The Tranquil Charm of Islamabad: An Australian Perspective

Contributed by: Oliver Fisher, Australian intern for our Change in Progress 2.0 Project

The residents of this city are late to rise, as I start my morning walk the sky bleeds red as the sun creeps up higher in to the sky. I see mothers holding their children’s hands as they make there way to drop them off at school. The milkman ladles milk in to containers, before riding off to his next deliverer. Fruit stalls start appearing and barbers sharpen their cut throat razors. People sit in park benches, engrossed in the newspapers. Steam billows out as the first cups of tea are drunk, a small momentary look of enjoyment passes their face as they take the first sip. Children start to set up games of cricket using whatever space they can find. This is Islamabad, these are the simple scenes that will stay etched in my mind long after I leave.

The capital of Pakistan and the administrative heart of the nation, often described as dull and boring. Islamabad is not often high on everyone’s to see list. But what Islamabad lacks in culture and excitement it makes up with its vast array of parks, open space and slower style of life. It is a city that I have been lucky enough to call home for the last month and a half, a city that I am glad that I have had a chance to explore and discover. Islamabad is slow and languid compared to the busy Metropolises of Karachi and Lahore. Life seems to canter along with no real rush, this is something that is rare in South Asia and this makes Islamabad a gem in its own right.

The people here are genuinely kind, inquisitive and extremely hospitable. Most times when I venture out of the office for a walk I end up in conversation with someone about what am doing in Pakistan, where am I from and how long am I here for? This more often than not ends up with an offer to take tea with them, the most recent instance a conversation with a 14 year old boy and his mother who had travelled from Rawalpindi for the day for hospital treatment. He shared with me how he wished to be a doctor, how he hoped that he might be able to make some small change in this world. He had big dreams but he realised that growing up in Pakistan he would probably not be able to achieve them, but that was not going to stop him from trying. Everyone in Islamabad has a story to tell and they are more than happy to share it with you.

The people that I meet here never ask for money, they never want something out of me. They are simply curious about foreign cultures; deprived of tourists due to security issues in the country the people here simply want an opportunity to experience the outside world. Because the likelihood is that most of these people will never venture far from home. If the security issues improve here then the locals will be waiting to share their hospitality with the influx of tourists. It is a real shame that not many people come here, because you are guaranteed to having an enriching journey here. I truly believe that Pakistan will eventually be able to overcome most of its problems, it may take time but I think Pakistan will get there in the end. When this does happen Pakistan will become a tourist destination in its own right and I can’t wait until the day in which the world gets to experience the real Pakistan. I can’t wait until the day that the world is moved by Pakistan.

The difference between the wealthy and the poor is exceedingly obvious and stark in Islamabad. The blue area is full of designer shops, foreign food outlets and even skyscrapers. If you take a stroll through the Centaurus complex it is not hard to imagine that you are in a western country. But only minutes away form the wealth and prosperity are the slum communities. Rubbish fills the slums, contaminating drinking water and causing health issues in the communities. In their poverty a large amount of adolescents turn to drugs which are cheap and readily available. Being in a developing country you expect poverty, but what is most alarming is how close the slums are to the wealth. There is a lot of help needed in these communities, mainly in education so that perhaps the children in these communities can have a bright future.

Islamabad reminds me of Canberra in Australia; both cities were planned out and built to be the nation’s capital. Both cities have open spaces, greenery and plenty of trees. These things are usually a scarcity in an overpopulated and developing nation. Islamabad may not always be the most exciting city to visit, but if you are willing to spend a little time here then you will no doubt find a city that is refreshing and quite different from any other city in South Asia. Islamabad should be visited by all that come to Pakistan, true it may not have the grandeur of Lahore or the stark beauty of the Northern region. But what it does have is a calm, leisurely and peaceful way of life.