August 2, 2017

Doha, Qatar

While traveling to Bangkok, Thailand, in July for the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance, I flew thru Doha, Qatar, on Qatar Airways. During my first stop, I only had a few hours so I explored Hamad International Airport, which includes its famous 23-foot-tall Lamp Bear, a bunch of shops, and some nice restaurants.



On the way home, I had about more than 20 hours, so I left the airport to check out the city. I visited Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a few years ago on a similar long layover and was excited to explore another modern Middle Eastern city making a name for itself.

In Doha, I visited the Museum of Islamic Art, Pearl-Qatar (artificial island with lots of shopping venues), Souq Waqif (traditional market), Katara Cultural Village, and the modern skyscrapers. Each stop was interesting, and the city is beautiful (though it was quite hot and humid, so it's probably best to not visit in July).




Doha is far behind Dubai in extravagance and spectacle, but it still boasts many impressive buildings and its own artificial island. However, Doha - and Qatar as a whole - seems focused on trying to not just build bigger modern building but also create a sense of national heritage. Thus, many structures are designed to evoke a sense of the ancient. Even if not actually matching the lifestyle of the Bedouin people of the past, there is still an old feel to the many of the new buildings. Additionally, the nation's leaders have built traditions - like falconry and camel racing - that suggest a heritage of centuries.




The efforts to create a sense of national identity might be particularly important now. In the time between when I booked my flights and when I actually traveled, a disagreement erupted between Qatar and several other Gulf nations (most notably Saudi Arabia). The controversy started shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia, and he has publicly supported that nation even as other U.S. officials attempt to remain neutral.

The effort by Saudi Arabia to pull Qatar into its orbit and gain more control of the Gulf region has actually backfired. The blockade and demands have led the people in tiny Qatar to rally in support of their emir (ruler). I saw countless images of him - on cars, businesses, homes - that my tour guide said went up since the conflict started. The only other impacts of the controversy I noted is tourism is down and our flight paths had to go around the other nations like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates (which added a little time to the flights).




If you find an opportunity to book a flight thru Doha or Dubai, I would recommend it - especially if you book a layover of more than 20 hours so you can explore the city. If you just see one, I'd pick Dubai, but both are worth the journey.

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