I had read that Islamabad was the greenest city in Asia. Indeed, it almost felt like Northern Europe! Maybe it is one of the reasons I liked it so much there. I come from Paris which is a very green capital and France, also a very green country. In my street and all the streets of my neighborhood F7 there were trees and flowers. Less than a kilometer away there was the National Park of the Margalla Hills– we would hike every week in the hills and we still miss them a lot. I had never lived so close to nature and wilderness. We saw monkeys and boars besides beautiful birds in these rocky hills.
Islamabad has a very mathematical way of dividing its square neighborhoods because it is a very modern city, planned and built in the 1960s and settled only in the 1970s next to its much older sister city Rawalpindi. In the tiny village of Saidpur, between Islamabad and the hills, there is a very interesting photo exhibit showing Islamabad before it was developed. When Pakistan gained independence in 1947, Karachi was its capital. Planners have named the neighborhoods in Islamabad by letters from E to I – why not start by A is beyond me – and numbers from 5 to 18 – again, why not start at 1??? After 11 all the letters do not exist because it is still inhabited. Each square is divided into four smaller squares. When you gave your address it felt like playing naval battle: “I live in F7-2, one block from F8-3 … sunk!” Beyond Constitution Avenue, towards the north east, the area could be number 4, it comprises most of the public buildings: presidential palace, parliament, court of justice, etc. Beyond this, which could be number 3, is the diplomatic enclave, a little Fort Knox for embassies.
What is definitely a specificity of the Pakistani capital that I had never experienced before are the road blocks on every major roads: security check points that make cars zigzag and stop, show papers or car plate to a police officer, get approved and go on. It is like a permanent war and indeed when you think about it, the Taliban are definitely having a war. Someone had said something like ‘most countries have an army – the Pakistani army has a country’. While in Senegal everyone had diplomatic plates displayed where car plates are supposed to and Senegalese knew all the numbers by heart – number one for France, number eight for the United States and so on – here the plates are unmarked and it is not until arriving at a check point or entering the diplomatic enclave that the driver places the red diplomatic plate on the windshield, and promptly hides it again. Diplomats are targets.
Another very Pakistani specialty is the No Objection Certificate (NOC). Whenever we wanted to go anywhere outside the city boundaries, past I18, we had to receive a NOC first. The government had to issue a certificate stating that it did not object to our visit somewhere. We had to fill a bunch of papers explaining where we wanted to go and how, whether it was for a tourist or business purpose. If we rented a car we had to list the plate number and if we had a driver he had to give copy of his papers as well so if you had to fill the papers a month before the trip and he got sick, you were out of luck! Or if the listed car got in an accident prior to your rental and the rental company changed it … Indeed where it got complicated is that there were a NOC for ‘open’ places and a NOC for ‘closed’ places. The ruins of Taxila are ‘open’ so the NOC needed to be requested only 48 hours in advance; however the Murree brewery is a ‘closed’ place, so the NOC papers had to be processed at least 15 days in advance.
And yes there is a brewery which makes beer in a Muslim country, and whiskey, vodka, gin, etc.