Doha is the capital of Qatar, an oil producing state in the Middle East. It located on the eastern coast of Qatar and is a city where the old world and new world fuse together and coexist in harmony. One can’t help but realize this when one sees the tall modern sky grazing building standing cheek by jowl with the older religious centers and the burkha (veil) clad women walking the streets of Doha. The religious tenants of Islam are observed strictly in Doha. Alcoholic beverages are not allowed to be brought into the country; also the consumption of alcohol is regulated by strict licensing. Alcohol can be bought and consumed only at bars attached to international hotels frequented by expats and foreign tourists. Pork products are also not permitted in the country. In spite of these dietary restrictions due to religious observations, Doha strives to be one of the jewels on the Middle East and it has successfully hosted the most recent Asian Games in December 2006.
In 2007, Qatar Tourism and business has been seen advertising on international TV channels of the tourist and investment opportunities that exist in Qatar. In some ways, these advertisements are intended to position Qatar as a trendy and cosmopolitan destination similar to Dubai.
The origins of Doha can be traced back to 1850 when it was known as Al Bida. At this time the main industries here were the pearl industry and fishing. The Pearl trade suffered a jolt in the 20th century as Japan began the manufacture of cultured pearls and Doha suffered an economic decline until 1949 when oil was discovered here. Today the production of 800,000 barrels of oil a day has contributed greatly to the city’s prosperity. This can be seen in the bustling downtown area of Doha where the skyline is dominated by towering skyscrapers and new residential homes.
The best season to visit Doha is when it is not oppressively hot. The months from November to March are ideal. The average daily temperature in January is a pleasant 17C (63F) while in July it can be hotter with temperatures hovering around 35C (95F).
Arabic is the official language spoken in Doha though English is also widely spoken as is Urdu.
Getting to Doha
The current Doha International Airport is going to give way to the New Doha International Airport which is being constructed 4 km away from the site of the present airport. The new airport is going to be luxurious and futuristic and will function as the hub for the country’s excellent airline Qatar Airways. Qatar Airways with its fleet of modern aircraft and great customer service has already provided Doha with links to various destinations in Africa, Europe and Asia. A number of international airlines like British Airways as well as low cost carriers such as Air Arabia call on Doha’s International airport.
Qatar shares a border with Saudi Arabia but getting to Qatar from Saudi and also getting to Saudi from Qatar by road is not convenient as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia requires permits to be obtained if one is to drive on this route. These permits are not easily obtained hence driving to Qatar by road from Saudi is not an option at present. Future plans, however include a network of bridges which are going to be built and which will link Qatar with both Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates by road.
Getting Around Doha
This mode of public transportation was not available until 2005. The Mowasalat or the authority for Public Transport in Doha introduced public buses which operated on two routes initially. The Service has rapidly expanded and now bus stops are found in several sections of Doha.
The most popular mode of transportation on the roads of Doha is travel by taxi. The older taxis are painted white and orange and are older cars which are not always air-conditioned. The initial flag fall for these cabs are 0.5 rials which is the currency for Qatar. The newer more comfortable sea green cabs are called ‘Karwa’ and were introduced by Mowasalat
The ‘Karwa’ cabs are newer models of cars, equipped with gizmos such as Global Positioning Systems. They are more comfortable and these too have an initial flag fall of 0.5 rials. Both types of Taxis are metered with a trip within central Doha costing 5 to 10 rials during the day, though the fare is double at night.
The luxury hotels which have sprung up in Doha have their own private taxis which are quite expensive. These operate without a meter and usually charge a flat fare of 20 rials on even the shortest routes. It’s best to request a quote to avoid getting sticker shock in these cabs later.
Hotels in Doha
New hotels and resorts are under construction but for the moment the most luxurious hotel in Doha is the Four Seasons. The hotel opened in 2005 on Doha’s famed Corniche and the hotel overlooks Doha Bay. Walk in rates are usually $579(2200 rials) a night for a double but discounts are available. The hotel rates and facilities can be accessed online at www.fourseasons.com (974-494-8888).
The Ritz Carlton Doha provides the Four Seasons competition as it is equally luxurious with equally good restaurants and bars and also a spa. The Ritz is also located at the bay and it has high end boutiques within its folds as well as 235- berth marina. Rates here are 1200 rials for a double. Information can be obtained at www.ritzcarlton.com (974-442-4424).
Some of the other popular hotels are the Intercontinental (974-484-4444) which is more moderately priced, the Marriot which is located a little out of the way but in a city where taxis abound this is not a deterrent. The Marriot has a good Indian restaurant and a discotheque with a strict door policy. Indian cuisine is popular amongst the locals as well as the large South Asian workforce which forms a substantial part of the population. The Mercure which belongs to the Accor group and the Ramada are other four star hotels while the Oasis Hotel and Beach club is a budget hotel with an unremarkable beach front and décor which has seen better days. www.oasishotel-doha.com (974-442-4424). Here doubles are around 700 rials.
