People like to ask the Unaccompanied Lady, "what do you do with your unaccompanied self when you're in Islamabad for two weeks?" Since the answer "fuck-all" rarely satisfies anyone, and the Unaccompanied Lady cannot spend all her non-working hours in sitting in the guesthouse under the AC, we have come up with a few suggestions for time-wasting in a city where there is very little to actually "do."
Shalwar shopping: As you know, to avoid drawing attention to herself or being mistaken for a frumpy missionary, the Unaccompanied Lady "goes native" in Pakistan. Shalwar shopping in Islamabad is fun because the shops are staffed by men yet women are the only customers. Ladies freely give the shop guys the what-for, treating them with the haughty disdain they deserve. Feel extra sloppy as groups of young Pakistani women, draped in the kind colorful, cute shalwar that you can never find, glide in and out of the shops like pretty birds, never dropping their dupatta (the long scarfy thing that covers your shoulders) in the dust or tripping over it. Perhaps next time you can ask them to show you how they wear such an annoying, yet potentially attractive, garment with style and dignity.
The Unaccompanied Lady recommends: the cheap and cheerful shalwar shops in Jinnah Market, near Pizza Hut.
Mango Eating: The Unaccompanied Lady can only handle so much Pakistani BBQ before she breaks out in the greasy ghee meat sweats. Besides Islamic extremists, Pakistan excels most in the production of mangoes. Lucky for us it's June, which means it's the season. Can an Unaccompanied Lady survive on mangoes, and their slimy, but equally delicious little friends, lychees, for two weeks? Stay tuned.
The Unaccompanied Lady recommends getting your mangoes from any old vendor, but get the biggest ones. They're the best.
Food Shopping: Islamabad's small supermarkets serve as another reminder that the globalization of cuisine has completely passed Turkey by. You can buy every imaginable American junk food (pop tarts! doritos! cake mix -- though even we don't buy that shit any more after reading this), sauce, canned good or spice mix, at reasonable prices. Not only that, there must be Chinese and other Asian people in Islamabad (those Chinese are everywhere these days!) because there are things Chinese and other Asian people like to eat: lime leaves, lemon grass, fish sauce, wasabi, seaweed and miso soup mix, none of which are available in Istanbul, a city approximately 14 times the size of Islamabad. We are no longer embarrassed to say, "yes, we import food from Islamabad to Istanbul."
The Unaccompanied Lady recommends the shops in Khosar Market.
The Nirvana Spa: One of the best parts about working in shitty places is there are very often excellent reasonably-priced spas offering innovative treatments you're unlikely to find anywhere else. The Nirvana spa falls into that category. In fact, it is so awesome that we will go multiple times for all kinds of cheap delights like pedicures, massages and sessions with the "vibrating de-fatting apparatus, which utilizes vibration to soften and break-up excessive fat build-up in specific parts of the body." Waxing is so cheap maybe we'll go Muslim and wax our whole body. It's cheaper and less effort than shaving.
The Unaccompanied Lady recommends the Hot Stone Massage at Nirvana.
Culture: The Unaccompanied Lady typically recommends cultural activities because culture is important. Sadly, we visited the Lak Virsa Ethnological Museum only to find out that, while technically open, it had no electricity. Because Islamabad enjoys an uninterrupted supply of electricity for about 15 minutes a day, we suspect this is not a state affairs that will have improved if we "come back tomorrow," as suggested. As we poked inside the door to see whether a dark ethnological museum might still be worth the $2 entry fee, the guards described the interior as "like midnight." They were not wrong.
The Unaccompanied Lady recommends going shopping instead of to the Lak Virsa Ethnological Musuem.
Carpet College: There is a wealth of knowledge idly sitting around, waiting for customers in the Jinnah and Super Markets, wasting time, just like you. What are you waiting for? Go bug them! Make them unfold and refold 172 carpets in 105 degree heat! They like it!
The Unaccompanied Lady spends hours talking to Pashtun carpet dealers (most of them are Afghans) about everything related to carpets. They are not predatory jerks like in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar and some of them actually know what they're talking about. Drink tea and talk about patterns, geopolitics, sheep breeds, Pashtun tribes, cotton prices and trade transit routes until the generators kick in and it's time for Unaccompanied Ladies to go home. Have them show you their most expensive pieces and, after you have a heart attack because they are so beautiful and you can't afford them, make the guy tell you why that one is more expensive than this one. Feel your mind get larger and your understanding of the world broader by earning a Masters in Warp and Weft at Carpet College.*
The Unaccompanied Lady recommends Niqash Carpet, near Mr. Books in Super Market, and Herat Shop in Jinnah Market.
*The Carpetblog Carpetbuying Manifesto is coming. It's not ripe yet. Please stand by.