Spent 1 day touring Islamabad, after a nice paratha and potato curry breakfast at the B&B we had stayed in. The B&B was run by Ismaili’s also all from Hunza; arranged by our tour operator.
Islamabad seems like a nice, clean and well laid out city. It was relatively clean, open spaces and un-crowded, and largish homes located in the sector we were in (which I suspect was an upper class sector). All the homes were fenced/gated; many with barbed/electric wires and many with armed guards. So it indicated some signs of insecurity.
However, we personally felt safe and so wandered where we wanted to. Since Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan, we drove by several Govt buildings, like Parliament building, High and Supreme Courts, Ministries etc; all under heavy armed guard, with concrete barricades in front; and no photography allowed.
We then went off to the most iconic symbol in Islamabad, the Shah Faisal mosque, the largest mosque in Pakistan, financed by the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. A very nice architecture shaped like a Bedouin tent; it does indeed stand out located at the base of the Margalla Hills. Took off our shoes at the entrance and immediately felt the hot floors burning our delicate feet; people nearby advised us to walk on the marble and not the other flooring, and this made a huge difference, it was about 98F in Islamabad. Inside the mosque, we did the ablution and found that the water was refreshingly cold; probably refrigerated; knowing who had funded this building.
Tried to get into the actual prayer hall but it was closed; only opens at prayer times. This mosque is quite majestic, with a huge clean courtyard, and even larger grounds and very peaceful. Met a few local tourists to chat with and take pics with; as we obviously stood out as strangers.
Then went off to the local shopping areas for some fresh fruit juices and some shopping (Dilshad was ready to do some shopping after ~3 weeks of no shopping 🙂 ). Had lunch at a nice and very busy Kabul Restaurant (cash only) and then went off to do more sightseeing and shopping.
Islamabad seemed very well thought out planned city, as there were wide roads everywhere, shopping was always close by, and lots of nice green spaces close by. Wonder if this was a British design or local Pakistani design idea. Regardless, it was a very pleasant place to visit.
After some time, decided to leave for Lahore; so went off to the airport, and were lucky enough (with very nice help from the PIA front counter manager) to get standby seats, and walked to the plane. In about 35 mins, we landed in Lahore; where we were met by the hotel car (included); and after settling into the Nishathotel (very kindly arranged by Amin Feersta); we went off to the busy Liberty market to see what was happening there.
Liberty market is a large place, very busy, with everything being sold under the sun. Very nice and colorful place, and busy. We did some walking, shopping (lots of bargaining of course); and as it was getting late, decided to go to the nearby Bundu Khan restaurant (within Liberty Market area) for dinner. This place was super busy, but after a short wait, we were shown to our table. The place was very clean, nicely air-conditioned, with lots of attentive staff and packed full with diners. Obviously, we chose the right place to eat at. After a delicious meal here, we grabbed a rickshaw back to the hotel, and hit the sack.
Next day, we went off to do more shopping on M.M. Alam Road; it was hot; the temperature was 109F, and with the heat index, it was even higher. Since we looked lost, Ibrahim Alia came over, out of the blue, introduced herself, and asked if she could help. Very nice of her, and she helped set up Dilshad’s shopping plans. We visited a fair later that evening where the local “green” community was holding a fair and Alia was showcasing her “eat smart” business. Very nice of Alia
In-between shopping, we did a tour of the Old Walled City of Lahore. This place reminded me of the old walled city of Jerusalem, and, once all the restoration work is completed, it will be a terrific tourist attraction like Jerusalem. It has the hundreds’ of years old houses, haveli’s, mosques (Wazir Khan), Hammans, warren/labyrinth of small streets and gullies and a very lively environment where people live, work and play. Very nice and interesting, see video
and a lot of restoration work is being done with the AKF playing a solid part.
We also visited several other areas like the Governor’s mansion, law courts, railway station, Museums etc; all housed in very well kept English Colonial buildings; went to the Anarkali bazaar, ate “Payya” (lamb feet curry) at the famous Pajja Sri Paya restaurant; which is actually in a not-so-clean part of town, but the restaurant was very clean with very attentive staff.
The Data Darbardurga area was way too busy and had plenty of pickpockets so we avoided this. We did find and have tea at the Pak Tea house; which is where poets, writers and intellectuals still meet over coffee and discuss literature, poetry, politics, etc. While we were there, they were preparing for a famous Urdu poet to speak there later that evening.
We had dinner one evening at Cuckoo’s Den (site of an old brothel) on Food Street, in the old walled city, next to the Lahore Fort, the Sikh Gurdwara, & the majestic Badshahi mosque. This was a rooftop restaurant with fantastic sunset view of all these wonderful architectural delights, and the old city. We also visited our JK one evening on Aga Khan Road. Very nice
Sadly, it was time for us to return to reality, and to our daily life in Dallas; next is my views on Pakistan since this was my first time to visit.
This has to be our most memorable and adventurous trip; we visited many old and interesting Muslim heritage and cultural sites in a part of the world that is off the beaten path (Xinjiang (China) and Hunza (Gilgit-Baltistan)); and met many interesting, beautiful and very hospitable people; travelled through some of the most beautiful landscapes and scenery we have ever seen in the world; drove on some of the most adventurous, and heart-stopping scary roads and landslides in Pakistan; drove through the highest border crossing in the world, drove through dubious territory in Pakistan, and then into the heart of very busy, populated & hot Pakistan.
A Truly memorable trip of a lifetime; that we will remember forever. I highly recommend my readers to try and visit some of these areas and I can help guide you as needed. Interactive map of our tour is at link below; you can adjust the zoom/scale to see more detail-
This was a first visit for us to Pakistan, and when I compare it to India (admittedly last India visit was over 7+yrs ago); Pakistan appeared much cleaner, no unnecessary car honking, no stray dogs howling in the night, cleaner bathrooms, and less dirty/smelly when I compare Lahore to large cities in India that I have been to. People were very helpful everywhere; and that may have been due to the lack of tourists or simply nice people.
Northern Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan, Kohistan, etc) has huge tourism potential (Trekking, Hiking, Nature lovers, Mountain climbing etc) if they can get their political system stable, like India, that has significantly more stability. Higher literacy/education rates like in India will help a lot in Pakistan. Just my humble opinion; no offense meant. I suspect cities further south like Karachi are different than Northern Pakistan. All in all, an excellent experience in Northern Pakistan.
Same for Xinjiang, China; wonderful experience and hospitality from the Uyghur people.
Now to update my bucket list of next places in no particular order (Mongolia, Brunei, Borneo, Bhutan, Sikkim, Burma, Malaysia, Philippines, New Zealand, Galapagos, Fiji, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Armenia/Azerbaijan/Georgia, Romania, Moldovia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Tunisia, Surinam, Guyana, other places in South America,…….); open to suggestions and recommendations.
I am already exhausted just thinking about this bucket list; too much for 1 lifetime; I need to return, this time with a 25yr old wife……:) 🙂
Thanks to all my readers for staying with me during my rantings I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.