The Localist

Walking in Islamabad

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Walking is the oldest means of travel. Man is distinguished from other animals because of his ability to walk with an upright gait. For several thousand years, man has also walked for exercise. However, urbanization in most cities of Pakistan has increasingly rendered it difficult to walk smoothly and steadily. Push carts, garbage cans, electricity poles, traffic signals, manholes and very recently (at least in Lahore), the plant pots… all these seem to encroach upon a citizens’ right to enjoy a carefree walk. Walking in Islamabad, however, is an exception.

I live 25 minutes’ walk from my office, and my favourite pastime here is walking. Islamabad is a moderately hilly area. It has safe, smooth and beautiful walkways alongside almost all roads and streets, lined with grass and bushes on both sides. Mornings here are beautiful. I come across people making their way to their offices, or children heading off to school. But most people are actually on wheels, and hardly anyone takes advantage of these walkways. I feel lucky knowing that this vast walking space is all mine. One reason many people don’t walk may be the status symbol attached to moving around in expensive vehicles; or, maybe, a lot of people aren’t lucky enough to live within walking distance of their workplace.

In the beginning, I found it difficult to walk wearing a suit and tie. Taxis often stopped by and honked to ask if I needed a ride. My negative reply disappointed the cab drivers, and they gave me a look as if I was crazy. Sometimes even private cars would pull over and ask if I wanted to be dropped somewhere nearby, and I had to tell them that I was good, and wanted to keep walking. Finally, I figured out a way not to be bothered by all these selfish (the cab drivers) and selfless (the private car owners) mortals. I started to take the walking lane that runs opposite the flow of traffic. This has helped me, but not without exception. Once, a friend of mine noticed me walking while he was on his way to drop his kid off at school. He took a u-turn when he had a chance, a long distance away, and came all the way back to me to ask if I wanted a lift. I could not refuse his altruistic offer; though I had to sacrifice my walk to the office on that day.

MEET THE LOCAL: MUHAMMAD AWAB

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