Doha. The capital city of Qatar. Of all the days to be here, I have to be here on a Friday when there’s not much to do except chill out in my hotel room and watch Merlin. Not that I’m complaining. I don’t usually enjoy staying in a hotel, but in Qatar – they make it work.
The Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels
Last night, I stayed in the Retaj Royale. Today, I’m hanging out at one of the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels. Nestled in the heart of Souq Waqif, the Boutique Hotels are a collection of 9 historic buildings which feature intricate décor and architecture from different regions.
I’m staying in the Najd – which has an exquisitely delightful Moroccan theme that had me smiling the moment I walked in. Yesterday’s hotel was nice, but this place is seriously special. I would come back just to hang out in this room. It’s cosy, tasteful and warm. My kind of place.
I ordered a Lebanese mixed grill from room service which came with more meat on a plate than I ordinarily eat in one week. Lamb kafta. Shish Tawouk. Beef Kebab. Lamb chops. And arayis served with grilled vegetables and garlic aioli.
I don’t usually eat such a big lunch so now I’m feeling snoozy and sleepy and all warm and cuddly. Well – with all those pillows and fancy sheets, the bed is extremely welcoming… A few more episodes of Merlin, then?
My Impressions of Doha
With a population of approximately 1.5 million – Qatar’s a city of expatriates. Most expatriates in Qatar are from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Philippines, and Bangladesh. There’re also a fair few from the Levant Arab countries, North Africa, East Asia, Europe, North America, South Africa, and Australia. The world within a city. In my short time here, I’ve already met people from more countries than I can count.
So far everyone I’ve met here thinks I’m Arab – a preconception that disappears the moment I open my mouth. The moment they realise I don’t speak any Arabic, they know I’m Indian.
The Solo Lady Traveller
Despite the fact that I’m the only woman I’ve encountered travelling on my own, people here have all been polite and helpful. Then again, I’m also an expert at ignoring people and avoiding eye contact. All I do is wear sunglasses and voila I’m invisible to the gaze of others and vice versa.
I’m also dressed modesty. And by that I mean I’m wearing baggy pants, loose-fitting clothes and an undershirt for no real reason. I’ve even rolled my hair in a bun and put a hat on my head to protect myself from the 50 degrees can-hardly-breathe dry heat. The heat hits me like a slap in the face the moment I walk out of the cool constantly air-conditioned hotel.
I catch my reflection before I walk out the door. If I saw me, I wouldn’t look at me either…
By 4pm, the shops reopen for business. The area around my hotel goes from a quiet sunny ghost town to a bustling lively mini cosmopolitan city. In Arabic, the word souq means market. Souq Waqif means standing market. It doesn’t look like much from outside, but the moment I walk in, I’m transported into a maze-like metropolis with shops selling everything. And I really do mean EVERYTHING.
Handicrafts. Souvenirs. Trinkets. Scarfs. Gold. Clothes. Spices. Lamps. Even pets. Oh yes. I saw birds, cats, rabbits and even roosters. And I could have sworn I saw falcons.
It’s a feast for all the senses. The smells. The scents. The people. The haggling. The touting. The perfume shops. The clothing shops. The cloth shops. The restaurants. The sheesha bars. The people sitting outside doing nothing. The people sitting in the shops doing nothing. The languages. I heard everything from Hindi, to Tamil, to Arabic, to Tagalog, to Persian, to…
I saw life. I saw a space for everyone to meet and make a living the old-school way. The free market. There is an undeniable charm to Souq Wadiq that comes from having an old soul and a long history that brings together people from all countries, languages and creeds. I loved each moment. It was short-lived, but felt deep.
When I get to the end of the maze-like souq, I see the ‘modern’ part of Doha out in the distance covered in dust. Somehow it doesn’t appeal to me. I turn around and head back into my beloved souq before returning to my hotel.
After all, Doha is a transit city. It’s time to pack my bags and head to my destination. Whilst packing, I hear the Adhan’s call to prayer in the background. It has been too long. It has been too long.