Once considered the ideal spot to move to after retirement, Islamabad’s sleepy pace has recently sped up to a more active one. If you’re health-conscious, this sterile town that has been the abode of kooky politicians, overworked journalists and self-obsessed development-sector employees is probably the next destination you should be packing your bags for if you need to detox.
Offering activities that are physically challenging, help you find your spiritual centre and also offering some fresh produce straight from the lush khaits of Punjab, Islamabad will leave the high-strung Lahori and over-worked Karachiites pleasantly surprised and possibly rejuvenated! With an array of wellness options to choose from, and a small but hip cultural scene, Islamabad offers a commitment-phobic “big city addict” the best of both worlds — a wi-fi connection with a view.
So break a sweat while tackling one of its seven hiking trails and while away the evening sipping fresh plum juice at one of the cafés smack in the centre of the city. Here is our guide on how to ‘detox’ while in Islamabad:
What to Eat?
Besides its stunning views and cooler temperatures, this local and tourist hotspot offers a large range of grilled Barbeque entrées that are perfect for a high-protein diet, and a number of vegetarian dishes, including spicy palak paneer and the indulgent cheese naan. This is a good spot to go to when you are in the mood to clear your mind and appreciate the scenery, maybe even pick up a cultural keepsake or gifts for loved ones from one of the stalls nearby.
Table Talk is located in Kohsar Market, a busy downtown shopping area that stays buzzing throughout the day. Their menu offers some of the tastiest salads in the city, including a Thai Prawn Salad, Nicoise Salad and the Chicken Sesame Salad. If you want to go completely vegetarian, try their crunchy Mediterranean Salad or Caprese. And make sure you wash your meal down with their refreshing summer fruit juices.
Nana’s Kitchen started as a successful Facebook page that became a local hit for its red velvet cupcakes. Although the cupcakes are still Nana’s specialty, the menu has gone on to provide some unique and delicious options for local foodies at its brick and mortar outlet in Cloud 9. A few of their distinctive salad recipes and the popular tofu burger are some of the healthier options to balance out that cupcake indulgence. The cozy ambience and the personal touch of having the owners present behind the counter gives it that warm, fuzzy family business feel that most other cafés lack.
What to Do?
Breathe life into life:
The Art of Living Organisation, a popular movement started by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in 1982, is practiced in over 150 countries worldwide and has garnered a large following. In Pakistan, the organisation was spearheaded by Shanaz Minallah, who introduced the movement in Lahore, Azad Kashmir, Karachi and some parts of interior Sindh, making Islamabad her home base. The programme aims to alleviate stress and help bring contentment to one’s life by teaching people to focus on their breathing patterns. In the basic course, which is the only one available in Pakistan, instructors teach the ‘Sudharshan Kriya’ — a series of breathing exercises that attempt to dispel negative emotions from the body. The Art of Living sessions take place on Peach Street in Bani Gala, in a large space by the river called the Peace Centre.
Get out of your comfort zone:
Atif Sajjad Abbasi introduced the Zen Wellness Club in Islamabad around six months ago, after working with the Art of Living as their country coordinator for eight years. The mission of the group is to offer activities that foster physical and mental wellness. So become a member and sign up for their weekly complimentary programmes such as trekking, hiking, horse riding and adventure cooking or clear your schedule for their longer trips that take place once every three months. Recently, the group travelled to Fairy Meadows in the northern areas where they practiced yoga and meditation at Nanga Parbat under instructor Saima Altaf. This year they plan to head to Hunza, Kaghan and India. So make sure you are in time for those therapeutic travels.
Take a hike:
There’s no better way build your stamina than an uphill hike and if you haven’t done this before, Islamabad is a good place to start. The Margalla Hills surrounding Islamabad offer a range of man-made trails that lead up to the top of the first ridge. These trails begin in various parts of the city to wind up at Monal. Many of these trails have numerous resting spots along the way, and the trail is pretty busy during the evenings when people come to run and bike. The hike can be a bit challenging so make sure you are mentally prepared for a sweaty two- to three-hour-long climb, with water at hand. It will also be wise to drag along someone who may be a little more familiar with the trails or gather a group of friends and family to come along. For novices, it is a good idea to first head to Fatima Jinnah Park in F9 and practice on the gentle trails there.
Rough it out:
If you want all of these activities rolled into one exhilarating experience of a complete detox, check out Extreme Manoeuvre Adventure Club’s (EMAC) weekend camping packages. Say goodbye to appliances and a functioning sewage system and prepare for a two-day trip to Khanpur Lake near Islamabad, where activities include night caving, rock climbing, cliff diving and paragliding, other than the usual bonfire and BBQ setup. The club provides the group with camp leaders, tenting equipment, healthy meals and beginner’s courses for all its activities so that you can have a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Get a massage:
Not cut out for the hills? To detox in true big-city style, hit up one of Islamabad’s most popular spas. Nirvana offers some serious sensory indulgence with its toe-curling massages, facials and wraps. Their Dead Sea Salt Glow promises to detoxify your skin of impurities with a custom-blended formula of sea salts and essential oils. Their Mud Wrap claims to be a deeply purifying treatment that decongests and stimulates the body system to generate new skin cells for toned skin. Their most popular treatments though are their massages, often cited by locals as “Islamabad’s crowning glory.” Try out their deep-tissue back massage to relax those muscle knots, or their Ayurvedic or Chakra Balance treatment if you’re in the mood for something exotic. Otherwise, there is always the option of sticking to their popular Swedish massage and enjoying 60 minutes of bliss provided by their certified masseuses.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 16th, 2012.
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