My wife, and I are on our very first visit to Doha, to meet up with family. Qatar is gearing up to host the FIFA World Cup later in the year (Nov 21-Dec 18) , a first ever for the Middle East and excitement is in the air!
We land at Doha on the 19th of March. My first impressions of Doha remain with me through our visit. Doha is an ultra-modern marvel boasting of some of the most exquisite urban architecture. All of this is financed by newfound wealth that has revolutionised the Middle East over the last two decades.
Doha is an epicure’s delight particularly if you are fond of meats. The very day we land, a family dinner is organized for us at the Burj Al Hamam an exquisite Lebanese restaurant by the quay at Pearl, a fashionable and artificial island, that redefines the city. We choose to sit outdoors where the ambience is spectacular and shivering cold but thankfully there are portable fireplaces to keep us cozy.
The next day we overcome our brief jet lag and head to the souq, Doha’s century old marketplace. The souq is undeniably the most charming tourist spot in Doha. The district has been refurbished in a way that retains the old bazaar atmosphere, the narrow lanes and scores of small shops selling everything from dry fruits to artefacts. We settle for an awesome meal at Damasca One, a Syrian restaurant which is a super huge eatery but constructed in a way that gives you a choice of several nooks and corners. Post dinner we head to nearby Al Aker Sweets for some mouthwatering Arabic desserts. The knafeh (Arabic desert) is highly recommended.
On equinox day we head for a drive to the Lusail marina a great hangout or a place to have a leisurely walk. We are taken aback by the unusual architecture because Doha’s architecture isn’t just modern, it’s futuristic.
The next day, we visit Al Shaqab an equestrian lover’s paradise. The ruling families of several Gulf states have horse racing and breeding in their blood. In Qatar, Al Shaqab is an amplification of the traditional equestrian culture manifest in a state-of-the-art facility for both horse breeding and sports. The native, friendly Qatari shows us around explains to us in detail the technology of horse-breeding that is deployed here. I find this fascinating, but am saddened when I hear about surrogates having to carry an embryo because the champion mare is required to run a prestigious race and is too precious to be allowed to deliver her own offspring.
Adjacent to Al Shaqab and on our way home we pass through Education City, a sprawling campus that houses several well-known Western university branches including some Ivy Leagues like Northwestern and Carnegie Mellon. Doha has taken rapid strides to invest in education and has the potential to become a regional education hub.
Later this week, Friday turns out to be an action-packed day. It is the first day of the Qatari weekend and we start our day with a visit to the countdown clock. This waterfront venue reveals the number of days, hours, minutes, and seconds left for the commencement of the football World Cup. At the time we get there barely a dozen of the national teams have qualified while the remaining names will trickle-in in the days ahead. This morning, the countdown clock has several visitors from Ecuador, all celebrating its qualification to the FIFA world cup.
The same day afternoon, we head in the direction of Mesaieed to participate in a desert safari. I have done a desert safari before, but I’m told this is different and that we will get to see the desert embracing the sea. This is special because there are only ten places on our planet where one can witness this phenomenon. The desert winds make this a chilly encounter but the sound and sight of the waves embracing the sand dunes keep us so absorbed that we forget about everything else.
We are now approaching the end of our visit. Although there is controversy about Qatar being awarded the World Cup, the mood is upbeat as the world is simply hungry for adrenaline. It’s Saturday and we devote our full day to football. We are on a visit to check out four of the eight new stadia built for the world cup, each one remarkably different from the other and special in its own right. We are struck by Stadium 974 which is the international dialling code for Qatar and it has been constructed using exactly 974 shipping containers. The 40,000 seat venue is the first fully demountable stadium in FIFA World Cup history and sets new standards in sustainability and post event legacy.
The same day evening we visit Education city stadium to watch a friendly match between Croatia and Slovenia. The Slovenians are outbumbered and we are in awe of the number of Croatians who have landed up for a friendly match. This gives us a sense of what to anticipate at the World cup.
Our penultimate day in Doha is spent visiting the National Museum of Qatar patterned on the desert rose, endemic to Qatar. This is about the swankiest museum I have visited with stunning visual and tangible exhibits that trace the journey of the Qataris, a historical tribe of pearl divers to what they are today. This museum is also meant to portray Qatar’s emerging role and influence in international affairs.
We spend our last day visiting Katara hills and cultural centre, a charming district that hosts an amphitheater, a cultural centre, walking grounds, padel courts and an uber version of Galeries Lafayette which has vast air-cooled outdoor café seating.
We are now about to catch our return flight back home after a delightful stay. Doha has a humungous expat population and home to as many as 95 nationalities who live amicably, and I ponder on what Qatar and Doha will look like in the post non-renewable fuels era. But, for now nothing matters more than the chance of witnessing the next FIFA World Cup in the midst of a unique, ultra-modern, Middle Eastern principality. Doha beckons you!
Shakti Saran is an Inclusive World Citizen, Writer and Senior Fellow at PYXERA Global. All views expressed are his own.