On the way home from Australia we spent 2 days in Doha, Qatar. We were intrigued by it: it has such an amazing skyline built up in approximately 10 years. We didn’t know much about it though, just that it has a fair bit of oil money and that even though Islam is common the country is quite relaxed about what foreigners wear .
My first impression was that Doha it was one big construction site: something was built everywhere! There were loads of high raising towers and funny buildings in funny angles. It also had a true mixture of people: I think every corner of the world, every skin colour and most fashion styles were represented. The different cultures seemed to co-exist peacefully, maybe because everyone knows their place over there?
It is interesting to think that this city, where you can find everything, also imports just about everything. Just over 10 years ago fishing was the main means for a livelihood (or so we were told). Apart from the sea, there are dates and camels. Sand and heat. And oil. And a king who shares the oil money with the people. Overall sounds like the royal family really is thinking of the future of the whole country by investing their money in things that will benefit the whole country (eg. infrastructure, facilities to welcome businesses).
We were told by a taxi driver most Qatari people don’t work because they don’t need to. That seemed about right, all people we saw working seemed to be there as guest workers. Statistics say there are about 2,5 million people living in Qatar but 88% of them are quest workers. That makes this quite a peculiar country! The same taxi driver did say though, that the quest workers are well treated, get good health care and if they can bring their family, the kids get a good education too. But I imagine not many can bring there families and I suppose most guest worker will need to return to their country of origin when they retire? Apparently it is very difficult to obtain a citizenship, which I can understand in some ways: a wealthy tax free country would be attractive to masses.
The main means of getting around seemed to be by car. Petrol was cheap (anything else would have been a surprise), there were cars everywhere and there were hardly any foot paths to walk on. We found out taxis were quite affordable: A taxi from the airport to our hotel in the old part of Doha cost 50 riyals. We also hired a taxi to take us around the main sites, which took about 3 hrs and cost 250 riyals. For approximately the same price we could have done a hop on hop off bus sight seeing tour but thought our own pace was more convenient with jet lagged kids.
The beach area, the Corniche Promanade, was very pretty. There one can see the city skyline, there are the imported lawns, there is the Islamic museum portraying a woman. There was a playground at the both ends of the Cornishe, which also was the only place to walk along outdoors, everything else seemed to be indoors were the air con was constant. Funny, I didn’t think the heat was that bad but the locals seemed to escape it as we hardly saw anyone outside that wasn’t working outdoors (apart from the guest workers who were spending their Friday off by the Corniche). Yes, it was about 40 Celsius, but it was a dry heat. We were told thought that June, July and August everyone who can, will leave the country as the heat gets unbearable.
There are a number of malls to spend time in. They were grandiose; skies were painted, there were ice rinks and even a river with gondolas. But what kind of a life is it, when you are out and about the whole day but actually all the time indoors in artificial air? I may be too much of an outdoorsy type for the life style this city offers… But it was interesting to visit them and I am sure they would have been great people on shopping holidays.
I loved Souq Waqif, the market place, at one end of the Corniche though. All the smells, all the things sold, the restaurants, the tasty food. There it felt like people came to life. Most food we tried was both tasty and affordable: our family of four would easily have a good meal for about 160 riyals. In Doha we were all impressed by many of the buildings built apparently mainly for the World Cup but I was surprised to hear most of them are empty. Hope they will attract corporations to make making them a bit more sustainable.
In addition to the Souq Watif, the food and the buildings, we found falcons market interesting. We liked seeing the towers built for doves. Visiting a camel farm sounded more interesting than it then was, as it seemed like a pretty ran down place. But it was quite a contrast to the flash new center and the malls.
To me, a westerner, visiting a Mosque was interesting. I have to admit, I didn’t know anything about what was expected of my behaviour. But people were really helpful, as they mostly were in the city. We made the mistake of thinking that women take kids in and by the time I found out that I can’t go in with them, my husband had already gone to the male entrance on the other side of the building. I wasn’t quite sure of what to do as I didn’t know where I am allowed to walk and still be respectful. The guard guessed what happened, and came to help me: he opened a door in the wall to the male side and asked me to check from the door if I can see my husband and send our children to him. I was astonished to hear that as a woman I am allowed to take a glance on the male side too! Another guard came immediately to us, he had seen my son, an exact miniature copy of his dad, and guessed who I was looking for, so he wanted to let me know my hubby had already left. How kind was that! When I finally could go in on the female side, they had robes and hair scarves for me to put on during the visit. I was very impressed by the behaviour of the people but other than that: the Mosque was pretty but aren’t the most churches, temples and what ever you call them beautiful?
In short, I thought Doha was a very interesting and different place to visit to what I am used to, and we experienced a lot of new things there. It was a good place for a short stop over but I am not quite sure I would enjoy the air con life for a lot longer than a couple of days.
Oh, and don’t drink the tap water there!