Islamabad

For other places with the same name, see Islamabad (disambiguation).
The national mosque of Pakistan, Faisal Mosque

Islamabad (Urdu: اسلام آباد) has been the capital of Pakistan since 1960 when the capital city was moved from Karachi. Although it is technically only the ninth largest city of Pakistan, together with its neighbouring twin city of Rawalpindi, the greater Islamabad-Rawalpindi metropolitan area is the third largest conurbation with a population of over 4.5 million inhabitants.

Since its foundation in the 1960's, Islamabad has attracted people from all over Pakistan, making it one of the most cosmopolitan and urbanized cities of Pakistan. As the capital, Islamabad is the seat of the Government of Pakistan and the Presidential Palace (Aiwan-e-Sadr) is located here.

Islamabad is known as a relatively clean, calm and green city by Pakistan standards. It hosts a large number of diplomats, politicians and government employees. Islamabad is a modern, well planned, well maintained and well-organised international city located on the Pothohar Plateau in the north-eastern part of Pakistan, within the Islamabad Capital Territory and regarded as the most developed city in Pakistan. It has the highest literacy rate in Pakistan and, like Canberra in Australia, is surrounded by hills.

Understand

Orientation

A relatively quiet city, Islamabad covers an area of 1,165.5 km² (450 mi²) of which 906 km² (349.8 mi²) is Islamabad proper. Travellers may be interested mainly in the Federal Government offices, Parliament House, the official residences of the President and Prime Minister; together with the Diplomatic Enclave - an area next to the Parliament House dedicated to foreign embassies and missions appointed to Pakistan.

Although the majority of the population in Islamabad traditionally have been employees of the Federal Government, the wealth of the Musharraf years fuelled a boom in Islamabad and it is becoming an important financial and business centre. In the last decade there have been vast changes in the city's traditional reputation. From it being a typical 9 to 5 city, Islamabad has become more lively with many new restaurants and hotels springing up to service this new wealth. A lot of international food chains have opened, and generally a great improvement in night life with increasing shopping areas opening till late. However during winter season streets are considerably quiet after dark.

Islamabad zones map

Even now, Islamabad remains a city where people come from all over the country to enjoy its peaceful, noise-free atmosphere with a lot of greenery and nice surrounding scenery. It also serves as a base camp for people from the south and coastal areas like Karachi, visiting relatively lush valleys such as Swat and Kaghan together with northern areas like Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu and Chitral located in the Himalayas mountains.

Islamabad city is divided into five major zones: Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3, Zone 4, and Zone 5. Out of these, Zone 4 is the largest in area. Zone 3 consists primarily of the Margalla Hills and Margalla Hills National Park. Rawal Lake is also in this zone. Zone 4 and 5 consist of Islamabad Park, and rural areas of the city. Zone 1 consists mainly of all the developed residential sectors while Zone 2 consists of the under-developed residential sectors. Each residential sector is identified by a letter of the alphabet and a number, and covers an area of approximately 2 km × 2 km. The sectors are lettered from A to I, and each sector is divided into four numbered sub-sectors.

Travellers will soon notice that Islamabad is laid out on a grid system - sector names are based on the following scheme:
D sector designates Diplomats, E sector designates Elites, F sector designates Forces, G sector designates General, H sector designates Health and Education, and I sector designates Industry.

E7, F6, F7, G6, G7 are the oldest sectors and F8, F10, F11, G10, G11, I8 are where the 'new money' has been invested.

E8, E9 are occupied by military housing complexes and are effectively out-of-bounds to travellers. G7, G8 and G9 are poorer areas where the city planners wanted the cleaners and office clerks to live. But these areas tend to be the only cultured areas in the city. Here you would find a common Pakistani rather than a common Islamabadi.

The H and I sectors are a hotchpotch of mixed use residential, academic and industrial areas. E11, E12 and even now D12 are under construction, there is even a G13 being built up. F6 and F7 are where most of the action happens, but the numbers of embassies and powerful Pakistanis' dwellings in these areas also mean a lot of security, concrete barriers and raise arm barrier gates that happily are largely absent elsewhere.

In choosing your guest house, F6 & F7 may be your best bet as they are generally posh areas and have all the necessary facilities close-by.

