Islamabad is the modern capital city. People go there mainly for the weekends. It’s called “The dead city” by locals as people go mostly to relax, and to enjoy the traffic. For business dealings they prefer Lahore or Karachi. European traffic jams can relax in comparison with the ones in Pakistan! It’s green and Margala hills provide trekking options and beautiful views. It is a rather new city, so don’t look for any heritage here. There is one must see, the most visited spot, the Shah Faisal mosque. It’s a new construction building, from 1976-1986. This is one of Asia’s largest mosques. It reflects an eclectic blend of ultramodern and traditional architectural styles. Lots of tourists come here, but most of them are Pakistanis. When they see a foreigner, locals ask to take selfies together. Pakistanis are very curious and always approach to ask where you are from, to talk, or to just to say hi. If there is a nice girl….who knows, no time to waste, need to talk to her now. They always try to be very polite. This building has stunning scenery. It is nestled at the foot of the Margalla Hills. These hills make Islamabad a haven for adventure loving people. The hills give unlimited outdoor activity opportunities. There are many hiking trails, from easy to extremely hardcore, to suit hikers of every age and skill. The top is very touristic spot surrounded by magnificent views from both sides. There are some restaurants with views of Islamabad (you can have lunch for around 30 Euros). For sure, it’s just one small spot to visit. There are lots of natural beauties around, wonderful views and villages too.
The best districts are the F and E districts. F6, F7, F8 are the districts where the richest people live and have the most of security. G districts are cheaper but are of lower quality and not as safe. Most of the Souvenirs and Western food you can find in district F6. F7 is full of hotels, different shops and restaurants, while F8 has the main police station, hospitals and court. In each district there are small food shops but you can only find basic food ingredients. The Blue area situated between F7 and G7 is the main area for shops, tailors, offices, any kind of services….
I had the chance to visit probably the most expensive house in F6. First I thought I was at a museum, a super modern chic club. I was wrong. It was a private house with an interior design that looked like a modern castle. The owner collected old vehicles. In his garden were at least 10 old Mercedes and 20 other very old cars. There were also lots of Vespas and Motorbikes. There is a group of old school cars lovers that meet twice a year to make few days trip on their cars so I got a chance to meet them a day before the departure.
I had the chance to visit a few more houses. One of them was in district F7. The family that lives there are really open minded. They live the European way. Their houses full of furniture, books, food and clothes. We had dinner at a restaurant decorated in a modern way, just like in western countries. The menu was filled with dishes easy to find in European restaurants. My friend had very short hair, which she usually didn’t cover. Her family gave her complete freedom of choice to be whoever she wanted. The locals paid more attention to her short hair than me. Luckily their curiosity finished just at this. Nobody seemed to care more than that.
On the pictures, below is Khanpur Dam – nice place where you can rent a noisy boat and visit its’ surroundings. Be careful, there are places where locals really don’t like foreigners so you can have troubles.
Parties and alcohol. They party (at home) a lot when meeting with friends. It’s hard to meet someone who doesn’t smoke. If you are allergic to cigarette smoke, then you could hardly tolerate their parties, as the only air to breathe is from the cigarettes. Alcohol is served too, always, though most middle class locals don’t drink so much, maybe because it’s expensive. Not far from diplomatic enclave, time to time are organized big parties for expats and ‘right’ locals where you can get just with an invitation. For sure, you can dance there, drink alcohol and behave freely just like at European parties. Luckily I was with my Afghan friend so no men bothered me :).
In Multan they have beer production. They even produce stronger drinks in the Rawalpindi military zone. They say that Muslims don’t drink and this is haram. All alcohol is made for Christians (who exist here too) or foreigners they say. The few foreigners who go there mainly drink internationally known drinks. So for whom then is this alcohol produced? Officially they sell alcohol just to Christians. Written confirmation from a priest is accepted proof of being a Christian. It’s possible to buy alcohol too in the most expensive hotels (Mariot, Serena).
