Faisal Mosque – free entrance
Olea and I went to the great mosque in Islamabad, which was one of the biggest mosques in Asia. To give you a bit of history, it is located in the affluent neighbourhood of Margala Hills and features a contemporary design consisting of eight sides of concrete shell, inspired by a Bedouin tent. It is named after the Saudi King Faisal, since he donated $120M dollars to build the mosque in 1976. Currently, it is the largest mosque in Pakistan and fourth largest in the world in terms of capacity. The covered area is over 5000 square meters and can handle up to 10,000 worshippers in the main hall, but another 200,000 or so in the courtyard and adjoining grounds. Hence, it is a very big place!
We could not enter the actual building, but we walked around outside and took some pictures. It was pretty early in the morning at 8am so there were very few people, but the ones that were there were staring at the Caucasian girl and the Asian guy. Well, it’s a rare occasion to see tourists for them. We hung out at the courtyard for a while until we got interrupted by the cleaning man. I’m not sure what was his problem, but he was sweeping the garbage toward us. I felt like yelling at the guy, but since I was in a foreign country, I did not. We left the courtyard and decided to head to Daman-e-Koh, a lookout about one and a half kilometer from the mosque. The walk to get to the bottom of the lookout was beautiful. There were absolutely no cars and this area had some very big houses with nice gardens. We could tell that the area was expensive since the fruit vendor were selling fruits for three times the price as normal (I ended up buying a few tangerines for a 100 Rupees) and the houses were gigantic.
We hiked for about 20 minutes to get to the top of the mountain. It was an easy walk uphill and clearly marked. When we got to the summit, there were many locals there and kids on school trips. The view was absolutely horrendous, the sky was foggy and we could barely see anything. We were told that it had not rained in Islamabad for over a month, hence the dust was everywhere and the land was very dry. Supposedly when it rains, Islamabad becomes very green and the sky would be clear. I hope to see that one day. There were several monkeys looking for food and scaring some of the Pakistanis away, one monkey was drinking coke from a can. It was a pretty cool sight, but that reminded me of a gringo on an island off of Ko Phi Phi, when he gave a beer to the monkey. It chugged the beer like a frat boy.
About half an hour later, Talha picked us up and he dropped me off at my hotel. It was time to say goodbye to the two, since they were heading back to Lahore. I truly enjoyed their company for four days and cannot thank them enough for hosting me.
I spent the rest of the three days in Islamabad touring around the city.
Islamabad was small in the sense that everything was close by. It had the mountains on one end and all these lookouts and hiking trails that faced the city. I mainly hung out around my hotel area, which was near the embassies and shopping malls. The shopping malls had some nice restaurants, fast food parlors, ice rinks, bowling alleys (I played for the first time in years and shot a whopping 189!) and more. I spent a few hours at the shopping mall and one of the cafes with some locals that I befriended.
I had coffee and dinner with Qarib, whom I met via a whatsapp group from Iran. He showed me around Islamabad with his car (90% of the cars being Japanese) and took me to a wonderful barbeque restaurant called Barbeque Tonight (the name says for itself right?). Islamabad was different to the other cities, since there were foreigners working at embassies and lots of Chinese that probably worked in the city as well. The Chinese government has been investing a lot of money in Pakistan and currently building a highway from China all the way to the coast of Pakistan.
One day, I climbed trail three of the hiking route. I was planning on going all the way to the top to Monal and eating lunch there, but the hike was two to two and a half hours and hiking alone was never safe. Hence, I did a shorter route for about one and a half hours, coming down to Saidpur Village since I had to meet another local Ali for coffee at Chaaye Khana. By the way, Chaaye Khana was a very relaxing tea place and I enjoyed the ambience there. Expect to pay three or four times the going price, but well worth it. There were no Starbucks in Pakistan, for those into Seattle coffee.
On my last night, I met up with Ali again and we had dinner at Saidpur Village. The village was about a 10 minute ride from the hotel and close to the city center. There was a small museum with locals playing music and several restaurants. We ended up going to one of the popular places and had Karahi for dinner. I wanted to end my Pakistan trip on the high note with my favorite food, but I did have concerns going on the redeye flight to Kuala Lumpur, since Karahi was spicy and may result in frequent trips to the restroom. You don’t want to be doing that on the plane. Overall, I did not face the bathroom problem.
My time in Pakistan was very short, but I really loved it. I went in early December, which was getting quite cold and the best time to visit would be in the summer time. Ali owns a travel agency and he does numerous trips to the northern part of Pakistan, to the border of Afghanistan and China. I definitely want to do that next time. I will certainly be coming back to Pakistan again soon.
If you have any questions, please do let me know.