Islamabad is located at the edge of the Pothohar Plateau at the foot of the Margalla Hills. Its elevation is 507 metres (1,663 ft). The modern capital and the ancient Gakhar city of Rawalpindi stand side by side and are commonly referred to as the Twin Cities. To the east of the city lies Murree and Kotli Sattian. To the north lies the Haripur District of Khyber Pakhtunkwah Province. Kahuta lies on the northeast, Taxila, Wah Cantt, and Attock District to the northwest, Gujar Khan, Kallar Syedian, Rawat, and Mandrah on the northeast, and Rawalpindi to the southwest. Islamabad is located 120 kilometres (75 mi) SSW of Muzaffarabad, 185 kilometres (115 mi) east of Peshawar, 295 kilometres (183 mi) NNE of Lahore, and 300 kilometres (190 mi) WSW of Srinagar, the capital of Indian Kashmir.
Islamabad features an atypical version of a humid subtropical climate, with hot summers accompanied by a monsoon season followed by mild and wet winters. The hottest months are from May to July, where average highs routinely exceed 38 °C.
The monsoon season is from July through September, with heavy rainfalls and evening thunderstorms. Highest monthly rainfall of 743.3 millimetres (29.26 in) was recorded during the month of July 1995. Winters are from October to March with temperatures variable by location. In the city, temperatures stay mild, with sparse snowfall over the Margalla Hills. The weather ranges from 15 °C (59.0 °F) in January to 37 °C (98.6 °F) in June. The highest temperature recorded was 45 °C (113.0 °F) on June 23, 2005 while the lowest temperature was −6 °C (21.2 °F) on January 17, 1967. On 23 July 2001, Islamabad received a record breaking 620 millimetres (24 in) of rainfall in just 10 hours. It was the heaviest rainfall in Islamabad in the past 100 years and the highest rainfall in 24 hours as well.
The area of Islamabad is 906 square kilometres (350 sq mi). A further 2,717 square kilometres (1,049 sq mi) area is known as the Specified Area, with the Margala Hills in the north and northeast. The southern portion of the city is an undulating plain. It is drained by the Kurang River, on which the Rawal Dam is located.
When Pakistan gained Independence in 1947, Karachi was its first capital. Karachi was located at one end of the country, making it vulnerable to attacks from the Arabian Sea. A capital which was easily accessible from all parts of the country was needed. The newly selected location of Islamabad was closer to 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 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 to be equally distributed. A Greek firm of architects, Konstantinos Apostolos Doxiadis, designed the master plan of the city which was based on a grid plan and triangular in 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 and then to Islamabad when the development was completed.
Being the seat of the Government of Pakistan, initially government servants and employees of the federal administration settled here. Since then, there has been a steady growth in the population of the city, which has swelled to somewhere in excess of a million inhabitants. At the moment, the capital city is the fastest growing urban settlement in the country. There is an increased interest in the city from The President and The Prime Minister, as well as a renewed drive from foreign investors to invest in the city. This has caused a growth in the economy, produced employment at all levels and ensured development. Owing to all these factors, Islamabad is now becoming a lively and bustling metropolis, full of vibrancy.
Islamabad’s micro-climate is regulated by three artificial reservoirs; Rawal, Simli, and Khanpur Dam. Khanpur Dam is located on the Haro River near the town of Khanpur, about 40 kilometres (25 mi) from Islamabad. Simli Dam is located 30 kilometres (19 mi) north of Islamabad. 220 acres (89 ha) of the city consists of Margalla Hills National Park. Loi Bher Forest is situated along the Islamabad Highway, covering an area of 1,087 acres (440 ha).
Islamabad has a population of 1.21 million as of 2009. Urdu is predominantly spoken within the city due to the ethnic mix of populations. English, being the official language of Pakistan, is also commonly understood. Other languages include Punjabi, Pashto and Pothohari. Although the majority of the population in Islamabad traditionally have been employees of the Federal Government. 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 has attracted people from all over Pakistan, making it the most cosmopolitan city in the country. As the capital city it has hosted a number of important meetings, such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit. 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 valleys like Swat and Kaghan and northern areas like Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu and Chitral located in the Himalayas mountains.
People are very friendly and indeed very good hosts. Many of Islamabad’s citizens are well-educated and speak English very well, working for the government and in the private sector. Be gracious in accepting invitations to people’s houses for lunch, tea or dinner: it will reflect well on you if you verbally ensure that you are causing them no inconvenience.Generally, women do not shake hands with men.