New Year. They don’t really celebrate it, but people like it as they don’ have many public activities. I was hosted in an apartment in Islamabad F10. They were friends of a guy that I met few years before. He arranged my stay before I even asked. He asked for me to stay 1 night but in the end I stayed there 3 nights. The apartment was full of guys. Lots of people kept coming and going, staying for a night like a real shelter. It took time to understand who really lived there and who didn’t. The guys were cool. I felt good with them and nobody disrespected me. The one in whose room I stayed kept asking me for advice on how to seduce a girl he likes. We went to the university campus for some local celebration. Sadly all student girls had to be home at 22.00. This left just lots of student guys. Just me and the local girl I went with, were the only girls there at midnight. Guys were dancing regional dances nonstop, I really liked it. At midnight we all went out to see the fireworks. Soon after the fireworks we went home. As the apartment was full of hosted friends of friend’s, I woke up seeing a Punjabi sleeping on the other side of my big bed. He looked like he was a gift for me, I just had no idea what to do with it. When he woke up, explained to me shortly ‘you could unpack it’. I still couldn’t get used to the local guys generosity. In the evening I was taken to a wedding.
Weddings. Winter is wedding season. Probably because it’s not so hot and all make up won’t run. Weddings are usually very expensive. People need to show off and make them top level, by spending all their saved money on a fancy wedding, leaving nothing to buy a home or other much more important things in the future. Lots of makeup artists specialize just on weddings. It’s a good business here. Usually weddings make up costs from 300euros! The bride’s dresses are heavy and uncomfortable, often made from itchy textiles. They use so much make up on the brides faces that they can hardly use their face muscles, sitting in one spot the whole wedding with half closed eyes and being afraid to move, just like dolls. Lots of Pakistani men dislike too much makeup, but girls keep doing it to look more beautiful for them……
Weddings often last for 3 days. The first day is for the groom guests. The second for the brides and the third is for both if I remember well. The newly married couple stays in the same place all the time and guests come to take pictures with them. While they are taking pictures, guests sit at the tables and eat. That’s all. Maybe in other families they do it differently. I just mentioned what I experienced for myself.
Muslim men can marry other girls of other religions, but foreign guys have to convert before being allowed to marry a Muslim Pakistani girl.
It’s not just men who cheat. Don’t think that it’s only the guys here who care to cheat on their wives and have lots of lovers. Some girls do the same. I talk about higher class individuals as the poor ones try more to respect their customs. Some rich ladies with nothing to do look for lovers, some are married by force so look for lovers and some are not married so change partners as often as they change socks. It’s not a common phenomenon but it exists. One, maybe 50 year old lady was not married, so was in a relationship with much younger guy as she was already ‘out of a market’. The guy cared more about the lady’s money and contacts while he still paid attention to her and she was glad to have someone by her side. Most of the men I met were ready to cheat on their wives or were already cheating, it’s the sad truth. Divorce does happen but it’s much harder in less educated families, as women have no education so can’t find any jobs to survive on their own. They are not ready to be self sufficient and alone so they keep living in unhappy marriages. Men in mainly poor families don’t divorce either as it’s not respectful and could bring lots of dramas, so they prefer to stay married and keep cheating on their wives. If a man wants a divorce, he can 3 time say ‘I divorce you’ and it’s done. Strange that women have no such rights.
Rich people usually marry now because of love, the poor ones often have arranged marriages. But it does happen often that they can choose their partner themselves. Some, who have problems in finding a partner, ask their parents help. One poor guy wanted to marry a girl hi loved so his father removed his yes. Unfortunately, cruel, uneducated people can do lots harm even to their closed ones.
