Qatar

My father took a job in Doha in July 2013 and since the autumn both of my parents have been living here. This is my first trip to the country – the richest country in the world (per capita) and one with an ambitious plan to become one of the great world destinations.

I suppose most will mostly know Qatar as an gas- and oil-rich desert state most commonly mentioned in the news with reference to the 2022 World Cup, harbouring fantastic dreams of world-class air-conditioned stadia and cities… but perhaps little else.

With me I only brought along my small Canon S100 – in part because I felt like travelling light, in part because I figured I wouldn’t have so much use for my DSLR, and in part because I thought it might be more interesting to put together a more touristy photo-journal this time. Hopefully this set will give interested people a different perspective on what this undoubtedly unfinished, chaotic but nonetheless interesting country is like to visit…

My parents have an apartment in West Bay, in Qatar’s capital city of Doha. Whenever you see photos of Doha’s futuristic skyscrapers – that’s West Bay. What strikes you immediately about Doha in general is the sheer scale of the ongoing construction. In the relatively compact West Bay area alone, there are dozens of new skyscrapers going up at a rapid rate, building new offices and hotels. Construction goes on round the clock here.

The next thing that strikes you about Doha is the congestion. Driving in the Middle East in general has a reputation for being chaotic, but the continuous and unannounced construction projects closing major roads and intersections every week add to the fun…

You don’t have to travel too far out of the chaos of West Bay to find a bit of solitude, however. This is Katara beach, located to the north of West Bay (whose skyscrapers you can see in the background). The is at least well-kept and clean, but it does have its drawbacks. There is a long list of rules to abide by, including for example, modest attire for women, and no food or drink (though we did rather bend the latter rule). It’s also expensive – the normal price for entry to the beach is 100 Qatari rials (£16.50 or 175 SEK) per person. However, in the winter season, ending at the end of March, the price is only a quarter of the normal price.

Next to the beach is Katara cultural village. This large development, which I think feels like some sort of holiday resort, is part of an intention to build Qatar as a “cultural beacon, a lighthouse of art”, to recapture traditional Qatari culture which they’ve probably previously demolished and built over. This is all part of the “Qatar National Vision 2030”, by which time their ambitions will be realised. Right now though, there’s no escaping the sterility of the place. The development is impressive, especially the large amphitheatre for events, but it has no soul – if Disney were to remake Aladdin with real people, this could be the set…

At night, everything changes. Every skyscraper becomes a light show. Most interesting of these is the Doha Tower – the building lit up in orange and silver in the middle (nicknamed Condom Tower by my Dad’s colleagues). The lights here can be used to display a range of patterns – normally spending the night changing colour between these two with the occasional swirling pattern…

Day 2 – Doha is home to about 90% of the population of Qatar, but that’s not to say that all of the country is a desert wasteland. Drive north out of Doha, past the under-construction brand-new city of Lusail, and you reach an existing town, Al Khor – which looks positively sleepy compared to Doha…

…past Al Khor, through some featureless desert…

…you find this place, “Purple Island” – a.k.a. Jazirat Al Ghanim. Apparently this place used to be home to a dye-producing facility where they made the dye used for the the flag of Qatar, hence the name. While it doesn’t look that exciting, this area is home to some unexpected surprises…

This is a desert hyacinth – one of the very few flowers I’ve seen in the country which wasn’t planted and isn’t being diligently watered.

This place is also home to a sizeable expanse of mangroves, one of the very few plants which can tolerate the brutal climate here.

…or, maybe, not all the mangroves can tolerate it so well…

The drive back towards Doha takes you past the new city of Lusail, which is due to open very soon. The area is also home to some of Qatar’s big construction projects. Among these will be the planned Lusail Iconic Stadium, an 86,500 seater stadium which will be the centrepiece of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup.

This building here will be the Lusail Multipurpose Hall, which will host the Handball World Championship… next year!

This building is also very close to the Losail International Circuit, already a fixture on the MotoGP calendar, and a possible future Formula 1 track, if they get their way…

In Doha, to the north of West Bay and Katara, is The Pearl-Qatar. This area, built on reclaimed land, much like the Palm developments in Dubai, is an upmarket expat-oriented residential community full of fancy shopping opportunities.

This is the car park of course, where you will see more than a few flash cars. These Ferrari 458s belong to the Ferrari dealership downstairs…

…also in the car park…

The Pearl is quite new – it was only announced in 2004. It is quite a large area – 4 square kilometres in fact – and it is impressive how complete it looks given the timescale. Of course, large parts are still under construction. The Pearl is obviously designed to feel European, with its waterfront promenades and cafes. However, as with Katara, it does feel sterile and artificial.

