Feb 10, 2011 - published work    15 Comments

From the French Beach to the foothills of Margalla


When I first went to college abroad, I was quite often asked if I find it difficult to get adjusted coming from a vastly different background and how “shocking” was the culture shock. Honestly, I never really had any trouble in getting adjusted to life in North West England. I was young, was acquainted with British sense of humour through television, knew the language, made friends very easily and was very keen to learn the slang so that I too can converse in local speak. Slipping into the life of a student was quite easy, especially when everyone else was as unfamiliar with the place as I was. No shock was shocking enough to merit anything more than a raised eye brow. 
After having recently relocated to Islamabad from Karachi, where I have spent most of my life, I am reminded of all those conversations about culture shocks and differences. Islamabad is neat, has a clean crisp air and a relaxed atmosphere bordering on lethargic. Karachi is chaotic with its salty sultry air and boasts of people that are always on the go. Although I just moved cities in the same country, I am more astounded by the differences now than I was back in my college days. 
Before I moved up north, I have been told by all and sundry about the laid back culture of Islamabad but you gotta be part of it to actually know how it works – or not. For instance gentle, reminders like emails are generally ignored, if you want to get things rolling, telephone calls, physical presence or best of all a telephone call from people who ‘matter’ would do the trick . If you are dealing with the bureaucracy, be ready to mouth the word ‘Sir’ at least a dozen times in a single conversation to get to them. If you are from Karachi, you would know how difficult it is to repeatedly say that word.    
In Islamabad, people, at least the ones that I come across to, generally assume that you have a driver and a cook and if you happen to mention that you have neither, they don’t know how to respond Another thing that I have noticed is that domestic help is much more obsequious in the cooler climes of Islamabad than in the coastal shores of Karachi. If we ever had to ask our driver to stay after hours or call him on his day off, we had to tread very carefully to make sure that we do not offend him in any way before we ask for the favour. Here in Islamabad, they throw ma’ams and begum sahibas left, right and centre. After 3 months, I have finally stopped looking over my shoulder every time someone address to me as ma’am.
Another thing I found quite shocking was that there are gyms in Islamabad that are not only exorbitantly priced, some of them like to be paid in Benjamins (that’s 100 dollar bills for the uninitiated) and they charge more than my monthly salary to make sure that their clients stay fit. Honestly, if someone is paying that amount of money, they would think at least thrice before putting a morsel of food in their mouth. 
Islamabad is beautiful, and all the more beautiful when it rains. It is quite possible to go out, enjoy the weather and have fun when it is raining, unlike Karachi where everyone rushes to home at the first hint of rain causing crazy traffic jams for the fear of water logged streets. Every generator owning Karachiite also head to the nearest pump to store petrol or diesel to bear the imminent long hours of electricity break downs that follow the first rain drop. But all is not hunky dory in the tree lined lanes of Islamabad. When you go home and you want to enjoy a hot bath and a hot meal, you realize you have to make do without them as gas supply is erratic, at best, during the winters. One is always found choosing between a hot meal or a hot bath. Running heaters before 10 o’ clock is out of question so hiding under the duvets is the general recreation during the long evenings of winter. 
Karachi is probably more overtly religious than Islamabad as one get to see more girls in hijabs/burqas and a lot more men in beards than in Islamabad perhaps because of greater class and ethnic diversity in Karachi.  Something else worth noticing is that more men dye their hair in the capital than they do it in Karachi. If one is perceptive, there is a pattern to be observed. On Monday mornings, men would be sporting jet black moustaches but as the week progresses, their white roots would start peeking and by Friday evening, they would be quite visible, come Monday morning and all the mustaches would be miraculously black again. 
Unlike Karachi, people in Islamabad actually follow traffic rules (though over speeding is quite common) and actually wait for the traffic signal to turn green before they push their foot down the accelerator.  Karachiites, unlike people in the sanitized capital, take pride in breaking the traffic signal and unless a traffic police constable is physically standing in their way, they would not stop when the light turns red. 
Islamabad perhaps boasts the maximum number of four wheel drives and expensive cars for a city that size in the entire region. One run from Kohsar Market to Fatima Jinnah Park and you would get to drive next to one massive expensive vehicle after another.  Karachi though has its fair share of mean machines on the road, is also the city of colorful rickshaws and minibuses. I quite miss checking out rickshaws with funny one liners or poetry over their tail lights. 
Anyone who has ever lived in Karachi would be familiar with flags of various political parties vying for your attention from the maze of electrical wires along with Free Afia Siddiqqi banners. Islamabad, on the other hand, has hoardings with pictures of the Prime Minister and the President along with the recent visiting dignitaries from our friendly neighbours – be it Turkish President or the Chinese premier. Karachiites are used to staying at home because of violent strikes whereas people in Islamabad get a day off when Chinese head of the government address the joint session of the Parliament. 
Islamabad is serene in comparison to Karachi’s commotion. No quacks are selling you quick solutions to regain your manhood or to get back the love of your life. Despite all its greenery and rose and jasmine garden, it is insipid for someone who has lived in Karachi.
View of Islamabad from Peer Sohawa
Rainy roads of Islamabad

