By Azmat Haroon
The 14th century Muslim Berber Moroccan scholar and explorer Ibn Battuta famously said that travelling leaves you speechless, and then it turns you into a storyteller. If you think about any keen traveller, its hard to imagine someone who doesn’t have a story to tell about a trip. People glee with excitement as they talk about the adventures– and even misadventures– encountered on a trip abroad or even within their own country.
No-one who loves to travel would ever tell you that they experienced similar sensations when visiting two different places. That is because every place is unique in its own right, and so are its people, culture, food and the vibe. This vibe is a distinctive emotional atmosphere that you sense intuitively as soon as you land in a city. It is linked to a number of factors including our sense of smell, which is our strongest link to a memory– stronger than our memory of sight or hearing. The scents of a city can bring back the past and set the mood for new experiences.
If we had to describe the vibe of Doha, it would be that of a city that is laid back yet fast-paced at the same time. It is tech-savvy yet steeped in custom and tradition. But that description alone doesn’t suffice to describe the range of experiences you may encounter on a trip to Qatar.
The country rests on a peninsula and so, on one side, you get to experience the thrills of sand dunes and, on the other, also get to enjoy the beauty of its numerous beaches and wadis (valleys).
This is the place where you will smell agarwood and oud in most malls and public places, with people sipping karak and minding their own business. If you have travelled to Doha before or plan on doing so anytime soon, here are some reasons we think make Qatar unique for your next travelogue.
Safety: Qatar is home to over 180 different nationalities but despite being highly urbanised and multi-cultural, the first thing any visitor or traveller would tell you about Qatar is that it’s the safest country in the world, especially for women and children. There are many food and public places that are open 24/7 and even if you to stop over at a tea stall at 3am or head down to the Corniche, you will find that you are not the lone night-owl in the country. You can indulge in a live BBQ at one of the many beaches here or play football with your children in one of the many well-kept parks without ever having to worry about a thing.
HIA: Our first point of introduction to a country is undoubtedly its airport. Airports are more than just a port that people travel through on their way to their destination. How visitors experience an airport has a huge impact on their overall impression of a country. In many ways, it is a single deciding factor that determines whether someone would come back and so its crucial to ensure that the memorable first and last experiences are positive ones.
Keepting that in mind, Qatar’s first point of interaction with any traveller is it’s awe-inspiring, state-of-the-art Hamad International Airport (HIA).
Although the giant 23-foot canary yellow teddy bear sculpted from bronze in the duty-free hall is undoubtedly the most insta-famous feature of HIA, the giant bear is just one of the many outstanding attractions at the world’s finest airport. The airport boasts avant-grade facilities, a welcoming atmosphere and friendly personnel that redefine the way passengers travel. It also has two parallel runways– among the longest in the world, designed to cater to the next-generation aircrafts.
The operations at HIA have continued to increase since its inauguration in 2014, with the airport experiencing one of the busiest travel seasons earlier this year. It reportedly, served a total of 9.387.314 million passengers in the second quarter of 2019, compared to 7,892,456 passengers during the same period last year, an increase of 18.9%.
Sports: If there is one thing Qatar takes pride in the most, it is the love for sports. The host country of 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar supports all sporting events and activities including cricket, basketball, motor racing, golf and tennis among many other sports tournaments.
The country has invested heavily in its state-of-the-art stadiums and facilities to host sports tournaments. With the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships beginning tomorrow in Qatar, Khalifa International Stadium, Qatar Sports Club, and Doha Corniche, will be bustling with sports fans in the upcoming week.
Qatar also has the world’s largest indoor multi-purpose dome in the form of Aspire Dome. It is located in Aspire Academy in Doha and has the capacity to host 13 different sporting events simultaneously in a climate controlled arena, in addition to a full sized indoor football pitch.
Museums: If you love arts and museums, Qatar is the place to be. Qatar has created a niche for itself on the world stage thanks to the pioneering work of HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad al-Thani, the Chairperson of Qatar Museums.