History

The city of Islamabad is located on the Pothohar Plateau which is one of the earliest known sites of human settlement in Asia. Some of the earliest Stone Age artifacts in the world have been found on the plateau, dating from 500,000 to one million years ago. The crude stones recovered from the terraces of the Soan River testify to the endeavours of early man in the inter-glacial period. Items of pottery and utensils dating back to prehistory have been found in several areas. Limited excavations have confirmed evidence of prehistoric cultures. Relics and human skulls have been found dating back to 5000BC that show this region was home to Neolithic man, who roamed the banks of the Soan River. During the Neolithic, people developed small communities in the region around 3000BC. Situated at one end of the Indus Valley Civilization, the area was an early habitation of the Aryan community in Central Asia. Their civilization flourished here between the 23rd and 18th centuries BC. Many great armies - such as those of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Timur and Ahmad Shah Durrani - used the corridor through the region on their way to invade the Indian Subcontinent. A Buddhist town once existed in the region and remains of a stupa have been identified in the G-12 sector. Modern Islamabad also incorporates the old settlement of Saidpur. The British took control of the region from the Sikhs in 1849 and built Asia's largest cantonment in the region in Rawalpindi.

When Pakistan gained independence in 1947, Karachi becomes its first capital. In 1960, Islamabad was constructed as a forward capital for several reasons. Traditionally, development in Pakistan was focused on the colonial centre of Karachi, and President Ayub Khan wanted it equally distributed. Moreover, Karachi having tropical weather conditions, was located at one end of the country, making it vulnerable to attacks from the Arabian Sea. Pakistan need a capital that was easily accessible from all parts of the country was needed. Karachi, a business centre, was also considered unsuitable partly because of intervention of business interests in government affairs. The newly selected location of Islamabad was closer to the army headquarters in Rawalpindi and the disputed territory of Kashmir in the north.

In 1958, a commission was constituted to select a suitable site for the national capital with particular emphasis on location, climate, logistics, and defence requirements along with other attributes. After extensive study, research, and a thorough review of potential sites, the commission recommended the area northeast of Rawalpindi in 1959. A Greek firm of architects, Konstantinos Apostolos Doxiadis, designed the master plan of the city, based on a grid plan and triangular shape with its apex towards the Margalla Hills. The capital was not moved directly from Karachi to Islamabad; it was first shifted temporarily to Rawalpindi in the early sixties and then to Islamabad when the essential development work was completed in 1966.

Islamabad has attracted people from all over Pakistan, making it one of the most cosmopolitan and urbanised areas of Pakistan. As the capital city it has hosted a number of important meetings, such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit. In October 2005, the city suffered some damage due to the 2005 Kashmir earthquake having a magnitude of 7.6. Islamabad has experienced a series of terrorist incidents including the July 2007 Siege of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), the June 2008 Danish embassy bombing, and the September 2008 Marriott bombing. In 2011, four terrorism incidents occurred in the city, killing four people, including the murder of the then Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. Tragic air crashes also took place here: on 28 July 2010, Airblue Flight 202 crashed in the Margalla Hills killing all 152 flight crew and passengers on board and Bhoja Air Flight 213 carrying 121 passengers crashed while making the final approach for landing, killing all on board on 20 April 2012.

Today, Islamabad is considered by some as one of the most extensively and successfully planned cities in South Asia. The city is home to many migrants from other regions of Pakistan and has a modern culture that is not so dissimilar to other internationalised cities.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 17.1 19.1 23.9 30.1 35.3 38.7 35.0 33.4 33.5 30.9 25.4 19.7
Nightly lows (°C) 2.6 5.1 9.9 15.0 19.7 23.7 24.3 23.5 20.6 13.9 7.5 3.4

Check Islamabad's forecast at BBC Weather

The climate of Islamabad has a typical version of humid subtropical climate, with five seasons: Winter (November–February), Spring (March and April), Summer (May and June), Rainy Monsoon (July and August) and Autumn (September and October). The hottest month is June, where average highs routinely exceed 38°C (100.4°F). Wettest month is July, with heavy rainfalls and evening thunderstorms with the possibility of cloudburst and flooding. Coolest Month is January. Islamabad's micro-climate is regulated by three artificial reservoirs: Rawal, Simli, and Khanpur Dam. Winters generally feature dense fog in the mornings and sunny afternoons. In the city, temperatures stay mild, with snowfall over the higher elevations points on nearby hill stations, notably Murree and Nathia Gali. The temperatures range from 13°C (55°F) in January to 38°C (100 °F) in June. The highest recorded temperature was 46.6°C (115.9°F) on 23 June 2005 while the lowest temperature was −6°C (21.2°F) on 17 January 1967. The city has recorded snowfall.

Get in

The Islamabad-Rawalpindi freeway.

By plane

Islamabad airport can get busy and groan under the weight of departing passengers, meaning giving yourself a couple of hours prior to departure is a good idea. As with most places in Pakistan, queuing is an optional concept and hence checking-in can involve getting those elbows out and pushing to the front. Recent surveys have labelled Islamabad's airport as one of the world's worst with pervasive filth, rudeness, corruption and chaos so you might like to consider Lahore as your entry point if flying from abroad.

