My First Ever Trip To Pakistan!

Background of the trip

I recently visited Pakistan for the first time during the final week of May in 2024. I have always wanted to visit this beautiful country from a tourism perspective and was very grateful to have been able to oversee some charity projects being coordinated by the READ Foundation in Pakistan at the same time. A disclaimer that I was only in Pakistan for four days as it was during the half term and I am a school teacher so I had limited days to visit! I had visited three main cities: Islamabad, Mirpur, Jhelum and other inner towns/villages in between.

It was always a dream of mine to build a school or some form of an educational project for those who are less fortunate. I was approached by a dear friend of mine brother Muhammad to travel with him to Pakistan and see the schools being built on the ground by the READ Foundation so that I have a better understanding of the processes, timescale and work involved behind the construction and maintenance of a READ school.

My first thoughts as I arrived in Islamabad….

The Islamabad airport was busy and filled with passengers, airport staff and excited family members greeting their loved ones as they arrive or depart. I was met by brother Asif from the READ Foundation who had kindly collected me from the airport and drove me to my hotel in Islamabad. I was booked into the Marriott Islamabad airport for one night and the drive to the hotel took approximately 45 minutes from the airport. The roads were fairly quiet as it was early morning (around 6.30am) and the drive was very pleasant. I had expected the roads to be narrower and filled with many more vehicles but it was the complete opposite! Islamabad felt like a capital city. The roads were clean, greenery was well maintained and the roads were so spacious.

Experience of staying at Marriott Islamabad

As we had arrive at Marriott Islamabad, I was warmly greeted by the hotel staff and managed to check-in for my room. Whilst I was waiting for my room to be ready, I had my first experience of a traditional authentic Pakistani breakfast! The food was a buffet style breakfast spread and Masha’Allah, everything I had tasted was cooked freshly by the chefs. I particularly enjoyed Halwa Puri, Nihari, fresh naan, minced meat, pastries and the world famous Pakistani mangoes. The service and quality of food was of an extremely high standard.

Throughout my stay at the Marriott Islamabad hotel, I was treated with kindness and all staff were extremely helpful. The spa facilities at the hotel were very clean and highly recommended. I enjoyed the use of their swimming pool, gym and sauna facilities. They have separate timings for men and women. The rooms were very spacious and well maintained. All amenities were working fine and there were no issues with my room at all.

My visit to the Faisal Masjid, Islamabad

The Marriott Islamabad also had a taxi and tours service which was very useful. As a hotel guest, you can book tours, excursions and taxis directly from the hotel. Just before the sunset (Maghrib) prayer, I booked a taxi to visit the Faisal Masjid in Islamabad. This is the national mosque of Pakistan and it is highly recommended to visit if you are ever visiting Islamabad. I had arrived at the Masjid an hour before Maghrib prayer so I took advantage of walking outside the Masjid courtyard and open fields. There were several food and drinks stalls, vendors selling gifts/souvenirs and the Masjid grounds were packed with so many tourists and visitors.

Interestingly, the Masjid is closed after every prayer and only opens 10-15 minutes before each prayer. Most visitors take pictures. videos etc from outside the Masjid up until the doors are opened to enter the Masjid. Also, the outside marble flooring can become very hot as you are walking across the courtyard so it is highly recommended to wear socks to avoid your feet being burnt! I was mesmerised by the stunning architecture of the Masjid. Its unique and contemporary design of the four towering minarets were truly captivating. The Masjid was designed by a Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay (who also won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture of the project.

Once the Masjid doors had opened just before the Maghrib prayer, I was in awe of the sheer design of the dome, chandelier, mihrab and man other features inside. It did not feel as if I was in Pakistan but rather felt like I was located in between two continents! I particularly loved the Quran Mushaf design of the mihrab. This is where the Imam stands for prayer and the Muadhin calls out the adhan from. The sound system of the Masjid was so powerful and captivates your body, mind and soul. When the Muadhin started to render the Maghrib adhan, I felt so at peace and spiritually rejuvenated. The style of the adhan resembled that of the Haramains in Makkah and Madinah. The Imam recited the Qur’an so eloquently with such excellent command of Tajweed. Once the Maghrib prayer had ended, I started to make my way out of the Masjid and was stopped by several women and children who were asking for money. It is very common to find beggars within the close vicinity of the Faisal Masjid, especially during the busy periods of weekends, Jumu’ah, Ramadhaan etc.

Food, cuisines and travel

There is so much variety of cuisines to taste in Pakistan. Their food is cooked freshly and Pakistan is renowned for its authentic street foods. The F-10 area in Islamabad has a range of authentic street food stalls, cafes and restaurants. We tried some delicious grilled chicken, mutton karahi and desserts at Butt Karahi by Usman Tahir in the F-10 area. In addition, we visited Ranchers which is situated in Markaz I-8 just on the outskirts of central Islamabad. Here, we tried their famous pizza and burgers. The cuisine here is mainly fast food and students are their most popular types of customers. Nevertheless, the food was impressive and it genuinely felt as if we were eating somewhere in the UK!

