Travelling around Qatar, a land that has leapt quickly into the 21st century, it was apparent that people remained conscious of their history and tradition. In spite of the oil wealth of the last few decades, Qataris maintain honoured Arab virtues of generosity, hospitality and respect for guests. If invited to a Qatari home, the friendliness and generosity of the host will be boundless. These traditions, up-to-date tourist facilities and the country's attractive modern architecture, influenced by Qatar's Arab-Islamic past, draw annually an ever-increasing number of tourists, upwards of million.
The appealing virtues of the inhabitants of this 11,437 sq km (4,416 sq mi) peninsula, jutting out 160 km (100 mi) into the Arabian/Persian Gulf, have been developed through the centuries. Stone Age settlements dating back to 8,000 B.C. were discovered in a number of places. In the classical age, the Greek historian, Herodotus, mentions that Qatar's early inhabitants were Canaanites, reputed for commercial and sea-faring skills. In the 7th century A.D., the country became a part of the Islamic world and has remained so ever since.
Beginning in the Middle Ages, Portuguese, Turks and lastly the British fought for control of what was once an almost total desert land. On September 3rd, 1971, Qatar gained its independence. The road to building a modern nation began, and has never stopped. In less than a few decades, from almost total desert land, the country became a rich modern nation with extensive social benefits for its inhabitants.
Doha, the capital where half of Qatar's 900,000 people live, is a fine example of how the country has been transformed. From a dusty small town, modern day Doha has become a delightful metropolis of luxurious hotels and air-conditioned malls, eye-catching in its beauty. Mile after mile of modern structures, many crowned with colourful domes and minarets and featuring other traditional Arabic patterns, are rimmed by tree-lined boulevards.
The National Museum, a delightful and renovated old palace built in Arab design; Al Bida Park, an oasis of greenery; the newly rebuilt Souq Waqif, the oldest souq in Doha; the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex, a sparkling white attractive Arab-type complex; the Post Office, seemingly out of the Arabian Nights; and the architecturally beautiful mosques, like the Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq and Omar bin Khattab Mosques, give a truly oriental aura to the city. Unlike most developing nations, this country's engineers have utilized the benefits of modern construction without rejecting the time-honoured methods of building.
Crowning these appealing structures is the palm-lined 7 km (4 mi) Corniche, stretching along the city's waterfront to anchor at the Majestic Doha Sheraton
Hotel. Pleasant to saunter or jog along, it imbues the city with a sense of beauty, seduction and open space.
When one tires of strolling, a five minute taxi ride away is Aladdin's Kingdom, an amusement park of greenery, fountains and rides, or the nearby Qatar University with its eye-catching architecture as well as Doha Golf Course and Club, one of the largest
in the Middle East with a striking Arabian-style clubhouse. If enamoured with the creatures of the wild, Doha's Zoo, with its large
collection of animals, is only half an hour's drive from the city centre. Also, there are oryx farms; a permit is needed to visit these sanctuaries where a large number of this endangered species roams free.
If a visitor yearns for the traditional, a short walk from the Corniche is the Moorish-style Al Koot Fort built by the Ottomans and now an exhibition centre for local handicrafts. Outside its doors are the old and new souks with their wealth and variety of merchandise. Here, a traveller can spend hours amid silks and spices in a world of oriental splendour.
For visitors, embellishing the city's attributes are the dhow cruises, desert safaris and hospitably of the people. Gracious to guests, Qataris welcome strangers like long lost relatives, making them feel at home.
Tourist visas are required in advance, except for citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Kingdom. These can be obtained from Qatari Embassies abroad or via top class hotels and other sponsors submitting applications to the Immigration Department. Visas are usually provided within 24 hours and are valid for 14 days. They can be extended for another 14 days.
Autos are reasonable to rent. A small auto, fully insured, costs less than $300 per week. Roads are excellent and visitors can use their country's driving licence for 7 days; for a longer period, a temporary Qatari licence is needed. Beware! A fine for a speeding offence is hefty.
The U.S. dollar is equal to 3.65 Qatari Riyal (QR). The rate has remained the same for over two decades. Exchange cash or traveller cheques at the money exchangers. They give a better rate.
It is easy to move around the city; taxis are metered and are reasonable. If the meter is not being used, negotiate price before taking a taxi. Taxis from the airport to the city centre - cost 50 QR.
For arranged tours of Doha and other parts of Qatar see this website:
The best time to travel to Qatar is from November to March when the climate is cool and pleasant.
Towns to see near to Doha: Al-Wakrah - once Qatar's main fishing and pearling town and noted for its traditional architecture; Umm Said, the country's industrial capital, noted for its fertilizer, iron, steel, petrochemical and oil refining plants as well as for its Beach Resort; and Al-Khor, an old port with a harbour full of dhows; the town boasts a museum, an old market place and fine beaches.
Habeeb Salloum has authored numerous books, his latest: Arab Cooking On A Saskatchewan Homestead: Recipes And Recollections - winner of the Cuisine Canada and The University of Guelph's Silver Canadian Culinary Book Awards in Winnipeg in 2006. He contributes to Forever Young (Oakville), Contemporary Review (Oxford, UK), Canadian World Traveller (Quebec) and the Toronto Star.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
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