Story Gautam Viswanathan
‘If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’. This is unfortunately a common phrase sometimes uttered by those who live outside the Arabian Gulf, when invited by people who live here, to come visit them. Those of us who live in the GCC, however, know that while there are many shared aspects of Arab culture, each of the countries are unique in their own way.
When T Magazine was invited to visit Qatar a few weeks ago, it presented us with an opportunity that we simply could not pass up. A three-hour flight from Muscat, Doha and its surrounding locations were places we were really excited to visit, and this was a trip that did not disappoint.
Having truly had a wonderful time in Qatar, we’d like to recommend a few places for you that you should definitely visit if you’re planning to visit this peninsular nation in the months to come.
Katara Cultural Village
Doha’s art and culture hub, Katara, was built using ancient Arabian architecture practices. The buildings may have been built using modern materials, but it has been designed with a view to show visitors to Qatar, as well as those who live in the city, the manner in which settlements were built during historic times.
Narrow brick lanes wind through Katara’s Cultural Village, lined on both sides by water channels that have been installed to naturally cool the area. Overhead cloth awnings, placed so as to keep out worst of the sun’s rays, sway in tune to serene sea breezes. Many of the buildings in Katara reflect traditional Arab architecture on the outside with unassuming buff-coloured walls on the outside, but are thriving hubs of art, music and culture within.
The centrepiece of Katara has to be its stunning marble amphitheatre, where a number of shows are held throughout the year. Also of note are the pigeon towers, made in the style of the long ventilation towers that were attached to Arab households in times past, to allow for cool air to enter homes.
Although Katara is also packed with plenty of shopping and multicultural dining options for visitors, while you’re there, do check out both the mosaic-patterned Katara mosque, and the ornate, elegant Golden mosque while you’re there. The area’s newest attraction – upmarket the Galleries Lafayette mall – is also now open to visitors.
National Museum of Qatar
First opened in March 2019, the National Museum of Qatar ( NMO Qatar) is a building you simply cannot miss as you travel along the Doha Corniche. Located opposite the Museum of Islamic Art that was designed by Ieoh Ming Pei, the Sino-American architect who designed the Louvre’s famous glass pyramid, NMO Qatar was designed by Jean Nouvel, the French architect whose brainchild is both the Louvre in Paris, as well as its counterpart in Abu Dhabi.
The museum’s exterior design is based on the desert rose, a disc-shaped formation of sand and salt that is uniquely formed after precipitation in the desert – from the sea or due to the rain, for example – dries up. The building’s unique structure features a series of interlocking desert roses, and is more than enough to initially fire up one’s curiosity.
To visit the National Museum of Qatar is to both immerse yourself in the country’s past, as well as surround yourself with its future. In addition to the traditional constructed models and exhibits found in many museums what really enhances NMO Qatar’s experience, and through it, the history of the peninsula.
The museum depicts Qatar’s history from the prehistoric era to the present day, and is continually being updated, as and when the country continues to evolve. The museum shows the migratory patterns Qataris used to follow, moving from inland to the shores during the pearling season, the manner in which they transported goods, crafting leather bags from the hides of goats and camels, and even the style in which they built their homes.
The museum also contains several archaic tools that were used by the Qataris to hunt for food, but one of the best exhibits there has to be the gear and breathing apparatus worn by pearl divers when they explored the see for naturally grown pearls.
Neat little descriptor boards next to every exhibit in both English and Arabic provide handy information to visitors, while guided tours are also available for those who want them.
If Katara is where you plan on spending your days, then Souq Waqif is definitely the place to hang out in the evenings.
Built to reflect Qatar’s Arab history, and offer the country’s foreign workers – who make up the vast majority of the population of this peninsular nation – the chance to experience Arab and Bedouin culture, Souq Waqif on the Doha Corniche is always teeming with life in the evenings.
Hawkers sell many varieties of traditional goods, such as footwear, jewellery and ornaments, in addition to handicrafts that are inlaid with precious metals such as gold and silver. To give visitors something to munch on while strolling through the souq, a number of little stalls have cropped up, selling kahwa, the traditional Arabic coffee, as well as more Western fare such as ice cream, popcorn, cotton candy and steamed corn.
While a lot of people are likely to congregate around the many shops that are leased out to hawkers, the extensive collection of merchandise on sale is matched only by the amazing variety of cuisine available to people. Boasting a number of restaurants that serve several types of ethnic cuisines, including Yemeni, Indian and Iranian, to name but a few, Souq Waqif’s superb dining options are not to be missed.
Dining at Souq Waqif is not just about the meal, but about the experience. One restaurant we visited, for example, had an interior decorated so elaborately, it wouldn’t have looked out place in the home of an Iranian nobleman. Another one featured traditional Arab folk dances performed by dancers who were dressed in their traditional garb, and festooned with lights that shone and twinkled as they twirled and shimmied at dizzying and frenetic speeds.
The Pearl Qatar
Built on four million square metres of reclaimed land, and located some 350 metres offshore from the rest of Doha, just opposite the city of Lusail is The Pearl Qatar.
Already a hub of culture in Qatar, The Pearl’s gorgeous architecture is divided into four distinct areas. While three of them are residential, and are located further within the property, the fourth, Abraj Towers, features towers that are the tallest buildings on this artificial island, with these massive structures of glass and steel being primarily designed for office use.
Each of the other three residential zones features a distinct architectural style, and none of them are to be missed. Designed after the canals of Venice, and complete with its very own gondoliers, the Qanat section of The Pearl features elegant pathways – including replicas of Venezia’s famed Rialto Bridge – that are often visited by tourists to the country.
In keeping with Qatar’s Arabian history, the Viva Bahriya section features Arabesque architecture, and follows the Islamic style of design, while the third zone – also known as Porto Arabia – is home to Spanish style apartments and villas.
With The Pearl being designed as a hub for Qatari nightlife and high-end shopping, there are several fine-dining and fast food brands currently operating within, with many of them clustered around the area’s stunning marina, where hundreds of luxury yachts and pleasure boats, belonging to the well-heeled in the city, as well as tour operators, have been moored.
Where to stay: Dusit Doha
While there are plenty of places to stay in Doha, you are sure to want to make your time in the Qatari capital memorable. We were privileged to stay at one of the country’s more prominent hotels. Housed in the posh West Bay locality of Doha, our time in Qatar was only enriched by our fond memories at Dusit Doha.
Located in the heart of West Bay, adjacent to Doha’s breezy Corniche, this five-star modern oasis is only 20 minutes by car from Hamad International Airport and just a five-minute walk from Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre.
Dusit Doha presents you with the opportunity to enjoy your life, the way you want to, to the fullest.
It’s hard to not meander over to your bed and the fluffy pillows have an almost cloud-like feeling to them. If, however, you’re too excited to sleep, head to the 24-hour gym, which offers you a stunning view of the Doha skyline, or if you’re up for it, a splash in the rooftop pool, where who knows, you might make friends with strangers from elsewhere.
If you’re in the mood to pamper yourself, however, do check out the Devarana Spa, which showcases the best of Thai hospitality and wellness, amidst the desert sands of Doha.
It’s not just the top-of-the-line amenities and leisure options that visitors should look forward to, but their excelling dining options as well. On our first day in Doha, we were treated to some of the most succulent Italian fare we’ve tasted at the aptly named Taste restaurant.
Other restaurants include Thai restaurant, Benjarong, and The House, offering premium steaks and seafood. The hotel also houses a rooftop lounge where guests can enjoy a serene atmosphere, and Antoinette’s Café, serving fresh French pastries and European favourites. [email protected]