Doha, Qatar stopover
So you’ve booked that trip to Europe, Asia or Africa, and enroute you’re spending a day or two in a country you can hardly pronounce, let alone navigate.
“Qatar” rhymes with ‘cutter’, but first sound is more guttural and throaty (like “gh”). Its capital is Doha, and while the obvious comparison to make is with nearby Dubai, but you might be surprised with what you find. While Dubai is aiming for the title of the “Las Vegas of the Middle East”, Doha seems to be aiming more for Frankfurt or Hong Kong – less glitz and glamour, more corporate and commerce. The result is surprising; once known as “the dullest place in the Gulf” it’s now a metropolis to explore for a day or two.
Population: 2.5 million (of which 1.5 million live in Doha – about the same as Auckland or Barcelona)
Language: Arabic, but English and Urdu are widely spoken or understood
Religion: Islam, mostly of the austere Salafi Sunni variety, similar to that which is practiced in Saudi Arabia.
Climate: Warm dry winters, sweltering dry summers.
Cultural sensitivity: Alcohol is available, but only in hotels and bars frequented by foreigners – public drunkenness is taboo. No bikinis at beaches, swimsuits only, and no short-shorts or crop tops walking around the city centre either. No pork, porn, proselytising or PDA (public displays of affection).
What to do?
Take a walk along the Corniche: The Corniche is Doha’s pedestrianised waterfront, and if it’s not stiflingly hot then it makes a great place to walk along, take in the city skyline and lick an ice cream.
Be amazed by the Museum of Islamic Art: This museum is arguably one of the best places to learn about the history of the world’s second biggest religion (by number of adherents).
Go shopping in Souq Waqif and the Falconry Souq: Falconry is the national sport, and even if you’re not in the market for a falcon, this market is an interesting peek into the traditional Qatari pastime. Next door is Souq Waqif, a wonderfully restored marketplace selling silk, spice and all things exotic and nice.
Take a jaunt on a dhow: Qatar is nearly surrounded by water, so its not surprising that dhows (traditional boats) are a big deal. Organise through an agent, through your hotel, or via a local contact to go out on the calm Gulf waters for a sail at sunset.
Go on a desert safari: Get your adrenaline pumping by going dune-bashing on a 4WD tour, opt for an atmospheric dinner in a bedouin tent.
Experience the Al Jazeera Media Cafe: Apart from oil, the Al Jazeera news channel might be Qatar’s most famous export. Tight security means that studio tours aren’t an option, so the channel have opened an interactive cafe where you can chow down on dessert while presenting your own mock news bulletin.
Eat makboos, drink kahwah and smoke sheesha: There are countless places to eat the national dish, a lightly-spiced lamb and rice affair. Kahwah is the local coffee, served strong, sugary, infused with cardamom but without milk. And if you’re into it, grab an apple-flavoured sheesha and while the hours away.
Shop till you drop: Shopping might have replaced falconry as the national sport; go to the Mall of Qatar, the Gulf Mall, the City Centre Mall and the uber-exclusive Alhazm Mall for all your top-end duty-free shopping.