From its propensity for teapots and all things tea to its ancient sports of falconry and camel racing, Qatar gives out a definite quirky vibe. It has made its way into the 21st century by virtue of its futuristic skyline and oil exploration revenues without losing sight of its Bedouin heritage; the government has taken significant efforts to reconstruct ancient souqs and depict pearling past and wooden dhows in its public art.
The Museum of Islamic Arts is Doha city’s most renowned attraction. The museum is designed by architect I. M. Pei of the Louvre pyramid fame. The architecture is stunning and blends in the ancient Qatari / Islamic style prominently seen in Souqs and elsewhere in the city with 21st century architectural features such as clean lines and simple geometric forms. The building’s upper air vents have been designed to look like the eyes of a veiled Qatari woman and thus the overall impression is that of a Qatari woman looking at you. The museum is built over its own reclaimed land.
The interior is spectacular with 5 storey tall windows offering sweeping views of the turquoise Doha bay and skyline. A majestic double grand staircase adorns the entrance and a giant circular chandelier stands suspended over the atrium. The museum café is located in the atrium with tables overlooking the bay and futuristic skyline.
The museum’s collection is vast with artifacts spanning across North Africa, Middle East, Spain and parts of Europe, and Asia. Intricate patterns and motifs in Islamic architecture are well represented as are astrolabes and ancient mathematical instruments. Everyday objects and antique jewelry are interesting to look at. Exhibits are made from variety of materials including textiles, stone, ceramics, wood, glass, enamel and metals.
C, S and I had lunch at the Museum Café, the food was decent quality and prices reasonable for the setting. The lunch is definitely more about the tranquil view than the food, though my Date cheesecake was fantastic. We didn’t see the museum garden; it is said to be well-maintained and has breathtaking views of the museum building and skyline.
On Day 2, we walked the Al Corniche or the waterfront promenade from the museum to West Bay. It makes an excellent walk; the promenade is broad, lined with beautiful flowers, and offers excellent views of Doha skyline. Various sculptures and murals are present along the promenade. Dhows or traditional Qatari wooden boats dot the bay along the Al Corniche and are eager to take tourists on a cruise of the Doha bay.
C, S and I spent a good part of both days in Souq Waqif which literally means a standing market. It has been wonderfully restored as per ancient Islamic architecture and takes one back in time to an era when police patrolled on horses and porters lugged purchases on wheel barrows. It is full of hustle-bustle and narrow alleys that add to the charm of the place. Shops sell varied things like perfumes, spices, household goods; the Souq is an excellent place to bargain and buy souvenirs. I had rather fun shopping experience in Souq Waqif. I began talking in English but found the Souq owner conferring with his assistant in Hindi and then I too switched to Hindi. I got a better deal. After that I approached almost everyone in Hindi and it worked! We even got to pet a horse due to my Hindi speaking skills.
The Souq also has an alley which is known as the Pet Souq where all sorts of pet animals, birds and aquatic animals can be found. The Souq also has a camel section and horse stables. There is a separate gold souq as well. The Falcon Souq located next to Souq Waqif is dedicated to selling falcons and falconry supplies; a visit to the Falcon Souq is essential to understanding the ancient tradition of falconry and its importance in Qatari society.
Overall Qatar is a great and extremely safe Middle-Eastern country to visit. Doha seemed like an easy city to drive compared to Amman, Jordan. The Islamic call to prayer can be heard during the day; Islamic law and its principles are religiously followed. I also saw many stadiums or arenas under construction, probably for the 2022 FIFA world cup. Qatar is trying to position itself as the next Dubai with the Qatar Airways free transit visa program; it will be an interesting country to visit in the years to come.
I visited Doha, Qatar in January 2017
More in Qatar
Read all Qatar articles here.