Tag Archives: Qatar

{Travel Post} The Doha Diary – Katara Cultural Village and the Torch

16 Oct

Thank you to all who enjoyed reading the last  post and felt they were able to extract the essence of Qatar’s purposive balance between the old and the new. It is important for any culture/nation to refurbish the diminishing coat of traditional ethos in order for the generations of the future to enjoy and take lessons.

Katara cultural village overlooking the Doha skyline

Katara cultural village overlooking the Doha skyline

A single day is quite enough to change perceptions and this epiphany happened every step of the way on the trip. Primarily known for welcoming working immigrants, Qatar’s other facets fascinated me no end. After our enchanting visit to Souq Wafiq, I have strong doubts whether anything else on this excursion was going to trump that. But I was proved wrong in no time, when Mr. Jamal our guide took us to the Katara Cultural Village.

The Katara Cultural Village – Katara is a cultural hub that allows the interaction of myriad cultures through theatre, literature, music, visual art such as paintings and photography. A splendid celebration of all the human senses, Katara Cultural Village is a great place for families to come and enjoy a day in appreciation of arts and crafts. I noticed there  were  some workshops that take in students, young and old, temporarily to give them a feel of the different art mediums. The cultural village houses the Qatar photographic society which is to support the growing photographic movement in Qatar.

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Vintage doors are such an attraction

Fanar - the lighthouse / beacon - to act as a guiding light to whole of mankind, and to help all non-Arabs to have a better understanding of Islam and culture of Qatar.

Beautiful Turkish lamps adorn the ceiling/ Fanar (right) – ( literally translates to the lighthouse / beacon)  a center to help non-Arabs to have a better understanding of Islam and culture of Qatar.

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Passed by The Royal Tandoor in Pearl Qatar (left)/ ornate tap in the Katara Cultural Village(right)

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Mr. Jamal , our tourist guide, the Doha skyline and the model of the solar system at the Katara cultural village

Katara Cultural Village was such a visual treat with interesting dimensions to it. This is where we had our sumptuous lunch at the L’wzaar Seafood Market( highly recommended) where we tried different kinds of seafood dishes ( risking my allergies). Gorgeous food and gorgeous servers!

There two most striking features about Katara Cultural Village which I enjoyed the most:

1. Amphitheater – This Grecian inspired space is stunning with a seating capacity of 5000. This gargantuan amphitheater has played host to several celebrities such as the renowned actor Jeremy Irons and Angela Gheorghiou, the soprano.

The amphitheater overlooks this statue of an Abaaya – clad Arab woman, wielding the world in a piece of cloth representing the country’s forward thinking attributes.

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2. Gandhiji’s three monkeys in the modern world – This is a series of sculptures created by Indian artist Subodh Gupta, representing Gandhiji’s the principle “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” There were two things about the sculptures fascinated me. One, all of them were in military gear and second, they were made from stainless steel cooking utensils, aluminium buckets and such. One of the sculptures had glasses portraying ‘see no evil’, the other wearing a hood expressing ‘hear no evil’ and the third one wearing a gas mask signifying ‘speak no evil’. The underlying theme of this triad were – war and peace, public and private, global and local.

See no evil/ Katara cultural village

See no evil/ Katara cultural village

Hear no evil

Hear no evil

Speak no evil

Speak no evil

From here, we went back to our hotel with our senses full with the sights of the city and the gorgeous food making us drowsy. I took that time to explore the hotel which by far is one of the most beautiful properties I have ever seen.

Sharq village and spa

Sharq village and spa

By dusk, we dressed up for dinner which was at the Torch. We were booked for dinner at the Three Sixty which is a revolving restaurant unlike any other. Located on the 47th floor, the restaurant offers a panoramic view that simply makes your heart skip a beat. The food, needless to say, was top notch. The dinner and the spectacular view was a fitting end to my  wonderful sojourn.

The Torch, Doha

The Torch, Doha

I had to cut short the trip by two days because it was my daughter’s 5th birthday the next day. But a whole day was spent in Doha, exploring the city like I had never done before. I am glad that I took this time out to attend the Qatar Summer Festival for which I have only the Qatar Tourism Authority to thank. On my way back to Bahrain, at the Hamad International Airport, I was mesmerized by the efficiency of the airport. The only bit I was disappointed with was that the duty free section was very minimal. The range and the choice I expected was not available. Maybe with some more time, when the newly opened airport is developed further, more duty free outlets will be available to delight the customers.

