From quiet life in the mountains, to headlines around the globe, the town of Abbottabad, Pakistan, has found itself blinking in the media spotlight this week as the perfect spot for a murderous terror leader to leave in relative peace.
Yet Pakistan may demolish Osama bin Laden’s hideout for fear of it turning into a tourist attraction for extremists. Already there are tourists (thought they seem more happy family than extremist) getting their photos taken outside bin Laden’s compound.
One Abbottabad local told media: “We are not sure about international tourism yet, but I think we will be getting plenty of people from Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.”
But — apart from Osama’s hideout — what sort of touristic wonders would the adventurous traveller find in Abbottabad?
Over on Crikey‘s Stump blog, Shakira Hussein compared Abbottabad to the often-insulted Queanbeyan, but noted that Abbottabad was known for “Excellent schools, a beautiful location, far easier to navigate than any of the major cities would be.” As a girl who grew up in Queanbeyan, I am aware of its limited potential as a tourist hot spot.
TripAdvisor, probably my favourite travel website for hotels and destination information, isn’t overflowing with Abbottabad knowledge. The only comment on the Abbottabad page, published in 2005, says:
“a very great place to be there in summer. i lived there for 4 yrs and now i am living in some other city. lush green mountaions and rainfall is the precious gift of this city………..when ever you go there u have fun.”
Lush, green, mountains and summer seem to be four words that crop up whenever Abbottabad gets mentioned. Abbottabad refers to both the name of the district and its namesake town being the biggest in the region.
The town sits in a valley surrounded by rolling green hills about an hour from the capital Islamabad, and is well-known for its military academy and good schools. It’s known as one of the cleanest and prettiest towns in Pakistan. Tourists flock to Abbottabad for its mild summers, where 30 degrees and mountain air is a nicer alternative to the 45 degree days in Punjab. Plus, it is known as one of the gateways of the Silk Road.
Things to do
Shimla Peak, situated 3km from the town’s centre, is a classic tourist spot to walk up and look back through the pine trees to the town below. There are lots of walks throughout these hills that tourists can go wandering through.
Ayubia National Park is situated just outside the town of Abbottabad, and you can ride a chairlift up the mountain to check out the spectacular views (as shown by photographer Atif Iqbal).
Also, much of the colonial-era architecture remains in Abbottabad, although there are obviously issues with heritage building being demolished, as this one Flickr user is intent on reporting.
The Illyasi Mosque is worth checking out. As Lonely Planet explains:
This striking mosque, which includes a complex of spring-fed bathhouses and pools, is 5km east on the Murree road, near Nawan Sheher village. A small bazaar nearby has basic teashops.
Where does one stay in Abbottabad? Best to check with the reliable Lonely Planet. I’d probably avoid the Ramlina Hotel based on the reviews:
“The Ramlina has grotty singles though the bigger rooms get more care. There’s running hot water and a bare-bones restaurant, but its best feature is that it is convenient for onward transport.”
However, just a door away seems like a decent option:
“Next door to the more obvious Ramlina Hotel is the almost grandiose but neglected Al-Zahra. Spacious, adequately clean rooms and a shady veranda provide a lingering colonial air. Hot water is available on request.”
When it comes to eating, I’ll be following this local recommendation from Virtual Tourist:
“Mona Liza is one of oldest restaurants in Abbottabad. It is more famous for its tuti fruti icecream. But you can come here for luch, dinner or dinner because they serve all of them.
Food is good and prices are reasonable. Its nice stop for transit if you are traveling to northern areas of Pakistan.”
So, who thinks they’ll be pencilling Abbottabad into their next travel itinerary?