Islamabad Overview

The name of the city is derived from two words, Islam and abaad, meaning “City of Islam” or “Abode of Islam”. Islam is an Arabic word that refers to the Faith of Islam with many forms of variations of the Abrahamic Religion and -abad is a Persian place name that means inhabited place or city.

Although the majority of the population in Islamabad traditionally have been employees of the Federal Government, the wealth of the Musharraf years fuelled a boom and it is becoming an important financial and business city. 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 nightlife with increasing shopping areas opening till late. However, during winter season streets are considerably quiet after dark.

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 Valley|SA relatively quiet city, Islamabad consists of mainly Federal Government offices, Parliment House, the official residences of the President and Prime Minister along with the Diplomatic Enclave, an area next to the Parliament House dedicated to foreign embassies. Located within the Islamabad Capital Territory. The population of the city has grown from 100,000 in 1951 to 1.15 million as of 2011.

You’ll soon notice that Islamabad is laid out on a grid system – with E7, F6, F7, G6, G7 being the oldest sectors, F8, F10, F11, G10, G11, I8 being where the ‘new money’ has been invested. E8, E9 are occupied by military housing complexes and are effectively out-of-bounds, G7, G8 and G9 are the heart of the city where many locals go for good bargain shopping, i.e. Karachi Company and Weekly Bazaars, and tasting the local cuisines, i.e. melody food park. The H and I sectors are a hotchpotch of mixed-use residential, academic and industrial areas. E11, E12 and even now D12 are under construction, there is even a G13 being built up. F6 and F7 are where most of the action happens, but the numbers of embassies and powerful Pakistani’s dwelling in these areas mean a lot of security, concrete barriers and boomgates that happily are largely absent elsewhere. However in choosing your guesthouse F6 & F7 may be your best bet.

Islamabad features a very mild version of a humid subtropical climate with abundant rainfall year-round. It features cool winters (mainly due to its altitude) and nighttime temperatures can drop below zero occasionally, but they usually stay between 1-3°C (33-37°F). Sparse snowfalls can occur in the surrounding hills but very rarely on the city itself. The lowest recorded temperature is -4°C (25°F). The area though does feature hot summers with the average temperature being 31.2°C (88.2°F) in June, and in the afternoon 40°C (104°F) occurrences can happen. The arrival of the monsoon does decrease temperatures a bit, but it brings intense amounts of rainfall (586mm or 22.7 inches, fall in July and August alone).

Lok Virsa Museum, Shakarparian Park (next to H7 & G8). Recently renovated, a delight. Definitely worth a visit. Islamabad’s premier museum featuring more than 25 large galleries in four blocks linked through passages depicting cultural linkages with Iran, Central Asia and China. There are large halls dedicated to architecture, musical heritage, textiles, romances, Sufi shrines and several other cultural themes. It has a large collection of embroidered costumes, jewelry, woodwork, metalwork, block-printing, ivory and bone work on display. The Heritage Reference Library of Museum has a great collection of data on art, music, history and crafts of all regions of Pakistan. Books on culture, heritage, audio and video cassettes of folk and classical vocal and instrumental music are sold at the Lok Virsa’s Sales Centre. Lok Virsa celebrates the national events in a befitting manner with musical concerts, exhibitions and public film shows on cultural heritage.
Golra Pakistan Railways Heritage Museum, Golra Sharif train station A little known gem – worth seeking out for a trip back in time to the glory days of the North West Railway – the station house has been renovated and houses a small museum, and several old locomotives and rolling stock are there to be explored.
Pakistan Museum of Natural history this is more a place for school trips than a tourist destination – however an impressive blue whale skeleton has recently been constructed outside
National Art Gallery (F5/1) Opened in 2007, the gallery is a modern, light-filled, air-conditioned edifice that would not be out of place in many European cities. A diverting collection of almost 450 art pieces, purchased or gifted by the artists for National Art Gallery. Covers a surprising diversity of contemporary and classical paintings, sculptures and other installations.

Parks, viewpoints and green spaces

Daman-e-Koh, a lookout point in the hills above E-6 with great views of the city on a clear day/night. Its beauty is enhanced by the greenery and flowers at different sites. High quality restaurants, good food, live music, hiking trails and lush green hillsides make it a favorite place for local and foreign tourist alike.
Shakarparian a beautiful wild and hilly area for a nice evening walk in a green natural atmosphere. Is located south of G6 and G7.
Japanese Park, is a children’s park located near Islamabad Zoo. It is popular among children, families and to those visiting Islamabad from other cities due to its park facilities and children swing facilities.
Rawal Lake has recently been upgraded by the Capital Development Authority. On the north side is Lake View Park (access from the road to Murree) – a beautifully laid out park with gardens, picnic spots, and secluded paths and views over the lake. Is now home to an aviary, go-kart track and climbing wall. The terraced garden and the lake are used for fishing and boating. On the south side of the lake is another small park with a nice lookout, Red Onion restaurant and old Hindu temple. 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.
Fatima Jinnah Park; also known as the F-9 park is considered one of the largest in South East Asia. F9 park is ideal for jogging around, and also has a cricket ground and some tennis court (minus nets). The park also has a large children’s playground, some interesting sculptures, and an indoor facility with a nice bowling alley.
Pir Sohawa. An overlook of Islamabad located in the Margalla Hills above the city. There are now two eateries at Pir Sohawa and both worth visiting. A walk up from Trail 3, from F-6/3 will get you to the hill top in around 2 hours with the perfect appetite, but you can reach Pir Sohawa by road in around 35-40 minutes.
Rose & Jasmine Garden is located near Islamabad sports complex & Jinnah Stadium. South of Shahrah-e-Kashmir road and east of Islamabad Highway. Not too far from Rawal Lake.
Ankara Park is a Turkish themed Garden adjacent to Rose & Jasmine Garden.
Margalla Hills. Take a nice nature walk in the hills surrounding Islamabad.

