A European feel in Islamabad

Trip Start Aug 10, 2008
Trip End Dec 01, 2010

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Flag of Pakistan  ,
Tuesday, March 3, 2009

When I was in Peshawar I met a French girl, P, who lives 40% of the year in Islamabad and 60% of the time in Paris. She said if I came to Islamabad I could stay so I took her up on her kind offer for a few days. I needed to go there because I was to catch my first flight since the start. From all that I'd seen and heard I really wanted to go to The Kalash Valleys in the Chitral region and at this time of year I had been told that the roads were not passable because of the snow. The only way to get there was through Afghanistan or by air so reluctantly I came to explore the latter option from Islamabad. .
Islamabad was unlike anywhere else I'd been in Pakistan. It was quite European in some ways with many people in western clothes, long, straight, wide, tree-lined roads, cleaner than other areas and for a city it was very green with some wooded areas, parks and trees...oh and lots of Marijuana plants growing wild! It is a huge contrast to Rawelpindi which is only a 20 minute drive away, and the differences are mainly because the city is so new - about 40 years old. Because of it's size and age,  Islamabad is set out like a grid with letters and numbers assigned to different areas and walking around was very different - lots of big, expensive house belonging to foreign workers and diplomats, with security guards at the gates. Dotted around were areas with shops, banks and restaurants. When I went out to explore I found a little café in the park where I got scoops of ice-cream and a cappuccino and that seemed so strange to me to get in the middle of Pakistan.
P was busy with work but that suited me to explore myself. On one of the days we took a walk up to Magella Hills together and I was amazed that just a few minutes walk from the offices, shops and houses there was such nature - this was a large wooded area with fantastic views from the top. Lots of people come up here to escape and there were drinks stalls and 'shoot the balloon with a gun' game that seems popular here. Later we went down to the zoo which was also nice for a walk. It's a nice area for families and kids and P said her younger daughter loved it here and even spent some time in the local school.
In the evenings I got to meet P's friends who either dropped in for a drink or we went out for food. It was interesting to meet some 'modern' or 'westernised' locals and they were really nice guys with a very different lifestyle to the other parts of Pakistan that I'd visited. P loves it here - particularly for the people side- her friends just drop in to see her without making 'appointments' as it works in Europe. She likes the fact that things just happen - I've got to agree that side is really appealing and something I've got used to since I've been here - you don't always know who you'll see of where you'll end up but it's usually interesting!
So onto my flight, I went to the PIA office and was told that there haven't been flights for around a week - I had been warned of this because it's a difficult route and the weather is notoriously bad over the high passes. Still I booked the next available flight and kept my fingers crossed.
On the morning of the flight I left at the crack of dawn, made my way to the airport, checked in and waited anxiously at the gate with the other passengers. The flight time came and went and an announcement came over in Urdu to explain it had been cancelled again - I didn't need to understand the words - I just saw the disappointment in the faces of the people around me, Some of them had been waiting days to go home - coming to the airport each morning and going through the failed process each time. I wondered how long it would take me.  I picked up my luggage, rebooked for the next day and went off to find some transport. I didn't want to impose on P any more and in fact Rawelpindi was a bit closer to the airport so I decided to go back there for a night.  
Back in my usual hotel in Pindi I was happy to see the guy working there that I'd chatted to on the previous trips. We had a nice evening catching up over a couple of glasses of secret whiskey and I also bumped into another traveller I'd met here before that had since become attached to a local girl - I think he'll be staying a bit longer!  
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