Last week, on World Tourism Day which falls on September 27, the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) launched a five-day celebration under the theme ‘Tourism for All - Promoting Universal Accessibility’.
Of the many activities planned all through the country, the most interesting one perhaps was turning residents of Qatar into wondering, wandering tourists. As part of the social media competition, giant photo frames were installed at eight landmarks around Qatar, around which participants had to take photos and upload them on social media using the hashtags #WTD2016 and #ShowcaseQatar for a chance to win prizes.
Social media consultant Gazanfarulla Khan, who has been living in Qatar for more than 25 years, took up the challenge and walked away an enlightened man. “As a resident, everyone faces a kind of dilemma of having been here long enough to have known everything or seen everything,” Khan says. “I’m glad to have a group of friends who are quite adventurous and always up for trying out a new place. Most of the times, I try and head out to the different parts of the country only when I hear about a new place that people are frequenting of late or when I have a visiting friend or family who I must show around. This trip refreshed my perspective.”
Community caught up with the affable Khan, somewhat of a local social media star himself, to tune into his experience of being a tourist at home.
What were your first thoughts about becoming a tourist in Qatar?
I was certainly excited to be a tourist in my own country as I call Doha home. When I first came across an article in Gulf Times where the QTA offered the residents to be a tourist for a day, I thought it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to see the different places from a different perspective. There were certain places on the list which I had seen more than a decade ago, like the Zubarah Fort.
Take us through your journey inside Qatar and the highlights of this trip.
The hunt to discover the eight giant photo frames began early Friday morning. My friend Mayooran and I embarked on this journey; our first stop being the fabulous East-West/West-East installation by Richard Serra in the Zikreet desert. The road to Zikreet itself is wonderful with the new Dukhan highway partially open. While on the road, we also got a glimpse of the Mall Of Qatar, which looks great from the outside. Since we have all been hearing about it, I was surprised to see it having come up so quick.
Once we reached Zikreet, we went off-road in search of the four standing steel plates which can be spotted from a distance. I suggest people use Google Maps or follow the previous road trails to avoid being lost. This installation is about a 30-minute drive from Zikreet. Once we reached this spot, we found the frame and snapped some photos. There was also a Unesco site to preserve the parts of Zikreet; another great place to visit in the vicinity is the Film City.
Our next stop on this journey was Zubarah Fort. We came back to the Dukhan Highway and took an alternative road instead of heading back to Doha and taking the Shamal Highway. This was the first time I saw this road which probably has been operational for very long. I loved how quiet and peaceful this two-lane road was, taking us through small villages or towns that stand out for their great atmosphere complete with date farms, camels and very welcoming hospitality.
Driving on that highway, I did not feel like I was in Qatar. It felt very refreshing to discover such hidden places on the map. Interestingly, all these small, far-flung places have proper roads and infrastructure with schools, clinics, and civil service stations. Upon reaching Zubarah Fort, we found the photo frame right outside it.
So you must have spent some time in Doha, too, looking for the other photo frames?
Yes. After Zubarah, we headed back to Doha to discover the rest of the eight attractions that were to be found in the heart of Doha. Aspire Park was one of them; to capture the Torch Doha Hotel, which in itself is an icon of the Doha skyline and also a legacy of the 2006 Asian Games — it’s been 10 years since already! — felt great. As for Aspire Park itself, it’s such a nice place to visit with family on a Friday. We spotted many families enjoying picnics thanks to the many activity choices available for both kids and adults.
After nearly an hour’s drive on the Shamal highway, we made a quick stop at Katara. With offerings of diverse cultural activity and events, this place is a must-visit. Also, a variety of restaurants are here to cater to the foodies of Doha. At the photo frame in Katara, Visit Qatar (a QTA initiative) had placed a cool gift-vending machine, which tossed out cultural gifts when you tagged your photo with a special code that appeared on the screen.
Our next stop on the trip was the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). I was happy to see how packed the MIA Park was. With the weather getting cooler, it’s nice to see families out on picnics. If you are asking, picnic in Doha… really? Yes. Aspire Park, MIA Park, and the Corniche are great spots for a picnic. Simaisma park, Al Khor Park and many other options are available for out-of-city picnics.
As an aside, most of the photo frames were located at quite some distance from the locations which made discovering them a great challenge. This helped one discover the place rather than just focus on finding the frame and limit the experience to the competition. Our next stop was Souq Waqif. I won’t have to say much as everybody is well aware of the Souq, except that there’s a lot of magic in its inner alleys, which we often ignore.
What was the last stop of your trip and what did you learn from the trip?
The last and the most interesting stop on this trip was the Sheikh Faisal Museum located on the Dukhan highway. As I could not visit the place on Friday, I dropped by on Saturday to complete my challenge of locating the eight tourist attractions. I was glad I chose Saturday as this place requires a lot of time to take in all the precious history steeped inside and marvel at the maps, boats, cars, weapons, and insights into the region’s culture. The entry is only QR15 and QR50 for a photo pass. What I learned by taking this trip is that it’s good to be a tourist in your own country — I call Qatar home after having being here for ages — as you will get to discover places, people, food, culture from a very different perspective. I’m very happy that Visit Qatar put up this challenge for World Tourism Day. The total travel time was for about 14 hours and we drove upwards of 400km. Among some interesting observations, one was finding these farms and greenhouses that grow vegetables for local consumption, between Dukhan and Zikreet on a road that I didn’t know existed.
In what way did this trip help you rediscover Qatar or see it in a new light?
Not only did it help me rediscover the nation with vast cultural offerings but also refresh certain memories of mine, such as my visit to the Zubarah Fort during my 7th grade school visit. Apart from visiting the tourist attractions, I had a chance to discover new roads and places, take a look at life outside the busy city and also get closer to nature. Qatar has a lot to offer outside life in Doha, which we all keep ourselves occupied in.
Even though I was happy to see many people visiting some of these locations for the very first time, taking photos and creating memories even after being in the country for a while, I recommend people to discover other places outside the city. I know there is a widespread, stereotypical refrain ‘Oh, there is nothing to do in Doha’. I don’t agree with that. If you decide to visit a new place every weekend, you will surely have something new to see for the upcoming months.
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