It’s a good idea to avoid taking photographs of military establishments, police stations and anyone in uniform (army officers wear khaki, naval officers wear white, and the Islamabad police wear navy blue trousers with a light blue shirt). If in doubt, permission can be requested from the officers concerned.
The main administrative authority of the city is Islamabad Capital Territory Administration (ICT) with some help from Capital Development Authority (CDA) which oversees the planning, development, construction, and administration of the city.
Islamabad Capital Territory is divided into eight zones: Administrative Zone, Commercial District, Educational Sector, Industrial Sector, Diplomatic Enclave, Residential Areas, Rural Areas and Green Area. Islamabad city is divided into five major zones: Zone I, Zone II, Zone III, Zone IV, and Zone V. Out of these, Zone IV is the largest in area. Zone I consists mainly of all the developed residential sectors while Zone II consists of the under-developed residential sectors. Zone III consists primarily of the Margalla Hills and Margalla Hills National Park. Rawal Lake is in this zone. Zone IV and V consist of Islamabad Park, and rural areas of the city. The Soan River flows into the city through Zone V. The sectors are lettered from A to I, and each sector is divided into four numbered sub-sectors.
The F and G series contains the most developed sectors. F-5 is an important sector for the software industry in Islamabad, as the two software technology parks are located here. The entire F-9 sector is covered with Fatima Jinnah Park. The Centaurus complex will be one of the major landmarks of the F-8 sector. G sectors are numbered G-5 through G-17. Some important places include the Jinnah Convention Center and Serena Hotel in G-5, the Red Mosque in G-6, and the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, the largest medical complex in the capital, located in G-8.
Construction and Development:
Combination of modernity and old Islamic and regional traditions. The Saudi Pak Tower is an example of the integration of modern architecture with traditional styles. The beige-coloured edifice is trimmed with blue tile works in Islamic tradition, and is one of Islamabad’s tallest buildings. The Saudi Pak Tower is an office building. It comprises 19 floors where more than a dozen multinational companies are operating, including European companies and multinational companies from Chinese and Middle Eastern region. Other examples of intertwined Islamic and modern architecture include Pakistan Monument and Faisal Mosque.
The murals on the inside of the large petals of Pakistan Monument are based on Islamic architecture. The design of Shah Faisal Mosque is a fusion of contemporary architecture with a more traditional large triangular prayer hall and four minarets. The architecture of Faisal Mosque is unusual as it lacks a dome structure. It is a combination of Arabic, Turkish, and Mughal architectural traditions.
Islamabad has seen an expansion in information and communications technology with the addition two Software Technology Parks which house numerous national and foreign technological and IT companies. The tech parks are located in Evacuee Trust Complex and Awami Markaz.
Islamabad boasts the highest literacy rate in Pakistan at 87%. A large number of public and private sector educational institutes are presen9 here. According to Academy of Educational Planning And Management’s report, in 2006 there were a total of 904 recognized institutions in Islamabad (30 pre-primary, 2 religious, 384 primary, 157 middle, 291 high, 15 intermediate, and 25 degree colleges). There are seven teacher training institutes and 17 recognized universities in Islamabad. The world’s second largest university by enrollment, Allama Iqbal Open University, is located in Islamabad. The two top engineering universities in Pakistan, Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences and National University of Sciences and Technology also have their headquarters in the capital. Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad is the top ranked university in Pakistan in the general category.
The village was converted into the a place of Hindu worship by a Mughal commander, Raja Man Singh. He constructed a number of small ponds: Rama kunda, Sita kunda, Lakshaman kunda, and Hanuman kunda. The region is home to many Hindu temples that are preserved, showing the history of Hindu civilisation and architecture in the region. The Capital Development Authority (CDA) of Islamabad has developed Saidpur into a tourist attraction by giving it the look and feel of a quaint village.
The Saidpur Village used to be a sleepy little village lying in the foothills of the Margallas with a mystic past and breathtaking natural beauty. It has now been remodeled. The resort has now become popular with the citizens of Islamabad who want an occasional break from the frenzy of urban life. Surrounded with lush, tranquil wilderness, the centuries old village is furnished with rustic fittings and offers amenities like a wide range of local food outlets.
