“That guy has a falcon on his arm. What time is it?!?
8 AM!!!!!? That guy has falcon on his arm and I haven’t even had coffee yet.”
Many tourists who visit the middle east have a few things on their mind. Some go for the extravagance of Dubai with it’s Burj Khalifa, Burj al Arab, and Burj al Many Brunches. Some decide on Abu Dhabi, with it’s quiet culture and Grand Mosque. Others will head to Oman for it’s white capped buildings and authentic Arab style. Then there are Jordan, Istanbul, and Lebanon for their culture and history. While the more adventurous will seek Yemen, Iran, or even Saudi Arabia if you can swing the necessary visas.
However, few would place Doha, Qatar on that list of places to go. At least not yet. And while it lacks many things, if you have a weekend to spare, and an interest in something different, Qatar may be your next holiday.
A little while back, I spent a few days in Doha, Qatar. Here’s what I found…
An intricately woven marketplace, this vibrant two-story souq is the center of Doha’s historical and cultural district. It is a mesh of new and old, useful and decorative. Turn down one walkway and you’ll be met with the powerful scents of curry and za’atar. Then turn once more and be met with varied species of birds chirping and hopping about.
Like many Middle Eastern souqs, you can find whatever you need. They even have an entire section, hospital and all, dedicated to falconry in the Falcon Souq. Waking up Saturday morning, I found local men walking here and there with falcons perched on their forearms and the cutest little caps you could imagine.
At one end of the souq was Doha’s traditional fort, while at the other end, the souq let out towards the water and the corniche. Overall it had a very distinct flair and lovely flow that went perfectly with an Arabian nighttime stroll.
A 5-kilometer walk along the water’s edge and you will find yourself on the other side of Doha in West Bay, an area known for its stunning feats of architecture and design. Most hotels, restaurants, and posh scenery can be found in this area of the city and has developed considerably over the last decade.
On any given night, the cornice is a hotbed of activity as walkers, runners, bikers, and families enjoy the gentle breeze careening off the Arabian Gulf. Much like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the corniche is designed to be the center point of culture and tourism. Any trip to the gulf should include such a stroll. And at the end of your 10 km journey around Doha’s corniche, is the MIA.
Stylish and clean, this museum differs from many others around the world in its focus. With multiple exhibits, all of which showcase some form of Arabic or Islamic art, visitors can experience the true history of the Middle East.
On the first floor I found the exhibit called ‘The Hunt’ – a detailed collection of art related to kings, kingdoms, and the conflicts within the Arab world. The additional three stories held exhibits that showed different aspects of Islamic culture, from the history of the Arabic language, Iranian carpets and tapestries, as well as the evolution of calligraphy and pottery.
Leaving the museum, I felt a much greater understanding of the Arabic and Islamic culture. After four years here in the Middle East I can easily say this museum interweaves middle eastern history, culture, and artistry as beautifully as one of it’s many tapestries.
…And then I left Doha.
Many people would look at such few attractions as reason enough not to travel to Doha*. First of all, I am sure, like anywhere, that if you really search them out you can always find things to fill any itinerary, Doha included. Secondly, and most important, it comes down to why you travel. Some travel to be entertained. Some travel to experience strange new worlds. My main mission in traveling, ideally is to understand. To see the differences that separate us, but more significantly, to perceive that which unifies us.
Because of my trip to Doha I more fully understand the importance of falcons and camels as animals that sustained the bedouin tribes for generations, the same way my mother talks about animals she had on the farm she grew up on. Animals mean survival. I also understand the importance of calligraphy as a way to artistically and respectfully represent the name of God in arabic. I can sympathize with the desire to express worship to God through art while simultaneously trying to respect his holiness. In the end, simply put, my trip to Doha left me far closer with my middle eastern brethren. Well worth a weekend.
*The above information is not an exhaustive list of what Doha and the greater Qatar area has to offer. It is merely a quick review of suggested highlights, which can be found upon first encounter with the immediate city.