In fairness, much like everything in Doha, it is half-finished – in time this place might find a soul when it is not just a home for expats who only intend to live here a few years. It’s certainly not an unpleasant area, that’s for sure…

The Pearl’s location to the north of West Bay gives one this view of the skyline…

According to Google, this considerable development will be the five-star Marsa Malaz hotel…

Out in Doha’s western suburbs is Aspire Park, the centrepiece of which is the 300m Torch tower, built for the 2006 Asian games. The park itself is a family-only recreation area, with running tracks circling the lake. On a Friday afternoon/evening such as this, the park can be very busy.

As with many of Doha’s tall buildings, the Torch tower becomes a colossal light display when the sun goes down.

The pictures in this set may not have given this impression clearly enough so far, but Doha’s biggest tourist attractions by far are the numerous and opulent shopping malls. Of the ones I’ve seen, Villaggio, next to Aspire Park, has to rate as the most ostentatious of them all – modelled on the canals of Venice, complete with gondolieri (driving motorised gondolas) giving people rides across the complex…

One of the numerous signs encouraging drivers to drive sensibly – not that anyone takes any notice of them…

This twisted array of metal will one day be the Qatar National Museum. If you’re having trouble imagining what it will look like when it’s finished, then Google it… it’s pretty unique!

On our third day we drove south of Doha. Only away from the congestion and dense construction and out in the desert does one see the industry which is the source of all their fabulous wealth.

Sticking to the eastern coast and driving south, and eventually the road runs out south of the town of Mesaieed. From here, you need transport a bit more suited to the soft sand dunes…

The end of the road is actually a busy starting point for people to head out dune bashing in the desert. Carrying on south from here takes you to Qatar’s Inland Sea, an inlet of the Arabian gulf (calling it the Persian gulf is rather frowned upon), on the other side of which is Saudi Arabia.

No shortage of nice seashells for the keen collector on the coast here!

At the moment at least, Doha is not a pedestrian-friendly city. There are crossings, but they are usually quite far apart – and the continually changing roadworks mean there are frequently no pavements along many roads. There is also almost no public transport to speak of, although a metro system is being built.

The brise soleil covering the famous Doha/Condom tower, apparently based upon ancient Islamic patterns.

A newly reopened section of the Corniche. This section was closed in order to make some considerable changes to the intersection further up, previously known as the Sheraton roundabout.

It’s something of a shame – roundabouts in Doha usually come with well-kept displays of plants or flowers in the middle – however, the locals have no idea how to drive around them properly. As such, they are all being torn up and replaced with four-way traffic light-controlled crossings.

Aside from the odd little green space like this, West Bay is essentially a collection of huge buildings with wide roads criss-crossing between them.

One definitely sees a different side of Doha after sunset.

This sculpture, called “The Force of Nature II”, sits in front of the amphitheatre at Katara cultural village.

Some more of Katara by night.

Wouldn't want that job...

A sculpture on the Corniche derived from Arabic script – part of a poem, in fact: “And amongst the sultans I stood out; as lanneret floating over mountain peaks” – Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, the founder of the modern state of Qatar.

Walk down the Corniche – for about four miles – and you arrive at the other side of the bay, where the Museum of Islamic Art – designed by the famous architect I. M. Pei – and the adjacent MIA park juts out into the sea. I rather failed to take any decent pictures of the museum interior but it is far more interesting inside than out and has some extremely interesting exhibits.

Close to the museum is the Dhow harbour – a dhow being a type of traditional fishing boat which mostly seem to be used now for giving rides for tourists.

This is the Fanar Islamic Cultural Center, whose stated mission is to be a guiding light for non-Arabs to better understand Islam and Qatari culture. It is quite a prominent reminder that despite the relatively liberal attitudes of the country, it is still a land that takes Islamic values very seriously.

I was a bit surprised by the scale and variation of the bird life in Qatar. I was expecting very little in the way of wildlife but many of the planted trees along the Corniche were alive with the chatter of all manner of small birds. The Souq area (more on this in the next photo) seemed to be the preferred gathering place for most of Doha’s pigeon population.

This is part of Souq Waqif, which is essentially the tourist’s souq in Doha. It is geographically in the traditional souq area, but all the buildings have been kitted out with this modern facade, which gives it the same kind of Disney feeling one gets in Katara as well…

And some sunset it is too! Being relatively close to the equator, the sunset is quite fast, so it doesn’t last too long.

After a week of very nice weather, our last day in Doha saw temperatures rise to 37 °C (quite gentle compared to summer temperatures of course!) with a substantial wind which kicked a lot of dust up into the air throughout the day. It was particularly noticeable later in the evening!