To Eat and Drink
Alcohol is only available at the bars of international hotels. If one has to buy alcohol outside these bars one has to furnish aresidence permit in order to apply for a liquor license. Even then the amount you are allowed to purchase is governed by your salary and the purchase is to be made from one solitary store located on the outskirts of Doha called Qatar Distribution Company.
The lack of free flowing alcohol deprives Doha from a night life somewhat. Bars at the Hotels try their best to keep their patrons entertained. ‘Paloma’ a bar at the Intercontinental features a Filipino band which renders covers of popular hit tunes. The band is a hit with the ex-pat workforce who come to the bar to chill and let their hair down after a taxing work week. ‘Habanos’ at the Ritz Carlton is another popular bar with an extensive whisky selection. The Pearl lounge at the Doha Marriott is a members only and hotel guests only lounge which has a sushi bar, a DJ and flair bar tenders.
There is a wide variety of food available in Doha apart from American Chains which feature in the malls a good number of restaurants provide one with many a dining option. ‘Sultan Ibrahim Fish Market’ at the Intercontinental Hotel has fresh sea food preparations. ‘Ras Al Nasaa’ on the Corniche has Middle Eastern specialties on its menu as well as fruit flavored tobacco pipes called ‘Seeshas.’ ‘Mint’ is a chic and sleek dining venue at the Al- Muthana shopping drag on Salwa road, the cuisine here is new age fusion. ‘Le Notre’ also on Salwa Road in the Al- Emadi Center serves Italian delicacies and is a favorite of ex-pats.
‘Turkey Central’ on Al-Mirghab street is another locale to sample middle eastern delights, ‘Best Fish also on Al-Mirgabh street is another good seafood joint while ‘Il Rustico’ at the Australian owned Rydges hotel is another exponent of Italian fare.
To See and Do
Doha, like Muscat possesses a gorgeous Corniche which is 7 km long and lines Doha Bay.The Corniche has the port of Doha within it and the sight of ships sailing into the turquoise waters of the bay present a spectacular sight. The Corniche has a picturesque promenade which is the center for many recreational activities such as walking and rollerblading, swimming, surfing and snorkeling. Hotels and restaurants abound along the Corniche. The Al Bida Park is also located here and is a popular picnic spot.
Palm Tree Island
Palm Tree Island is presently under renovation as is much of Doha. It is an artificial Island in the middle of Doha bay populated by Palm trees and is accessible from the Corniche by a 10 minute boat ride. The island has many attractions on it including an excellent though expensive sea food restaurant as well as a private beach and a swimming pool. The island is surrounded by the azure waters of the Doha bay. Boats leave for the island between 10am and 10 pm daily and a return trip costs 20 rials.
The Qatar National Museum
The Museum located on the Corniche is located in a restored palace which was inhabited by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Qassim Al Thani. It has an aquarium and a lagoon in its environs and has exhibits of the vestments, artifacts and jewelry. It is open from 8am to noon and 4pm to7pm daily.
The fort which was constructed by the rulers of the Ottoman Empire is built in the Moorish style. It is located in the Al Bida district and has a museum within it which has displays of paintings, intricate carvings and other artifacts. Admission to the museum is free.
Ethnographic Museum ‘Wind Tower House’
The museum has a open tower composed of open arches which provide ventilation. The museum features exhibits of scenes from a typical Qatari Life.
The Weaponry Museum, Medinat Khalifa
This museum has a fine collection of solid gold daggers, swords and Persian rifles. The 2300 exhibits are well organized and labeled. The admission to the Museum is free.
Other Museums are due to open soon such as the Museum of Islamic Art, the Qatar Photography Museum and the Qatar National Library.
Camel rides and desert safaris in a 4×4
Like it’s other Middle Eastern Neighbors Doha in Qatar also affords a tourist ride on the ‘ship of the desert’ the camel. It is an experience not to be missed as is the desert safari in the dunes. These are organized tours with guides where one rides in a 4×4 out into the desert to view the often glorious sunsets and to traverse the bumpy dunes with the sands of the desert swirling around. These are usually day trips which last around five hours. The dunes are located to the southeast of the city. These tours can be arranged by several companies one of which is Net Tours Qatar Co. W.L.L (974-431-0902)
Shopping is a national pastime in Qatar. Spanking new Shopping malls such as Landmark Plaza, City Center and Hyatt Plaza co exist with the centuries old shopping destinations -the delightful souks. Souq Waqif on Al Souq street is often referred to the old Souq or the Iranian Souq and one can buy swords, wood carvings, candles ,Iranian olive oil and even Falcons here. Yet another Souq worth visiting is the Omani Souq on Haloul Street here one can buy spices, the Qatari national dress the Abaya, woven baskets and incense. The Gold Souq is on Al Teeb Street and is a treasure trove of ornaments which are made of 22k gold as many of these ornaments are made in India where 22k is the norm not 18k gold.
The modern side of Qatar is reflected in the City Center Mall with 350 outlets. It has many of the British High street retail brands such as Next, French Connection, Debenhams as well as American brands such as Nine west and the ubiquitous Starbucks.
Doha is really an illustration of the old order coexisting and cohabiting with the new.