I want to share one story. I knew one guy for a few months. He told me his life story and what was going on at that time. He comes from a village and has created very well paying business in Islamabad. Some years ago his parents asked him to visit them. He went and was highly surprised that it was his arranged marriage. He didn’t want to marry. He was crying but his parents didn’t care. They destroyed his life. His wife was uneducated one from a very poor village where was hardly even any electricity or meat to eat. She was manipulated by her mum. When they were married. He was leaving some money for his wife but soon after saw that she was stealing his money and lying that she didn’t. He kept giving lots money to support his family, parents and cousins. But the more they got, the more they were unsatisfied demanding more and more. When they didn’t get all his money they accused him and making different kinds of problems. He was often depressed. It seemed the more he helped his family, the less they respected him. He seemed like a slave in his own family. He was unhappy at home. They didn’t understand that one day he could stop helping them. He dreamed of a divorce but his love for his child didn’t let him to make that quick decision. His wife felt that marriage could fail. Her mum was controlling everything and demanded her daughter to get pregnant again, in aim to keep her husband. He was sure that he was not making babies anymore and didn’t think that she would use his sperm her way to change his plans. He didn’t want more than one kid but it happened. He kept being pressured and tried to be home as little as possible, finding lots of lovers for sex and enjoying life outside his family. The last drama he got was that his mum complained that his wife had stolen money from her again. He knew who had done that but when asked, nobody ever admitted it. They accused each other and swearing that it was not them. He was highly upset with such hypocrisy in his family. As a punishment he sent his wife a few times to stay where she came from, a village where they have no TV, electricity problems, basically almost nothing. She hated being there isolated from her good life. She still didn’t understand that he gave her a much better life but risked losing it by constantly stealing from him and lying. He had to bring her back as he didn’t want his kids to grow up in a trashy place. As far as I know his plan is to wait a few years until his kids grew up a bit and then divorce, as he doesn’t want them to grow up as uneducated as their mother.
Wrestling. I got an invitation from a director of a sports complex, who kept telling me stories that he was the Presidents advisor. It was a wrestling championship. I had the chance to be close to the stage. VIP’s were sat close to the ring in comfortable seats. The rest had to be in the cheap seats. For sure, unexpectedly a Pakistani fighter won. What a surprise. He was beaten down then suddenly got up like nothing happened and ‘beat’ with one soft move his huge, strong opponent so bad that guy couldn’t stand up at the end of a match…. But it’s not about this. The people who go to such events, except for in restaurants, as there hardly exist any real public activities. The most surprising thing was seeing girls wearing niqabs…. In which they fully cover themselves exposing just eyes, to watch half naked guys wrestling……
Renting a house. To rent a house you always need to use agents or ask peope. In some places agents take a fee of half a months’ rent. In Islamabad however they often charge a full 1 months’ rent. When signing a contract you always have to leave 1 month deposit money, which the house owner gives back when the contract ends, if everything has gone well. There are unfortunately lots of jerks, such as house owners who try to cheat and avoid paying deposits back. It happened that they tried to cheat even on embassy workers. They know that the police do nothing, so everyone tries to get money their own way (this story I wrote in my other blog called https://www.vanetatrips.com/2020/03/31/pakistan-2019-males-police-and-safety-cheaters-and-other-beauties/). Good quality small houses in F6, F7 and F8 can be rented from about 1000 Euros per month. Mainly good houses cost 3000 euros and more. Some huge, exclusive houses are even rented for 15000 Euros (one is rented by the Saudi Arabia ambassador). Foreigners can live in enclaves but many feel isolated there, so they prefer to rent houses in the city or apartments above Jinnah trade center.
Use taxis as Rikshas and tuktuks are forbidden in Islamabad. Probably to keep the prestige of the city, and to reduce noise. For moving in the capital, use taxis from Careem or Uber, as you can pay by cash or automatically by online transfer. I didn’t like Uber as the drivers usually ask you where you want to go, and then choose if to come to pick you up or not. When ordering Careem they always come and never ask in advance where you want to be delivered. If you have any problems you can always complain online. They give answers but I’m not sure if they really help. Once I complained about security (the driver at night tried to bring me to another place and was cheating too) with one driver, but got an answer that they checked his car and it was clean so I had no reason to be unsatisfied, they care of their clients as they say!!! Complete ignorance of my words. Not sure if Careem really cares to protect their clients. Be careful, most of the drivers can’t read GPS and can go a completely different road to make the journey longer. So use the maps.me app (GPS and maps that work without internet) to check where you are going, or to indicate the road to take.
