Some of the most commonly heard statements about the federal capital are that ‘Islamabad is a place where fun comes to die’ and ‘it doesn’t have much in the way of entertainment’. Granted, that venues and opportunities in the city are comparatively limited when juxtaposed against Lahore’s daunting population, not to mention the spectre of Karachi’s sprawling urbanity.
Yes, it may be that Islamabad falls short (events, launches, parties and fine-dining are sporadic at best) but that doesn’t mean there’s a dearth of things to do, as out-of-towners are so fond of reminding Islooites time and again.
In Islamabad, the resourceful and creative stick to a simple axiom: make the best of what you’ve got.
Here’s something we’ve got that our cooler sister cities don’t have; it’s our official trump card: the Margalla Hills against the lush backdrop of the capital’s great outdoors. So whether it’s trying to sweat out the hangover from Friday night (or ‘Thirsty Thursday’, if applicable) or starting the weekend off with a surge of energy and exercise, Islamabad’s got the panacea. And while it may take a few bottles of Gatorade to make it to Trail 3 and 5, it is definitely a refreshing trek. Disclaimer: don’t mind the cows and be wary of wild boars.
Trail 5, particularly, may be a tad bit more rigorous but pays off when you reach the gorgeous rock pools and waterfall. “It’s a perfect place for a good Saturday workout, especially if you want to enjoy nature as well,” says 26-year-old Paul Bonnet. “And if the weather permits, you can even stand under the waterfall or go for a quick swim,” he adds. One also has the option of unwinding at Monal and enjoying the expansive view of the city.
However, if traversing up the hills on foot isn’t one’s cup of chai, consider booking a weekend in Nathiagali, otherwise known as ‘God’s gift to Pakistan’. The valley is an idyllic paradise: perennially cool weather, tall pines, horses, stunning homes and an eerie fog that comes down at night. And if one has cash to burn, quaint cottages are readily available for rent.
Closer to home, there’s also the option of lake retreats for the perfect weekend getaway. Rawal Dam may be the more convenient option (being in close proximity to the city) but it’s become too commercial and polluted to enjoy without running into hordes of people or having to deal with littering (you’re view of the lake will undoubtedly be obstructed by floating trash bags and, occasionally, the odd shoe). Yet all is not lost as a few hours ride takes you to the emerald waters of Khanpur Dam where you can actually swim without the fear of contamination. If one knows someone with a lake house, even better! “I come with my family a lot. You can even take a boat out and picnic on the island in the middle,” says 18-year-old Asad Khan, a student.
Another weekend advantage in Islamabad: the large diplomatic/expat scene. There’s always some rollicking party going on in the Diplomatic Enclave. It’s usually a pain getting in for Pakistanis but is made easier if you’ve got a gora friend or two (if not, start stalking). The plus side of going to these shindigs is the chance to network and meet new people, especially if you’re sick to the bone of seeing the same faces at local GTs (get togethers) and house parties. Moreover, it’s a nice change of scene: cross-cultural exchange, good music and the possibility of making a new friend which is always welcome in a city like Islamabad, where the social population is remarkably small and everyone knows your name.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2011.