Pakistan: 1st to 9th October 2016
30th September to 1st October 2016
The afternoon flight from Shanghai resulted in two transits- one in Tulufan (a city in Xinjiang Autonomous Region) and an overnighter in Urumqi (Xinjiang).It was an ok flight and of course not surprised that there was a delay. The flight over one of the longest mountain chains in Asia- Kunlun Mountain was epic.This indicated the end of Chinese airspace and the descent into Islamabad offered a great view of this new yet busy city.
I can’t wait to get out of the airport and despite having the visa in my hand, I was nervous as I approached the Immigration counter. One good thing about the airport in Islamabad is that it is small thus less confusing.
Islamabad اسلام آباد – a fairly new city and the Capital of Pakistan has a population of about 2 million people. Rawalpindi where the airport is located in is considered the sister city of Islamabad. Both are highly interdependent since Islamabad is the hub of governmental activities while the sister city is more industrial and commercial. Built in 1960s to replace Karachi as the country’s capital, the decision was made due to tropical weather conditions that Karachi faces as well as being at one end of the country. If you look at the map of Pakistan,the city is fully exposed to the Arabian Sea.
Any city near the sea with a port means great trade but throughout history, it is also susceptible to any attacks. So Islamabad in the north which is close to the army headquarters and the sensitive region of Kashmir was selected to be the location for the new Capital.
After meeting up with Kenneth (yes the top traveller who I met in India and who, along with his sister, I unsuccessfully tried to murder with Beijing Duck after our epic Mongolia trip), we headed out to see a great friend for some sightseeing around the city and above all for the most important mission of my Pakistan trip- charity work and meeting an inspiration individual who I’ve been stalking for months.
Our first stop – Pakistan Monument. A representation and symbolism of national unity, the petal-shaped granite structure with inner walls depicting leaders + the sights of the country offers a nice panoramic view of the city. Each petal represents provinces and territories in the country.
We listened to our guide as he explained each mural but were always stopped by over enthusiastic locals wanting photos and selfies. It is hard to say no since that would be impolite and when locals are so friendly and sweet, saying no is harder.
The next stop -Folk Museum where we will meet up with Qamar. A ridiculously intelligent individual who works at Pakistan Meteorological Department, Qamar is a friend of Aziz who used to live in the same dorm corridor during our times at Tsinghua University. Smartypants Aziz was nice enough to make the introduction and it was great that prior to the trip, Qamar was not a) freaked out by me b) patient enough as I bombarded him with all sort of questions and c) wanted to meet up with us at Lahore Folk Museum to show us a bit of Islamabad.
So off we went to the Museum where culture, history and facts about the country are on display.
Good to see kids visiting the museum on their school trips. Our energy level was down and again, we tried our best to take on board information amongst all the photo and selfie demands. We really should have charged 100 rupees per selfie-photo-etc
Before heading off to see Faisal Mosque, we sipped on some sugar cane drinks….the heat got s to us. October is low season for a reason- it is hot in Pakistan. Sigh! We should have picked November or December but considering how difficult it was with the whole visa process and aligning it with public holidays – I felt that being allowed into the country is good enough…especially after my visa ordeal.Iconic Faisal Mosque فیصل مسجد is the largest mosque in Pakistan and financed by the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. Finished in 1986 and shaped like a tent, it is located at the foot of Margalla Hills.
Unlike the mosques that I’ve visited around the world say Abu Dhabi and Brunei, Faisal Mosque is more modern in design as it lacks the more traditional domes and arches. It is a quiet and open place for locals and since we are the only two foreigners there, you bet that there was a lot of photo and selfie requests. We lingered for 30 minutes or so before heading off to see someone who I wanted to see for a very long time…..I confess…I’ve been stalking his for months. I’m shameless!
We had to see him because we have to tick “Charity” off our “To-Do list” in Pakistan.
Meeting Master Ayub turned out to be an unique and inspirational experience…..and above all, A HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL CHARITY!
In the evening, Qamar took us to Saidpur village (located on the slopes of Margalla Hills) to have dinner with Master Ayub. A nicely restored village, it adds another feel to Islamabad. As a Mughal-era village 620 m in elevation, it was visited by various civilizations, such as Greek, Buddhist, Mughal, Ashoka and the colonial times. During the Mughal period, this village was considered to be a garden resort and spring.
I took a brief walk with Qamar who told me some history about the place. It’s not the relaxing atmosphere that I love the most but the courtyard, the Hindu temple and Muslim mosque along with a colonial buildings (some 50 m away from the busy restaurant area) that first caught my attention. It is such a calming place and a symbol of religious tolerance. The reason why there are Hindu temples is because the village was converted to a place for Hindu worship by a Hindu commander who not only constructed multiple ponds but also left behind Hindu temples.
Dinner was epic, the conversation with Master Ayub was always inspiring and the time to say goodbye came quicker than I thought it would.