Film hoardings at the cinema in Saddar  makes Karachi all the more rangeen

The regular rallies in front of Karachi Press Club

The most awesome rickshaws dot the streets of Karachi

Originally published in The Friday Times.

This screen shot of the page is duly provided by Abid Hussain of The Friday Times

Clip to Evernote


  • The rickshaws are one reason I want to visit Karachi. They are simply mind-boggling-ly fab.

  • Oh.. yess i can relate to it so much. Stayed in ISB for 3 years after spending all my life in KHI and then coming back to KHI again last year.

    I felt big difference. I always thought i would never forget KHI, very within an year or so i could start feeling the environmental affects..

  • Beautiful article. I hope life in Islamabad treats you well.

  • “Driving through the pristine streets of Islamabad, I realized how so many Pakistani politicians become detached from the needs of the people. Islamabad is an illusion. The city is a conscious effort by the ruling class to create a sanctuary of wealth and beauty far removed from the poverty and suffering of the masses. A few years of living in this environment and anyone would start thinking that Pakistan was a rich European country with few problems.” Rock & Roll Jihad, Salman Ahmad pg.113

    “There’s a secret in Lahore” http://bit.ly/fKKOAO

  • Its Simply Awesome comparison .Great work


    Saqib Hanif
    Tech Blogger

  • Karachi is over populated. Islamabad is beyond boring. Quiet.
    Lahore is where its at -cough-

  • Welcome to Islamabad. I hope you start to love and enjoy it some day 🙂

  • i left Islamabad 20 years ago when my family moved to the US. It seems not much has changed since then 🙂

  • i left Islamabad 20 years ago when my family moved to the US. It seems not much has changed since then 🙂

  • I love Pakistani cinema hoarding they are sooo larger than life

  • What does the rickshaw says, it is written in Urdu and I cannot read Urdu.

  • liked ur description of isb..bt still ur observation esp realted to people, is based on a particular area or interaction with particular class..its same as if i go to khi or lhr in a posh area nd live there for sumtime nd form a perception of whole city..anyways have a gud stay at isb :)..its bit boring for outsiders though i guess 🙂

  • You’re obviously still a loyal Karachi-ite 😉

    I’m dealing with the opposite scenario: a move from Islamabad to Karachi. Let’s just say that the few photos you posted here practically made me hurt inside with nostalgia.

    It’s good that you’re trying to understand the city and its people. Islamabad will never let you love it unless you love it on its own terms. Good luck!

  • yeah. But after MK works, you can enjoy rain in Karachi, not much overflowing on the streets when i was there in 2009 during rain. Between Islamabad is too small if compare with Karachi, i don’t think we can compare both.

    Kuch bhi keh lo, Karachi, Karachi hai yar 🙂

  • Karachi sounds so much like Bombay, which is where I’m from!

    Except our rickshaws are a tad dull.

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