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Driving in Islamabad: A Primer for Beginners March 25, 2006

Posted by KG in FS Life, Pakistan.

Unlike most of South Asia, Islamabad is built on a fairly clear system.  Though the numbering system seems to have no logic, the fact is that most of the roads are wide, well paved, and laid out in right angles, or on occasion soft curves.

Do not be fooled by appearances.

Though Islamabad is a planned city and thus lacks the anarchic road layouts prevalent in South Asia, the drivers remain South Asian.  Thus, the near-logical layout creates an illusion of order — the grid is only as logical as the behavior of the drivers within it.  In a perfect system with perfect drivers, Islamabad would be a traffic dream.  Unfortunately, the reality is that Islamabad is a city full of Daisy Buchanans (and her pedestrian equivalents), willfully ignorant of all rules, hoping for everyone else to be mindful.  The result: driving conditions that despite not being as treacherous as the roads of Calcutta or Karachi, are just as harrowing for the driver trained in the West.

To drive in Islamabad, the first thing you must do is eliminate all instincts that may push you to driving in auto pilot.  You need to hone your skills and pay attention at every second of your drive.  Need to sneeze?  Pull over.  There is no telling when you will encounter a Mehran making a turn from the middle lane, or a parked car opening its door without looking out for oncoming traffic, or a giant pile of rocks sitting in the middle of the road.  Likewise, dispense with using turn signals and the like; these are unneccessary, especially considering that no one else will notice that you are using them.  Also, consider purchasing a basic mouth guard.  This will protect your teeth from the inevitable grinding that will occur.

Once moving at a steady clip through the streets of Islamabad, keep one thing in mind: this is all a game, and winning the game does not mean getting from point A to point B quickly.  It means arriving at your destination unscathed, without being ticketed, and without screaming at the other drivers at the top of your lungs (the latter is a good stress reliever, but will take your eyes away from the road).  Some important, unspoken commandments of this game: Ignore lane markings if swerving means avoiding a hazard.  Turn quickly and with conviction.  Use your mirrors, but more importantly keep a constant, Jedi-like awareness of your surroundings.  Ignore all other drivers unless they are directly in the way of you arriving at your destination (someone do something crazy that doesn’t affect you?  Ignore it!).  And most importantly: keep moving.  Stopping will allow the other players in the game to surround you, and finding a window to escape will be difficult.

The one exception to these rules is the traffic light, a Western innovation that is surprisingly common and more or less obeyed in Islamabad.  This is due to the ever-vigilant Islamabad Traffic Police, who stop and ticket drivers with relative frequency.  The police provide yet another hurdle for the ambitious Westerner bent on navigating Islamabad’s roads.  Still, work on the assumption that no other drivers are paying attention to the lights and you’ve added another layer of vigilance, moving you closer to the goal of road dominance.

The streets of Islamabad may seem to be easy to those used to more congested cities.  However, appearances are deceiving — the roads are wrought with perils.  Pedestrians dressed in black, walking in the middle of the street at night.  Bikes with no reflective lights crossing seemingly coming out of nowhere.  Swerving and weaving motorcycles, often being ridden by a man and his wife (with toddler in arms).  What may at one moment look like this:

Jinnah Road Resized 

Could very easy end up looking like this:

Public TransportationAnother Shot of Jinnah 

But don’t let these facts dissuade you.  The streets of Islamabad can indeed be conquered through conviction and concentration.  Stay strong.  Keep your eyes open.  And don’t worry too much about the occasional scrape — remember one of the great things about South Asia is that labor is incredibly cheap.

Best of luck.



1. Jessie - March 25, 2006

My friends and I are wondering…are you cute? Because your blog is so cute!

2. Kshama - March 27, 2006

can you advice us on what one needs to bring out to Islamabad on an unaccompanied tour. If you email us, I can give you more details on when and why.

3. Umar Saeed - April 10, 2006

Nice Blog KG, honestly speaking i never really care about all the BLOGs hanging on the web Just like billboard advertisements on roadsides BLOGing your sight & mind. But this blog got me, read up till the end without loss of interest. and had some pics to back it up too. I myself have started driving lately, so i Really enjoyed it as being TOO relevant. and DONT tell me “How am i Driving”. I bet you have been writing things in the past. If not then you just found out a new side yourself. Good Luck with writing and i hope you have yourself managed to Conquer the ISB roads.

Kshama one simple piece of advice. Carry CASH and lots of Plastic Cash.

4. The Diplodocus » Mehrans to the Left of me, Hiaces to the Right - June 14, 2006

[…] Of the wide roads in Islamabad previously alluded to, Jinnah is one of the worst. There are six obvious lanes that separate the only large commercial strip here, and that number at any given moment expands to about six on each side, populated by motorcycles, taxis, pedestrians, bikes, one legged flower salesmen, street sweepers, and various other regularly seen folk. Still, not a street to be avoided, and certainly not to be avoided at 2115. That is, unless your car breaks down at a stop light, with you trapped in a suit and tie. In other words, clearly not a Pakistani. […]

5. DCBlogs » DC Blogs Noted - August 8, 2006

[…] Just some shorts today … Loved the movie V is for Vendetta, and the film’s subplot about the Scarlet Carson rose, writes the Washington Gardener. This blog also includes a link to a blog about a flower garden at the corner of Biltmore Street and 20th Street in Adams Morgan, the Biltmore Triangle Garden. … Then he says he’s got a “funny story” about my miter saw. Uh oh … , writes the Home Improvement Ninja. Baby dove hatched on windowsill. Photo by Reya. A clever title, Not in your Zagat Guide, delivers equally clever observations about DC life. From Time Out of Mind. Economy envy: Business Class amenity kit, United Airlines. Photo at Moyey’s Wine and Travel Blog. Monday night: Lolita & Gilda’s Burlesque Poetry Hour: Gina Myers, Dustin Williamson, Shafer Hall and Henry Israeli will be taking it off on March 27th. Reading will begin at 8 p.m. in The Dark Room at Bar Rouge. The writer of A Blog Mainly About Food (closed in January) has been writing The Diplodocus from his new location and offers this advice: Driving in Islamabad: A Primer for Beginners Soft and chewy chocolate chip cookies recipe at Tasting Journal’s Recipes. Restaurant recommendation: Half Moon BBQ in Silver Spring. We all got pulled pork, which was fantastic, and a couple baskets of thick, fresh-cut fries, writes BrockLi Photo: West End Library, 24th St. NW Also check out: dcblogs.com/live […]

6. Niza - March 29, 2007

yo fuck yo…………bhan chod………….haraami

7. daRude - May 5, 2007

yo dude @ Niza..take it easy man!

its a good piece of work deserving appreciation rather than ur foolishness..if people like you havent got anyhting productive to contribute..why bother posting..? jeez

interesting stuff there KG

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