We visited Pakistan last year in November and I shared the journey on Facebook and Instagram through the voice of two friends Sitara and Emma as they went along with us.
I compiled all these posts together below. You can follow these posts on social media through the tag #SitaraAndEmma
Really missing Pakistan these days! When was the last time you went back?
Getting to Pakistan:
Meet Sitara and Emma! They are two friends who set off with us on our great traveling adventure. Sitara is all Pakistani and Emma is all Canadian but together they make a great Pakistani-Canadian team (just like our very own Urdu family). We will be sharing our travels through the eyes and views of these two friends. We set off from Calgary last week and reached Seattle. From Seattle we took a 14-hr flight and flew over North America, the Atlantic Ocean, Europe and the Middle East to land in Dubai. Somewhere over Eastern Canada we saw the northern lights around our plane and that was one of the most beautiful things we ever saw in our lives! Sitara and Emma kept busy on the flight by watching movies (Urdu of course), catching on sleep and reading some books. From Dubai we took a 2.45 hrs long flight to reach Islamabad. There is a twelve hours time difference between Islamabad and Calgary. So Sitara and Emma have been dealing with jetlag by enjoying many midnight feasts and taking lots of morning naps. Emma is loving the Pakistani food and her favorites so far are parathas and fruit chaat. Sitara has been enjoying introducing Emma to all her family & friends. We will be sharing all their adventures here, keep following!
Golra Train Station:
Sitara and Emma are enjoying their stay in Pakistan. Their recent visit was to the Golra Train Station at the outskirts of Islamabad. This train station was established in 1882 and is still active today. The Golra Heritage Museum is housed here sharing the story of Pakistan Railways. Sitara and Emma learnt about the colonial history of Pakistan under the British rule, and saw many relics from the era such as war equipment used in the 1857 mutiny, cutlery from the British Raj days and advertisements used by the British in the early 1900s to attract the local population to tea. The two friends felt as if they had stepped back in time as they saw rows of trees more than 200 years old, a waiting area for passengers from circa 1900 and first class carriages used by the founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the last viceroy to the subcontinent Lord Mountbatten. The best part? This train station is just 15 minutes out of Islamabad!
Book Stores in Islamabad:
We love books! So Sitara and Emma decided to visit the bookstores in Islamabad to stock up on some great treasures. Their first stop was London Book Co. in Kohsar Market. This is a two-storey bookstore with a lovely sitting area at the top. You can order some yummy snacks and drinks from Table Talk (UrduMom’s favorite restaurant in Islamabad) below while you get comfortable in a sofa, dig into some books and also do some people watching from the huge windows that look down into the market. We found some great books on Pakistan: travel, culture and history. Next stop was Saeed Book Bank in Jinnah Super Market, that’s the largest bookstore in the sub-continent. Spanning over three floors, the store is always buzzing with book lovers. We made ourselves comfortable on the second floor as we picked a huge collection of beautiful children Urdu books. We only wish there was a more comfortable sitting space besides the one sofa that we made ample use of. Third visit was to the Oxford University Press store in the Centaurus Mall. What a surprise this new addition to Islamabad is! With a lovely welcoming carpeted space, cushions to sit on and a million beautiful books to dig into, we easily spent two hours at this store. There is an amazing collection of books and we were impressed with the urdu ones. Sitara and Emma really enjoyed their visits to the book stores in Islamabad and we are very excited to share these books with you all in the future
Visit to a Farm:
Sitara and Emma went to the farm! And what fun a Pakistani farm was. They saw cows, goats, buffaloes and lambs. There were trees full of oranges, grapefruit and budding olive trees. The flowers were in bloom and Emma especially loved the star-like shape and dreamy smell of the “chambeli” flower. The hens were curious and the chicks adorable. The friends loved watching the gandoom (wheat) drying on the charpaye (beds) as they enjoyed the farm sounds of busy hands and a “cock-a-diddle-doo”. The maple leaves reminded them of Canada and they thought how beautiful, different but similar the world is. At the end of the visit they enjoyed a farm-fresh meal of local organic fruits and vegetables. Sitara and Emma can’t wait to go back.