We also visited Mirpur during our travels and this city is filled with delicious Pakistani cuisines. We had breakfast twice from the famous Nafees of Mirpur. They are originally based in Bradford (UK) and are one of the most busiest restaurants in Pakistan. I tried their Halwa Puri platter with channa bhajee (Chickpeas curry) and as a coffee addict, I opted for black coffee. To my surprise, the coffee was brewed to perfection and hit the spot! Other friends and colleagues had opted for omelettes, paratha and eggs for breakfast with traditional doodh patti (Traditional Pakistani milky tea). Another restaurant we visited twice was Ajwa. They have a chain of brances located across Mirpur and other cities in Pakistan. They specialise in curries, grilled food and platters. Their mutton karahi, vegetarian sabzi and chicken karahi was sublime. I loved how they had a range of grilled food platters for people to share from.

The Pakistani mangoes are a must try! I personally find their mangoes more juicier and tastier than other mangoes that I’ve tasted from Bangladesh and India in particular. Also, you have to try their Mango lassi or milkshake which is made using fresh mangoes. Very refreshing to try especially during the summer periods. Also, Rooh Afza (a refreshing rose syrup drink) was very refreshing to taste during the peak hotter parts of the day.

Travelling wise, it is cheaper to get around using local taxis. Careem is an app used widely in Pakistan (like an Uber) but not as cost effective as local taxis. Most local taxis only accept cash so if you only have card then it may be better to order taxi rides from Careem or other alternative taxi apps or websites. If you are intending to travel long distance (For example, from the North to the South etc) then it is best to research and weigh up costs from various vendors before deciding on which travel option to use. Private taxi with a driver is recommended as opposed to train/bus/coach as you have more privacy and the ability to stop at various service stations/shops to use the bathroom or freshen up etc.

READ Foundation schools projects

Before we had travelled to visit the various schools projects, we had a very insightful meeting with the READ Foundation Head office team at their Headquarters in Islamabad. We met with brother Afzaal (CEO of READ Foundation Pakistan) and several other members of the team. It was great to find out more about the charity and how much their work has progressed since its inception in the 1990’s. To date, READ Foundation ahs built over 400 schools and educated over 100,000 students, supported over 13,000 orphans and employed over 6,000 teachers. Their work is well received not just in Pakistan but across the world. It was impressive to hear of the READ Foundation’s collaborations and partnerships with other charities and organisations across the world too.

We visited several READ Foundation school projects across the two days we spent travelling with the READ teams. It was insightful seeing a range of schools which were in the process of being constructed, already in use for some time and some which were just newly built. I was particularly impressed with the attention to detail and outstanding teamwork from the initial design phases to the maintenance of each school. We visited the Bhimber Girls college which was a huge eye opener for me and really raised the bar in terms of academic excellence. This college had a huge focus on STEM learning and it was great to see so many students being actively involved in designing STEM products/projects and taking part in national and international STEM and engineering competitions. I was blown away by the high levels of achievement by pupils across the college.

We had also visited READ Foundation schools in Dobay, Gujrat, Mirpur, Jhelum and several other regions and cities across Pakistan. What really helped was to have the Chief Engineer brother Obaid travel with us throughout the visit. He is the main spearhead of each READ Foundation school project and oversees the construction of every school that is built by READ in Pakistan with the support of his engineering and construction teams on the ground. What really stood out to me was READ’s unwavering commitment in being cost effective by building their schools using internal staff members, recruiting local labourers in each area to help boost local economies and their dedication to help empower women. Every READ school was led by a female principal and the vast majority of teachers who work across the READ schools were all females. READ have truly empowered and inspired women to have careers and become self-sufficient as there is a cultural stereotype of women just being housewives and not studying or being educated further. This was great to see in person.

The biggest highlight of our trip was to visit the land in which my school project will be built on. The land was donated by brother Muneer whose father had left him a large amount of land as inheritance before he had passed away several years ago. Brother Muneer decided to donate a third of the inherited land to charity and specifically donated it to the READ Foundation with the intention of a school being built on this land. I was humbled to have met brother Muneer in person and hear of his story. His daughter had also studied at a READ Foundation school and the nearest school to the area was approximately 25km. He told me how most children have to travel so far just to get educated and it was always his dream for a school to be built in this area of Gujrat (Buttar) so that children do not need to travel so far away for education. I made a heartfelt intention to him that I will try my utmost best to fundraise and aim to have a school built on this land within the next two years, Insha’Allah.

Final thoughts on Pakistan…..

Masha’Allah, Pakistan is such a beautiful country. It is rich in terms of natural resources, scenery and it’s culture. There is so much potential for Pakistan to develop into a successful and thriving nation. Whenever I had spoken to the locals in Pakistan regarding the future of their country, everyone pretty much said the same thing: ‘Our country has so much potential to succeed but it’s just the people at the top of the leadership who need to see the bigger picture.’ Despite the unstable political situation in Pakistan over the years, it is evident that this is a country which has a bright and successful future.

The people of Pakistan are the most hospitable and welcoming. They take such pride in looking after their guests and we were warmly received everywhere we had visited. If you are ever travelling to Pakistan in the peak hotter months, be sure to apply lots of sun cream and take portable small fans if needed (which can help to cool down!). In addition, it is highly recommended to travel around from late afternoon as temperatures can exceed 45-50 degrees during the morning/early afternoon.

May Allah bless the people of Pakistan and grant prosperity, success and progression to this beautiful country. Ameen!

P.S If you wish to contribute and donate towards my school build project, please visit: