Doha nightsky

Doha, the capital of Qatar

Qatar is a small Gulf state with two and a half million inhabitants, many of whom live in Doha’s capital. Especially in winter, it is a pleasant place for a week’s holiday if you like modern architecture or enjoy strolling for hours through the narrow streets of a souq, especially if you are not looking for too much excitement. It is clean and quiet.

In winter, the weather is pleasant. Although Doha is by the sea, it is not a city for a beach holiday because it is strictly Islamic. On the coast, outside the capital, there are several five-star hotels with private beaches where you can swim.

Doha skyscrapers

Doha´s neighbourhoods

The city consists of several neighbourhoods, of which the Doha centre, the Corniche (by the sea), souq Waqif, Katara and Lusail (a suburb of Doha) are the most important. 

Souq waqif

During our visit in December, a pleasant twenty-five-degree Celsius breeze blew through the narrow corridors of the souq, where all kinds of things were for sale: clothing, gold, perfume, electronics, and spices. Some shops sell umbrellas in a country where it rarely rains. Little cafes sell coffee, tea and lemonade.

The staff keeps the sidewalk dust-free with a dustpan and broom, which then is mopped. No wonder it is so clean here. Even the public marble-clad toilets are spotless. 

Enjoy dinner at Parisa, a Persian restaurant in Souq Waqif. Glazed tiles, mirrored glass, Persian scenes with camels, and dancing women and men with turbans decorate the walls. The food, accompanied by a glass of water, is just as spectacular as the restaurant’s interior. The restaurant is often fully booked, so it is best to place a reservation.

Doha Parsiana restaurant

Birds market

There is a small bird market near the souq. Birds are kept in cages that are too small. Some of the birds have clipped wings. Other pets are also for sale in all kinds of animal-unworthy ways. The birds of prey have another part of the souq. They live a marginally better life than their smaller cousins, spending their days mainly blindfolded and tied to a pole by a string. They are occasionally allowed out to do tricks for an enthusiastic audience. 

Arabian horses 

The horse training centre keeps horses in spotless, air-conditioned stables. Some of the horses are restlessly turning in circles in their stables. Inside, the workhorses stand in the dark, with purple-coloured manes and tails. At four o’clock in the afternoon, the Arabs are allowed to go outside. The rest stay inside until they are removed on a rope to entertain children. With horses, it is just like with people. Life is much easier if your cradle is in the right place. 

Camels 

Across the road, a group of jockeys trains ‘the best’ racing camels in the world. The best, according to Visit Doha. In Saudi Arabia, undoubtedly, they think differently. Because that is also where the best camels in the world come from. 

Until 2005, child jockeys were used in the Gulf countries, some as young as four. Many boys came from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. These children were deliberately malnourished (to keep them lightweight) and denied education. Remote-controlled robots have now replaced child jockeys (Doha News)—still progress. 

Doha Islamic Cultural Centre

Lusail, the smartest of smart cities

Lusail is ‘The smartest of smart cities’ (according to Visit Qatar)—skyscrapers house offices of multinationals. Both the university and the Lusail football stadium (of the World Cup) are in this suburb of Doha. Lusail can be reached from Doha by metro, which runs frequently and is comfortable. All this, the city and the infrastructure came together in just a few years. It is impressive what is possible if one has an almost unlimited budget due to the revenues from fossil energy. It also helps if there is an empty desert to build one. Human rights, environmental organisations and other NGOs can be safely ignored during construction work.

Immigration in Qatar.

The ‘infamous’ Lusail football stadium (of the World Cup) stands next to an abandoned parking lot in the city’s north. The only thing moving now is a light blue plastic bag propelled by the wind.

According to a report by Amnesty International, thousands of workers in World Cup projects have been paid late or not at all. They didn’t get any days off. They faced unsafe working conditions, barriers to changing jobs and limited access to justice. The deaths of thousands of workers were also not investigated.

Working in a ghost town

At first glance, you don’t notice any adverse working conditions in Qatar. The only signs that there are less fortunate people in this city are the shacks on the roof of our hotel, where probably some staff live.

Asian gardeners keep flower beds green for a non-existent audience. Cafés with terraces charge worldly prices despite a lack of customers. For one cappuccino, we pay seven euros as much as our lunch earlier in the centre of Doha: two wraps and two fruit juices. North of the university, Lusail is a high-tech ghost town.

