Friday, August 19, 2011

Spice Girl Caravan To Pakistan

My recent trip to northern Pakistan begs to be told, but I've been terribly stung by writer's block. Today, I'm gonna give it a shot no matter what. I'm from Karachi: the business hub of Pakistan - an extremely busy city and life is so damn fast here that it becomes impossible to escape from it. However, breaks are definitely important and I cherished my week of peace and bliss in the northern areas. Anyhow, it turned out to be a bumpy road trip, but I ended up seeing some awesome places I'd never experienced in all these years living in Pakistan.

We had to reach the capital city Islamabad on Day 1. Yet, due to a contingency, we had to alter our route and visit Lahore first by plane. From there, our road trip would begin. We landed in Lahore at midnight and reached Islamabad by 5:30 am. Karachi is called the city of fly-overs and bridges, but I love the motorways in Lahore and Islamabad immensely. The roads are so huge. The traffic system and toll booths are so systematic. It's absolutely impressive. There are amazing food outlets and recreational stops every few kilometers for travelers to relax before moving along.

Because of the alternate route, we drove into Islamabad a little earlier than expected. So, we couldn't check into our booked hotel room. We were dead tired and ended up staying at a terrible inn, if we should even call it that. “Terrible” is an understatement here people. Those few hours after a long night's travel were dreadful - definitely not the best way to start a trip. If it'd been up to me and we hadn't been traveling with our mother who needed to relax, I'd have preferred sleeping in the car for a few hours. Anyway, as all good and bad things pass, this did too. We got to our reserved room by 10 am, then rested a few hours in peace before striking out for the capital city.

Most of our trip was by road with a rented car and a chauffeur who knew the route well. Locals are pretty good at driving the hills and mountains themselves, but this isn't easy for outsiders. By evening, we were fresh and ready to get out. I have a thing for animals. I've made a pact with myself to visit zoos and take safaris any place I visit. I feel the way animals are treated says a lot about a culture. Also, I love photographing animals. So, our first stop was Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad.

Marghazar Zoo is smaller than the Karachi Zoo but has a nicer crowd. Everybody minds their own business, and that's how I like it.  The zoo is right below the Margalla mountains and is a fun place to relax and enjoy. There weren't too many wild species, but the zoo was clean. There were a lot of bucks, deer, zebras and nilgae. The monkey house was spacious and the vervet monkeys were agile and funny. I didn't see any big cats, which was a turn off for me, since I'm a serious fan of the cat family. There was one Asian elephant who posed with my sister like a real sweety. However, the Asian jackal seemed a bit lost. 

The brown bears looked the saddest, as there was no water to keep them cool in extremely hot weather. (By the way, Islamabad was extremely hot, which I didn't expect at all. The only difference is that Karachi's hot climate has a perpetual date with humidity, which is not the case in Islamabad.) The bird collection was decent, though it was painful to see a huge raptor and family in a cage too small for its size. It seems tragic to keep such a soaring bird in captivity at all. My favorite animal was the owl - all wise with a cool attitude.

On departing, we went to Shah Faisal Mosque, which is one of the largest mosques in the world. It's named after the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia who was a great friend of Pakistan. I visited the mosque nineteen years ago. It's no exaggeration to say it absolutely sparkled back then. It's still a magnificent structure with a unique tent design and pencil-like minarets, but it's definitely lost panache. The walls, floors and nearly everything look dull now. It has a huge capacity for worshippers, yet I saw nobody praying there. That's the only thing that hadn't changed in nineteen years. I think Shah Faisal Mosque is more or less a recreational stop for locals and tourists. Few people pray there. It's a huge piece of architecture that is fading away, which was rather shocking because I expected people in the capital to really take care of such cultural monuments. 

For dinner, we went through the mountains to Monal Restaurant in Pir Sohawa. Driving these mountains is scary, but locals do it with ease. Pir Sohawa is a beautiful place some 1173 meters above sea level and close to Monal village. The great thing about Pir Sohawa and Monal Restaurant is the amazing view of Islamabad from there. It's quite a sight. Monal Restaurant is one of the best tourist stops for anyone visiting Islamabad. The huge place has a gigantic seating capacity and a delicious mix of Pakistani and Asian cuisine. You can enjoy the food while listening to live music. You can choose to sit in the open air gallery or the covered galleries, whatever suits you best. All in all, you'll have a fun time, especially if you're there with good company.

People say a lot of negative stuff about Pakistan, but I've lived here all my life. Sometimes, the media blow things up and other harm is done by locals themselves in the way they project their image. Needless to say, most things in Pakistan are amazing, but a lot of crap needs to be removed too. We certainly don't live in medieval times. We do have internet access and many people learn to speak English well in school. Some change I've noticed over the years is that population is rising and the socio-economic gap has increased immensely on the whole. Every city I visit seems crowded.  Islamabad is a quieter place to visit and is relatively secure. That's the beginning of my road trip, but I'll soon be sharing more incredible places I've seen in Pakistan and beyond.

Zaira Rahman is a spicy Islamic girl who writes travel reports from her home in Pakistan. Unlike the British Spice Girls, she's not a ho and speaks comprehendible English. She's an advocate for the ethical treatment of people and animals plus the author of the books Pakistani Media: The Way Things Are and If Mortals Had Been Immortals & Other Short Stories.


  1. Great insights from my fellow Pakistani writer, she definitely has an observational eye and a strong view, fortunately a "positive" one on the image of Pakistan. Loved this post!

  2. Great post, Zaira! You make your holiday sound very fun and I appreciated seeing it through your eyes. I'm sorry about the empty mosque, too. Hard to see a house of worship going empty.

    I love your photos and look forward to more of your trip.

  3. @Komal Thank you so much dear. It is my first experience of sharing my travel log with everyone. I am so glad you liked it. I have much more interesting stuff lined up ahead :)

    @Deb Much appreciated.I am still an amateur photographer but like to capture moments, locations whenever I can. I did take some good shots on my trip. I too felt sad to see the mosque. When the real essence of stuff is being purposely forgotten, it is quite a sad sight.

    Thank you both for your comments...

  4. Great travel log hun. It kept my eyes and mind glued to it. I think you would make a GREEEAT book writer. Thanks you for sharing this with me Zeira. XO from Ohio my sweet friend :):):)

  5. @Daniel: I am so glad you liked the post and it did not bore you.

    Appreciation from all you guys makes my day :)

  6. Great!! Feels like I`m there,I read it twice :) Photos are Very Nice!! You are bookmarked!!

    Much Love from Norway!

  7. @Ketil: Thank you so much. I am happy to know you liked reading about Pakistan that much. Although there is a lot of negative talk about it in general worldwide but some of the places here are indeed quite breath taking.

    As for the photography...I still feel I have a long way to go :)But thanks again for appreciating it!

  8. Very well written I actually felt like I was taking the trip myself.

  9. Thanks so much Chandani :) You just made my DAY with your comment :)