I last went to Pakistan 10 years ago. For the past year, I have been harassing my parents to go again but they were just not having any of it. Unfortunately, when I finally got to go it wasn’t under the best of circumstances, but it was clearly fate that I was meant to go. It was hands down the most unplanned, spontaneous trip I have ever taken – my grandma fell ill on one of her annual visits to Pakistan; we found out on a Tuesday and by Friday morning we were flying out.
(side note: she’s recovered and is back home, please keep her in your prayers)
This was my first time visiting where my mum’s side of family is from in Pakistan. I have previously been to Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Murree and Gujar Khan (where my dad’s family is from), but not to Mirpur, Azad Kashmir. During the first three days I stayed at my Aunt’s house in a village in Mirpur. It was a culture shock to say the least. Adjusting to the village lifestyle was so difficult; the electricity cut out one night and I have never experienced such intense darkness! It actually got to the point where my claustrophobia began kicking in and it was difficult to breathe, and the 38-degree heat did not help! We didn’t do much in the first few days, except spend time with my Grandma and visit other relatives, as well as visit my Granddad’s grave. We also decided to make a quick trip to Jhelum, which was under an hour’s drive away for a spot of shopping.
On the fifth day, which we thought was going to be our final day in Mirpur, we took a rickshaw ride to a little food place which served Pakistani style breakfast where we had halwa puri with channa and lassi. It was DELICIOUS! Afterwards, we took the rickshaw down to the shores of Mangla Lake (a man-made lake created from the Mangla Dam), where we took some very filmi-style photos before heading back to our cousin’s house to say goodbye to my grandma.
Later that evening, we left for Islamabad, which is approximately 2 hours drive away. We were finally going to our own house, which is in Bahria Town, Islamabad. This place is a world away from the village lifestyle, it is much more modern, clean and kind of westernised and… THE ELECTRICITY DOESN’T CUT OUT!
On our first day in Islamabad, we decided to visit the famous Shah Faisal Mosque as we hadn’t really done anything touristy and I just wanted to see it! As usual though, we did not time it right and ended up out in the heat midday and it was super uncomfortable walking around. I still managed to get a few pictures though! It really is a stunning mosque, set against the Margalla Hills, and so worth a visit.
We then headed to Centaurus Mall, where we hit the shops. We spent the most time (and money) in Sana Safinaz which is a hugely popular brand among Pakistani fashion. We were lucky to be there just when the ready to wear Winter 2017 collection launched and I think its safe to say that between the four of us, we picked up almost every single kurta (shirt) in that collection!
That evening, we decided to go watch a movie (Judwaa 2) at the Arena Cinema in Bahria Town. I have never seen a cinema like it! The décor was just so extravagant and not what you would expect in a cinema but we loved it! The atmosphere during the actual movie was great too – wolf-whistles when Jacqueline Fernandez came on screen, loud cheers when Salman Khan came on and just all round light-heartedness.
GUJAR KHAN, MIRPUR AND POONA
Although it had only been a day since we left Mirpur, we began missing my grandma again and we wanted to see her before we flew back to the UK. We decided that we wanted to travel back to Mirpur. On the way, we stopped off at my Granddad’s grave in Gujar Khan.
We also made a visit to the Khari Sharif Darbar in Mirpur. This is where the shrine of Mian Muhammad Bukhsh is. He was a Sufi saint and a Punjabi poet, and is especially renowned as the author of a book of poetry called Saif-ul-Maluk. People visit this shrine to receive spiritual blessings.
After stopping off with my grandma for a few hours, we hit the road again to visit Roze’s (our cousin) in-laws who live in Poona. This is a beautiful town in the Samahni valley, which is situated on the line of control separating Azad Kashmir from India-held Kashmir. It is up in the mountains and the drive up the mountain was so scenic and beautiful, and we witnessed a stunning sunset on the drive up. It also meant that it was dark on our way back down the mountain. This may seem trivial but anyone who has been to Pakistan will know how scary it is driving down mountains – there are no lights to guide you down, and no barriers and the roads are very narrow. However, its just another experience that is part of Pakistan!
BACK TO ISLAMABAD
We spent our last day in Islamabad again, and we started it by visiting Giga Mall. My favourite shop here was Khaadi, which was absolutely huge and decorated so beautifully with a section filled with plants. Of course, we had to have a mini photoshoot here because I’m sure it was one of the prettiest shops I have been to.
We then headed up Pir Sohawa to visit the famous Monal Restaurant for our last dinner in Pakistan. Another beautiful, scenic drive and more beautiful views from the outdoor restaurant. While ordering food, my uncle insisted on getting the cheese naan. I’m not really a fan of cheese naan usually, but since he insisted we all try; it I gave it a go… and totally understood why he insisted! It was SO GOOD! It even got a little feature in the Vlog! The rest of the food was delicious as well, and of course the atmosphere was amazing.
After exploring the little bazaar-style stalls outside the restaurant, we decided to go further up to the Highland Resort, where we could get dessert and shisha. I LOVED the roads going up to this place, they were much steeper and so windy, and the place itself was lovely. There was live instrumental music and pretty lighting and again, a lovely atmosphere. A perfect last night!
I loved being back in Pakistan after 10 years. I loved immersing myself in the culture and traditions of my grandparents’ homeland and seeing where they grew up. Although I’ve only been there twice in my life, I felt a strong connection and a sense of belonging in some way. The trip was just too short and there was so much more that I wanted to do! I’m already excited to go back!
To see just how stunning the places I’ve raved about are, as well as things I haven’t been able to describe, click here to watch the vlog.