Represents Pakistan’s four provinces and three territories. From air the monument looks like a star (center) and a crescent moon (formed by walls forming the petals), these represent the star and crescent on Pakistan’s flag. After a competition among many renowned architects, Arif Masood’s plan was selected for the final design. The blooming flower shape of the monument represents Pakistan’s progress as a rapidly developing country. The four main petals of the monument represent the four provinces (Balochistan, North West Frontier Province, Punjab, and Sindh), while the three smaller petals represent the Northern Areas, Azad Kashmir and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The Monument has been designed to reflect the culture and civilization of the country and depicts the story of the Pakistan Movement, dedicated to those who sacrificed themselves for future generations.
It is a beautiful laid out park with gardens, picnic spots, and secluded paths. The terraced garden and the lake are used for fishing and boating purposes. The highest point in the garden offers a panoramic view of Islamabad. Boating, sailing, water skating and diving facilities are organized by private clubs. To the west of the lake is the Islamabad Club, which offers different sporting facilities.
Its colossal acreage is covered mostly by greenery with few man-made structures dotting the landscape. With the exception of a few areas of the park that are close to residential districts, most of the park area effectively serves as a wildlife sanctuary. The park is bounded by a steel fence with entrance doors at regular intervals, though only a few are routinely open and used. A further strip of land outside of the fence is lined with a foot trail. There is a well laid network of foot paths inside the park, with neat grass and a few statues erected sparsely; perhaps Fatima Jinnah Park is to Islamabad what Central Park is to New York City. The familiar scent of air and the sight of the Shaheen (Hawk) swooping down on its prey would all be gone once the technological advancements are brought in. Bird-watching in the park is like watching a wild life documentary in live.
Fatima Jinnah Park is constructed in small clusters at the moment; some parts are well developed and a favorite among people while others are hardly ever tread upon. One of such areas is the “Megazone” complex. It is a well built area which has a lot to offer to its customers. The sports area comprises a standard length swimming pool, table tennis tables and snooker. While the more contemporary activities include bowling bowl, arcade games, laser tag and other small games. There is a take away and dining area as well. And lastly there is an assortment of different shops on clothes, DVDs and other accessories.
Margalla Hills National Park, is located in the foothills of the Himalayan range. The topography is rugged, with numerous valleys and many steep and even precipitous slopes. The area is drained by the River Kurang and its tributaries, which flow into the River Soan. This park is the most accessible park in Pakistan due to its close proximity to the national capital, Islamabad. A visitor centre is planned for Daman-E-Koh, providing lounge accommodation and an information service. Lodges, camping grounds and picnic sites are also planned and the provision of a chair lift may be considered. Take a nice nature walk in the hills surrounding Islamabad.
Sarai or travellers inn constructed by Sher Shah Suri on the Grand Trunk Road connecting Kabul with Calcutta now lie in ruins in Islamabad. Such public works were the hallmark of Sher Sha Suri’s reign where travellers inn with all the necessary facilities were constructed along the GT road to provide rest and recreation facilities to travellers. A large portion of sarai has been destroyed and the remaining is encroached.
One hour scenic journey through beautiful mountains to the hill resort of Murree which is a nice place to visit especially during the summer. A small place has a weather entirely different to that of Islamabad and much similar to most cities of Northern Europe. However the town is suffering under the sheer number of visitors and the small number of colonial buildings have been swamped by a plethora of cheap hotels – and consequently many visitors feel the town does not live up to its guidebook hype. Chairlifts of Murree and Patriata, Kashmir point are attractions for tourists. A two kilometer “Mall” is the center of gravity of Murree where all the shops and hotels are located.
If you want to escape the crowds head further north towards Nathia Gali where there are several small towns with easy access to the mountains. If driving to Murree be aware that the roads are very winding and busy – and not fun to drive in the dark. Driving through Murree is also not much fun.
Khan Pur dam has been constructed in a narrow gorge on the Haro River near the town of Khanpur, about 25 miles (40 km) from Islamabad. It forms Khanpur Lake, a reservoir which supplies drinking water to Islamabad and Rawalpindi and irrigation water to many of the agricultural and industrial areas surrounding the cities.
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 (ie 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 7.30am, or 6.30am in the height of summer) as it is uncomfortably hot during the day.
This remains a mystery – possibly refers to a trail starting from behind the Faisal Mosque.
Beginning a little way up Pir Sohawa (just past the Jungle Shack drinks bar. This is a good choice if you are looking for a 1-2 hour walk. The trail leads up to the Daman-e Koh viewpoint. If you want to continue walking a trail up to Cactus Ridge leads from next to the Police check point near the entrance to Daman-e Koh.
