DOHA DIARIES: The history, culture, architecture & people!

The history, culture, architecture & people

As we went through profiling at Kotoka International Airport (KIA), Gideon from Adansi Travels quipped: “The check-in procedure in this COVID-19 era has become like a doctor trying to diagnose a sickness”.

Anyway, the last-minute upgrade to Business Class at the boarding gate made that experience quickly slip into oblivion. As we used the aerobridge to access flight QR 1424 bound for Doha, the cabin exuded class and the crew was pristine, warm, self-aware and pleasant to a fault – yes, that’s their job; but these ones embodied the ethos of their profession.

I have a confession to make – I have always wondered why some sets of individuals would spend more money to be in a different cabin on the same flight. The truth is that they are paying for convenience, priority and privilege. The experience brought this into sharp focus for me! There was a place for everything and everything was in its place in this cabin. The inflight safety instructions video had footballers in the dressing room, led by Lewandowski being used to disseminate safety information in a humour-laced fashion. There was no way you would tune out unless you emplaned while being pursued by an evil spirit.

When Qatar pipped Australia and Japan to be selected for hosting the World Cup in 2022, not many people had heard about them. But as we inch closer to 2022, Qatar has become a household name – just like Corona and its corollary variants or strains. Qatar is the smallest country and the first Arab one ever to host the tournament. And it’s the first to be held in winter – lots of firsts for Qatar!

What does one need to have before travelling to Doha in this time of a pandemic? Having procured your airline ticket from Qatar Airways, secured your accommodation, applied for permit of entry – which should be approved before you pack your luggage and, of course, visa – the most important document.

The order of arrangement should have been visa first, permit of entry application and the rest – but once in a while we need to upset the normal order of things, right? Let it be known that, currently, the only African country that Qatar issues visas for at the moment is Rwanda; but, hopefully, next year it is expected they will broaden the scope to cover as many countries as possible.

One may ask how we (Gideon of Adansi Travels, Alberta of Eurotour, Linda of Bindu Travels, Mawuli of Landtours, Dagmar of Kumasi Travels and myself) got to enter without a visa. The leader of the delegation, Mr. Jonathan Lambert Awuletey, and the team from Discover Qatar got us to travel on a FAN ID (please, don’t ask me what that is). Lest I forget, you will have to download Ehteraz on playstore and get it activated when you touchdown in Doha.  Ehteraz is like Oxygen in Qatar at this time of the pandemic; without it you cannot access hotels, stadiums, malls and other public places – Ehteraz is king, and it rules with an iron fist!

How well do you know Qatar?

Qatar was originally settled by Bedouin nomads from the central part of the Arabian Peninsula. The word Qatar means a peninsula extending northward from the Arabian mainland into the Persian Gulf.  Qatar’s ruling family, the house of Thani, has ruled Qatar since 1868 – when Mohammed bin Thani signed a treaty with the British. The current Emir is Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who has reigned over the country since 2013 and has three (3) wives who have the title Sheikha. The royal family has their own private airport – imagine my reaction when I heard that!

Qatari citizens (indigenes of Qatar) however constitute only a small portion of the total population – roughly one ninth. It is worth pointing out that the ratio of men to women in Qatar is 1:3. The Qatar flag was all over the country and one cannot help but notice them. Did you know that the nine serrated edges are meant to signify Qatar’s inclusion as the ninth member of the ‘reconciled Emirates’ of the Persian Gulf during a treaty with the British in 1916?

In our hotel, Westin, whose tagline I loved – ‘Let’s rise’, I quipped to my colleagues that Qatar is like the United Nations headquarters, considering the many different nationalities in our hotel alone; Indians, Kenyans, Nepalese, Moroccans, Lebanese, Ugandans to mention a few.

Qatar is a traditional Muslim country where they expect expats to respect their culture, values and norms, and to dress and act conservatively in public. Our tour-guide Vanessa – who had been in Qatar for 7 years and witnessed rainfall that lasted for less than a minute only twice – from Discover Qatar was very particular about how the women among us should dress when we had to visit the National Museum of Qatar.

Oh, how I enjoyed my time in the museum: rich history in a symbolic edifice! The apparel of the men is mostly a thobe – a long white shirt over loose pants with their gahfiya on their head and a scarf on top being held in position by the gutra that’s held on with a black rope known as the agal. The women cover their hair with a black head-dress called Shayla while covering themselves with a black dress called Abayha. The official language is Arabic; hence everything is written in Arabic with a corresponding translation in English – from road signs to room numbers of hotel, customised tissues, menus at hotels among others, Arabic is featured prominently.

During our tour of the city, we noticed that there seemed to be lots of construction work taking place in the country, so we surmised it was all geared toward the World Cup of 2022. Most of their residential facilities have similar shapes, moulds and designs, with lots of geometric symbols used in the design – there is a history to that.

The national museum of Qatar was built by Jean Nouvel and the structure has the symbol of a desert rose with petals intersecting at various points. The building is at the cutting-edge of technology, just like Qatar itself. The museum has 213-seat auditorium, food service areas, panoramic restaurants, public-park, and a parking space for close to 430 cars. Inside the auditorium, the sound quality, lighting, razor-sharp images of the projections were top-notch.

The history that stood out for me was the Pearl Carpet of Baroda; it is embroidered with around 1.5 million Basra pearls. In addition to that, it was covered with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies. It was described as one of the most remarkable objects ever created. It was originally intended to cover the tomb of Prophet Mohammed at Medina. The security at that place is such that you should perish any thought of a heist -oh yes!

Another interesting place we visited was the Al Thumama Stadium to watch the FIFA Arab cup match between Tunisia and UAE. We were rooting for Tunisia, and they lived up to the billing by beating UAE 1 goal to nil. The shape of the stadium is like a head covering known as gahfiya, and it has a 40,000-seating capacity. It is part of the 8 stadia that will be used to stage the World Cup. The torch Doha, Banana Island & resort among others were also visited.

We went, we saw and we experienced! It is my fervent hope that the Ghana Black Stars qualify for the world cup next year, so that as many Ghanaians as possible can take advantage to plan a trip. Touch wood, if they don’t qualify still put a visit to Doha on your bucket list!!

Some Qatar Trivia

  • The private enterprises working hours are from 8-2pm & 4-8pm
  • Did you know that they have a hospital called the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital for falcons, and it’s the second-largest falcon hospital in the world?
  • Did you know that some falcons have passports that makes it possible for them to travel in Economy or business class?
  • Did you know that the penalty for jumping a red light is as high as 6,000 QR (US$1,645.00)
  • Qatar is the second-flattest country in the world – bad news for hikers!
  • Khor Al Adaid, or the island sea, is one of the few places in the world where the sea meets the desert.
  • Qatar was named the safest city in the world in 2017 & 2019.
  • The Qatar flag is the only one in the world that has a width more than twice the size of its height

The writer is the Business Development Manager, Krishna Travels & Tours

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