Qatar is an Islamic monarch that will change your views on Islam and monarchs.
"Ye jo des hai mera… swades hai mera"
For someone who was going out of India for a month, I sure was dramatic! With my earphones on full volume, I left for the airport. Crossing oceans was a big achievement for me, not just because I’m 22 and could afford an international trip, but because I can’t even cross a road without going ape shit.
"It’s going to be a long journey," the immigration officer remarks. Of course, he was looking at my ticket to Norway with a layover in Qatar. However, little did he know there were going to be 10 countries in a month. When life gives you a Schengen visa, remember YOLO!
With my first destination Qatar 4 hours away, and an 18 hour stopover, I wondered if I should do the Qatar tour. My perception about the Middle East was rich oil owners, conservative people, good looking sheikhs, gold Ferraris, and begums in burkhas.
After some beverages onboard (I tanked up), I made up my mind – aaj kuch toofani karte hain! After all I had paid $20 for the visa. Would be a shame if I didn’t do something worthwhile.
The traditional alongside the modern. Image source: the42.com.
Once in Qatar and through immigrations I waited for the tour to start. Just like India, the 3:30 timing was moved to 5pm. Just like India, it was for an important man. A sheikh with 4 wives who had to go through immigration check with their 14 kids and literally kilos of gold they were wearing and carrying. There’s no way you can speed up a situation like that. Plus it seemed absolutely normal for sheikhs to act like "hum jahan khade ho jaate hain, line vahin se shuru hoti hai".
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6 hours is all it takes to see Doha!
Finally on the tour bus we were given a little history lesson about Qatar. It is the richest country in the world. Yes, I was shocked too. Qataris made their money from oil and now run refineries, where South East Asians work. I met a lot of Indians, apparently we make up 45% of their working population. Qatar is a small nation. They say you can see the entire capital, Doha, in just 6 hours. However, the tour guide was adamant that we don’t because 'some of us had connecting flights in 6 hours'.
Doha is surrounded by aquamarine waters
This land is certainly not about subtlety. Qatar is glass buildings in a desert. Sure, it looks bling, but also feels like a hot chamber inside. Doha isn’t as crowded or as touristy as Dubai. But as you reach The Modern Museum of Islamic Art, you realize that they are indeed sisters or should I say habibis? Sky scrapers represent Middle Eastern countries. Qatar is no different. What struck me is how successful they have been at cultivating a desert. It’s also the only Middle Eastern country that does not depend on imports for agriculture and food.
No taking pictures at the Falcon Souq Waqif market. Image source: videoblocks.com
The final stop of our tour was the famous Falcon Souq Waqif market. You’d think the tour would have a desert safari, but no! Remember ‘some of us have to catch a flight in 2 hours’. The market was just one street with tiny shops where you’re not allowed to click a picture. But it was also fascinating because this is where the Middle East gets its pets – eagles, camels, lions – you name it! Alongside open sheesha parlours, delicious dates and souvenir shops. I met a group of 3 Slovakians from the same tour and we roamed the market for an hour. Surprisingly, or should I say not surprisingly, we all had the same notion about the Middle East. But one thing we were all wrong about is the people.
We expected to see women in hijab and men in thwabs. However, we found out that the Qataris dress was modern and western. Even the older population was very liberal in incorporating western prints in their Arab couture. Turns out my Slovak friends had similar opinions about India - "Don’t you all wear henna mehndi?"
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Qatar in all its blingy glory. Image source: bakermckenzie.com
As the evening dawned upon us, the buildings facing the sea lit up, and suddenly Qatar looked beautiful. Glass in the desert! We stared at the lavish roads and the more lavish buildings; and suddenly everyone felt satisfied with our quick glimpse into this stunning country.
Just as we were approaching the airport, we saw another airport! Was it a mirage? No! The king of Qatar has his own private airport for family and friends. Now I’d seen it all! Known to be friendly towards people of other religions, the king was well loved by all.
Back at the airport I turn on the free WiFi. I am starting to like the idea of layovers. I open my diary to write - Qatar is an Islamic Monarch that will change your views on Islam and monarchs. The stereotypes are largely true, but only the good ones.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Akanksha Holani
Photographs by Akanksha Holani
Cover photo credit: sportstle.com