Islamabad was our checkpoint for the night. After 24 hours on the bus from Karachi, the plan was to couchsurf for the night and get on the morning bus to Skardu – a beautiful town up in the North of Pakistan which usually serves as ground zero for any hikers/ mountaineers in Gilgit/Baltistan.
Islamabad is a hilly, really green and airy city. It is a sleepy city, but it’s the kind of sleepy that you have on a golf-course – a rich, satisfied, confident sleepy.
I had been living in Karachi almost a whole year before I visited Islamabad, and I was used to being the painfully obvious and possibly only foreigner in most places I went to. Islamabad was a big change from that. Being the administrative capital of Pakistan, there are a lot of embassies and NGO’s doing their vague stuff- whatever that is. It’s different because you also see foreign families, a highly unusual spectacle – the kind of stuff you post on twitter, OMA (oh My Allah!) just saw a foreign family #globalization.
In Karachi, if you spotted a foreigner, it would be 1/2 adults or maybe if you were lucky an entire group of foreigners obviously on business, but never families. These businessmen include drumrolls Nigerians (duh). You also notice that in Islamabad unlike Karachi, nobody stares as much, they’ve already had their fill and are even used to the occasional foreign babies.
To be fair though, there are Philipinos but they never get stared at. Except if they are like the one who came to our house all dolled up in her heels and make-up. She was a hairdresser and offered to do my friends hair…as she caressed it suggestively. Only problem was that she was a dude. #truestory. Cross-dressers and she-males have their place in this conservative society, in India too as chronicled here.
Anyway, a couple of posh young families in Islamabad (and Karachi) strut around with the Philipino nannies…yap, domestic expatriates who usually look haggard and defeated. It’s really uncomfortable having dinner when there’s an odd silent Philipino among you looking at her feet and the kids in that order, you wonder whether you should make conversation with her, pass her the salt, ask her how much a flight from Manila is, ask her what is in Philippines apart from Manila, ask her how you actually spell Phillipines? Philippines? Ask her if she knows Kenyans watch Philipino stuff with bad voice-overs. #21questions
This was meant to be about Islamabad.
Islamabad is also more expensive than Karachi, and there are little if any rickshaws around, limiting you to cabs – if I’m not wrong, rickshaws aren’t allowed into Islamabad. Either way, cabs are quite cheap especially if you’re sharing costs. A cab from Rawalpindi where the bus stops into Islamabad will cost you around Rs.300. I suck at negotiating, so I am pretty sure if you are a good negotiator you can probably get better deals.
There are also a lot of ‘UN-types’ lurking around Islamabad. I say lurking around because in my experience, these folk often don’t give a shit or 2 about the country they live in. Most of the ones I met in Pakistan had an air of indifference around them, and sometimes even had contempt for the country and its people. They restrict themselves to their ‘diplomatic enclaves’ (I must say I like that expression) foreign parties and security regulations. PS, I am not bitter, since I too could have been invited into the diplomatic enclave society (foreigners love other foreigners) but company was often a little bland. I thought it was just me, since I am often quick to judge (correctly most times though 😉 ) but I’ve heard the same from friends who have interacted with these folk in other countries. I guess it’s just a job for them – I always imagined it was love for humanity or the country- too romantic maybe.
It’s worth visiting Faisal Masjid (mosque) in Islamabad, which apparently was the largest mosque in the world until 1993. It was a gift from the King of Saudi Arabia at a cost $120million…so next time an Arab asks you what you want for Christmas, don’t be shy. The Crescent moon at the top is pure gold.
In the picture, you can see that it has these pointy structures- minarets…apparently the US thought those were missiles just waiting for the red button to be pushed…
The mosque is at the bottom of Margalla Hills, on the picture you can see them rolling up on the right. If you have time, I hear it’s worth hiking up there. Wikipedia indicates there are defined trails so should be quite doable without too much planning.We didn’t have time (or energy) to do it, AND it was bloody hot, but it did look quite beautiful. I don’t know what it is about Islamabad but everything just seems peaceful and powerful, the kind of place you would like to go and think.
We also visited Saidpur Village. It’s not that interesting to be honest, but it’s not far off so it’s worth the trouble. I think it’s one of those places that have been undersold and underdeveloped as a tourist destination at least judging from what I just read on Wikipedia.
We also went to this Afghani restaurant (where we bumped into some more UN folk from Kenya, one of whom who had no idea what K2 was- it’s like living in Kenya and not knowing there’s a Mt.Kenya…). There were parrots in the ceiling, live ones. It was so cool and the food was awesome, but I don’t remember the name. Either way, if you are in Isb, I think it’s safe to say eat at Afghani. There’s a famous restaurant – Kabul Restaurant in F7.
Truck art is a big deal in Pakistan. Here you can see an artist doing his thing in Rawalpindi.