Lahore Islamabad Day Trip (Hiran Minar, Swaik Lake & Katas Raj Temples)
Travelling from Lahore to Islamabad is quite easy and you have a few options to cover this journey. The distance is xx km and there is a motorway which makes the journey short and smooth. While most people cover it in a go via public transport, I would recommend turning it into a day trip to see some hidden gems along the way. This is the best way to travel from Lahore to Islamabad or vice versa.
Check my Pakistan travel guide for detailed information on the country.
First off these are the options:
You can take a direct flight from Alama Iqbal International Airport Lahore to Islamabad International Airport. The flight takes 20 minutes roughly. The airport on Lahore side is within the city but the airport in Islamabad is outside and it takes an hour or so to get to Islamabad. You can check the schedule and cost here.
Taking a bus is the most common option. From Lahore you can take a bus from Thokar Niaz Baig area by Daewoo Bus Services. The bus takes roughly 4 hours and 30 minutes and drops you at Pir Wadhai Bus Station outside Islamabad. You will need to take a taxi from there to get to Islamabad which will take 30-45 minutes. The same route works in opposite direction from Islamabad to Lahore. Thokar Niaz Baig is quite outside the centre of Lahore and you will need to take a taxi or rickshaw to get to your destination from there.
Check details of cost and schedule here.
This is the best but most expensive way. You can hire a car with a driver and for a one way drop off the cost to me was PKR 17,000 (~$100). It is a great way to make a full motorway journey into a great day trip. This is what I did which made it the best way to travel from Lahore to Islamabad.
Check my Lahore travel guide for information and things to do in the city.
Lahore To Islamabad
I left quite early in the morning and headed to the nearby town of Sheikhupura. On the motorway there is a specific exit for Hiran Minar. The road was bad but it didn’t take long to get to the complex.
It is a beautiful complex with an artificial lake, the tower and a summer pavilion.
It was built by the emperor Jahangir as his summer hunting lodge and later when his favourite antelope ‘Mansraj’ died, he erected the tower to commemorate him. This was also his retreat from the busy life of Lahore and you can see why. The place was very serene in the morning without anyone around.
The arches of the bridge that connect that entrance to pavilion reflect on the water. It creates this spectacular image, really beautiful in the evenings and morning when the sun is at an angle.
The Hiran Minar complex has some nice gardens a lot of locals come here for picnics.
It is an epic monument dedicated to his pet by a master, I can’t think of any other anywhere. I stayed for an hour and then moved on to the next stop.
Cost of Jeep – 1500 PKR
It took another hour and a half until we got to the Kallar Kahar interchange exit. From here we followed google maps to the lake and got completely in the opposite direction. The driver asked locals and they directed us to a place called Jalebi Chowk. A little drive further we saw the board of Khandowa Lake and headed there.
It wasn’t long until we reached the end of the road and arrived at a big area with a few jeeps and men waiting for people to come. The car could go no further so I took the jeep instead for the next 4.5 km up and down the really rough road. Despite the horrible road, I could only focus on how beautiful and peaceful the entire valley was.
The jeep stopped at a coal pit and I had the hike the rest of the way on foot walking alongside the water channel u too I got to the lake.
Swaik or Khandowa lake is a small little emerald lake with clear water and small fish. The entire area was really peaceful and still. I stayed for a bit, relaxed, dipped my feet in (and cursed myself for not bringing a towel and swimming trunks) and then headed back. It was almost lunch time and I had yet to see the Hindu Temples of Katas Raj.
Katas Raj Temples
The temples of Katas Raj are located a further hour and a half drive from the starting point of the lake. The road passes through the fertile planes of Chakwal and the Lake district of Punjab.
The temples are located inside a complex and there is no entrance fee. You will be offered some guide services though and I’d recommend taking them because they will be able to open some buildings for you which are locked shut. It is a fairly informal operation.
The complex has quite a few buildings. As soon as I entered, I went to the left and up with the first temple dedicated to the Monkey God, Hanuman. The walls outside are beautifully decorated but there isn’t much left inside.
Most of the decoration has been ruined, the rest has been destroyed by people scribbling their names all over the place. The ceiling was beautiful though and the best preserved of all temples in the complex.
On the right there is the temple of Kali Mata which has a beautiful facade. It is perched on top of a cliff and visible from the sitting area near the entrance as well. The guide let us in to explore the interior. Very little of its previous glory remains but I did see 2 beautiful windows called ‘Jharoka‘ as well as 2 beautiful figures painted on plaster.
I headed to the top but there was something unexpected on the left; a Buddhist stupa. It was in pretty bad shape but it was a surprise nonetheless. Turns out, it was pre Hinduism and the fall of Buddhism in the area was due to Hinduism flourishing. The stupa was sadly burnt down and only a heap of stones remain as a reminder.
The temples on the top are my favourite part. these are called Sat Ghara Temples. Built in a beautiful pattern, they are really fascinating. The area in front offer amazing view of the entire complex with small domes popping here and there.
The most important part of the entire complex was yet to be explored though. At the bottom of the stairs, I found the sacred pond said to be created by the tears of lord Shiva when he cried over the death of his wife Sati.
Fun Fact: Katas Raj Temples are an important part of Hindu epic, Mahabharata. The warring Pandvey brothers spent a significant amount of time here.
This is the most beautiful part of the entire complex with so many small temples built around the pond turning the entire place into a picture perfect spot with an emerald green pond surrounded by temples. I stayed for quite some time here. It is also a great spot for photos especially if you head to the Baradari or Havan Kund which is an open structure used for worship rituals.
There is an active temple also located in the complex with a unique object inside. This is the Shiv Temple which has the Shivalingam. It is an aniconic representation of lord Shiva and according to legend it was laid by lord Krishna himself.
I sat there in the garden watching the locals leave as the light faded and the temples turned more beautiful. I could imagine the pilgrims washing in the ponds and fire burning with the fragrance of incense with yellow chrysanthemum flowers laid around. It was getting late and it was time to head to Islamabad.
Check my Islamabad travel guide for information and things to do in the city.
Khewra Salt Mines
The second largest Salt Mines in the world are located in Khewra which is less than an hours drive from Katas Raj Temples. The mines are quite interesting and the miners have built a few structures entirely of salt including a mosque and the Great Wall of China. I visited the place as a child and have fond memories. If you get free early and have energy to visit, this is another spot you can cover on the way to Islamabad. You can find more information about the mines here.
I hope this guide helps you plan a fun day trip whether you are going from Lahore to Islamabad or from Islamabad to Lahore. If you have more questions, please feel free to ask.