Travel Report: Doha, Qatar.
I arrived in Doha in the summer of 2001 without a clue as to what I would actually do there. My entire family had relocated to the Qatari capital for my father’s job. I’m talking mum, dad, sister, brother, dog… the works. I was at one of my famous loose ends in life. Hence I figured why not head out to Doha and see how I felt about the place. In those first few weeks I spent plenty of time aimlessly exploring Souq Waqif, also known as The Iranian Souq. This is Doha’s oldest market district, with a one hundred year history that stretches back to the days of the region’s Bedouin traders.
I ended up buying all kinds of trinkets at Souq Waqif, including incense sticks, an ornamental treasure chest, a beaded necklace and various wooden ornaments. Amazingly, I’ve still got some of these bits tucked away in a box somewhere in the attic of my friend’s laundry business in northern Scotland. Back in those days Souq Waqif was a low-key, dusty affair. Most of the shops were little more than shacks and there were a few indoor alleyways stuffed full of spice shops, teahouses, clothes stores and kebab stalls.
Photo courtesy of ljasasap.
In 2003, the year after I left Doha, a huge fire destroyed most of Souq Waqif. As a result, millions went into restoring the market area, transforming it into one of the city’s most vibrant neighbourhoods. As with most of Doha, I’ve been told the Souq is simply unrecognisable today. In addition to the bustling market stalls and stores, there are also horse stables, a falconry centre and several boutique hotels, such as Arumaila.
2001-2002 were the early days of Doha’s shopping mall boom. Back then the biggest show in town was City Center, a 5 floor retail complex with international stores, restaurants, bowling alleys and a multi screen cinema. It was also the first time I’d ever seen a Carrefour, which felt very exciting to twenty three year old me. Especially as it was the size of a small European country and had an entire section dedicated to Reese’s.
Furthermore, my dad worked in City Center as the general manager of X-Treme World Entertainment, Winter Wonderland Ice Rink and Fun Waves Water Park. Which of course meant I got treated to plenty of free go karting and arcading. I’ve read that countless malls have sprung up across the city since those days. However, from what I can see City Center is still going strong. You can check out their website here.
We lived in a swanky compound of villas called Beverley Hills Garden out in the dusty no man’s land of Al Waab. I have never lived and almost certainly never will live in such luxury again. After all, the compound had a giant outdoor pool and there were squash courts, a sauna, a gym and a general store.
Our villa at Beverley Hills Garden was massive, even for the six of us. I’ll always remember the huge contrast of the burning temperatures outside and the icy air con of our home. They had cable TV too with all the channels, still a big novelty back then. Moreover, I call to mind my friend Scott and I taking time out of a Championship Manager marathon to watch the awful events of 9/11 unfold on the big screen in our living room. Today, an online search tells me there are loads of Beverley Hills Gardens. Therefore it’s a bit tricky for me to pinpoint exactly which one was ours. You can see a bunch of them listed here with Al Asmakh Real Estate.
Our Beverley Hills Garden was a fifteen minute drive from the city centre. Usually I’d grab a lift into town with my dad. Other times I would hail one of Doha’s signature orange and white taxis that came rattling down the main road. One day I met a young Pakistani called Ashraf, who quickly ended up becoming my regular driver! Ashraf was a hell of a character, so much so that I wrote a short story about him. Funnily enough the tale is called Ashraf, you can read it here. Sadly, Doha’s orange and white taxis have gone the way of the dodo. They really should have kept hold of one and stuck it in a display case in The National Museum.
One of the places Ashraf used to take me to was Khalifa Stadium. At that time Qatar’s national football team was trying to qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. They had no chance of course, but that didn’t stop Scott and I from cheering them on in a few of their home qualification matches. Despite the stadium being only a third full, the atmosphere during those games was amazing! Especially as we were the only foreigners and therefore the subjects of much attention. All of it one hundred percent positive I should add!
