Islamabad and Rawalpindi are so close together (and share the same airport) that we've chosen to combine the two. The cities are in north-central Pakistan, at the edge of the Potohar Plateau. Islamabad (pop. 201,000), 10 mi/16 km north of Rawalpindi, was built from scratch in 1961 to be the capital of Pakistan, and there's little local color. Islamabad displays all the annoyances of the developing world (beggars, poor telephones, inept bureaucracy) without any of the typical redemptions (welcoming people, exotic markets). It does have the Museum of Folk and Traditional Heritage, parks and an impressive honor guard on horseback that performs for visiting dignitaries. The new King Faisal Mosque is one of the largest in the world. Travelers can replenish their libraries at some excellent bookshops in Sadr Market.

Rawalpindi (pop. 800,000), which is much older, was originally called Fatchpur Boari: It is frenetic, cramped and fun—much more typical of the subcontinent than Islamabad. It has colonial-style buildings, a mall and two colorful bazaars (the older is Raja Bazaar, the newer one is Saddar Bazaar). Go up Shakar Parian Hill or to Murree or Nathiagali for excellent views and an escape from the summer heat. Also in the area are a few archaeological sites (some date back nearly 7,000 years), such as the ones at Gir and Jaulian. Taxila, 35 mi/56 km from Islamabad, was the center of the Buddhist Gandhara for 1,000 years. There you'll find the sites of three ancient cities and an interesting museum. Plan three nights for Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

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