If you had never heard of Abbottabad, Pakistan, before news of Osama Bin Laden's death there this week, don't feel bad. Essentially only locals and the trickle of travelers going into Pakistan to journey along the Karakoram Highway did.
The city of 900,000 set in the cool, pine-clad mountains a few hours north of Islamabad, Abbottabad got its unusual name from its founder Sir James Abbott, who was an effective British advisor during the Sikh Wars of the mid 19th-century – and far far less skilled as a poet.
After leaving the city in 1853, he tributed it with a poem called, simply, 'Abbottabad.' Oxford poetry professor Stephen Moss wrote, in the Guardian in 2005, that was 'one of the worst poems ever written.' He claims it takes a genius to come up with 'non-sequiturs' like that. It's certainly the only one I've read that ends with the word 'thwart.'
Abbottabad view [photo by Athif Khan]
We asked Lindsay Brown, the Lonely Planet author who updated the region in the most recent Pakistan & Karakoram Highway guidebook about his impressions of Abbottabad, and he told us that the city is more of a pit stop for Pakistan travelers than a destination. Most come to get some money, some chicken chapati or Hazara embroidery at the local bazar, and maybe a peek over town from pine-topped Shimla Peak, 3km west. There's a mosque with spring-fed baths, and three active churches to see, including St Luke's, as old as the town.
The Karakoram Highway is a bigger attraction to the region. The 12ookm highway, aka 'high road to China,' was built in the 1960s and '70s over the old Silk Road and is easily one of the world's great journeys. It passes historic sites linked with the spread of Buddhist and Islam, and crosses some of the world's tallest, most forbidding mountains.
Note: The security situation in Pakistan is extremely uncertain, with sectarian and political violence regularly reported in Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Lahore. Check relevant government warnings and the BBC News for current updates.
For updates from travelers in the region, check the Pakistan branch on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum.