Islamabad is relatively a quiet city. It 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 and missions appointed in Pakistan; and covers an area of 1,165.5 km² (450 mi²) of which 906 km² (349.8 mi²) is Islamabad proper. 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.
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 in Islamabad 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 and Kaghan and northern areas like Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu & Chitral located in the Himalayas mountains.
You’ll soon notice that Islamabad is laid out on a grid system. E7, F6, F7, G6, G7 are the oldest sectors. F8, F10, F11, G10, G11, I8 are the sectors 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 living 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 / Rawalpindi Airport situated in the middle of Rawalpindi receives flights from a variety of international destinations, including in Europe via Turkish Airlines’ hub in Istanbul (from London, Manchester, Birmingham, Amsterdam, Geneva, Zurich, Frankfurt, Paris, and many more), the middle east Dubai (via Emirates, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Shaheen Air), Sharjah (AirBlue), Muscat, Doha, and Baghdad (Iraqi Airways) and other Asian cities such as Urumqi (China Southern Airlines) and Bangkok (Thai Airways). Worth noting that other international destinations are served direct from Karachi and Lahore, including the only link to central Asia (Uzbekistan Airways fly from Lahore to Tashkent). A taxi from the airport to Islamabad is around Rs400 (in a yellow non a/c cab). You can easily walk out of the airport and hail a taxi to get a cheaper price. The white Toyota Corolla aircon radio cabs will set you back Rs800/
Islamabad airport can get busy and groan under the weight of departing passengers, meaning giving yourself 2 hours prior to departure is a good idea. As with most places in Pakistan queuing is a optional concept and hence checking-in can involve getting those elbows out and pushing to the front.
- Niazi Express, Skyways and Daewoo Sammi (+92 51 111 007 008) are some of the nicer long-haul operators. Skyways offer some direct services to/from Islamabad and Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi. Daewoo has its own terminal on the road from Islamabad just outside Rawalpindi. The majority of buses arrive and depart from Rawalpindi, a few kilometers and a 45 minute taxi ride from Islamabad. It’s best to book Daewoo by phone in advance if possible. At the moment they serve Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Murree, Sialkot, Abottabad, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad and Multan.
Since First Class travel with Pakistan Railway is good, it’s worth knowing that Rawalpindi, the neighbouring city, has railway connections with various major cities including Karachi, Lahore & Peshawar.