Mosques, shrines & monuments

Faisal Masjid, Islamabad’s most recognizable landmark, a very large mosque gifted by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. Beautiful in the day or night, definitely worth the short taxi ride. Dress and act respectfully, this is much more a place of serious worship than a tourist site. Is open to non-Muslims outside of prayer times, but is sometimes shut altogether.
National Monument near Shakarparian, 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. Also a small museum and a nice view of the city.
Imam Bari Shrine Historical shrine of a Sufi saint located in the valley of NurPur Shahan near G5.
Golra Sharif Shrine of Pir Mehr Ali Shah(rahmatullahi alayh), a Sufi Saint located in a village of Golra (Islamic religious site). Within the sanctuary of the shrine is the blessed grave of Hazrat Pir Meher Ali Shah Sahib Golravi rahmatullahi alayh, his son Hazrat Babu Jee Peer Sayyid Ghulam Muhyuddin Shah Sahib Golravi, his grandson Hazrat Baray Lala Jee Peer Sayyid Ghulam Muinuddin Shah Sahib Golravi and his great-grandson, Hazrat Naseer e Millat Peer Sayyid Ghulam Naseeruddin Naseer Shah Sahib rahmatullahi alayh


Islamabad Zoo is located at the foot of Daman-e-Koh view point. It has more than 300 animals including 200 birds of different kinds, and tigers, lions and other animals.
Blue Area, is Islamabad’s financial center and is the main arterial road which leads up to the main government buildings at the Constitution Avenue.
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 village 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 and restaurants. Exhibitions are held regularly to show case the traditional arts, crafts and the rich cultural heritage of Pakistan.

Walking in the Margalla Hills

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 7.30 AM, or 6.30 AM in the height of summer) as it is uncomfortably hot during the day. Give the monkeys a wide berth, as they can be aggressive.

There are many trails to choose from, some of which have been numbered by the city planners. The more popular walks are Trail 3, Trail 5, and the Zoo Trail. Google Earth gives a good way to orientate yourself before you set out. It takes about 3.5 hours round trip to complete Trail 3 or 5.

Trail 6 – also known at the E7 or Faisal Mosque trail. Little used, in part because it is so difficult to find the trailhead. Head to the car park to the rear of the Faisal Mosque, and look for a gate with a Margalla Tree Planting Project sign next to it. Head through the gate, take the first right, then right again (at a grey metal box with a hole in the top) through a small clearing, and turn left at the end. Walk north toward a large concrete water storage tank, and walk to the right of this on to a well-defined path (GPS coordinates 33.734112° , 73.038421°) from here it should be plain sailing. Trail 1 winds its way up to the ridge, where you can turn right and reach the Pir Sohawa road, near the turn-off for Talhaar. Takes about 2 hours to get to the top. From Pir Sohawa road its a 20-minute walk to the Monal restaurant, and you can catch a taxi back into town, or head down Trail 3 or the Saidpur village trail.

Trail 2 / Zoo trail – Trail 2 begins a little way up Pir Sohawa (just past the Jungle Shack drinks bar – GPS 33.7346° , 73.0545°) or you can start from the right of the entrance of the Islamabad Zoo. 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 checkpoint near the entrance to Daman-e Koh. From Cactus Ridge you get a good view of where AirBlue flight 202 crashed.

Trail 3 – begins from Margalla Road, F-6/3 (the junction between Margalla Road & 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.

Trail 4 – This is the trail that goes into the hills from just 1km into the Zoo to Monal road. It is one of the most beautiful trail with stunning views of the forest and the hills.

Trail 5 also 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 (33.7675°, 73.0771°) although it is possible to get lost on Trail 5 and veer too far east, ending up on the top part of Trail 6. Either way you’ll eventually hit the Pir Sohawa road so it’s difficult to get truly lost. 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.

Trail 6 is in the valley to the east of Trail 5. Start from the Trail 5 car park, walk parallel to the blocked-off dual carriageway heading east and then head north when you see the mouth of the valley. Walk past a small cluster of houses and then you’ll come across a sealed single track road, follow this for a short while and you’ll end up on the path, and follow this up the valley, ascending to the left side. You’ll eventually end up on the Pir Sohawa road. From here you can head west to the top of Trail 5. The Trail is without signposts or markers, is little used but very scenic.

Saidpur trail – follow the river through the village (including ducking through some back alleys) and 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. Saidpur trail isn’t much used so it largely free of litter.

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