Faisal Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world, is an iconic symbol of Islamabad.
Saidpur is a quaint village in Islamabad offering glimpses of multicultural heritage flourishing under the Margalla Hills.
Pakistan Monument, representing the different regions and cultures of Pakistan, is located in Shakarparian Hills.
Islamabad’s striking sceneries, fecund gardens and plentiful parks, ensure its dwellers and visitors are never far from the nature. Hiking, Biking, Boat rides, Bird Watching, Hill climbing, morning/evening walks are some of the options to discover Islamabad’s nature at its best that would offer you an experience to cherish forever. Whether you take a walk, or bike along the foothill of Margalla Hills, or drive around the city, you will surely be charmed by the natural beauty of Islamabad.
Fatima Jinnah Park
Islamabad is home to many splendid parks and gardens offering a cool respite from humdrum and frenzy of life. One such beautiful park is Fatima Jinnah Park, situated in F-9 sector of Islamabad, which is named after Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Pakistan’s founder). One of the largest gardens on Pakistan that is spread over 700 acres is perhaps the best kept park in the country. The recreational Park is covered by lush greenery, wonderful trees, as well as a few marvelous landmark structures. The beauty, neatness and location make it one of the most visited parks too. Some visit for regular running or exercise, whereas others like to take a carefree stroll while the kids enjoy slides, swings, cricket and football.
Derived from two words of the Potohari language, Shakar (meaning sweet) and Parian from Parao (a place to rest), the Shakarparian Park comprises of two viewpoints. Terraced garden of Shakarparian offers pleasant panoramic views of Margalla Hills, Islamabad and Rawalpindi from atop. Pakistan Monument and Pakistan Museum is located on the west viewpoint of the Hill. The east viewpoint of the Park is one of the most visited picnic spots of the city and includes a small garden with an arboretum which is most famous for trees planted by foreign heads of state (Kings/Presidents/Prime Ministers). The planting of trees by world leaders is a symbol of friendship between the two countries.
Lake View Park
Visiting Lake View Park can be a whole day of fun and amazing experience for the whole family. The park offers a wonderful boating, fishing, and playing opportunity and also great campground, picnic areas for the visitors. Train rides are also available for individuals who want to enjoy the beauty of the park without getting too tired. The park features picnic points, bird aviary, sitting pagoda, festival arena, passenger road train, boating (both paddle boats and row boats) and fishing area, swimming pool, ibex club, rock climbing gym, and motor sports ranch. A spacious walk-in bird aviary is a recent wonderful addition to the Lake View Park. The birdhouse is an enjoyable place for families and kids to take a walk among the beautiful birds and admire their beauty.
Refreshing experience, stunning views, and good food – Daman-e-Koh offers its all to its visitors. The beautiful hill point called Daman-e-Koh is a conjunction of two words, Daman (meaning Center) and Koh (meaning Hill) which aptly explains the hill location which is in the middle of the Margalla hill. Daman-e-Koh – about 2400ft from sea level and almost 500ft from the city of Islamabad – is a midpoint for travellers on their way to the higher view point Pir Sohawa that is located on top of Margalla Hills at an elevation of about 3600ft. This beautiful hill top garden and viewpoint is one of the most visited and popular destination for tourists as well as residents of Islamabad. Daman-e-Koh offers spectacular panoramic views of the city specially the newly constructed Seventh Avenue, the Faisal Mosque, Rawal Lake and Centaurus building.
Rose and Jasmine Garden
Famous for its ravishing roses, the Rose and Jasmine Park is one of the perfect place for family picnics, reunions, camping, and also has a great play area for kids. The garden is home to some 250 varieties of roses as well as a dozen types of Jasmines. Seasonal flower shows are a regular feature of Rose and Jasmine Garden.
Islamabad Zoo and Children’s Park
Located at the Daman-e-Koh, the city’s zoo is a recreational area and a wildlife sanctuary. Spread over an area of 82-acre (33 ha) of area, the zoo first opened in 1978 as a refuge for leopards, spotted deer, and Indian gazelle. A park caked Japanese Park (gift to Pakistani children from the children of Japan) has also been established near the Zoo which makes the visit to zoo double joy for kids.
Margallah Hills National Park
Spread over an area of roughly 17,386 hectares (67.13 sq mi), the Margallah Hills National Park is one of the remarkable parks of Pakistan. The Park comprises of the Margallah Range, the Rawal Lake and Shakarparian Sports and Cultural complex. Founded in 1980, hill range nestles between on elevation of 1,604 meters at the eastern end and 685 meters on its west. The rock formations in the Park are estimated to be 40 million years with fossils of marine life suggesting that the Margallah Hills were once under the sea.
Flora and Fauna in Margalla Hills
It is estimated that Margalla Hills are surrounded with about 250 to 300 species of plants and around two third of these are considered as medicinal plants. The plant species on Margalla hills belong to numerous families of trees, herbs, shrubs, climbers, grasses and fodder crops. The vegetation of the southern slopes is evergreen trees with most of flowering trees like Bauhinia variegata, Ficus carica, and trees like Pinus roxburghii, Quercus leucotrichophora. In the north stand pines, Eucalyptus, Peepal trees (Ficus religiosa), Paper Mulberry and groves of Oak, silver oaks. Over the years, however, the hills have unfortunately suffered significantly from illegal logging and wood collection used for cooking and heating purposes. But CDA claims to plant 385000 saplings every spring.
