City breaks by the BBC: Islamabad

Wietske Burema in front of the Faisal Mosque Wietske Burema by the Faisal Mosque in Pakistan's capital where 'almost everything is a well-kept secret'

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In the seventh in our series, Pakistan producer Wietske Burema works hard to find intriguing curry houses, grassy oases and a secret bar.

Where's the bureau and what's the view?

The BBC office is tucked behind a high wall in a leafy street in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. We're a big team, working for both English and Urdu output. For security reasons we don't have a BBC sign up outside the gate. Like most offices and houses in Pakistan, we have guards who keep an eye on who is coming in and out. Once inside, there's a yard (well, car park) where, in quiet moments, you can lean back in a beautifully carved wooden chair and drink milky tea (doodh patti) with your colleagues.

What should I see in Islamabad?

National Art Gallery The National Art Gallery with its 'lovely sculptures and paintings of naked ladies'

To anyone from Pakistan's other main cities, Lahore and Karachi, Islamabad is dull - a purpose-built capital best known for its roundabouts. The joke is that you have to travel ten miles to see the real Pakistan. Not true. But perhaps you have to work a bit harder to find its charms.

There are crowded second-hand book shops nestled behind intriguing curry houses all set against the glorious green backdrop of the Margalla hills. There's the zoo, which I love. It has some rather moth-eaten wolves and a sorry looking elephant, but somehow the well-kept aviary full of chirping birds and strutting peacocks lend it a sense of fun. The National Art Gallery is worth a look. It has some lovely sculptures and paintings (naked ladies! Imagine! In an Islamic country). Then there are the parks, grassy oases that erupt with pink and yellow blossom in the spring.

And if you like old ruins, head over to a place called Taxila. It's an ancient and rather extraordinary series of sites, many of them Buddhist, that point to an ancient pre-Islamic civilisation. Many of them are rather overgrown and it's lovely to wander about amongst stupas [typically, burial mounds] and the remnants of old statues (enormous feet) that lie scattered in the grasses and say hello to the Afghan cowherd and his children who come to graze cattle there.

Taxila Head to Taxila and wander among remnants of old statues

Where should I stay?

If you need luxury and security, then there is the Serena, an imposing place - a cross between a palace and a fortress. Its best bit is the outdoor pool. Going for a swim in the evening light with the sun going down over the hills is a real treat, although you have to be prepared to say hello to UN country directors or ambassadors in their Speedos. It's a small town.

Alternatively, there is always the Marriott, the scene of a horrific bombing a few years ago. It's livelier, there's always a wedding on and politicians in the lobby. Don't mention it too loudly, but there's a secret bar called Rumours, hidden behind a door marked 'Sales and Marketing', where you'll find lonely businessmen nursing an extravagantly priced whisky from the local Murree brewery. For a more low-key stay there are plenty of discreet guest houses dotted around the city.

What local delicacies should I eat or drink while I'm there?

Pakistani food 'Pakistanis LOVE to eat. Most dishes are meaty, oily and delicious'

Pakistanis LOVE to eat. Most dishes are meaty, oily and delicious. Food is a serious business here: eat first, talk later seems to be the motto.

The tastiest food is tucked away on street corners, next to tailors' shops or stores selling pirated DVDs and teapots from Afghanistan. None exactly excel in ambience and it's best not to ask to see the toilets - just make sure everything arrives piping hot.

Chicken curry (karahi) or, another favourite, minced beef served in a pot with boiled potatoes and peas, come in little stainless steel pans, served on plastic tables without cloths. All scooped up with thin roti bread, freshly cooked in blistering tandoor ovens. Barbecues are a big thing. The Kabul produces black skewers of mutton or beef chargrilled and glistening, eaten under strip lighting, lemon soda on the side. Vegetarians are advised to stay at home.

What would be the best night out?

Concert at Lok Virsa Hear some of Pakistan's finest classical and fusion musicians at Lok Virsa

Islamabad is a city of diplomats, civil servants, journalists, aid workers and politicians. Nightlife revolves around salons, where the latest political crisis is dissected, and conspiracy theories are hatched and propagated.

And if you are a music fan there are occasional concerts at cafes like Kuch Khas or at the ethnographic museum, Lok Virsa, where you can hear some of Pakistan's finest classical and fusion musicians play under the open sky while you lounge back on plump floor cushions.

What's the best local secret?

For a while it was the presence of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, only 30 miles from the capital as the crow flies. But lame jokes aside, the lack of tourism and strict security measures mean almost everything is a well-kept secret here.

My latest discovery is Khanpur lake, an hour or so away from Islamabad. Its azure waters are a perfect place to escape the summer heat when temperatures hit 45C. For a few hundred rupees (a few pounds) a boat will take you across the lakes to a quiet spot where you can swim in peace or lounge in the spongy grass. Bliss.

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