Hamad International Airport

Hamad International Airport

{Travel Post} The Doha Diary – Souq Waqif

8 Oct

Here are 3 facts about Qatar, that you may not know:

1. In 2022, the World Cup final will be played in a city in Qatar that does not exist yet – This future city will be called Lusail,

2.Al Jazeera – The satellite known for its controversial reporting is broadcast from Qatar

3.  Every single building in the Doha Skyline is a completely different design from the other and there are about 40 such buildings as per this source.

To me, until a month back, Doha was a place for work; of strict project deadlines, meetings that went on forever and countless hours at the airport. My work as a business consultant took me to Doha for 3 sweet months where, there was only the work-face of Doha that I saw, understood and felt. But a month back, I was invited to see Doha with a fresh pair of eyes, of that of a tourist. The generous folks from the Qatar Tourism Authority invited me and two other bloggers to a 3 day visit to Doha. Of the 3 days, I was able to participate for a day but it was enough to give me the glimpse of the culturally vibrant and modern contemporary world-city that Doha is. I started this post with 3 interesting facts about Qatar just to put into perspective, how strongly Qatar is poised on the growth vector. Before I go into the beautiful stories I experienced in the single day I spent in Doha, I would like to mention a few things that were my biggest takeaway from the trip.

Souq Waqif

Souq Waqif

1. Primarily, known more for the work opportunities for immigrants,  Qatar is now shifting its energies towards making it a tourist – friendly nation in the lieu of the 2022 World Cup event;

2. Being a proud Islamic state and the one that really values its cultural integrity, Qatar has spent a lot of time planning and maintaining its cultural hubs such as the Souq Waqif etc.

3. Qatar knows it is a perfect confluence of the east and west and is not afraid to show it. This is very evident from the way its construction industry and other related industries are booming with government support.

The Qatar Tourism Authority ( QTA) made sure we were well taken care of and for that they arranged for us to stay at the most popular address in town. – The Ritz Carlton’s Sharq Village and Spa. Located by the their private beach and overlooking the spectacular Doha skyline, Sharq Village and Spa is luxury, redefined. We were lodged in independent villas with a sea-view which was such a delight to say the least.

Sharq Village and Spa

Sharq Village and Spa

Sharq Village and Spa/ room

Sharq Village and Spa/ room

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Sharq Village and spa

The spectacular Doha Skyline at dusk as photographed from the hotel

The spectacular Doha Skyline at dusk as photographed from the hotel

When you are in such a wonderfully encouraging and comforting environment, it automatically puts you at ease.  The night I landed, on the 15th of September,I met up with the other bloggers – Reem Taufiqi ( Bahraini blogger) and Anamika Arun ( food blogger from Dubai). We were ferried around the town by our enthusiastic guide Mr. Jamal.  The Doha tour was to begin next morning of the 16th of Septemer. That night, I slept like a baby and the next morning, I woke up feeling fresh and happy.

The falcon shop  at souq waqif

The falcon shop at souq waqif

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We set out on our excursion, after a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel. Our first stop was the Souq Waqif.

Fascinating stories from Souq Waqif:  A souq is a local market place and Doha’s Souq Wafiq  is special because it houses the poshest of restaurants in an Arabian Nights set up. As modern as its restaurants might be, the souq has some intriguing shops such as this Falcon Shop we visited. There is a great interest among Arab nationals to have Falcons as pets. There is a lot of science and money that goes behind having aFalcon as  pet. The shop had a whole line up of Falcons on display for customers to pick and choose. What is more, there were pretty leather and loom accessories that one could buy to adorn these majestic birds.

It is said that a Falcon needs to forget their previous owners otherwise they won’t accept the new ones. For that, they are made to wear eye patches covering both their eyes for 20 days which ensures they have no memories of the previous owner. The other reason why they have eye patches and are restrained by chains on their claws is they get overwhelmed when people come to the shop to buy them and risk flying and hurting themselves. Somewhere, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for them. Apparently, there seems to be a lot of preference for white Falcons from Russia and the bidders bid for amounts as high as  QAR 70,000 ( approx $ 19,220). What is more astonishing was that, there was a hospital for falcons! Not birds. Not animals.. but falcons alone. They had specialists who solved falcon ailments which goes on to show how much these birds are revered by the locals.

D2The Souq has its own police galloping around on their horses in traditional uniforms to keep up with the traditional flavour of the place. The Souq is a vibrant place with vendors selling different types of wares starting from Turkish lamps, to tiles, to clothes, shoes, bags, spices to name a few.

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Biryani spice

Biryani spice

souq waqif

There is a story behind why it is called the Souq Waqif. It has been in existence for the past 100 years or more and since those days, they had a traffic policeman directing traffic in the souq, standing on his feet, the whole day long. Waqif – that translates to ‘standing’ is what gives the souq its name. Quite fascinating how places get their names!