By bus

By train

Despite Islamabad have its railway station in sector I-9, majority travel through the railway station in the neighbouring city Rawalipindi, which is a major railway station and has good railway connections with various major cities including Karachi, Lahore & Peshawar.

Recently, Pakistan Railways launched new train service named "Green Line" service between Islamabad and Karachi which offers free WiFi, breakfast, newspapper among other basic facilities to its passengers. The train is only airconditioned, has few major stops along the route such as Lahore, Hyderabad, Khanewal, Rawalpindi and cost Rs 5,500 for one way trip.

Get around

By taxi

Taxis in Islamabad are abundant, popular and generally safe. Cost is around Rs 50-60 per sector travelled, depending on your bargaining skills. Prices will be higher at night, especially departing from places like Jinnah Super (F-7). It is always advisable to agree the fare before travelling.

By car

Zig zag road to lush green Margalla Hills

Car Hire is also a good way of getting around. Although road signs and directions are only available on main roads, the city's grid and numbering system make it relatively easy to find your way around. There are various car hire companies in Blue Area F-6 and also in G-8 Markaz where cars can be hired with drivers. Most major hotels have their own car hire services and are relatively cheap. A tip to the driver at the end of the booking period is always appreciated but not mandatory.

See

The site of Pakistan Monument
The site of Pakistan Monument

Museums and art galleries

Parks, viewpoints and green spaces

Fatima Jinnah Park

Mosques, shrines and monuments

Other

Do

The Margalla Hills are effectively foothills of the Himalayas – and are very easily accessible from Islamabad. However these are quite big, steep hills, and shouldn’t be underestimated – if you are planning on a walk up to the top of the first ridge (i.e. where the Monal restaurant is) then sturdy footwear, a large water bottle, and a change of t-shirt are necessary (good chance you’ll be drenched in sweat by the time you get to the top). Between March and November it is best to start walking in the early morning (before 07:30, or 06:30 in the height of summer) as it is uncomfortably hot during the day.

Go karting - F1 Traxx- Lake View Park (Rawal Lake) - there is another track in Bahria Town, Rawalpindi

Climbing - there is a climbing wall in Rawal Lake's Lake View Park

Para Gliding at Margalla Hills. The Pakistan Adventure Foundation is the place to call, reservations are recommended.

Cycling Mountain biking is fast becoming a much-loved activity because of the weather and the terrain. If you're in the mood for some adventurous cycling down one of Islamabad's beautifully scenic bike trails, get your bike ready. Information can again be had from the ASG's hiking publication. Cheap bikes can be purchased for Rs6,000 - Rs10,000 in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Alternatively you can hire decent quality bikes from K2Riders - based in F8/2.

Buy

Islamabad is divided into sectors, each sector having its own central shopping area (or markaz) where all local amenities are located. Some of the more popular markazes are the F6 Markaz (aka Supermarket) F7 Markaz (aka Jinnah Market), G6 Markaz (aka Melody Park), G9 Markaz (aka Karachi Company) and so on. There isn't much going on in the markets of F8, G7 an G8 that would interest the tourist. Each markaz has its own peculiarities and each one is worth visiting individually. However most things are catered for in each markaz i.e. clothing, shoes, fast food etc. There’s always a real buzz in the evenings when all the shoppers come out, particularly in the run up to Eid.

Shopping malls

*Centaurus mega mall:everything in one package from multiplex to food court.

*AL Safa gold mall.

Foreign Currency Exchange is easily available from F-6 Blue Area where there are 100's of money changers in privately owned shops. It is advised to check the rate with a few of them before going ahead with it.

Eat

At first glance the visitor may feel that Islamabad offers little to excite the taste-buds, however beneath the surface there is a thriving restaurant scene. Many of the better restaurants are away from the main markets of F6 and F7. Most do not serve alcohol, but some allow you to bring your own. Call ahead to ask.

For ease of use restaurants are organised by sector:

F6

Downstairs Nana's kitchen serves up a decent lunch and dinner menu with Brunch on Sundays. And their cupcakes are famous in Islamabad. The decor is tastefully done in soft tones and is accented by a large beautifully built fireplace.

F7

F8

F9

F10

"Inkantray" (Incantare) a not-so-nice place for hangout with friends. Mostly for shisha. In basement of Pizza Hut.

F11

E11

G6

G9

I8

Blue Area

Tehzeeb Bakers, which was once called Rahat, in Blue Area, across from Wong Fu Chinese restaurant.

Diplomatic Enclave

Saidpur Village / Margalla hills

Rawal Lake

Drink

Drinking alcohol in public is nominally banned although most of the top end hotels have their own bars, as do some of the larger embassies if you befriend a diplomat. The windowless basement sports bar in the Marriott is probably the most frequented of the hotel bars.

