Once you are done with the tourist places in Islamabad, it is a good idea to move to the places which are close to the city. The residents of the capital city can take a day trip or less to the following places, which without any doubt are worth seeing.
1) Murree Hills
The queen of Hills (Malka-i-Kohsar), Murree is hardly 50 Km from the federal capital of Pakistan. One can easily cover this distance in around an hour’s time and enjoy cold breeze during summers and snow during winters. Besides Murree, one can also visit Nathia Gali, Ayubia, Khanspur, Bhurban, Patriata etc. Detailed account of these areas is given separately on this website.
The second most visited destination in the vicinity of Islamabad is Taxila. The house of Gandhara Civilization is located only 30 KM on the North-West of Islamabad and it takes around 40 to 45 minutes to reach there. The best time to visit Taxila is winters or even March / April and October / November because one has to move a lot under sun in order to see archeological remains. In 1980, Taxila was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2006 it was ranked as the top tourist destinations in Pakistan by ‘The Guardian’ newspaper. A visit to Islamabad is actually incomplete without visiting Taxila. Details about Taxila are also given separately on this website.
3) Khanpur Dam
Just 20 KM further ahead from Taxila towards Haripur is located Khanpur Dam. The dam is built on the Khanpur Lake, which originates from the water of Haro River. The dam, which is 51 meters high and can store approximately 110,000 acre feet of water, was primarily built to provide water for consumption and irrigations to different areas in the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkuwa. However, the beautiful location of the dam provides the tourists with a natural recreational spot. The dam located with the exquisite Margalla hills on one side and beautiful blue waters on the other, catches the attraction of the visitors. This is one of the few areas in Pakistan where water sports facilities are available. Camel ride, boating, fishing and other water related adventures are the most common activities of the tourists. Private companies have invested by providing cliff jumping and diving lessons.
This dam/lake has been an active tourist area and many families visit the place for picnic. It is recommended that one should avoid visiting this area during hot days because there is hardly any shade. Besides, one cannot even enjoy eating fried fish during the summers. The fish restaurant, though do not provide very hygienic environment, yet are worth trying. During winter season, one can also enjoy the famous ‘Khanpur Malta.’ On the way there are many orange farms. People often purchase trees and thus kids could climb the trees and take oranges directly from the tree.
Those, who have some connections with the government sector, can also arrange for the beautiful guest house, situated on the top of the hill. It is place where one can even spend a couple of nights
4) Mughal Gardens
Mughal Gardens, constructed during the days of Akbar, are located in the city of Wah, which is less than an hour’s drive from Islamabad. Akbar employed Ahmed Mehmar Lahori for the structural and architectural design of these gardens. These gardens are beautifully designed and have also been the foundation for many major architectural structures because of its clever and innovative design. The Department of Archeology has taken responsibility for the restoration of the main areas of the gardens. A team of researchers, in 2006, found evidence of modern water system at the foundation of these gardens. A person travelling on the Grand Trunk Road from Peshawar to Islamabad or one visiting Taxila and Khanpur Dam can halt for a while to see the historical gardens.
5) Gurdawara Panja Sahib
Gurdawara Panja Sahib, situated at Hasan Abdal around 50 KM from Islamabad, is one of the most sacred worship places for the Sikh community. The significance of the place is because of the presence of a rock believed to have the hand print of Guru Nanak imprinted on it. Twice a year, Sikhs visit this Gurdwara from all over the world. The Government of Pakistan can provide further facilities and develop the Gurdawara in a center of religious tourism. Even otherwise, the building of the Gurdawara is beautiful and is worth visiting. However, the compound is not open for the common people.