Hitting the Malls:
Sitara and Emma decided to explore the malls during their stay in Islamabad and went to the two in the city: Centaurus and Safa Gold. Centaurus is accessible by the amazing new public transport metro buses in Islamabad and therefore more popular. Sitara told Emma that some people in Islamabad are afraid of the “pindi boys” and therefore frequent Safa Gold more. The friends decided to chat with the “pindi boys” and found them to be quite alright! They even got a tshirt in solidarity with the #pindiboys. Otherwise Sitara and Emma found these malls to be pretty similar to any around the world: they enjoyed some fun rides, had coffee at second cup and shopped at lot! There were some amazing views of the Margalla hills from the terrace restaurant at Centaurus that was a bonus treat!
Sitara and Emma loved visiting the classic Islamabad landmark: Faisal Mosque. It was a lovely warm sunny day and they loved posing in front of the mosque for a backdrop that’s a favorite postcard image for the city. The mosque is nestled between the green Margalla hills that surround Islamabad. Emma thought that the mosque reminded her of a castle. The grounds were full of many school children visiting the mosque for a field trip as there is a huge library and university inside the premises also. The friends enjoyed watching colorful Pakistani buses arriving with loads of enthusiastic visitors who eagerly got their polaroid shots taken by professional photographers. Sitara munched on a classic Pakistani snack: “chaali” (corn cooked in hot sand) while Emma took in the views of the Margalla hills. It was a beautiful day, indeed.
Sitara and Emma had lunch at the Des Perdes restaurant in Saidpur Village during their stay in Islamabad. Emma enjoyed watching a lovely small Pakistani village right in the middle of the capital city. The friends had a hearty lunch of biryani and kebab and then enjoyed a Pakistani-style after-lunch nap on comfy “charpais” (beds) under the warm sun. Afterwards they took in the amazing truck art decor at the restaurant and loved watched the colorful “rickshaw” on display. To stretch their legs, they walked over to a nearby old Hindu temple to witness the diversity of the country. The old “haveli” a few stair steps away, took them back to pre-partition days with the centre courtyard, beautifully painted walls and roofs and heavy wooden carved doors. Saidpur Village is a lovely co-existence of a village, modern restaurants and several artisan shops. It’s a great insight into the complexity and beauty of Pakistan: traditional and modern, humble but grand.
Lok Virsa Museum and Market:
What a fun day for Sitara and Emma at Lok Virsa Museum in Islamabad. The friends loved shopping for handicrafts in the outdoor market, enjoyed a monkey show and saw many outdoor exhibits like a Pakistani truck, a traditional bull carriage, and a river boat from Sindh. Can you spot Emma driving a truck? The LokVirsa museum is housed inside the big building and was a cultural wonderland. The friends explored the roots of Pakistani culture through beautiful exhibits showcasing ancient civilizations of gandhara, Harappa and mohenjeudero. There was Pakistani art past, present and future such as ajrak printing, truck art, music history, tillay ka kaam and much more. They met Pakistani heroes, folk lore heroes and historical figures. It was like walking into a beautiful Pakistan Studies book without the wars. What a memorable afternoon. LokVirsa is definitely a must visit in Islamabad!
And just like that in a blink of an eye it’s time to say goodbye to Pakistan. The bags were packed, there were tearful goodbyes and many promises made to visit again soon! The birds were especially sad to see the friends go and chirped a sad song. The two friends have learnt a lot about Pakistan and were now excited for their next destination in the Far East: Brunei! A quick note about Islamabad Airport: the friends had expected the worst since this was once voted the worst airport in the world. However they were pleasantly surprised with many recent changes and the samosas at the lounge were just divine!
As I compiled this post, I miss Pakistan even more! What a bittersweet experience. Let me know what you think of this journey and do share your best memories of visiting home.