As Qatar Airways has become a popular choice for tourists going to Europe from Asia and Africa, the chance to stop over at Doha has become easier for most travellers. I have used Doha to connect to Nairobi, London, and recently to Istanbul.
I got curious about the “City Tour” offered by Qatar Tourist agency’s “Doha Tours” right at the A section of the airport. I signed up and made sure I had a few hours to enjoy. The tours leave from 8am and until the evening hours at two-hour intervals. As it was a cool November morning, I chose the 10am, also to fit my flight departure for Manila.
The sign-up is easy, just make sure it’s the first thing you do upon arrival. The desk at “Alpha” or “A” gates opens at 5am. Take your passport, boarding pass or ticket for the next flight and the staff will suggest the best time to come back. They process your transit visa, too. At the appointed time, usually an hour before the tour, you are asked to report back and wait for a guide who will take you through immigration and out to the city!
Our guides were patiently waiting at the bus—two Filipinos, Roger and Reena—who have been doing this route for some time now. We boarded our air-conditioned tour bus and went around the city, seeing what the young leadership of Qatar has done to what used to be an old fishing village.
According to our guide, Doha’s main industries used to be fishing and pearl diving. This is why you see the pearl monument or a tribute to how they used to live—as pearl divers.
First stop was at the Dhow village—where dhows or fishing boats still dock, but it is no longer the main occupation in Doha since the discovery of their oil fields. New sail boats and yachts dot the marina and you can observe the change from old to new as you see new boats alongside dhows — some already refurbished. The view of the Doha skyline —tall modern buildings— is amazing and worth a tourist shot or something to remind you of the marriage of old and new.
We went to a cultural village next and here you will find a mosque and an interesting pigeon tower— where pigeon poo is converted to compost and used as fertilizer for the landscaped gardens; what a sustainable idea.
We went around the new city landmarks, office towers that had the face of the young Emir painted like billboards—I guess to remind the locals why and who has been making these changes in the Doha economy. Furthermore, the leader wants Qatar to be a sustainable city, as observed in their use of renewable energy and the presence of solar panels all over town.
The tour also stops at a township, a cluster of condominiums available for sale to foreigners. Beside it is a mall with signature boutiques and popular cafes and bistros. We stayed for a bit to walk around and check out the buildings and check how it feels to be a resident in Doha, if one so decides to buy a unit in these expensive homes.
The final stop is at everyone’s favourite—the souk, or market. Here, we were given almost an hour to soak in the souq. A row of cafes serving Arabic coffee, fresh fruit juices and offering Shisha (Shisha is a water-pipe, popular in many Arab countries, in which fruit-scented tobacco is burnt using coal, passed through an ornate water vessel and inhaled through a hose.
I stayed on the traditional side and went in to have an espresso in one of the more known coffee brands. I also had an iced coffee to go, as the temperature was rising as we neared noontime.
A stroll around the souk shows you the many spices from Iran, Pakistan, and India. They also sell frankinsense and myrrh, ginger of many colours and other spices you never see back home. This is clearly a different selection from the South Asia and Middle East countries. Rice, nuts, herbs, coffee and tea abound and are sold by weight or volume.
One could stay here until it’s time to board your flight or cross the street to what they call the “Filipino souk”. I asked the guides what happens when people fail to come back to the tour bus at the appointed time. “We leave them and they manage to find their way back to the airport” Reena tells me. I would be worried not to catch my flight back, so I chose to return to the bus on time.
And after almost four hours, we head back to the airport and another Qatar tour guide leads us back to immigration and into the world’s most awarded airport to date. That’s Doha in four hours. Not a bad idea for a stopover.