Benazir Bhutto International Airport serves Islamabad - capital city of Pakistan in Central Asia - as well as its twin city Rawalpindi. Formally known as the Islamabad International Airport, the airport was renamed in 2008 in honor of the late Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female prime minister. Operational from 1948, Benazir Bhutto International has since undergone numerous renovations to become one of the largest and busiest airports of the country, handling millions of passengers as well as tens of thousands of tonnes of cargo annually.
Benazir Bhutto International Airport is served by more than 15 airlines and offers flights to a wide array of domestic and international destinations around the world. The airport is also the hub of Pakistan’s flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines. It is due to be replaced by Islamabad’s new airport – named New Islamabad International Airport, or Gandhara International Airport – in late 2016.
Benazir Bhutto International Airport is located about 20 kilometres from Islamabad. To get to the city from the airport, travelers can grab a cab direct from outside the airport terminal to their destination within the city. Both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned cabs can be found (though the air-conditioned ones are naturally more expensive), and the ride into town should take about half an hour or so depending on traffic conditions. Tourists are advised to agree on a fare with the cab driver before beginning on the journey.
For those on a shoestring budget local buses and vans heading to Islamabad are also available, but route maps and schedules can be a bit confusing for tourists.
What to see and do
Considered an architectural masterpiece, the vast and uniquely-shaped Faisal Mosque is an icon of Islamabad and a must-see for all visitors to the capital city. Once the largest mosque in the world (between the years of 1986-1993), how the Shah Faisal Masjid came to be is a lesson in international cooperation itself – it was a gift to Pakistan from Saudi Arabian King Faisal (who largely funded its construction), and was designed by a Turkish architect (Vedat Dalokay). The Mosque’s unique shape resembles the structure of a desert tent, with its triangular hall, downwards-sloping roof and 88-metre-tall minarets on its outer perimeters.
Painted a clean white color, the Shah Faisal Masjid stands erect against a dreamy backdrop of rolling hills – more specifically, the scenic Margalla Mountain Range, a section of the Lesser Himalayas – which, added to its awe-inspiring size, makes for a truly spectacular sight. The iconic religious structure (which allegedly cost a whopping 100 million US dollars to build) is today considered the national mosque of Pakistan, and can accommodate 10,000 worshippers in the main prayer hall at any one time.
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