Looking down at this startlingly modern city as your flight lands, you’d never guess that Islamabad was the site of one of the world’s earliest stone-age settlements. Despite this, the Pakistan capital only dates back to the 1960s. It’s spectacular but quiet, with masses of green space that other cities can only envy. Chances are you’re visiting for business rather than pleasure, but either way there’s plenty to entertain and inspire during your stay.
The area’s diversity can best be observed at the sprawling Rajah Bazaar in Islamabad’s twin city of Rawalpindi, where people from all over both cities come to shop. One of the market’s most eye-catching sights are the truck workshops where visitors can watch vehicles being decorated with striking colours and motifs – a long-standing trend that makes even the local traffic a sight to behold. While you’re there, why not enjoy Pakistan’s national sport at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium?
You’ll almost certainly stumble across the Aabpara Market within Islamabad’s borders too, as it lies between many major landmarks, but for a very different flavour, dress conservatively and head northeast to Nurpur Shahan Village. Home of the shrine to Bari Shah Latif – Islamabad’s local Sufi hero – you’ll find pilgrims singing in devotion every Thursday evening, and the village hosts a festival in the last week of May to commemorate his death. Not far west from here is another village of great interest. Saidpur has long been famous for its exquisite pottery, but you’ll also find a rich Hindu and Sikh heritage here, as well as many high-end restaurants.
People and Traditions
Islamabad’s population consists largely of recent economic migrants and their descendents, most of whom are educated, liberal-minded and as open to Western influences as they are regional ones. Islamic traditions are nevertheless observed and visitors should dress modestly, particularly when visiting religious sites. Islamabad is also a quiet city, so you can expect the people there to be well-behaved and quite reserved. Early to bed and early to rise is the order of the day here.
Islamabad’s climate ranges from cold winter nights to scorching summers. Temperatures can dip below 5ºC and reach daytime highs of around 20ºC from late November to early March, while June to September sees variations of around 20ºC to the mid-thirties. July and August are the monsoon months, so expect heavy rains and even thunderstorms around this time.
Lake View Park on Rawal Lake is just one of Islamabad’s many beautiful green spaces. On the eastern side of the lake is the large Shakar Parian National Park, home to the Rose & Jasmine Garden and many monuments. More beautiful still, however, is the lush, hilly terrain that borders the city. Spend an afternoon up Pir Sohawa – one of the best sites in the Margalla Hills – and you’ll be treated to stunning views, serene hiking trails, and even great places to eat. Try the breathtaking Daman-e-Koh picnic site or the superb Monal Restaurant, which has an outdoor dining area 1,173 metres above sea level. Or if shopping’s more your thing, check out the giant Centaurus Mall.
In addition to the historic Hindu and Sikh temples at Saidpur, Islamabad has many other striking religious monuments, albeit unashamedly modern ones. The Shah Faisal Mosque is its most spectacular, being one of the largest mosques in all of Asia. Though nowhere near as large, its closest Christian equivalent is the concertina-like Fatima Church. The impressive Pakistan Monument in the centre of the city could be considered the alternative for secular reflection and it also boasts a fine museum covering the country’s heritage.
Islamabad is home to some of Pakistan’s most engrossing museum collections. The Lok Versa Museum exhibits a stunning variety of traditional handicrafts from old costumes and jewelery to fascinating artworks. If it’s the region’s ancient history that grabs you, however, try the Taxila Museum, which displays many finds from the nearby Taxila archaeological site.
There’s also the Pakistan Natural History Museum, which is great for a family day out. However, if you’d rather see living animals in all their glory, head to the Islamabad Zoo or the wonderful Birds Aviary at Lake View Park.