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Introducing Islamabad & Rawalpindi

The so-called twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi are commonly viewed as one unit, and indeed, one day the two will physically merge. However, these twins, with separate ancestry and distinct personalities, are far from identical. Islamabad is a late-20th-century capital laid out in straight lines and right angles: a proud metric showcase of government and administration. Rawalpindi, on the other hand, grew from a ramshackle backwater village to a sprawling hub on the Grand Trunk Rd during the 19th century.

The twins’ personalities are rather like chalk and cheese: Islamabad is patently more subdued and suburban with broad avenues, grassy parkland, shiny restaurants and just a whiff of the exasperating human and mechanical crush that epitomises most subcontinental cities. For those with a penchant for the adrenaline-pumping hullabaloo that a typical South Asian metropolis delivers, all that awaits in Rawalpindi – affectionately dubbed ‘Pindi’ – a mere 15km away.

Neither city is a major tourist drawcard in its own right – most foreign travellers only pause here to arrange visas/permits or use it as a jumping-off point to other destinations – yet not far away are the fascinating archaeological digs around the Gandharan city of Taxila. Here, Buddhism and the sublime Graeco-Buddhist art evolved and flourished, and its glory can be appreciated in Taxila’s splendid museum and at several major sites. And if the energy-zapping heat of the plateau starts to take its toll during the warmer months, you can flee to the cool mountain air of Murree, an erstwhile British Raj hill station. Even better, ramble around the less developed, more serene hill stations strung out along the forested ridges known as the Galis, a truly welcoming escape from the frazzling rat race and other vicissitudes of life on the road.