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In Doha, there is something for every visitor

In the three days I spent in Qatar, I saw an Arab nation that is quintessentially traditional, yet very progressive. I started writing this piece…

In the three days I spent in Qatar, I saw an Arab nation that is quintessentially traditional, yet very progressive. I started writing this piece while still in the aircraft.

I chose to write about Doha and its quaint components, not because of what it is now, but rather, what it looks fairly certain to become by the end of this decade: a major travel hub from the Persian Gulf, serving all continents – except perhaps South America – most frequent travellers will have to, at least, pass through on their way to their desired final destinations.

Qatar is a peninsula located halfway down the west coast of the Arabian Gulf. The territory includes several islands including Haloul, Sheraouh, Al Beshairiya, Al Safliya and Al Aaliya. The country is centrally placed among the States of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) which groups it with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE and Oman.

Archaeological discoveries, inscriptions and artefacts, prove that Qatar was populated as early as 10,000 BC. In the middle of the first century BC, Pliny the Elder referred to the nomads in the area as the “Catharrei” – an apparent reference to their constant search for water. One of the earliest maps, The Map of Ptolemy in the second century CE, shows the word “Catara” at the head of the bay.

Qatar played an important role in Islamic civilization, when its inhabitants participated in the formation and provision of the first naval fleet.

During the 16th century, the Qataris aligned with the Turks to drive out the Portuguese. Subsequently, along the entire Arabian Peninsula, they fell under the Ottaman Empire for four successive centuries, with the real power and control remaining in the hands of the sheikhs and princes of local Arab tribes.

The ruling al Thani family was among a tribal group which had settled at the “Gibrin” oasis in the southern Najd, before their arrival in Qatar in the early 18th century. Initially, they settled in Zubara in northern Qatar, moving to Doha in the mid-19th century. The family is a branch of an Arabian tribe, the Bani Tameem, whose descent can be traced back to Mudar bin Nizar.

The name, Al Thani, is derived from that of the family ancestor, Thani bin Mohammed Thani, who was the first sheikh to rule modern Qatar.

Today, Qatar is spending billions of dollars to become a centre of lifestyle, tourism, business, sports, shopping and culture. There is something for every visitor, whether it is a desert adventure, water sports, cultural visits, exotic cuisine, or just relaxing by the pool. More so, there are racing tracks for cars, horses and camels. There are malls, souqs and beaches too.   

If you are an individual who has no prior firsthand experience of the region, safety shouldn’t be your biggest concern. Qatar is ranked as one of the safest countries in the world. Doha, the capital city, is a municipality literally growing out of the desert on the Persian Gulf isthmus.

One feature of central Doha which will surely excite a first time visitor is the site of the picturesquely joined, artistic buildings designed in grand Arabian architecture. I would describe Doha as quite placid and hassle-free.

And if it is the first Persian Gulf city that you have ever visited,  your initial feeling will be that of surprise, as once you start glancing at the inhabitants, you can’t help but sense that you have been dropped off somewhere in the Indian sub-Continent!

Due to the native Qatari’s being unwilling to take menial or manual labour jobs, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are brought in annually from India, Pakistan, Nepal and other parts of the sub-continent. The natives are quite easy to spot, as it seems each one is trundling through Doha’s modern new roads, in either a luxury sedan or an SUV. In the residential areas of the capital, seeing 3 or 4 of such vehicles in each driveway is quite a common sight.

In terms of traditional sightseeing, Doha is still fairly limited. But a visit to the marble-casted museum of Islamic Art, is a must. The museum contains centuries of Arab culture in a breathtaking building by the waters of the Arabian Sea.

It lies within a walking distance at the southern end of the Corniche. Pritzker prize laureate and world renowned architect, I. M. Pei, designed this architectural masterpiece, which rises majestically out of the waters off Doha’s Corniche. Noted French architect and interior designer, Jean Michel Wilmotte, designed the equally impressive interior.  The majestic edifice showcases an internationally recognized collection of Islamic objects and artefacts, in its permanent gallery, including a page for the Holy Qur’an produced in North Africa in the second half of the 8th century. Another copy of the Qur’an written by Rashid al-Din Fadhullah and copied by Muhammad Ibn Mahmud al-Baghdadi was dated Sha’aban/Ramadan 711 AH (December 1311 and January 1312 AD). The temporary gallery displays international short-term exhibitions.

The 35,000 square metre building also includes an education wing, with facilities for research scholars and students, a research library, state-of-the-art 200-seat auditorium and a conversation laboratory. Similarly, there are reception areas, the Fountain cafe, five-star restaurant and a gift shop.

 Doha’s traditional market (Souq), is a good place to spend half the day,  wandering the sundry alleys in search of unique items and bargains – it’s divided into different sections  where  gold, electronics, perfumes and miscellaneous items are sold.

A very interesting place which I didn’t have a chance to visit due to our tight schedule is Al Shahania Farm, one of the most progressive and successful Arabian breeding and racing establishments in the world. The breeding and training of horses is an ancient Qatari pastime.

Founded and owned by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the horse farm is recognized as an international racing enterprise.  If you are craving a more modern shopping experience, as well as a chance to check out Doha’s social nerve centre, the City Centre shopping complex is your required destination.

For one in search of culinary delights , Doha can be an unexpected treat–a wide variety of restaurants serving tasty, traditional, South Asian, Lebanese dishes are scattered throughout downtown Doha and just a few kilometres away is the Al-Sadd district which is sure to delight and overwhelm any visitor.

The trip to Doha was sponsored by the Qatar 2022 World Cup Bid Committee.

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