Window on Doha, Qatar

Ancient meets mega-modern between the desert and the Persian Gulf

~~~

Completing a visit to Georgia and Armenia a couple of years ago, before heading back home to Australia, we flew for several hours through the night to Doha, the capital of Qatar. It has recently become one of several popular Middle Eastern stopovers for long-haul passengers from Europe and Britain to Asia and Australia, and we wanted to see why.

Usually we had experienced these airports as a sometimes-lengthy 'wait-over', but this time we decided to take a 48-hour break, as we had never before been outside a Middle Eastern airport.

Here is a drive-by shooting in Doha, the capital of Qatar - taken from our taxi from the airport.

So this (above) was our slightly blurred first glimpse of the Middle East, and Doha, which in the past fifty years has expanded and grown amazingly, and is now regarded as a beta-level global city.

Our hotel, Warwick Doha, was just what we needed: comfortable, quiet - and cool.

Although it was still morning, the small amount of open air we had experienced at the airport and when leaving the taxi was searingly hot and dry. Locals later told us that 40C is a quite normal daily summer maximum. And this was now autumn!

Our first walk around the block (but not before a coffee in the hotel's lobby) was an eye-opener, but not in the way of scenic sights. The horizon was wrapped in a sandy haze, reminding us of the proximity of the Sealine Beach sand dunes which are only about 60 kilometres from the city centre.

The real test of stamina was the heat that seemed to suck our bodies dry and set our scalps and any exposed skin on fire.

Memo to us: we decided from here on we would wear hats and sunscreen, and attempt to keep in the shade.

When evening came we explored the hotel a little. The rooftop outdoor area was a cooler way to view the city and its sparkling skyline.

Here we discovered a pool, and spaces to relax...

...while far below, Doha's evening (left-hand drive) traffic made its orderly way home.

The next day, we booked a driver who took us on a tour of some of the city's highlights. The elegant Arabic design of many buildings was very evident and gracious. On the West Bay we saw many luxury hotels in Al Bidda Street, a name meaning 'to invent'. This is appropriate as most of the buildings we would see on this drive were constructed less than twenty years ago.

The Corniche, was once a little-used seven-kilometre walkway beside the bay but, in the past two decades or so, dozens of skyscrapers and hotels overlooking the bay have turned this into a relaxed and popular area.

Now it is the go-to place for locals and visitors, skateboarders, cyclists, joggers and photographers - or anyone else who just likes to be out and about in the fresh air.

Old meets new so often in this city. Here the centrally located Doha Mosque, from which the muezzin calls out age-old prayers regularly each day, oversees the carpark and busy traffic.

in 2013 Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, became the king of Qatar, and we encountered his portrait in many places around the city. Here it is on the Qatar National Bank. And, yes, the bank is named in English, reminding us that there was a strong link between the British Commonwealth and Middle East for decades.

Qatar became a British Protectorate in 1916, and offered protection and development of oil until a mutual agreement for Britain to withdraw was agreed in 1971. Read more here...

The present king's image appears on major buildings like this...

...and other places, like this shop window.

 

 

Our driver stopped so that we could better see this addition to Doha's waterfront that opened in 2008.

The Museum of Islamic Art is built on an island off an artificial peninsula near the traditional dhow harbour.

Influenced by ancient Islamic architecture, it has a uniquely modern design involving geometric patterns, and is the first of its kind to feature over 14 centuries of Islamic art in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf.

The Museum of Islamic Art represents Islamic art from three continents over 1400 years.

The use of arches and water features is central to Islamic design.

Equally authentic and graceful are the dhows in Doha Bay. Similar sailing boats have been used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean for centuries.

While Doha's bayside has many hotels, the Anantara luxury hotel group has created Banana Island Resort in the bay on an aptly banana-shaped island. This, near the Corniche, is where you may depart for the island.

Interestingly, Doha's name originated from the Arabic term dohat, meaning 'roundness' - because of the rounded bays around the area's coastline.

The Dallah coffee pot sculpture, in the Financial District's Sheraton Hotel Park, may at first seem a strange addition to the cityscape. However when you remember that in Arabic culture, the coffee pot is a symbol of hospitality, it makes perfect sense.

In the city's central business district it's 'standing-room only' in the dense forest of skyscrapers, many of them only a couple of decades old.

But there is breathing space too, for those who like to walk and relax - and feed the pigeons!

There are so many huge and architecturally beautiful buildings that you need time to learn them all. In the centre (above) is the 46-storey Doha Tower, with its filigree-like covering, completed in 2012.

This may help to identify the others..

For something a little different, our guide brought us to the beach to watch some volleyball players at the ANOC World Beach Games, backdropped of course by the city skyline.

Doha's road system is, as you would expect, well organised and forward-thinking. As always there is that element of Islamic art even when it appears to be simply decorating a highway interchange.

This is, in fact, one of the Al Wahda Arches, a pair of 20-degree inclined steel arches, spanning the Lusail expressway. They constitute the tallest monument in the country, and received a 2020 International Design Award

The arches on this 'public artwork' are connected to each other by a cable net – an creative and artistic reminder of Qatar's pearl diving heritage.

Road crossing signs vary from country to country -  but we especially liked this one.

