My first ever overseas travel experience was as a resident of Bangkok. It was some years before I became an actual tourist, and although I love being a tourist, I have always loved experiencing local life too. So the opportunity to visit Doha, to stay with local residents (brother-in-law), was always one we were going to take up. My brother-in-law enjoys being a tour guide. Over the years he has shown us around Singapore, Malaysia, Amsterdam, Vienna – and now Doha. So we’re getting the best of both travel worlds, the local experience and the tourist hot spots.
Not that Doha has many tourist hotspots. It is however a city that oozes wealth – we walked around an up-scale area yesterday through luxury stores, Maserati and Ferrari dealerships, and past many superyachts, including one that was larger and sleeker than any parked up in St Tropez. Doha’s oil and gas wealth means that the city is in a perpetual state of construction. The changes, my BIL informs me, in the last three years have been extraordinary. They are set to continue, at an unprecedented scale, leading up to the Football World Cup in 2022. I suspect the city then will bear little resemblance to the city now. It was however pleasing to see that care is being taken over public spaces – the seven kilometre long corniche that circles much of the harbour is a calm, palm tree lined space for walking, picnics, cycling etc. Further round the bay we saw extensive landscaping work underway. The advantages of money – beauty does not need to be sacrificed for functionality. Bridges are decorated, elaborate landscaped oases in the loops of motorway on-ramps, and more. A classic example amused me last night. Walking from the souq back to the car (parked at the national mosque) we took a thoughtfully- provided underpass. It was tiled, air-conditioned, and had decorated columns and seating that would not be out of place in a museum or major hotel.
Yesterday at least, the harbour was beautiful. the strong winds of the day before had abated, which meant the the air had cleared of sand, and the sky was blue. the sea too was a stunning tropical azure, a colour I had not expected in the Persian gulf, certainly not after my experience of neighbouring hazy Bahrain (to be fair, experienced during a cooler but more humid time of the year). The Museum of Islamic Art at the end of the corniche had large lawns, wonderful views over the dhow harbour and back to the financial district, and of course some beautiful and fascinating artefacts from the region.
We hit the souq last night. Thursday night is the beginning of the weekend here, and so it seemed that everyone was out – locals and expats alike, enjoying the cool (35 degs C) evening, sitting outside with coffee and smoking shisha (spiced tobacco water pipes), the restaurants and cafes all packed. It was a happy, peaceful atmosphere, and the air quite literally was full of spices.
And as we headed back to the car, we passed a camel compound. It was incongruous – a large enclosure filled with around 20 camels, walking or lying on the desert sand, with a backdrop of building construction, bright lights, and large cranes. I took some time to sympathise with the camels, no doubt suffering from speed bumps themselves given the rate of change in this city.