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Published: October 19th 2019
Reliable source of coffee.
With Mary still feeling subpar we decided to take the easier option of taking a hotel car to Islamabad. We had originally planned on taking a bus which would have been cheaper (less than AUD $20 each plus some creative Ubering) but this turned out to be a great decision (mostly). There are a few luxury bus companies, we had been looking at Daewoo who have about 20 trips a day and varying standards of bus (gold, premium, etc), they look good actually. Also, the further out you book the better the deal. https://www.daewoo.com.pk/
Anyway..... Having received my latest "more information required" email from the Ministry of Interior Visa people I was in a slightly tetchy mood and ready to negotiate hard for our car. The first offer the hotel came up with was from an official driver with a big car and lots of room who'd have us in Islamabad (380 km away) in 4-5 hrs. He wanted PKR 15 000 (AUD $140). Nope. Next idea was that the assistant manager would drive us via 1
tourist attraction in his little car for a much better price and it would take 8 hrs, he'd do
Katas Raj Temple Sacred Pond
According to legend Lord Shiva's tears, upon the death of his wife Siti, fill this sacred pond. Water clarity was high and was used for Hindu ritual to cleanse sins. Water levels have been precarious over recent years likely due to local cement factories and eucalyptus plantations.
it for PKR 13 000, we got it for PKR 12 000 (AUD $112). Got all packed up by mid morning and hauled our gear out to his waiting car, shoved the packs in the back while he did some hasty car cleaning and we were off.
Drove and drove and drove until we were desperate for a coffee, we stopped at one of those multiservice stops on the highway- the ones with petrol stations and food outlets. McDonalds to the rescue, at 12:40 we were "enjoying" some coffee and chocolate croissants. At this point we had a discussion about where we would stop- the Khewra Salt Mines or the ancient Katas Raj Temple Complex. We went with the latter as the former cost USD $20 each to get in (AUD $30, Locals PKR 220 = AUD$2)!!!! What we missed- the second largest salt mines in the world (turning out 325,000 tonnes of salt/year) that were discovered in 326 BC during Alexander the Great's journey across Pakistan. The underground mine has been Disneyfied to show salt carvings of The Great Wall, The Badshahi Mosque and a fully operational salt post office (!). There are also caves, stalactites, railway carts
and a shop- if you had lots of time (and money) it looks like a nice place to visit.
Arrived at the 7th century Katas Raj (Qila Katas) complex another hour or so later in the full heat of the day. There is a partially kept up entrance section with pathway up into the main complex, there is a sign in Urdu. The Katas is comprised of 7 ancient temples, Buddhist stupa, 5 medieval temples, haveli and the pond. There is no actual entrance fee but you are obliged to take a temple guide (we gave him PKR 500, AUD $4.60). The actual tour took maybe 45 minutes and allowed us access into locked sections, I think that it is definitely worth having that, we got to climb up into the stupa innards, look at the Hindu shrines, and up into the temple on the hill, etc. If we had more time I'd take the tour then go back and spend another couple of hours self paced soaking in the history. The history is interesting, it was first documented in 4th century BC, completed in the 7th century and used widely as a significant Hindu site up until Partition
in 1945. After that the place fell into disrepair and Indians were banned completely with the local population using the site for recreation, dumping of rubbish and not too much else. In 1984 pilgrimages resumed and in 2005 after a visit from the Indian PM restoration commenced, although this looks to be sporadic. Much of the paintings have been painted over rather than restored and there is still a long way to go to fix the crumbling structures.
The pond is very spectacular- it is jade green and beautiful. I have seen photos from years ago when the water was green but clear, now it's murky and home to ducks, but still beautiful. Over the last 10 years the pond has been a big issue because local cement companies have been draining the water, the government ultimately shut them down last year I think to preserve the pond. When we were there there was a big photo shoot going on with music and smoke and Hindi music. Other visitors included a few family groups (requesting selfies with tourists) and a few groups of young guys climbing up on top of various walls and the stupa looking for the perfect
photo angles (requesting selfies with tourists, although not while climbing on the walls). There was also one large group of men who phone videoed us the entire time (as well as requesting selfies with tourists as we were leaving). Loved the place- sooooo much better than a salt mine I think. Our Assistant Manager also seemed to have a nice time and took photos of himself and us. Sweatily we left for the final couple of hours drive into Islamabad.
Got to say, the drive was very good, lots to see. Lots of agricultural activity- rice, sugar cane fields and corn mostly. One big cement factory. We also saw lots of brightly painted goats- good for us, not so good for them - they are the chosen ones that are being pampered for slaughter for Eid on the 15th August. As we neared Islamabad we hit the toll booths before finally getting to the city- the Assistant Manager suggested dinner- sure, why not, and we pulled into a large local family style chicken restaurant. It was very good (at the time), delicious kebab, rice, salad. BIG MISTAKE- 6 hrs later as I spent many hours in the toilet.
Home for the night- Shelton House Extension, budget boutique. I booked it through Facebook messenger- Tariq was the contact, negotiated to meet Booking.com rates at PKR 5000/night (AUD $46) but to include breakfasts and mineral water and keep the same room when our trekking tour began. https://shelton-house-extension.business.site/?m=true&fbclid=IwAR1GZfMo1alENIaz5L3ol3RJEfOQorS3zzza9b-Tb7EPVBa8KoeN5wvWyB0
Good first impressions. Excellent bed and linen. Good toilet.
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