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Doha: A cultural repository

The tourism push is visible everywhere in this rich Middle Eastern sheikhdom, writes Aftab Husain Kola

Fanar Centre. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

Doha, Qatar’s charming capital, never fails to regale you no matter how many times you visit the place. With Qatar looking to generate 5.2% of its GDP through tourism over the coming years and its recent offer of visa-free travel for over 80 countries around the world, the tourism push is visible everywhere in this rich Middle Eastern sheikhdom that juts 100 miles out into the Arabian Gulf.

Once a British protectorate, famous mainly for pearling and the world’s largest liquefied natural gas producer, I have developed a sort of attachment to this exciting place. The skyline of Doha is ever continuously getting congested on every visit. The 15th Asian Games staged in Doha in 2006 catapulted the tiny nation into one of the most happening sporting nations in the region. The multibillion-dollar preparations to host the Fifa 2022 tournament, which encompasses constructing nine stadiums and massive infrastructure, is going on despite the recent tensions within its GCC countries.

The seven-kilometre Corniche offers fantastic views of the city. We begin from the Museum of Islamic Arts which rises dramatically from an artificial island just off Doha’s Corniche.

Museum of Islamic Art on Corniche.
Museum of Islamic Art on Corniche.

 

The elegant Museum of Islamic Art is a fitting tribute to the rich Islamic civilisation. It journeys across space and through time, encouraging visitors to explore the bygone splendour of Islam, its equally wonderful present and its tradition of interaction with cultures around the world.

Over 800 collectables constitute repositories of an extensive array of Islamic art which have been acquired with great efforts from around the world. The amazing display not only comprise Islamic art but there is a large section on inventions by Muslims. The wide variety of Islamic art like rare books, bowls, vases, pitchers, ewers, and jugs; plates made of ceramic, glass, metal and wood, jewellery, chests, etc adorn the rooms of the museum.

After a quick visit, I am back on the Corniche. Traditional wooden dhows bobbing in the Sea at the Bay rekindle Qatar’s great seafaring past. Short dhow cruise operates from the landing stage on the Corniche opposite the Ministry of the Interior. Some cruises do a circuit of the bay, while others visit a small island.
As we move further, a sculpture of a massive pearl ensconced in a huge clam feasted our eyes. Qatar and neighbouring Bahrain have been cultural repositories for the pearling way of life. While natural pearls are found all over the world, those from the Arabian Gulf are acknowledged to be among the finest ones. Just a stone’s throw away is the 30-foot statue of an oryx which was the mascot for the 2006 Asian Games held here. The Corniche provides for a green lung space for the residents who crowd here in the evenings for a cool breeze and walk. For kids, Al Bidda Park, also known as Al Rumailah Park, wedged between Corniche Street and Maajilis Al Taawon Street is a good place to be.

The Pearl sculpture on Corniche.
The Pearl sculpture on Corniche.

 

Souq Wafi, Doha’s famous hotspot, takes us back in time with its stunning treasures. The souq, exuding a charm redolent of the Arabian bazaar of folklore, is a place for an authentic taste of traditional commerce, architecture and culture. The labyrinth of shops offer a dazzling gamut of Middle Eastern merchandise from spices and seasonal delicacies to perfumes, jewellery, wooden carved frame, clothing, coffee pots, handicrafts and a treasure trove of souvenir bargains. The souq comes alive with traditional music, art and cultural shows. An eclectic mix of chic restaurants and cafes makes the ambience more lively. Souq Waqif is also home to a remodelled Art Centre with established art galleries and various art workshops where you get lessons in drawing and painting, including classes for kids. The new souq area with an enormous collection of textiles and electronic shops and the gold souq showcasing gorgeous collections are inescapable.
An elegant spiral-shaped tower that catches one’s attention while moving around Doha is the Fanar Center or Spiral Mosque (Sheikh Abdulla Bin Zaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Center) on Abdullah Bin Jassim Street created with a vision to present the beauty of Qatari culture to the world. The Imam Abdul Wahhab Mosque or Grand Mosque on Al Muhandiseen St is a symbol of fine Islamic architecture. Just outside Doha, soak into history by visiting the Barzan Towers in the village of Umm Salal or visit the Al Wajba Fort built in the late 18th century. 

The breathtakingly spectacular sand dunes provide for a romance between man and machine and the desert provides the perfect terrain for adventurous driving.

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