DSC_0526All these men you see in the picture are waiting for shoppers to come by to shop so that they can ferry their wares in these trolleys much like in the Memsahib era. No young man is allowed to take this job which these elderly gentlemen do, ensuring that this means of livelihood is not taken away from them.

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Architecture in the souq

Turkish lamps hanging from traditional ceilings; The Fanar- lighthouse

Turkish lamps hanging from traditional ceilings; The Fanar- lighthouse

While Jamal (our guide) kept us busy with all the beautiful anecdotes relating to the souq, he rounded us up to the AlDama Council in Souq Waqif . Dama that is played by two players was brought to Qatar from Turkey. It has taken the place of a traditional indoor board game which is now being promoted by the Government in their attempt to revive the popularity of  the game and encourage youngsters to take it up. Anybody can drop by the AlDama Council and play for free. I had quite a lovely time defeating my opponent who was an elderly Qatari gentleman.

Dama - board game

Dama – board game

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After the board game adventure, we travelled a bit around the souq, admiring the ornate doors, the rustic buildings, the pristine blue skies and trying once in a while to forget how hot it was.

We were then taken to meet the most incredible man ever – Saad Ismail – the oldest pearl diver in Qatar

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This septuagenarian, has seen and done it all. He has been touted the strongest man in Doha and a man incapable of feeling pain. He has tested his physical endurance by lying down on broken glass pieces and has deep dived into the sea with minimal equipment in the search of the most exotic pearls. He has met the Kings and the Queens of many lands and gifted them exquisite pearl ornaments as mementos. When you see him, you know Ismail has truly lived a full life that many of us can only dream of.

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Visiting the souq can be an eye- opener and an experience, I won’t forget in a hurry. There were many things, that I wanted to explore and take pictures if we weren’t so short of time. It was amazing to see how beautifully everything was preserved, restored and created to ensure that the souq’s sanctity was maintained. The first part of the day was spent reveling at the cultural history of Qatar. My sojourn in Doha was just beginning to get exciting when we headed next to Katara Village for lunch and an afternoon full of art and photography appreciation. But for that you will have to wait for my next post.

Qatar Chronicles -III

25 Aug

Ramadan Kareem!

This is the holy month of Ramadan and it is an experience to be in this part of the world during Ramzaan. It started on the 9th of August and will go on till it is Eid. The entire month Muslims fast the whole day ( without food and water) and eat their first morsel after sundown. Children as young as 10 years also fast with the adults. The feast that they have after sun down is called Iftar and revelry continues well into midnight. Some of them get up early in the morning to have some food before sun rise. This continues for 40 days and if you ask me, it is definitely a task. The fascinating thing about Ramzaan is the spirit with which it is done, especially in the middle east. They have hoardings and notices all over the city strictly forbidding every one ( including non- muslims) to eat or drink in public during the day. In places like Saudia Arabia, it is a punishable offence. Even in offices, non – muslims cannot have their lunch or breakfast or any meal, even water. To make it a little better, they ask you leave early by 2:30 pm so that you can have your meal at home. All the restaurants remain close during the day and open only at night after 7 pm. They continue to remain open well into the night, till about 2 or 4 a.m. The funny thing is, when you go to a supermarket to buy grocery, you’d find the shelves empty. It feels like people hoard food during this time and inspite of remaining closed during the day, restaurants do a thriving business at night. Continue reading

Qatar Chronicles-II

24 Aug

Certain houses have a quality about them, that no matter how much you try to clean and scrub, they still manage to look dirty and unkempt. We lived in such a house in Doha. In the old part of Doha. For the uninitiated, Friday and Saturday are considered weekend in this part of the world.  Sunday is the first day of the working week. Even now it feels funny to get up early in the morning on a Sunday, when for 30 years of my life Sunday was ‘A Holiday’. But good thing about Sunday is its house-keeping day. Man! those  guys came, they saw and they conquered leaving the place spick and span. I felt like a total loser trying all the other 5 days doing a shoddy job of a cleaning process. Clean smelling rooms and linens give me a big high! Continue reading

Qatar Chronicles -I

23 Aug

I am back in town! Not to paint it red but to encapsulate the Doha trip in this post. I had little expectations from this trip because I was told by all the people who I know in Bahrain that Qatar was a sad little place with practically no life. But “hello people!”, I beg to differ. I think Qatar is quite happening, really it is. No, I did not hit any night clubs or lounges ( there are just a handful of them) to make my weekends exciting nor did I have to shop like crazy to make it seem productive. This is how we ( Amit, Mimi & me) spent our time in Qatar for four weeks. Continue reading

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