Centre Doha and the Corniche 

According to Wikipedia, Qatar had ten thousand inhabitants in the early twentieth century. The population has increased rapidly due to immigration.

Only twenty per cent are Qatari. The immigrants mainly come from other Arab countries, such as the Philippines, Iran, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, India, and Nepal. More Indians (630,000) and Nepalese (400,000) live in Qatar than Qataris. There is a surplus of almost half a million men in a population of 2.4 million. That also explains the relatively open prostitution in the centre of the city despite the strict law against it. It’s a way to keep all those men calm. 

Prostitution in Doha 

Our hotel is on the corner of a small red-light district. We’re not in some obscure suburb. This is the centre of Doha, where dozens of scantily clad women loiter among thousands of men. Working in any Red Light District is difficult enough, with the toxic working environment and so on, but to openly practise the oldest profession in the world in a Gulf state means that one is completely outlawed. 

The sad reality for many migrant workers in Qatar contrasts the city’s fantastic, immaculate facilities: the infrastructure, the seaside promenade, museums, shopping centres and the remarkable architecture. But from my Western perspective, my raised finger only holds up if I don’t look too far back into our history, where important monuments were built on the backs of enslaved people, serfs and the exploitation of our colonies. 

Doha cultural heritage museum

Museum of Islamic Art

The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) on the Corniche displays Qatar’s art collections from the seventh to the twentieth century. The collection includes carpets, ceramics, paintings, weapons, clothing and jewellery. Many pieces come from Iran and Al Andalus (Moorish Spain). India, Syria, Morocco, Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia are also represented. The design of the building is beautiful, like a cube with flowing lines. 

Desert Rose 

Another museum in the centre of Doha is the National Museum. The building is designed like a desert rose. 

desert rose

Katara, Cultural Village 

Katara is a seaside neighbourhood in Doha dedicated to a rather commercial culture. A cinema, golden mosque, ‘old’ dovecotes, an amphitheatre, toy shop and dhows have been set up for the education and entertainment of visitors. 

Mina Gaudi’s dream 

In the Mina district, pastel-coloured buildings with murals, restaurants, shops, cafes, hotels and homes against the blue of the Persian Gulf contrast with the white-clad men and black-clad Qatari women.

The scant advertising on the facades and windows is subtle. 

A fish market in the district could have come straight out of Gaudi’s dream, with a blue-white mosaic floor, organic shapes and an Art Nouveau stained glass ceiling. Even the fish doesn’t smell like fish, while plenty of sea corpses are displayed on ice crystals. 

Dowh

Practical information

Qatar Food and drink

European coffee is expensive; count at least five euros for a cup. Restaurants and cafes generally do not serve alcohol but sell tasty juices (lemon with mint) and milkshakes. For food, eat at simple restaurants for a few euros, or fine dining, visit Souq Waqif, the restaurants at the Corniche, or the five-star hotels.

Local transport

The metro is comfortable and cheap. There are separate compartments for women, families and men (where women are also allowed to sit).

Moreover, there is a ‘Gold Class’ if you want to avoid mingling with the crowds. A trip costs two rials each time, which is about 50 cents. You pay a maximum of six rials daily if you buy a rechargeable metro card.

Car rental

If you decide to rent a car, you will need an international driver’s licence, which must be arranged in advance in your home country. You only need the car when you leave Doha. The country is small, and there are buses to most places. Click here to view prices and availability.

Wheelchair-friendly

Doha is one of the most wheelchair-friendly cities I have visited. On the sidewalk, at stations, on trains and in museums, it is indicated where it is best to move with a wheelchair.

Hotels in Doha

Most hotels suffer from faded glory despite being built recently. For luxury hotels, they are relatively cheap.  We stayed at the Plaza Inn, which was ok. Check here for prices and availability.

Visa

Depending on your nationality, one can arrange a tourist visa relatively easily online. However, the information about this on the various governmental websites is contradictory. Ultimately, after going through all the steps, we, as Dutch nationals, did not have to pay anything (December 2023). The visa is valid for one month.

Clothing

As a foreign woman, you do not have to wear a veil. But one is expected to dress appropriately. Keep shoulders and knees covered. This applies both to women and men, no tight clothing. Especially in warmer months, wearing a hat, cap, or veil is best to protect against the sun.

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