Islamabad is the capital city of Pakistan located in the Federal Islamabad Capital Territory. The city is the 10th largest city of the country. Islamabad’s twin city if Rawalpindi and quite often they are looked upon a being one. However these two cities are not identical. Islamabad is a late 20th century capital while Rawalpindi grew out of a backwater village into a sprawling hub during the 19th century. Even though neither city is a major tourist draw Islamabad is well-worth taking a look at with its unique mosques, impressive architecture, interesting museums and wonderful nature parks to explore.
You’ll hardly believe your eyes when you get a look at Shah Faisal Mosque at the foot of the Margalla Hills. It is one of Asia’s largest and offers an eclectic blend of ultramodern and traditional architectural designs. Instead of a dome this mosque has slopping roofs. The main prayer hall and courtyard can hold about 100,000 people. The cost for building this mosque was a gift from King Faisal of Saudi Arabia.
The mosque was designed by Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay and built between 1976 and 1986. It has a geometric design and there are four 88m minarets towering over the prayer hall. Inside the ceiling rises to a height of 40m. Visitors are welcome, but non-Muslims are requested to not come at prayer times and Fridays. Before entering the courtyard you have to leave you shoes at the counter and you must dress conservatively with women wearing a head scarf.
Lok Virsa Museum has a fascinating array of traditional handicrafts among them embroidered costumes, old jewelry and intricate wood carvings. There is a reference library with resources on history, art, crafts, traditional music and ethnography. At the bookshop you can purchase books and other media of folk and classical music. Taking photos inside the museum is prohibited.
About 4km northeast of the Diplomatic Enclave you’ll find Nurpur Shahan Village, a shrine to Shah Abdul Latif Kazmi. He was a 17th century Sufi teacher and Islamabad’s unofficial patron saint. On Thursday evenings you can find a festive air here with pilgrims and trance-like gawwali (Islamic devotional singing). Tourists are always welcome but should dress conservatively. In the last week of May the death-anniversary festival of Shah Abdul Latif Kazmi is celebrated here.
If you’re looking for a spot to relax and have a picnic then head for the Margalla Hills, Daman-e-Koh where you can fine panoramic views over Islamabad. The Margalla Hills are full of hiking trails that head up ridge tops and down through forested valleys. You can pick up a copy of “Hiking Around Islamabad” at any major bookstore which provides details of hikes ranging from short walks to three-day excursions.
The Margalla Hills National Park stretches along the foothills of the Himalayan Range. The park was established in 1980 and is popular among tourists and residents. It is home to a wide range of wild animals like wild boars, barking deer, chinkara, Asiatic leopard, red fox, leopard and jackals.
It is also a wonderful place for bird watching. There are many different species of birds such as , kestrel, Indian sparrow hawk, lag gar falcon , white cheeked bulbul, peregrine falcon, Egyptian vulture and griffon vulture.
It is a preferred hiking area because the weather always remains pleasant on Margalla Hills. The national park was established to protect the natural environment and to encourage public interest in the conservation, expansion and administration of forests, wildlife and other natural resources.
The urban wilderness south of Islamabad is known as Shakarparian and it has an arboretum with trees and plants planted by dozens of foreign heads of state like kings, prime ministers and presidents. There are also sculpted gardens and panoramas of Islamabad and Rawalpindi from the east lookout.
Right at the beginning of Shakarparian is the Star and Crescent Monument.
It is a most beautiful place and one of the best picnic spots in Islamabad. There are two lovely point for great views – West View Point and East View Point. You can also get great views of Murree, a hill station. Nearby is also a small garden of pine trees.
Downhill and to the east of Shakarparian is the 20 hectare Rose and Jasmine Garden which is the site of several annual flower shows. The garden is famous for its flowers which are specifically grown during the spring season. There are around 250 roses among them local roses or desi, climbing roses, tea roses and fragment roses among others. The gardens also have about 12 varieties of jasmine. The gardens can be admired from benches along the way. Many families come here to picnic.
Shakarparian is also site to the impressive reddish-brown granite Pakistan Monument built to represent Pakistan’s diverse culture and national unity. It is flanked by well-tended gardens and shaped like an unfurling flower. The four main “petals” represent the provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), with the three smaller “petals” depicting other regions including Kashmir. There is a museum that showcases post-independence memorabilia.
The Pakistan Army Museum is home to well-kept galleries that exhibit a limited but impressive collection dating from prehistoric times among the items rifles, swords, Stone-Age hand-axes, a former Russian missile system and an Australian harpoon.
Ayub National Park was named after General Ayub Khan, the first of Pakistan’s martial law administrators. The park offers visitors 900 hectares of paths, gardens and lakes with boats you can rent. There is a wonderful playground for children. The Tropical Forest Kingdom has beautiful trees and cradles, swings and boats for children to enjoy. Walking through the park you’ll also see statues of animals as well as real wild animals. Horse and camel rides are also available.
Visitors enjoy the color and excitement of Rajah Bazaar. Here you can wander for hours and purchase most anything you can imagine. Around it you’ll see crumbling stone towers of old Hindu temples.
Rawal Dam/Rawal Lake is an artificial reservoir that provides the water for the twin cities. Rawal Dam is located in an isolated section of the Margalla Hills National Park. Around the lake are flowering trees and you can find lovely gardens, picnic spots and secluded paths. The terraced gardens and the lake are used for picnics, fishing and boating. The highest point in the garden offers a panoramic view of the lake, Margalla and Murree Hills and both Islamabad and Rawalpindi. To the west of the lake is the Islamabad Club, providing different sporting facilities.
Japanese Park is one of the most beautiful and finest looking parks in Islamabad. The park was presented by Japan as a gift on December 30, 1985. It is favored by families since it also has many activities for children like swings, slides and monkey bars. There are also walking paths to stroll on and people enjoy picnicking here.
Pakistan Museum of Natural History or PMNH was established in 1976. The museum has four divisions – Botanical, Zoological, Earth Sciences and Public Services. The first three divisions are related to plants, animals, fossils, rocks and mineral resources of Pakistan. The museum also provides consultancy and advisory services to the public and private sector. There are also 3-dimensional displays and dioramas.
A newly constructed park is Lake View Park. It has also become a popular picnic spot and was built beside Rawal Lake. Here you can participate in adventurous sports like wall rock climbing, quad motocross, paintball, scooter boats, car dodging and speed boats. You can also rent a simple or motorized boat. There is also a zoo for uncommon species of birds. A restaurant is also available named “Dera”, offering food and refreshments. At other spots in the park you can find small refreshment stalls. There is live music in the park.