I have been in Islamabad since 17 December and have thoroughly enjoyed being back in this beautiful city in the winter. Living in tropical Liberia, where one experiences two seasons - a really dry one and a really wet one - it is nice to experience a different climate, especially such a deliciously cold one. There are wintry colours everywhere: yellow grass, dried out golden leaves, seasonal flowers in bloom and the streaming winter sun.
And then there are the pine-tree-lined beautiful roads and highways, the Margalla Hills in the background, the beautiful elitist homes with armed security guards, the manicured gardens, and this snobby quietness that is so special to Islamabad.
I have been gushing about the beauty of Islamabad to everyone and to myself. Well sure, some of this wide-eye wonder comes from the fact I live in a very shabby, war-affected, run-down capital of West Africa and yes, I am relishing being in a city that is not only functions but looks great, too, and is so clean. I literally drink in the beauty. I just love Islamabad.
But most of this appreciation really stands on its own. Islamabad is a beautiful city.
So, what are some of my favourite places and things to do in Islamabad? Here they are in no particular order:
1) Getting my favourite cake (almond syrup) from United Bakery in F-6. Like with most favourites, they are usually rooted in one's comforting childhood memories and so it is with the United Bakery almond syrup cake which we have been enjoying every since we were kids.
They keep changing the decor, though, and it's different each time we go there in the last few years. I guess they are trying out a new style but with the space they have, they need to better utilise it.
This time around they have put the counters in the middle and along the sides with loads of space in between. They really need to get an interior decorator to re-do the space that doesn't need to be too fancy but simple, cozy and inviting. They could even start serving tea and coffee and put a coffee bar by the front window with some bar stools and it could be really hip.
2) Shopping at Generation for funky, cool shalwar kameez -es. This has got to be a topper for me. Ami always has beautifully stitched clothes (from the tailor) ready for me each time I visit but still, shopping at Generation is amazing. I love browsing their funky collection, they way they mix materials, the bold colours and their twist on the versatile shalwar kameez.
When I used to actually live and work in Islamabad, I used to only wear Generation clothes. Sure, loads of other ready-made stores are out there, but I usually only buy at Generation because they are edgy, funky and cool. I prefer their clothes over all the other too-girly-for-my-taste clothes other shops have on offer.
I must admit though I do also shop at Khaadi for ready-made clothes, they have some pretty funky clothes too.
Generation does have its down's though. They only accept cash! It is so irritating! So, if you want to buy loads of clothes in one go, you need to have a lot of cash ready.
The other down is the pushy women who shop there! Sheeeesh, they are rude. Everyone kept pushing into each other and did not even bother apologising. I was really amused and shocked at the same time. And then they give such bitchy stares.
3) Going to the tailor's to pick up newly-stitched jora's. This particular tailor has been stitching our clothes for a decade now and it's always nice to catch up with him whenever I am in town. Ami had got a few jora's already made for me and I also got a few more made. All in all, yes, I went crazy on the clothes shopping. I guess one cannot help it - spending money on clothes.
4) Getting hot, frothy and sweet 45-rupee coffee and 10-rupee spicy potato fries from the road stalls in Jinnah Super Market while window shopping.
5) Buying truck loads of pirated DVDs and CDs from Illusions in Jinnah Super Market in F-7 A single DVD costs 100 rupees and you can get all the movies, all the genres, all the albums your heart so desires.
What's more, they make freakingly awesome compilation CDs in Pakistan.
Moreover, each CD store has their own Top 10 compilation. So Illusions has their own. Radio City in Super Market in F-6 has their own.
6) Evening walks in my neighbourhood. I have a particular route that takes about 40 minutes to do. There is a mix of really unkempt, what-the-.... houses and really posh ones. There's also the 'green belts' and the jacaranda trees which are in bloom in springtime.
This time, I enjoyed the winter colours and the drizzling rain.
7) Eating a club sandwich everywhere we go. People inherit all kinds of stuff from their parents. We have inherited the love of the club sandwich! And boy, did I eat a lot of club sandwiches and they really know how to make them in Pakistan. They have perfected it.
So these are some of my favourite things about Islamabad. I realised this time around that sure, the city is snooty and dull compared to the other bigger and older cities of Pakistan but this city is blessed with natural beauty. So yes, if you want to have natural beauty around you but loads of snootiness, this is the city to come to!
So what's new? Or what's something new in good old Isloo?
I have also been amazed at how much this city has changed since the last time I was here. There has been an explosion of café's and it's been a delight to go to try out various ones. There's a café concentration in Khausar Market and all are pretty cool. There's even a few next to us in F-11 Markaz: Masoom's and Rock Bottom. My favourite one, though, is Chai Khana in F-6. It is cozy, even has a fireplace, comfy sofas, and just fantastic chai!
I have visited Khaas Gallery and Nomad Gallery with my brother initially. Khaas is small and quite stylish as it has a really nice cafe inside it. When we went, they had an exhibition of art by art graduates i.e. it was by budding artists. Half of the work was a bit boring and dare I say, amateurish, but some of it was quite bold. My favourite pieces were two portraits: Zia and Bhutto, two very important figures in Pakistani history. But they were already sold.
When we visited Nomad Gallery, there was an ongoing press event for an exhibition by Samina Ali. The paintings were mixed media and inspired by Lahore's Mughal History. We browsed through the gallery and learned it was the oldest gallery in Islamabad and had a lot of paintings and pieces to browse through. There was also a lot of 'truck art' to look at it, which was really very original and funky.
My brother convinced me to start looking into buying a Pakistani painting and I have been going to and fro, researching artists online and trying to find one I really love.
I also attended a really great concert at Khuch Khaas: a fusion of sufi music and jazz. The space was very intimate and the atmosphere was quite relaxed. The crowd was more or less into it and appreciated the amazing fusion of jazz, sufi music and subcontinental instruments. The first song was actually "Nature Boy" and to hear it being performed by this Haitian-French singer Cae and Arieb Azhar was amazing. All the songs were amazing and I was amazed at how they fused the two traditions together and actually pulled it off. I sooooo enjoyed the music and know that afters years of listening to jazz (whatever I could get my hands on, I don't claim to be an expert), I could really appreciate what was being done. I loved Arieb Azhar's voice, I loved Cae's jazz and enthusiasm, I loved the flutist, the classical guitar, the young kid on the guitar and of course the tabla player. Everyone had a really good rapport with each other.
Making New Friends While Buying Halwa Puri on A Sunday
When Haresh was here briefly, we went for an early-morning walk in the beautiful F-9 Park and stopped to get halwa puri on the way back. Haresh befriended a really nice gentleman because he figured out he's Sindhi. And that was the start of a beautiful friendship so much so that we made friends with the entire family. Sweet!
So yes, I have had a great time in Islamabad thusfar and it has really made me appreciate my home town. Yes, it's snooty, yes, it's not the real Pakistan, but it is beautiful. I like the place for what it is and let's not forget, I have lived and worked here for almost 2 years, so I know it's actually a really nice city to live in, too.
I also realise that to really appreciate, you have to see it for what it is and stop comparing it to other places you know. One has to make the most of the place you're in.
Finally, why have Pakistanis become so Allahhafizi??? I remember when everyone used to say khudahafiz (goodbye) and it sounded so nice. Now suddenly, everyone's saying Allahhafiz. I really prefer khudahafiz.