Most Pakistanis though would find it extremely rude and offensive if you show or drink alcohol in public. Night Life is exists, but it's not easy to find. There are no open 'night clubs' in the city - however periodic special events are organised in various venues about once every two months - spread by word-of-mouth. Less excitingly some of the embassy clubs in the diplomatic enclave have 'dance parties' and the like but these tend to be exclusively expatriate and rather low brow.

Non-Muslim visitors can obtain from the local police a so-called 'non-Muslim declaration'. This permit gives you the right to legally buy a limited amount of alcoholic drinks like bottles of wine or beer. For instance, Pakistan's small Christian minority is by law allowed to consume alcohol.

Try local brands like Murree Brewery, in addition to that there are other brands such as Budweiser and Bavaria with non-alcoholic beer. There is a small off-license around the side of the Marriot hotel (next to the dry cleaners) - you'll need a 'non-Muslim declaration' (or maybe just a foreign passport if you turn on the charm) to be able to buy anything.

In soft drinks, all the usual western brands are available but better to try local limca cola which makes "pop" sound when opened. you can also try Pakola; Pakistan’s premier soft drink brand which is available in different flavors like Ice cream soda, Lychee, Orange, Raspberry, Apple sidra, Vino, Double cola, Bubble up etc. A 'fresh lime 7-up' is a better alternative for people who don't like standard soft drinks.

In other drinks try strawberry milk shakes and dhamaka soda (dhamaka means bang - the bang that happens when one opens the bottle) from Jinnah super market.

Sleep

Budget

Budget accommodation in Islamabad is fairly lacklustre and of questionable cleanliness. There are many guesthouses around the city that make a nice alternative to a hotel.

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

The police have set up numerous checkpoints on roads to sensitive buildings and on the roads entering the city. These are usually harmless and they'll wave you through, but to access Constitution Avenue (including the Serena hotel) the police will want to look in the boot of your car.

While travelling in city, you should keep your national identity card, passport, or driving license with you to prove your identity.

Crime-wise Islamabad is safe. Men can walk pretty much anywhere in the city day or night with little to fear. Lone women will attract male attention, particularly in areas of the city not often frequented by westerners. The Red Mosque in G6 and immediate surrounds aren't recommended given the history attached to this area.

Emergencies

The Police emergency number is 15. There are various Police stations in the city with staff available 24/7.

112 from any GSM mobile handset should theoretically forward to the local emergency number, too.

Stay Healthy

Bottled water is a good idea. Although water in Islamabad is generally clean, it is mainly sourced from mountain water and tube wells and may contain minerals your system is not used to. It may also not be stored and carried in the cleanest of ways.

Most locals do not drink tap water but instead draw water from government-installed filtration plants. Tap water is normally boiled and it is strongly suggested that you carry bottled water and request it at all food places. If you are unsure about the hygiene of a particular place, try to avoid ice in all your drinks.

There are 3 major hospitals in Islamabad: the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (also known as PIMS) next to G-8 Markaz, Shifa International Hospital in H-8/1 and the Poly Clinic in sector G-6.

Also, there are various private hospitals in every sector in Islamabad providing extensive health care with different price ranges. Ali Medical Centre in F-8 Markaz is one of them.

The Blue Area and Super Market (F-6) both have the two most trustworthy pharmacies: Shaheen Chemists and D. Watson. Both these stores are reliable and will be able to offer sound advice for minor ailments. They also carry a wide variety of European and American foods, albeit at a high price. They may even have a doctor at the facility, should a quick suggestion be required.

Respect

Although Islamabad may look relatively modern, superficially hinting at a Western lifestyle, there are some basic guidelines to keep in mind given the cultural values of Pakistan's society:

Connect

+923215374880 for tourism information and places to goin twin cities (Islamabad / Rawalpindi) The area code for Islamabad is 51. To dial from within Pakistan, dial 051-nnn-nnnn

Cope

Embassies

Newspapers

English Local Newspaper The Dawn, The News, The Express Tribune, The Nation and The Daily Times are national newspapers in English supplemented with local news sections.

Business Recorder is the only newspaper providing national and international business news. However, newspapers like the International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, Khaleej Times, Gulf News, London's Sunday Times, etc, are also available. These international newspapers usually arrive in Islamabad a day after publishing.

All newspapers (international, national and local) are available at book stores in leading hotels like Serena & Marriott. They can also be purchased from leading book stores such as London Book House (Kohsar Market in sector F-6/3), Saeed Book Bank (Jinnah Super Market in sector F-7), and Mr. Books (Super Market in sector F-6).

Go next

Islamabad is well situated for day trips and weekend trips to nearby cities and attractions.

Day trips

Weekend trips

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, March 30, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.