6) Ayub National Park
Ayub National Park or Ayub Park is historically known as ‘Topi Rakh’. It is located some 4 KM from Rawalpindi zero point and thus is not more than half an hour’s drive for the residents of Islamabad. This park is the largest national park of Pakistan and covers an area of about 2300 acres. Ayub Park is a very popular picnic point. A lot of attractions for both kids and adults are provided in the park
The park hosts Jungle Kingdom – an amusement park for kids with a rare collection of beautiful animals and birds, kept in open air areas. These areas are landscaped to the preferences of the species including lions, zebras, peacocks, swans and turkeys etc. There are a lot of very interesting rides for the kids and the grown-ups in the Jungle Kingdom. Besides this, Ayub Park also housed large gardens, a running lake with boating facility, an open air theatre and a garden restaurant. The park is also indigenous for rare botany and marine life. There is an aquarium which is home to a various rare fish and other marine life. The lake found in the park has water lilies and other various beautiful water plants. The park also includes a carving of all Pakistan’s major leaders and heroes. It is a replica of Mount Rushmore, South Dakota in the United States.
7) Khewra Salt Mines
The world’s second largest Salt Mines are located in Khewra near Pind Dadan Khan. Though it is about 200 KM from Islamabad, yet the fast moving motorway has reduced the distance to about two and a half hour. From the Lilla interchange on the Islamabad-Lahore motorway, a 30 KM metaled road leads to the oldest salt mines in Pakistan. Off late Pakistan Railways has also started tourist trains to Khewra from both Lahore and Rawalpindi.
The presence of salt in the region was felt for the first time by Alexander’s troops in about 320 BC. However, the real mines were discovered by Dr. H Warth, a mining engineer appointed by the British Rule, by developing an access tunnel to the ground level in 1872.
To enter the mines one has to go in a huge tunnel for which a train facility is also provided. Once inside the mine, one can feel salt all around him. Besides huge walls of salt, one can also see several ponds of salted water. However, the most attractive thing for tourists is the models of different places relevant to Pakistan and Islam, carved out by artists using salt. Sheesh Mahal, Minar-i-Pakistan and Mosque are a case in point. The mines are one the most important things to be seen in Pakistan.
8) Kallar Kahar
Kallar Kahar is a tourist resort located at 140 KM from Islamabad right on the Islamabad – Lahore Motorway. This beautiful place is known for its natural gardens, peacocks and a fresh water lake. Takht-e-Barbi, a flat stage of stone, built by Mughal Empror Babar to address his army enhanced the importance of the resort. Babar admired the place where he halted on his way from Kabul to Delhi. He also planted a garden, Bagh-e-Safa, which still exists. There are also rides for kids on the bank of the lake. TDCP motel provides lunch and snacks. One can stopover for a break during a journey from Islamabad to Lahore or vise-versa. A visitor to Khewra can also stop at the resort.
9) Katas Raj
Katas Raj, a temple situated in Katas village near Chakwal district, is a place of great religious importance for Hindu Dharam. This temple is as old as the days of Mahabharata and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The smaller temples, built in pairs around the larger central temple, were built around 900 years or so ago. Hindus believe that bathing in the pond, at the foothill of the temple leads to the forgiveness of sins and helps attain salvation. The temple, however, is in a very bad shape and can only attract photographers who can capture the semi-ruined temples on the mount. Renovation of the temple, and facilitation of Hindu pilgrims could enhance religious tourism and helps Pakistan to earn foreign exchange.
10) Rohtas Fort
Rohtas fort, famous for its unique and beautiful architectural structure, is located near Jehlum, about 110 KM from Islamabad. This fort was built by Sher Shah Suri to protect the northern frontiers of his empire. The strong fortifications are built to withstand enemy attack and natural calamities. This fort is surrounded by massive walls which extend for more than 4 KM – these walls have gateways and bastions to attack on the enemy. Though the fort is not well maintained and a proper village is housed inside the walls of the fort, yet archeological remains provides temptation for the lovers of history and photography. The fortification wall, gates, Shahi mosque, Baolis and Rani Mahal are the major tourist attractions.
