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History of Islamabad Capital of Pakistan

Updated on October 11, 2016
Sareena Hotel Islamabad 11 Oct, 2016
Sareena Hotel Islamabad 11 Oct, 2016

Islamabad, Pakistan's federal capital, is a new city standing back-to back with an old one Rawalpindi. The two street-plans hint at very separate identities. Islamabad is divided into functional Squares and rectangles: Rawalpindi (better known simply as 'Pindi") sprawls across the map with all the accidental irregularity of ancient human settlement.

A drive through the cities confirms this first impression, Islamabad's quiet suburban charm, its atmosphere of hushed officialdom, and its green, tree-lined avenues, contrast sharply with Pindi's vigorous commercialism, its noisy bustling markets and its dusty streets thronged with traffic. Nevertheless, the old and the new are intimately connected.

7th Avenue Islamabad.
7th Avenue Islamabad.

The planners saw Islamabad and Pind together eventually expanding into a massive twin-city with a population of up to six million sharing common urban services and amenities. Though a megalopolis on this scale is still along way oft. there is no doubt that Islamabad-Pindi is already a reality for the citizens of the two communities. There is a high degree of social and business contact and traffic moves constantly on the dual-carriageway that joins the city centers.

The idea for Islamabad emerged some years after the independence of Pakistan. It became apparent that Karachi, though in every way the commercial capital of the country, had many shortcomings as an administrative center for federal government. In 1959, therefore, a commission was appointed to select a location for an entirely new city and eventually the present site was chosen, on the recommendation of Doxiades Associates, urban-planners for Athens. A master-plan was then drawn up for Islamabad, setting off the urban area against the backdrop of the Margala Hills to the north and Rawal Lake to the south.

Construction work started in October 1961, directed by many World-famous architects and planners including Ponti and Edward Durell Stone. By 1964 Islamabad's first residents—mostly federal civil servants—had started to arrive. Today the city is a fully functional federal capital with a population in excess of I75,000 Travelers entering Islamabad for the first time are struck by its greenness. More than six million trees have been planted here since the foundations were laid. The result is that, from the air, the capital seems to have been thrown down in the midst of virgin forest.

Most of the buildings are low, rarely exceeding two stories, and this makes it difficult to get a perspective on the city from anywhere within its boundaries. The best viewpoint by far is the Daman-e-Koh, a terraced garden on the Margalla Hills from where it is possible to see the whole of Islamabad spread out before you, dominated by the towering minarets of the new Shah Faisal Congregational Mosque, and by the Houses of Parliament. A light haze seems to lie over this city ringed around with mountains and caught between the green earth and the powder-blue sky. The air, at some 1,700 feet (51.8 meters) above sea level, is fresh and bracing. The nights are cool throughout the year and there are even occasional light snowfalls in winter.

A closer acquaintance with. Islamabad reveals the careful planning that has been put into it as it has expanded and grown. The gentle, undulating land on which the city lies has been made a feature of a spacious and aesthetically attractive layout divided by function into eight distinct zones administrative, diplomatic, industrial, commercial, and so on.

The residential areas are laid out as a series of self-contained townships which reflect the traditional character of the neighborhood in Pakistani towns and have their own shopping and recreational centers, educational and health facilities. Because of this `cellular' design Islamabad has largely managed to avoid the soullessness so common in other new towns and cities throughout the world ; nevertheless, it will be many years before it shrugs off its 'show-case' atmosphere and becomes completely settled in its ways, with its own character. Fourteen and a half kilometers to the south, Rawalpindi presents a sharp and total contrast to Islamabad's brave new world.

Not far away. in the Soan Valley, some of the earliest Stone Age relics in the subcontinent have been found, dating back about half a million years. They belong to an era when the climate and the landscape differed significantly from the present day and when the Himalayan snow mantle spread downwards towards the plains. Modern Rawalpindi dates back to around the fourteenth century when it was destroyed and subsequently rebuilt by the Mughals. Later, in the nineteenth century. the British arrived and turned it into a major cantonment town garrisoned by many thousands of troops, whose responsibility it was to guard the North-West Frontier.

The cantonment atmosphere persists today, as does its associated military flavor, for Pindi is the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army. Most notably, however, this is a town of transients, a pleasant place in which to stop for a night or a week on the road through Murree to Kashmir for travelers from the west or south. Pindi stands square on the ancient Grand Trunk Road, 162 kilometers from Peshawar and 275 kilometers from Lahore. Because it is at such a significant crossroads the town's bazaars—Saddar, Raja, Sarafa and Murree Road offer an absorbing pot-pourri of the produce and workmanship of the neighboring regions: Kashmiri silver, shawls and jackets; Bokhara carpets; embroidered kurtas and woolen kaftans; cane baskets, furniture and walking-sticks. All these things, reminiscent of other places and peoples, beckon the traveler outwards and onward.


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