Travel: Tales from Doha

Doha Skyscrapers and Night

During my travels, I ended up in Doha for a few days shortly after the New Year. Before landing in this country, I had very limited knowledge about Qatar on a historical and cultural basis. While I assumed it was like Kuwait, Dubai, Bahrain, or Abu Dhabi, I knew innately there would be various aspects of this country that would make it stand out. To start, I knew that Qatar was an oil country, had a similar climate to Kuwait, and I naturally assumed there were tons of luxury malls hidden behind the modern Islamic mindset.

Brief History

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Encased flag picture was taken at National Museum of Qatar

Unfortunately, this is perhaps the third time I am writing this blog. Here at my third sitting, I’ve decided to list the most basic overview compared to what I’ve done before. To start, Qatar is a tiny country ruled by the House of Thani since the 1860s. Yes, you can find that on Google, so it’s not new information. From the information I walked away with after visiting Doha, I can say that this country has a long history of rulers and different ethnic groups. To start, the country was not well-known until various Arab wars, then there was the time the Ottoman took power, followed by the British. After the British merged with existed rulers, they ensured that the world knew that the Thani family were the ruling group, they assisted the country with national security and kept a tight connection until Qatar demanded that the British leave their shores in 1971.

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Qatar is also not a country aligned with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) because various disagreements caused them to decline to become part of that union. Then in June 2017, a diplomatic crisis struck, banning Qataris and their airlines and ships blocking airspace over Dubai and other UAE countries. For me, this is a significant pain in the ass, as getting to Qatar from Dubai will demand that I travel to Kuwait, Lebanon, Turkey, or Oman only to suffer ridiculously long layovers.

Another interesting fact about this country is the population distribution. Qatar is a country of migrants as they outnumber the real Qataris. This has shaped the demographics of the country, causing the Qatari population to sit at 12% while Indian and Pakistani groups are about 22% – 25%. The country is also made up of people from Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Indonesia, Philippines, Syrian, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Palestine, and the United Kingdom. It’s safe to say that while most people in Qatar consider themselves to be Arab or even subscribe to Islam, the population is overwhelmingly Indian and other. While I find it hard to understand who the true Qataris are, I noticed many people who arrived in the country before their independence from Great Britain receive some recognition and compensation as Qataris. To be totally honest I don’t think there is ”a true” Qatari outside of those who can track their roots back to the desert Bedouin, those bought to the country as slaves from Northern Africa during the Ottoman and British rule, or other Arabs who immigrated there prior to the Ottoman rule. The lucky group who are called Qataris seems to be the group that arrived in the country shortly after British involvement. If they survived from then up until now, then they are rooted in the infrastructure of the country and thus are Qataris.

As I am used to great Britain, Canada, and even the American way of doing things, I know that once a person legally becomes a naturalized citizen of a county, or is born to parents who may or may not be of any of the countries listed above a child by default gains citizenship and all the rights befitting a citizen. This is not so in Qatar as my tour guide pointed out that his family came from Pakistan in the 1960s. As explained by my tour guide whose family came from Pakistan then married local women, he was able to claim at least 50% citizenship. I am still unsure what that 50% means, but from what I gathered in countries like Dubai, the men hold the key to citizenship by marriage. If a woman marries a UAE man, then after a few years of living within the country and having children, she can become a full citizen, and her children are automatically citizens. If it was the other way around, then the man who marries a UAE woman would be unable to claim any citizenship, and that goes for their children until they turn 18 years of age. They vastly control who becomes a citizen and reap the benefits of an oil-rich country. No matter how long an immigrant lives in the country and have children in that country, they will never gain birth-right citizenship. Unless the daughter of an immigrant marries a Qatari or UAE citizen, then she can take on the nationality of her husband.

National Museum of Qatar

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I visited the National Museum of Qatar and learned much of what I came to know about the country there. This museum displays a host of cultural and historical activities from the way fishermen collected pearls to how the desert Bedouin constructed tents, mingled amongst ancient coins, stones, portraits, sculptures, and jewelry.

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Luckily for me, while I was visiting, there was a temporary collection from Jean Schlumberger from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Collection. There was a host of eye-catching necklaces, ornate cigarette boxes, brooches, rings, tiaras, and other objects encrusted with jewels. It was a much-needed feast for the eyes, just like the actual museum structure. The National Museum of Qatar building was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel to look like a desert rose. I couldn’t tell that upon first look as it reminded me of spaceships that had crashed and melted together in one set location.

Souq Waqif

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The Souq Waqif is the central marketplace in Doha buzzing with life. They sell anything from traditional food, garment, species, crafts, and souvenirs; and is also a place where you can find tourists in large groups.

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This place also has many restaurants and food stalls. While there, I would highly encourage visitors to try the Arab coffee, I had my first sample of this coffee, and it was so different from what I expected. I also found a Falcon market here as well as an area selling other animals. The Souq Waqif and many other similar markets in the Middle East dates to thousands of years. As I walked into the market, I imagined that the sounds, smells, and some of those sights were all locked in time, offering me a glimpse into the past.

The Katara Cultural Village

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This is another popular area of Doha housing shopping center, restaurant, a museum, convention center, beachfront, amphitheater, and lots of things to do solo or in a group.

The Pearl

This is another place where many visitors flock to in Doha. It’s a very affluent area on a man-made island with expensive hotels, condos, luxury stores, and restaurants. Looking off into the man-made waterfront, you can see many yachts and in the parking lots an endless list of sports cars. In this area, I also found a pretty little section called Little Italy designed to mimic Venice and the various regions in Italy with the man-made waterways and brightly colored luxury buildings.

When I planned on visiting Qatar I honestly didn’t know where to start, I was lucky enough to have one friend there but unlucky that their work got in the way of me genuinely getting out and seeing the place. From the little, I did see I can honestly say that I am excited to book another ticket to this country to do some more exploring of the food, culture, and history. I honestly can say compared to my time spent in Kuwait, I had a much different experience in Qatar. The country was clean, the people were friendly, and the driving standards were much better. I hope with more time, I will return to do a desert safari and look for inspiration for my Travel for Food section of this blog.

If I had any advice to give first-time visitors to Doha, I would say go with an open mind, book at least one guided tour with someone who knows the country well, and visit the cultural sites. I booked a 4 hour tour of the city with Golden Adventures Qatar and it was worth it!