An array of rich influences came together to inspire the iconic design and architecture of the Museum of Islamic Art Qatar (MIA) by the world-renowned architect I M Pei. Made from limestone, the mega structure stands on the waters of the Corniche as a testament to modern Islamic architecture. The structure and its rich interior has a deep impact on visitors, one where we are compelled to reflect on life and the many mysteries of the universe.
There is also the newly opened National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ), which is dedicated to the history of Qatar. Its architecture symbolically evokes the desert, its silent and eternal dimension, but also the spirit of modernity. Designed by French architect, Jean Nouvel, and spread over 1.5km, the museum makes a dramatic addition to the landscape of Doha; with its curved disks, intersections, and cantilevered angles — all inspired by the local desert rose. The unique building embraces the restored palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al-Thani, which itself represents the heart of Qatari national identity.
Then, there is the Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim al-Thani Museum, which is the largest private museums of its kind in the region. The museum is ideal for car lovers, historians and culture aficionados alike.
But these are just some of the many other art spaces in Qatar as you will find almost every facility paying homage to art, culture and tradition.
Perhaps, the hub of all cultural and social activities in Qatar is the Katara- The Cultural Village. Keeping pace with the emerging global culture that emphasises the importance of diversity in human development, Katara Cultural Village is the largest and the most multi-dimensional cultural project of Qatar. It is that one place where people come together to experience the cultures of the world. With beautiful theatres, concert halls, exhibition galleries and cutting-edge facilities, Katara is the place to be if you want to experience a host of multi-cultural activities.
The Katara complex is built with a fusion of oriental and retro-romantic architecture, which is very different from most of Doha’s spectacular cultural sites. Other than being a forum for scholars and artistes, Katara aims in acknowledging and promoting cultural awareness in Qatar and raising artistic energies through the administration of different organisations, societies, and facilities. Build in a way that epitomises Qatar’s heritage, the landscape of Katara makes it an exquisite venue for cultural, creative, intellectual and artistic activities through symposiums, exhibitions, concerts and all other kinds of artistic ventures that are held here throughout the year.
—With the many streets that appear as mazes and the rough plastered buildings with shops facing the streets, Souq Waqif is a place of many wonders for visitors. If you are a first time visitor, it can be easy to lose your way but don’t let that scare you from exploring one of Qatar’s top tourist destinations. From spices, handicrafts, and souvenirs, to the top restaurants and shisha lounges, there is just about everything for everyone at Souq Waqif.
One of our favourite features of the architecture of the Souq is the rough plastered buildings with small openings facing the streets, which combine to make a walk through Souq both warm and welcoming. Souq is a popular destination for many food lovers thanks to an array of restaurants but for a majority of Doha residents, Souq is the place they go to shop for groceries and seasonal delicacies.
—The range of rocky hills on the north east coast known as Al Jassasiya is renowned for its pre-historic carvings, with a total of 874 carvings, known as ‘petroglyphs’, the earliest thought to date from Neolithic times. Discovered in 1957, they consist of various designs and patterns such as cups in rows, rosettes, ships and foot marks.
— The Barzan Towers are some of the most well-preserved 18th and 19th century fortifications in Qatar located in Umm Salal Mohammed. The recently restored towers were built between 1910 and 1916. Barzan means ‘the high place’ and the towers may have served as a lookout to protect local water sources and as an observatory to determine the dates of the lunar calendar.
—Located on the north-west coast, the immaculately restored Al Zubarah Fort and surrounding 60-hectare archaeological works is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is one of the most extensive and best preserved examples of an 18th–19th century settlement in the region. It covers the remains of a walled coastal town that once ranked as one of the Gulf’s most important pearl diving and trading centres with links extending to the Indian Ocean. The fort houses a visitor’s centre.
—Some 60 km from Doha in the south-eastern part of the country lies one of Qatar’s most impressive natural wonders, the ‘Inland Sea’ or Khor Al Adaid. A UNESCO recognised natural reserve with a distinct ecosystem, this is one of those few places where the sea encroaches deep into the heart of the desert. Since it is inaccessible by road, this tranquil place can only be reached through the dunes. Khor Al Adaid is one of the three places in the world where the sea meets the sand dunes, with a lagoona system that is perhaps unparalleled elsewhere in the world.
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