressive compound of the monument also offers spectacular views of the city, by far this has been my favorite stop in Islamabad. A quick lunch later, we proceeded to visit Serena hotel, which is by far the most luxurious and priciest of fancy hotels in Pakistan and a popular choice for foreigners as well as they can commonly be spotted around the hotel premises, in any case all over Islamabad foreigners can be easily spotted, be it convenient stores or luxury hotels. Something we Karachi folk don't get to see much off.

After a short rest, we proceeded towards the magnificent Shah Faisal Mosque which is not only a symbol of Islamabad but also one of the architectural symbols of modern Pakistan. With its enormous courtyard and massive worship capacity, it is easily among the largest mosques in the world this combined with its stunning and mesmerising modern architecture. As dusk kicked in, we proceeded to a popular Islamabad hang out among the youths of the city 'Chaye Khana'. Initially I was curious what the big hype was, why was it Islamabad's popular to go place, once there, felt like home, felt like I was in just the right kind of cafe. Definitely worth a visit on a trip to Islamabad, and they do pretty decent Peshwari Kahva and Doodh Pati. For dinner time in Islamabad, Monal located on top of the hills is a Must Visit for not only spectacular scenic views of Islamabad but also for its incredible Pakistani food. Unfortunately time constraints I could not get the opportunity to visit this restaurant during day hours and had to settle for illuminated night light night time views, which though not as breath taking as they would be during the day are still fairly impressive. Good food, good company and a good view, best of all peace of mind and safety.

As my trip came to its conclusion I wondered when I would be back in our beautiful and stunning national capital. I am not certain whether it will happen any time soon, but I do hope to return, finish my tourist trail and spoil myself with all that fresh air, for the time being I am going to see where my travels take me next.