~~~

And then it was time to go shopping!

Every visitor to Doha, whether keen shopper or not, should visit the Souq Waqif, open until late at night. It's not far from the Corniche, but don't stress about not finding it - just follow the people!

The experience is not so much about buying, but simply immersing yourself in the energy and the smells and sounds and colour of it all.

In the Middle East, gold is always on offer - intricately decorated - and the man you can just see at the back of this shop, may look as though he hasn't noticed you -  but he has, and will barter with you too.

If you love birds, follow this sign, but equally if you hate birds in cages, you may need to turn right.

Of course, in souks and any markets worldwide, there is always food...

...and fabrics.

If you want to decorate your home, these rugs and cushions are bright and beautiful, often intricately decorated, and ideal as gifts.

 Can't sew to save your life? 

No problem. Most of these small shops have a band of fast and careful tailors and dressmakers somewhere nearby. 

They will whip up your new garment in a few hours, or overnight.

In Arabic countries, men wear flowing robes like these, and they are also available at the markets.

I discovered this future fashion icon already beautifully decked out for a visit to the souk with her mother, who is in sight at the end of this passageway.

~~~

As night approached, the city changed

Finally, the setting sun behind the Souk Waqif Mosque reminded us that our time here was running out.

Already some of the footpath tables were filling. Notice the name of this cafe, La Patisserie. Qatar has bilateral relations with France, an alliance that was first signed in 1974.

Read more...

$18 (Australian) for a coffee? Yes, something special like this could cost this much. Bring your credit card.

As dusk approaches, the lights begin to come on, and we discover that the souks at night are perhaps even more entrancing.

I love the contrast you so often discover in almost every country. Here it is religion and recreation. The mosque, is now floodlit, calling believers to prayer; yet here, juxtaposed, are bright bundles of balloons and toys for children.

Can you guess what is happening here?

Having your hands decorated with henna is a serious business, and this woman watches carefully while her young daughter maybe wonders when she will be old enough for it to be her turn.

Another popular experience is donkey rides. That's if you have the energy - or if the donkey does!

The maze of alleys in the souks are confusing, but it hardly matters which turn you take as there is always something new to see - and sniff or touch - or even buy. 

Bulk buying is popular, because the souks are not primarily for tourists. This is where the cooks and family members come to buy ingredients for family meals. Dried fruits and nuts are popular in many Middle Eastern dishes, and selling them dried ensures a greater shelf-life in this hot country.

Dried limes? Who knows? It's not always easy to find someone who can explain the various goods for sale but, let's face it, trying to guess for yourself is part of the fun too.

Chillies dry well and are light to carry, and a great boost for many local dishes.

When hibiscus flowers are dried like this, they can be added to hot water for a healthy and delicious 'tea'.

(photo: ©Gordon Hammond)

The waterfront at night is magical, a little reminiscent of Hong Kong harbour, although a dhow is the giveaway that it is not.

(photo: ©Gordon Hammond)

++++

 

Time to leave

Always the hardest part of any trip is leaving places that we have only just begun to appreciate and enjoy. Here, Gordon catches up with emails in the Warwick Hotel's lobby while we wait for our airport transfer.

Welcome to Qatar's Hamad International Airport complete with a playful mascot.

This airport, named World's Best Airport in 2021, handled a staggering 39 million passenger arrivals in 2019. 

Guided by its worldwide reputation that 'anything is possible', Harrods now brings a taste of the iconic UK store to this airport, with a carefully selected range of Harrods Signature gifts and the best of its famous Food Halls.

 

While waiting for your flight to be called, why not enjoy a quintessential British afternoon tea experience or sample the delectable ice cream menu at Harrods Tea Room?

Of course such a busy airport has many other shops and activities on offer, such as this toy shop...

...and something deliciously decadent for adults.

There is even something for investors.

Ooredoo, the name of the Qatar Telecom and ICT company is primarily concerned with welcoming commerce, the foundation of the Middle Eastern countries.

Finally, it is almost time to board our flight home. A final coffee, a flaky pastry, in the Qataf cafe, and maybe the hope of doing this again. Sometime!

As the T-shirt says...

~~~
 
As we board the aircraft - we hope it's sometime soon...
 

(photo: ©Gordon Hammond)

...and, finally, a glittering farewell from Doha: no longer just a name on a map.

 


© Words and photographs: Sally Hammond (unless otherwise captioned) 

©Video and music: Gordon Hammond

Sally and Gordon Hammond travelled independently on this trip, and all opinions are their own.

 
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