Tourism summit 2019. This was the first conference that I have ever had the chance to be a part of. They even invited famous bloggers who talk nicely about this country. Staying in Pakistan for a few days won’t usually bring any troubles. It’s too short a period to get deep into local cultural and to find what else can happen here. The difference starts when locals get used to a guest who smiles and is always polite, as it’s often taken as a sign by local guys to ask for favors. Unfortunately, subjects such as female security and harassment were skipped during these talks. Compliments though were always welcomed. During this conference I had chance to meet interesting people, one of which one is still my good friend. But yes, just one, as some from the other met business guys expected more than I was willing to give.
The first evening after the conference there was a dinner with the president at the Serena hotel. There was very tasty food and very shy president. It seemed that he really didn’t like to talk to people and was always surrounded by security, as if all these business guys were about to attack him. The minister of tourism though seemed a really cool, funny guy. It was really interesting to have a conversation with him, and then meeting the next day exchanging few new jokes.
The second evening in a special minibus and with special invitations we went to Imran Khan’s place. It was forbidden even to take phones inside. As he was always very busy, after the speeches he was gone, leaving us to enjoy snacks without him.
I don’t really know how useful this 2 days conference actually was. Such changes always need lots time to take effect. Unfortunately, simple Pakistanis living in the villages have never heard anything like this conference and continue living their own way. Some welcome tourists and some don’t, just as usual. To make a country tourist friendly and in general, you need to talk not just to the educated population, but to all of the population what was missed here. After I went to Kashmir and was not allowed to stay in any hotel because I was a foreigner, it brought me to question how exactly they expect to develop tourism and provide people safety.
Animal shelters. There is a wonderful guy living there. Yes, a guy. He is ex military man who loves animals. Most of his money he spends on helping those in need. He pays for surgeries for stray dogs and always keeps dog and cat food in his car just in case if sees some hungry animals, and there are always lots stray around. He himself keeps maybe 20 dogs and a few cats in his house. Often here animals are treated like something that doesn’t feel pain and is trash to be removed, while many themselves are dirtier than these dogs.
My friend’s previous neighbors tried to make big dramas about him keeping dogs, accusing him that he spreads infections, that his dogs are aggressive and dangerous. In reality he was saving the environment. All his dogs were injected against diseases, he fed them well and they were friendly. Locals don’t understand simple things and often create problems from nothing. The case about the dogs went to the police but when my friend proposed the locals to go to court to arrange a conflict, the accusations were gone. People are afraid of courts so you can always scare them with that when suitable. Luckily there are 1 or 2 dog shelters too but there are so many strays that impossible to take care of all of them. Some locals are respectful to animals but mainly they just ignore dogs, at least they don’t hurt them. More educated locals like to keep dogs as the pets, but they mainly prefer bread dogs not strays. There are some good hearted people who try to help the stray, but there are so few of them. Once I was taking a walk with my dog (I kept her a few months in my house while she was recovering after a leg surgery), and met another dog who knew me and was accompany us. Kids and some adults tried to hit the other dog trying to protect me, but I had to stop them explaining that the dog was my friend and didn’t give any reason to be badly treated. The kids needed to be shown a good example how to treat animals so my friend and I often fed the dogs in the streets in and took care of them. We played with them a bit too showing the kids that the dogs are our friends and deserve respect.
Animal markets. They sell many animals (chicken, decorative birds, sometimes puppies and other animals) at markets in very small cages, leaving them out in the sun all day without even water. The animals really look in very bad condition :(…….
“Halal hypocrisy”. They eat Halal meat. This means that they kill animals without making them suffer. They respect them this way……but what I saw….. chickens for example, are kept in small buckets all together. In the aim that the chicken won’t run away, they break their wings and brutally throw them from one place to another like a ball. They already had broken wings but the sellers each time took them by their wings to move them, throw them to another place or to show them to buyers. Then they kill them Halal style so they won’t suffer while dying. Seriously!!!!??? These animals suffer huge pain everyday! If they cared about real Halal they would respect animals while they are alive. There is not drop of so called Halal. I don’t talk about other animals that have no better. I tried to avoid such sad sights so tried not to go to any animal or meat market. Such sights just remind me how our society is selfish and how it’s good to be a vegetarian. So if you think eating Halal in Pakistan……you are completely wrong!
Unfortunately as all of central Asia, Pakistan is the wrong country for vegetarians. All the main dishes consist of fake ‘Halal’ meat.