Scott and I witnessed Qatar’s 1-1 draw against China and a thrilling 2-2 tie against Uzbekistan. Sadly, that latter result actually ended Qatar’s qualification hopes. I recall the Qatari players slumping to the pitch at the final whistle and a local boy forlornly waving his giant flag. I had some unforgettable experiences supporting Qatar that year. For a deeper insight, take a look at my short story Khalifa Dreams. It still blows my mind to think that Qatar is hosting the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup. I would absolutely love to make it back to Doha for that tournament and maybe catch a game or two. However, I’m guessing the costs involved will be exorbitant!
I made countless visits to Doha Corniche during my year here. In fact, I used to go jogging down its seven kilometre promenade that runs alongside Doha Bay. The skyline views were fantastic, even back then when the collection of skyscrapers were modest compared to today.
At that time Doha’s standout structure was The Sheraton Hotel. It was built in 1978 upon a design by the Los Angeles firm William L. Pereira. I used to come here for a drink at the 6th floor bar, with stupendous views out over the bay. The Sheraton also had a 5-a-side football pitch, so I found myself here literally every week for a kickabout with friends.
Even today, with all the incredible hotels on offer, The Sheraton certainly holds its own. After all, the rooms are simply palatial and they have a rooftop pool, a private beach and no less than seven international restaurants. To find out more about the construction of this iconic building, check out this cool article.
Getting out onto Doha Bay itself is an essential part of a visit. I was really lucky in that one of my friends at Beverly Hills Garden had his own yacht! Ron was kind enough to take me out a couple of times, including when my friend Gregor came to visit from Scotland. Today a glut of operators offer all kinds of cruises across Doha’s bays. A trip in a traditional dhow boat is one of the most popular options, available through online agencies like Viator.
Gregor was a keen golfer, being Scottish and all. Consequently, I was dragged along to Doha Golf Club, despite my general apathy for the sport. If I’d had even the slightest interest in golf I would’ve surely been impressed by this famous eighteen-hole green. Having opened just a few years prior in 1998, Doha Golf Club went on to host the prestigious Qatar Masters tournament, which held its debut competition in 2008.
Some of the world’s most renowned golfers have lifted the trophy here, including Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia. The prize money for the champion these days stands at a cool $1,750,000. During my visit I was just happy not to drop Gregor’s golf bag or crash the damn buggy.
Doha was an exceptionally important place for me in terms of my life journey. It was here that I became a qualified English teacher after a month long TEFL course at The British Council. For more on this, dive into my short story Pulp Friction.
Furthermore, the CELTA certificate (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) I received immediately landed me two local part time teaching jobs. Firstly, I got a gig teaching pilots at Qatar Aeronautical College. I also secured a position at a run down training school called The Language Teaching Institute where, much to my general torment, I seemed to have been given a bunch of problem classes.
Nevertheless, I came away with great memories from my experiences teaching English in Doha. And, more than anything else, it really helped me cut my teeth as a teacher and stand me in good stead for the even greater challenges that lay ahead! To find out more about my teaching days in Qatar, take a look at my short stories Baptism of Fire, Like It Too Much and The Little Pronghorn.
Finally, a quick word on my favourite Doha restaurant. Anyone who knows me understands that I’m all about the Indian food. I’ve been lucky enough to visit some truly fantastic Indian restaurants all over the world, including plenty in India itself. And yet, if I were to draw up a top five, I’m sure there’d be a place for Chingari Restaurant. Housed within The Radisson Blu Hotel, this place was quite the experience. I can still picture taking the wooden footbridge over an actual stream as we made our way towards a giant table and cushion-clad sofas. The above photo was taken on my friend Steve P’s 24th birthday! My god what a wonderful feast we had that night. From what I can see Chingari is still going strong and recent reviews seem solid.
For more on my adventures in Doha, have a leaf through my short story series:
You can also check out my travel report on Dubai.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.