11) Mangla Dam
Mangla dam is located in Mirpur district of Azad Kashmir and is around 140 KM from Islamabad. It takes less than two hours to cover the distance. It is one of the two biggest dams in Pakistan. It was constructed in 1960s and still provides electricity to many areas of the country. The huge lake filled with deep blue water looks attractive to the eyes. However, due to major military establishment in the city many areas are restricted for the common public. Yet, in order to facilitate tourism, one side of the lake has been developed into a recreation area where facilities like boating, fishing and other water sports have been provided. The major attractions of the tourists are speed boats and water scooters. Besides this Mangla is also site of the historical Mangla Fort. Though a portion of the fort has been demolished during the construction of the dam, yet some of its portions are still accessible for the tourists. A person visiting Rohtas Fort can detour for half an hour and can also see Mangla Dam.
Some 160 KM from Islamabad on the Karakuram Highway lies an eye-catching picnic spot named Shinkiyari. Though, because of heavy traffic on the way, mainly between Abbotabad and Mansera, it sometimes take even four hours to cover the distance between Islamabad and Shinkiyari. Yet, because to the entertainment that Shinkiyari provides, a huge number of people, especially student trips, travel the distance from Islamabad and plan picnics there. The main attraction is Siran river with a water of not more than two to three feet and provides opportunity to play in the water even without knowing swimming. Crossing the hanging wooden bridge is another temptation of the tourists. Tourists also enjoy the cultivation of vegetable grains, sugarcane, tobacco leaves, rice and at the top of it tea in the sloppy fields around the location. One can further travel half an hour up hill to reach a relatively cold, hill spot covered with trees and water at Dadar.
Kund is a unique place where two rivers – River Indus and River Kabul meet. This junction can be seen from the main GT Road almost on the border between the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkha, i.e. the Attock Bridge. However, this place at a distance of about 120 KM from Islamabad can best be reached by using Islamabad – Peshawar Motorway. One needs to get off from the motorway at Swabi exit and then take Swabi-Jahangiria road to reach the destination. Previously, the tourist could only see the meeting of the two colours water from the road but now the place has been turned into a major recreational area. People from the surrounding areas such as Islamabad, Attock, Mardan etc. visit the place for picnic and spend the entire day there. An amusement park, which hosts many activities for the tourists including boating, fishing, rides for kids, areas for playing sports and dining, adds importance to this scenic location. Eating fresh fried fish on the bank of the river is an old tradition of the tourists visiting the area.
14) Attock Fort
Attock Fort is another important historical monument located on the back of river Indus at the border town between the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkha. There are contradicting versions about the construction of the fort. According to one school of thought it was built by the Mughal emperor Akbar while the others consider Nadir Shah as the one who constructed it. However, this is for sure that the fort featured a prominent role during Sikh – Afghan wars. The beautiful red brick construction and the scenic location of the fort, makes it look beautiful. Off late the fort is under the military control and thus prohibited for the tourists. Yet, it is advisable for those who visit Kund or are travelling from Islamabad to Peshawar by GT Road to enjoy at least the distant view of this attractive historical monument.
15) Tarbela Dam
World’s largest earth filled dam, Tarbela Dam is located in Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa, 130 KM from Islamabad. However, because of the motorway, it takes less than two hours to cover the distance. The dam forms the Tarbela reservoir with a surface area of approximately 250-square KM. The dam was completed in 1974 and was designed to store water for irrigation, flood control and the generation of hydroelectric power. It provides for a beautiful scenic location. Recently, the Government of Pakistan has decided to develop recreational and theme parks to promote tourism on this spot of natural beauty. It is planned to construct water sports points, restaurants and water jetty.
16) Chattar Park
18 KM from Islamabad on the way to Murree lies Chattar park. In the old days Chattar was known only for the loquat gardens and water stream. However, now an amusement park has been constructed and many families with children travel less than half an hour in the evening to enjoy the rides. There are also some eating places and some stalls of handicraft and other items attracting mainly women. 6 KM from Chattar, on the same Islamabad – Murree road is another amusement park at Salgiran.
17) Lohi Bher Wild Life Park
Located just off the main Islamabad highway, some 15 KM from zero point is the Lohi Bher Wild Life Park. Though the park is not of international standards, yet the main attraction is the Lion House. In a huge compound with natural jungle environment more than four lions are kept. One can drive in the area and see the lions in pure safari atmosphere. Besides lions there are many other animals and birds mainly kept in natural setting.