By Fatima Shaheen Niazi
Travelling alone in Pakistan isn’t easy, especially if you are a woman. But here’s a newsflash – it’s not impossible either! All you need to do is break the chains of society dictating what you can and cannot do based on your gender.
Here’s what convinced me to travel alone. I have always been a traveller with an obsessive-compulsive disorder to see anything and everything good in a city. But never have I ever been able to find a travel buddy who matches my level of enthusiasm. Frankly speaking, travelling with people often slows you down, and rarely will you find someone who would choose architecture and heritage over a visit to the mountains.
Yes, I love buildings and I’m not afraid to admit it. All I required was the strength to sightsee alone. And I finally got a chance to experiment solo travel when I was sent to Islamabad for two days on a work assignment.
The thought of sightseeing without a friend to gossip with seemed odd at first. But then a shameful thought clicked in my head – I was 30-years-old and couldn’t travel around a city without a significant other or a male family member. It was in that minute that I picked up my phone and googled ‘sites to see in Islamabad.’
The mission: To discover the cultural heritage of Islamabad.
The time I had: Two days.
Here’s how I saw some of the best places in Islamabad alone.
Things to do
Before you head out to explore the city, it’s important to make an itinerary for yourself. During this process, you will end up choosing the top sites you want to go to. I did all this sitting in my hotel room located In Islamabad’s blue area. It was essential to figure out how far each site was from my hotel so I could calculate my travel time. Unfortunately, during this itinerary development, I realised Taxila was too far away and I couldn’t add it to my list.
Also check the closing time of every place on your list. Many heritage sites and museums often shutdown before the sun sets.
The second step: Rent yourself a car. Sure, in the world of ride hailing apps, booking a car might sound odd. But according to my calculation, it was cheaper, and would stop me from freaking out when the mobile network signals drop at a place like Daman-e-koh. Besides, when you have one driver taking you everywhere, it’s easier to develop a bond with him. This actually helps since the driver can best guide you on the shortcuts of the city.
The third step: Pack yourself some food that won’t spoil for a few hours such as protein bars, fruits, sandwiches and chocolates. I did this only because I felt sitting at a restaurant and eating a meal would be a waste of time since I had a schedule to follow.
Last but not least, wear attire that you feel the most comfortable. Keep a dupatta with you if Faisal Mosque is on your list of places to go.
The tour of the magnificent Islamabad
Day 1: The first spot visited was the Faisal mosque since it’s one of the most famous locations in Islamabad. The mosque that was constructed by the Saudi King Faisal, is recognised for its contemporary Islamic architecture. Apart from the design, an interesting fact about the mosque is the triangular prayer hall that is big enough to hold 10 thousand worshippers.
The best part about the house of worship; its extremely peaceful. I walked around the cold marble floor of the mosque for nearly half an hour and would have stayed there longer if time wasn’t my greatest enemy.
The next designation was Saidpur village. Though the village is known for the restaurants and food, I was perfectly happy with just sightseeing and photography. Here’s a little history on the place – Saidpur Village is more than five hundred years old and is known for its heritage, history and folklore. The village that is home to exquisite and unique structures also represents a contrasted culture where Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs used to live together.
My visit to both the locations went smoothly and the tourists and locals were quite respectful. I didn’t get any glares or catcalls, nor did anyone try to speak to me just because I was alone. As I sat in the car and headed towards Margalla hills (Trail 5), it suddenly hit me – the fear was in my head. I was perfectly safe. I was a woman travelling alone in Pakistan and it was completely alright!
By the time I reached Margalla hills, I was more confident than ever. The trail is one of the greenest places in Islamabad and also provides one of the best views of the mountains. And since there is so much nature in the area, you can barely remember you are in a city.
From there, I headed to the scenic Daman-e-Koh – the place where Islamabad is literally at your feet. Looking down from the edge of Daman-e-Koh, the first thing everyone notices is the Faisal Mosque glistening away as the sun set.
A little warning for anyone planning to visit this place alone, the site is extremely crowded with tourists and locals. Seeing the crowd, I felt a little uncomfortable exploring the place alone, so I simply asked the driver to tag along with me. Also, carry some snacks for the adorable monkeys living in the area. They will beg you for food whether you like it or not.
From Daman-e-koh, the only spot that I could visit as the sun set was the Islamabad monument. Though I made this decision due to lack of time, I recommend everyone to visit this site only at night. Why? Because the monument is lit up in the night and literally glows like an alien UFO.
For those who have just seen the monument in photos, you will love what you see in real as each dome of the monument has intricate carvings on the inside.
Day 2: While I had planned to explore the city the entire day, due to a turn of events I only had till 4:00 pm to check out the other sites on my list. Hence, I decided to head to the Lok Virsa Museum and the Pakistan Museum of Natural history.
I hadn’t really expected to see much at the Lok Virsa museum, but oh how wrong I was! The place is hands down one of the best historical experiences I have ever had. Focusing on culture, history and literature, Lok Virsa tells the story of different civilisations of Pakistan using beautifully constructed statues.
The heritage museum located on Shakarparian Hills is an intriguing maze of creativity and is bound to captivate the visitors for hours. I for one, spent two hours there even though I was trying to rush the visit. Also, I spotted groups of foreigners at the museum who seemed to love the place as much as I did.
By the time I got out, it was already 2:30 pm and the only choice I had was to head to the Pakistan Museum of Natural history. To be honest, though I was excited about this place, it didn’t impress me much after Lok Virsa. So, if I were you, I would skip it.
The moral of the story…
Though all of us like company, travelling alone gives you the power and independence to do whatever you want. It is something everyone must experience at least once in their lives. And even if you don’t like to travel solo, push yourself to explore a city if circumstances require you to travel alone.
Why miss out on beauty and culture just because you don’t have someone to give you company? Most importantly, there is nothing to fear while travelling solo. Even if it’s in Pakistan.