„If someone gets angry, I let him. I just say 'Allah karim' and he will calm down. Never say something about Jesus to a Muslim,“ advised our taxi driver in Doha – like practically everyone we met in Qatar not a Qatari himself.
The taxi driver is from Nepal, raised by a Hindu mother and a Christian father. „So I know both religions,“ he explains. Although there is a huge Hindu population in Doha, there is no Hindu temple because the community lacks influence, but there are a few Christian churches. „Right now, I go to church with a friend on Sundays, because he is paying for the taxi anyway,“ our taxi driver goes on. We love this down-to-earth attitude.
When we booked our flight to Sri Lanka with Qatar Airways we knew that we wanted to do a stopover in the gulf country. After some discussion on what to see and do, and about the costs, we settled for three nights, still unsure whether this would turn out to be too long in a city we imagined to be very clean and strict. In the end we totally loved our stay.
Doha is not a city for pedestrians. They do have pedestrian sidewalks almost everywhere, but literally NOBODY is ever walking, except for some Western expats along the Corniche who see the walking as a work-out. Fuel is cheap and the cars are big, so if you are willing to drive, spend the money on a rental car, and don’t get easily frustrated by traffic jams, this might be your best option. We walked anyway and also used the fairly regular if somewhat time-consuming public bus system to get around. The front rows are reserved for women, and all our fellow passengers were foreigners too, mostly labourers from Egypt, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and some other countries. In everyday life you hardly have dealings with Qataris, because all the shopkeepers, drivers etc. are from abroad. A few times it happened to us that a Qatari pulled in his big car next to us (walking on the wide, empty pavement), just to ask if we needed any help.
As Germans we needed a visa to get into the country, but this was decidedly the easiest visa process we ever experienced. No application forms to fill out, no explanation why you want to stay in the country, no proof of onward ticket. You just hand over your credit card, give you fingerprint and get the stamp.
What impressed us most in Doha was the stunning modern architecture – especially the New Mosque in Education City, as well as the other buildings in Education City with its modern university campus buildings and some architecture quite devoid of any function, as far as we could see. The architectural and cultural highlight in the city centre was definitely the Museum of Islamic Art by I.M. Pei, built in the harbour. As often with his buildings, the outside structure reveals almost nothing about the inner layout and function. While using a lot of traditional Islamic elements, such as cupolas, stars, and geometric design, he combined them with new materials, duplicated them and arranged them in a new way.
In the evening we strolled through the Souq Waqif (yes, we went there on all three evenings!), advertised as the most beautiful souq of the Arabian Peninsula (possibly rightly so but then we don't know any others). During the day the trading district seemed a bit Disneyesque as it consists of all new buildings but in traditional style; but in the evening it became really lively with foreigners, tourists and Qataris alike. There is a huge choice of superb restaurants with fair prices and we had dinner there on three consecutive days.
We stayed in the Youth Hostel, quite outside the city centre, which was the cheapest room we could find for around 60 Euro for the en-suite double. Most of the other guests were workers from Egypt and Sri Lanka and it took us a 60 minute bus ride to get there. We liked the fact, however, that it was in a lively neighbourhood with a lot of smaller shops.
Next time, we are going to rent a car to see more of the country outside the capital (mostly desert), we will probably not recognize the city because of ever new sky-scrapers – and we will probably again eat happily in the Souq Waqif whenever we have the opportunity …