From Saidpur Zulfiqar and I drove to Lok Virsa, Pakistan’s Heritage Museum. Zulfiqar said to me, “Please take your time. Your visit to Pakistan will be enhanced by the learning inside.” That was an understatement. Growing up in the US Midwest I had healthy doses of Native American and Immigrant History instruction; and over the two decades we lived in Washington, DC availed myself of the outstanding exhibits at the Smithsonian to piece together my home country’s cultural heritage. I try to do the same here in Vienna, but there are just so. many. Hapsburgs that I still need my family tree card now and again to make sense of it.

The history in Lok Virsa was equally as staggering. One wove through tale after tale after tale of Pakistan’s cultural Silk Road connections to Afghanistan, India, China, Iran, Turkey, and on and on. I loved, loved, the museum  The snaps in this set likely not mean much in the absence of the descriptions; you’ll just have to travel to Pakistan yourself to understand.

America’s Mister Rogers meets the Muppets, circa 1976 Pakistan. Uncle Sargam.

This was the lone display in “Folk Toys.”

An example of the farming equipment still used today in the Sindh province.

There were so many beautiful scenes that I just wanted to linger over; that is, when I was not being (politely) interrupted by visiting school groups requesting photos with me. Lots of questions, naturally. “Where are you from?” “How do you like Islamabad?” “Is this your first time to Pakistan?” “Will you come back?” I wished that I had had time to hang out with a particularly fun-looking group of young women wearing brightly colored headscarves who asked, “Why are you here?”

A terrible group selfie with said fun-looking group of young women with my iPhone (because my phone face is cracked and so it distorts any bright light.)

There was an exhibit dedicated to Pakistani Folk Music. Case after case filled with wax figures of historic Pakistani men who contributed to the country’s culture.

The women contributors to this cultural heritage received just poster treatment, however.

On the grounds of the museum there were a handful of artisans selling their wares, and I was particularly drawn to a stall with Multan pottery.

The artisans in this stall have had their work UNESCO-certified as intangible cultural heritage, and rightly so. The resemblance of the blue patterns to my own Polish pottery is striking, and I knew that even though I would not get to Multan on this visit I “needed” to bring home a piece or two. That piece or two ended up being a gorgeous vase and a 40cm tall urn that commands attention in our living room.

As the assistant clerk was carrying the large box with my vase and urn to the car (A gal could get used to this) Zulfiqar popped out and opened my door, excited to know what I thought about the museum. “Do you think the museum tells the Pakistan story well?” Oh my, yes.

But this long day was not over.  Both the Pakistani Monument and Faisal Mosque remained on the agenda. Though the Pakistani Monument is on the grounds of the Heritage Museum and just a kilometer walk away through the park, Zulfiqar insisted that we drive. A gal could get used to this.

The Pakistani Monument is a magnificent set of structures resembling a blooming flower that symbolizes the unity of the Pakistani people in very much the same way that the National Mall in DC, with its Capitol and Lincoln Memorial bookends embody a sense of being. This striking ochre granite flower has “petals” for the provinces and territories, along with tribal areas; with carved motifs depicting important moments in history. On the grounds there is a small pond and a terrace overlooking Islamabad, and a Pakistani Monument Museum that details the struggles leading to The Partition. I admit that I did not give this museum as much attention as perhaps I should, but my brain was at capacity with Pakistani history by this time.

To my surprise, it was at the monument where several men asked if they might take a photo with me. Women asked, too, but the men doing so was a surprise. Equality comes to Islamabad!

Our final stop on this whirlwind Islamabad day was Faisal Mosque. It was closed for touring, but one could freely wander its immense campus.

Though photos of the mosque are all over the Internet, but it is not until one wanders the cool marble floors (my ballerinas safely in my tote) that the scale of this house of worship (with space for 100.000) sinks in. But, it is more than that. Couples walked along, taking photos against the blue skies and green Margalla Hills. School groups furiously writing notes from the lectures of their instructors. Small children playing ball and running races. It was a very peaceful and happy space.

Outside the mosque grounds was a different story, and once again Zulfiqar was at the ready to fend off pushy, though not aggressive, teen beggars. Zulfiqar informed me that “These stupid boys” did not deserve any Rupees. “They should be working.” 

The Itwar Bazaar had also been on the itinerary for the day, but with late afternoon approaching and the temperature soaring to 30C, I was just not feeling it. I would come to regret that, as the bazaar is not open daily. Next time. Instead Zulfiqar took me to a cloth district, where I purchased a couple of easy-breezy salwar kameez to wear for the remainder of this adventure.

From there it was back to the hotel, my favorite Valet with Fabulous Pugree handing off my box of pottery to be delivered to our room.  I requested a light salad from room service while I wrote notes and downloaded photos. Tony rang; the staff at the organization wanting confirmation that I was both doing fine and did not need their guide services. Indeed, I was quite fine. Ashfaq made his afternoon bottled water rounds, asking many questions about my day and seeming quite pleased that I had enjoyed my day in Islamabad.

Though there are five restaurants in the Serena, we were drawn back to Dawat again on this evening. The manager greeted us with a, “Welcome Back,” and by the time we were settled into our plush chairs the staff was uncorking another vintage San Pellegrino for us. The Grilled Tandoori Paneer called to us. I repeat: Grilled. Tandoori. Paneer.

A basket of hot-to-the-touch Pappadum and that magical housemade chutney soon graced the table, too. Along the way, a small dish of the yoghurt garlic sauce slipped off the platter and crashed to the floor. “I am so sorry,” remarked our server. “The chutney fell down.” It was hard not to chuckle.

Both the Manager and the Host dropped by our table with many of the same questions I had been asked over the past day or so, along with an expression of concern that the food may be too spicy for us. Oh. No. There is no such Pakistani dish that is too spicy in our eyes, we assured them. And then out came the Murgh Tikka (for me, the one Tony had ordered the previous evening); and a Sheesh Kashori Kebab for Tony. Once again we shared, and once again we swooned over flavors and tastes we just can not find in Vienna.

Ashfaq had turned down the bed and added two more bottled waters to our table. A quick peek at the lights over Islamabad before drawing the drapery and succumbing to the delicious slumber to cap my extraordinary first full day in the city of Islam.