Check out how Qatar makes a luxe Desert getaway
Qatar’s breeze, food and lifestyle has us weak in the knees and itching for a revisit.
When was the last time you have been to an inland sea tucked within a desert? Or maybe took a stroll along the most picturesque corniche, where the breeze made you relax with a cuppa and chapatis with cheese and honey? And you can get all of these and more in the land where recently Lionel Messi lifted his much-deserving FIFA World Cup. We are talking about Qatar, of course.
Qatar is well connected with most Indian cities, and it takes 5-7 hours at the most to reach. And if you are opting for Qatar Airways, just like we did, the flight is indeed a super-comfortable one. From the moment we touched down at the Hamad Airport in Doha, which is ranked second among the 10 best airports in the world this year, it was exactly as we envisioned it would be — suave and smooth.
As we got acclimatised, we discovered that Qatar is more than just the fast cars, glitzy malls and skyscrapers. Behind the flashy exteriors, lies a calmer, laid-back country with pristine beaches, well-planned tourist spots such as museums and activity centres, a thriving culinary scene and a mixed population from all parts of the world, with Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Indians topping the list.
Qatar will not just engage you with some chill spots, but it will also keep your little ones busy with several sprawling activity centres. A guided tour of the National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) makes for a perfect start to your trip. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning French architect Jean Nouvel, the NMoQ draws inspiration from and recreates the naturally occurring crystals known as desert rose. Built around the first Qatar Emir Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim AlThani’s original palace, and the seat of power for 25 years, the 430,500 sq ft museum showcases Qatar’s heritage and celebrates its future. Interestingly, the museum structure has no pillars and is supported by 539 disks resembling the desert rose. The recent installation Your Brain to Me, My Brain to You, impressed us with crystal and glass work and changing lights creating a mesmerising view. Post our museum recce, the nearby Mina district was quite a discovery and can easily take the epithet of Qatar’s Burano with a cluster of small, colourful buildings, overlooking the sea. We walked through the winding alleys, checking out the docks and admiring the buildings while sipping a karak (Qatar’s version of a masala chai) with some cookies and the softest chapatis at the famed Karak MQanes. The end of the corniche leads to a fish market — one of the cleanest that we have seen to date — loaded with the freshest seafood.
A trip to Qatar is incomplete without a visit to the Souq Waqif, the whimsical alleyways in the heart of the city. This iconic locale is replete with all kinds of souvenirs including oud fragrance, fridge magnets, bakhoor with burners, wooden boxes and traditional and food options and we stocked up on all the rare and exotic local savouries and sweets, especially Turkish truffles and baklavas to cherish back home.
The next day we wasted no time visiting Khor Al Adaid, the inland sea. It was a hell of an adrenaline rush, exploring 11,437 sq km of desert only an hour’s drive away from Doha. It was an exhilarating rollercoaster trip as we sped, glided and dune-bashed across the Qatari desert. As the day started to get warmer the inland sea with its crystal clear blue water was what we needed to dip our feet in. Khor Al Adaid is not just beautiful, it’s surreal. Oh, don’t forget to visit the oryxes at the farm amid the desert.
To get a feel of the urbane chic side of city life, we dropped in at the Villaggio Mall, located on Al Waab Street at the city’s west end. Designed in a Venetian style, the mall instantly transported us to Venice. Crowded with restaurants, movie theatres, a kid-friendly Gondola theme park, and a unique Gondola Ride, you will scramble for time to look around properly.
And how could we not have a look around the humungous stadiums built around Lusail city for the recently-concluded FIFA World Cup? A walk around Lusail city located across 38 sq km takes you through a blend of residential and commercial neighbourhoods including two dozen hotels, golf courses and an amusement park. We also spotted the famed buildings including Katara Towers, Marina Twin Towers, and Cube Towers among them.
The trip ended on a high note at the Katara Cultural Village. Built along the Katara Beach waterfront, the enigmatic village with cobbled alleys houses a brilliant amphitheatre, art galleries, Al Thuraya Planetarium, workshops, and performance venues besides fine diners.
For those whose trips are incomplete without a visit to religious places, the two beautiful mosques in Qatar offer more reasons than prayers to visit them. The blue mosque or the Katara Masjid, is the first one to be designed by a renowned woman mosque designer from Turkey, Zainab Fadil Oglu. The mosque features an outer surface garnished with turquoise and purple mosaic with equally attractive interiors. The Golden Masjid, on the other hand is gar nished with extremely small golden chips, representing the typical Ottoman style.
A treat for the kids
If you love adventures, Quest, Qatar’s first-ever indoor theme park, will keep you and your kids engaged with adrenaline-packed rides and attractions. We also spent a half-day at the Hilton Salwa Beach Resort, nearer to Saudi borders. The resort combines beachfront relaxation with an adventure theme park and is home to 3.5 km of private beach area, a luxury spa, a marina and a water and thrill park. The Desert Falls Water & Adventure Park will just not give your kids the best time, but you can also relax and see all your woes take a backseat.
And if you plan to visit during the winter months, Lusail Winter Wonderland is worth a trip for its 50 top-notch rides and attractions including the Qatar Airways forest train inside the Qatar Airways festive forest.
Diverse culinary fest
We were lucky to catch the ongoing Qatar International Food Festival (QIFF) that celebrates the country’s diverse food and beverages besides live cooking classes by award-winning chefs. Apart from middle-eastern cuisines, we tried out the overwhelming savouries from the famed Thai diner Saffron. To get a taste of Syrian, Arabian and Lebanese palates, Damasca One at Souq Waqif, Yasmine Palace and Bayt el Talleh respectively are great choices. The milk-based desserts loaded with pistachios were the highlight of the meals.
A trip to remember
From being guided by Al Maha representatives for our immigration process to getting picked up in a high-end Mercedes SUV, to staying at the opulent Al Messila, Qatar, with its impeccable hospitality, was an extravagant and luxurious experience from the word go.