With wide flowing roads, lush greenery, and numerous Western brands, Islamabad wasn’t quite as I imagined Pakistan’s capital would be. It’s a planned city, developed since the 1960s on a grid layout, with 2km square areas named after their grid location, e.g. F7 or G6. As with most planned capital cities it isn’t really representative of the country, but more a showcase of what is possible.

This was confirmed by arriving into the new Islamabad Airport, which was very efficient at 4am, I got from my plane to taxi in less than twenty minutes. The guy at passport control was a fan of the New Zealand cricket team. It had the most colourful luggage carrousels I’ve ever seen.

I only had part of a day at the start of my fortnight travelling around northern Pakistan, but did see a couple of highlights. The most obvious being the huge Faisal Mosque, the fourth largest in the world (by capacity), and largest in South Asia. It was the largest mosque in the world between 1986 and 1993 before mega mosques were built in the Middle East. It can accommodate up to 100,000 people in the main areas, including 10,000 inside the hall (only open to worshipers), and another 200,000 in adjoining grounds.

Oddly it didn’t feel that sizeable, with a good sense of scale and proportion, and an unusual design from a Turkish architect who won a design completion. Unlike most mosques it doesn’t have a dome, and it was surrounding by lush forest marking the start of the Himalayan foothills. We timed it nicely to catch sunset light.

I also visited the interesting if original artefact light Lok Virsa Museum. This provided a good overview of the customs and traditions of Pakistan, and the influences of nearby countries (Iran, China, Central Asia). Much of the collection was replica, but it does have a wonderful collection of original wooden doors, some Pakistani muppets, and a colourful bus outside (many more of these wonderful vehicles to come in following posts).

Author: jontycrane

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