Begins from Margalla Road, F-6/3 (the junction between Margalla Road and Ataturk Avenue). It is a little steep and strenuous in the first leg, which goes up to the Viewpoint and is about a 30 – 50 min. trek. After the Viewpoint you can continue on for another easy-going 45 – 60 mins and reach the Pir Sohawa, where you can choose from 3 restaurants for food, The Monal, Treehouse and Capital View Restaurant. This is the most popular walk, hence litter levels are high.
This is a link trail between Trails 3 and 5.
Begins from Margalla Road in F-5 (about 500m down from Trail 3 – opposite Judge’s Enclave) and is initially an easier trail to climb. Trail 5 connects with Trail 3 (via Trail 4) and meets beyond Trail 3’s viewpoint. If you continue on Trail 5 you eventually meet the Pir Sohawa road, although it is possible to get lost on Trail 5 and veer too far east.
On trail 5, you will be welcomed by a 300 Year old Banyan tree and a water stream along with the music of the worlds rarest birds. Once you are into this trail you can not imagine that you are actually inside Islamabad. One forgets all the tensions of daily life and start enjoying the wonders of nature. The water stream is crystal clear and the rocks and pebbles are clean and white as if someone has washed them off with acid. The track is well maintained by CDA but where there are humans there’s also mess.
The track is easy and can be covered by any one till the end of stream. i-e the source of stream. But it is recomended that don’t try Trail 5 without a GPS or a friend who has done it before. From the top of Trail 5 it is 1.5km to the top of Trail 3. Hence you can do a loop, taking 3-4 hours it is a rock that is giving pure and clean water. Its looks like that it contains Sulfur content thats why all the rocks and pebbles inside the water are white and clean.
Then comes the hard core part of the track. Its steep and too much rocky. Its 30 to 50 minutes of torture to your muscles. Once you reach the Pir sohawa road, you are relieved like any thing.
Both Trail 3 and Trail 5 have large maps and guidance boards placed at the entrance.
Follow the river through the village (including ducking though some back alleys you’ll emerge in a valley and a trail that leads up to the Monal restaurant – and hence you can easily do a loop coming down trail 3. Siadpur trail isn’t much used so it largely free of litter.
For the more adventurous this is a good hike. Drive to Nurpur Shahan (east of the government complexs beyond the end of Margalla Road) – head to a road junction at 33.7457°, 73.1050° and turn left, until you reach a turnoff for a small guesthouse at the start of the trail. The walk starts with steps leading up to the Bari Imam cave, then you can continue up the steep hill behind, then traverse round to the Pir Sohawa road, where there are a few cafes and a hotel. It is about 5km from here to the Top of Trail 3 if you follow the road). You can return down the valley back to your starting point. Beware however that you pass into Khyber Paktunkwa on the walk and you may have to charm yourself pass some policemen.
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 Super Market), F8 Markaz (aka Ayub Market), G6 Markaz (aka Melody Park), G9 Markaz (aka Karachi Company) and so on. 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. 7th Avenue, located at Jinnah Super Market (F7 Markaz), has large selection of western food products. Best Price, located at Super Market (F6 Markaz), also sells western food products.
The Capital Development Authority, has recently established a handicrafts village near super market, where small stalls with handicrafts from around the country are available. You should be able to walk from there to Mahraja (next to united Bakery) and find plenty of other stores much larger and with a much better collection of handicrafts and traditional items. This is a MUST visit for all first time visitors and a useful stop for quick gift items for people back home. A good present for the ladies is Pashmina shawls or wraps, which can cost anywhere between $15 to as much as $700.
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. with many of the better restaurants away from the main markets in F6 and F7.
Taxis in Islamabad are abundant, popular and generally safe. Cost is around Rs. 35 – Rs. 45 per sector traveled, 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 traveling.
Benazir Bhutto International Airport (IATA: ISB) receives flights from a variety of international destinations, including London, Dubai (both via Etihad or Pakistan International Airlines, and other Asian cities such as Urumqi (China Southern Airlines) and Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan Airlines).
Niazi express, Skyways and Daewoo Sammi are 2 of the nicer long-haul operators. Skyways offer some direct services to/from Islamabad and Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi. Daewoo has its own terminal on the road from Islamabad just outside Rawalpindi. The majority of buses arrive and depart from Rawalpindi, a few kilometers and a 45 minute taxi ride from Islamabad. It’s best to book Daewoo by phone in advance if possible. At the moment they serve Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Murree, Sialkot, Abottabad, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad and Multan.
Since First Class travel with Pakistan Railway is good, it’s worth knowing that Rawalpindi, the neighbourhood city, has railway connections with various major cities including Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.