The fauna is mainly Indo himalayan, with some overlapping of Palacaretic species. The birds found here are residents as well as winter migrants from higher altitudes of the North, spring ans summer visitor for breeding, and short day transit species arrive in spring.
Mammals: Asiatic leopard, Wild boar, Golden Jackal, Rhesus Macaque, Leopard cat, Gray Goral sheep, Barking deer, Chinkara gazelle, Red fox, Pangolin, Porcupine, Yellow throated marten and Fruit bats are some of the mammals found in the Park.
Birds: White cheeked bulbul, yellow vented bulbul, Laggar falcon, Peregrine falcon, Kestrel, Indian sparrow hawk, Himalayan Griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture, Paradise flycatcher, Black partridge, Cheer pheasant, Golden oriole, spotted dove, Collared dove, Larks, Shrikes, Wheatears and buntings.
Reptiles: Russell’s viper, Indian cobra, Saw scaled viper and Himalayan pit viper.
Walk among the Margalla Hills
The magnificent Margalla Hills – foothills of the Himalayas – is indeed the symbol of Islamabad that beautifully signifies the serenity and splendor of the city. Charmingly covered with diverse type of trees, shrubs and hubs, the Margalla Hills are also home to many exotic birds and also some wild animals like jackals, leopards, monkeys, etc. The highest peak is Tilla Charouni which gets snowfall in winters. The city’s highest tourist spot is Pir Sohawa (3000+ ft elevation).
Activities on the Margalla Hills
Bird watching – The Hills offer an excellent opportunity for bird watchers.
Hiking and trekking – The magnificent Hills invites both regular and casual hikers to take a walk and explore the beauty and serenity that the Hills offer.
Rock climbing – Climbing in Margalla is a real treasure. Few crags and spots for rock climbing have also been developed and identifies in Margalla Hills for adventurous souls. Rock climbing is no child’s play but with sufficient knowledge, cautious attitude and right use of equipment, it can be turned into a safe yet exciting experience. This book by Pakistan Alpine Institute is considered a great guide to Rock Climbing Islamabad.
Hiking around Islamabad – Adventurous Experience
Though easily accessible from all areas of Islamabad but these hills shouldn’t be underestimated. The hills are quite huge and steep too and need proper preparations, such as tough footwear, large water bottle, if you plan to walk up to the top of the first crest that is here the Monal restaurant is located. Winter is the best time to take up trekking activity but not during peak months like December and January. During May and September it is better to start walking early in morning (Around 6 or 7 am)as it gets uncomfortably hot during the day and there’s good chance you’ll be drenched in sweat by the time you get to the top.
What you need:
- Pair of good shoes
- First Aid Kit
- Water and some snacks
- Perhaps a camera to capture the beauty (and your accomplishment)
Trails in Islamabad
There are sundry trails to choose from but the more popular ones Trail 3, Trail 5 and the Zoo Trail. Google Earth gives a good way to orientate yourself before you set out.
Trail 2 (Zoo trail)
Begins from a point near Islamabad Zoo.
Trail 2 is a good choice for a 1-2 hour walk. The trails begins a little way up Pir Sohawa or you can start from the right of the entrance of the Islamabad Zoo and leads up to the Daman-e Koh viewpoint – if you want to continue walking a trail up to Cactus Ridge leads from next to the Police checkpoint near the entrance to Daman-e Koh.
Trail 3 is the most popular and old hiking track of Islamabad. The relishing walk begins from Margalla Road (the intersection of Margalla Road & Ataturk Avenue). This little steep and dynamic trail goes up to the Viewpoint (takes about 30 – 50 minute) from where you can continue on for another calm 45-60 minutes trek to reach the Pir Sohawa – a comforting place to relax, enjoy some great food and a stunning view.
This trail is in fact a link trail between Trails 3 and 5.
Trail 5 – begins from Margalla Road in F-5
This convenient Trail is considered an easy climb, preferred by hikers of all ages, even beginners. A grand 300 year old Banyan tree at the entrance welcomes the visitors to this trail who are later to be captivated by a fresh water stream and melodic chirping of different birds. These pleasing sights and sounds together with the serene refreshing ambiance of the trail is indeed an incredible experience.
Trail 6 – begins on backside of Faisal Mosque
To reach Trail 6, head to the car parking area of the Faisal Mosque where you can find sign board to get on right track. This less travelled trail is also known as E7 or Faisal Mosque as it is often hard to find the trailhead. This relatively new hiking trail is equipped with exclusive features including a separate track for mountain bikers, and a smooth slope for senior citizens. Bird-watching facility is also a unique feature of Trail 6 which makes the track a must visit place. The scenic Trail lacks signposts or marks which is why it is little used. The trail lead you to Pir Sohawa road (about 20 minute walk to the Monal restaurant) from where one can head west to the top of Trail 5 or head down to the Saidpur village trail or in case of fatigue simply catch a taxi to get back to town.
Saidpur trail – backside of Saidpur Village
The way to this less commuted trail can be found by following the watercourse that leads one to the backside of the village. Saidpur Trail leads up to the Monal restaurant on Pir Sohawa.
Bari Imam trail – Near Bari Imam cave
This trail offers an adventurous as well as religious experience as it begins with steps leading up to the Brai Imam cave from where one can head to the Pir Sohawa road, where there are good cafes and hotels to treat yourself after a long hike. To reach this trail, drive to Nurpur Shahan (where the tomb of Bari Imam is situated), then head to road junction and turn left until you come across a small guesthouse.