If you have not made a conscious decision to go there, you will not suddenly find yourself in the middle of the desert unless you are dreaming. Yet, once you had been there, you will realise that you were already in love.
The Qatari driver, with the confidence of a desert master behind the wheel, changes the tyres as part of his daily routine,which is a number one ‘must - do’ experience before attempting solo driving in the desert. This is a contemporary desert safari using vehicles with sat-nav, high protection sun creams, the latest design sun hats, the latest model cell phones and a mini- refrigerator at the back of the jeep; new - age adventures’ with a touch of comfort. The driver seems as if he is never lost in this huge desert as it is almost as if the sat-nav is excess baggage.There is a sense that if we were to get irretrievably here and be our host in the desert. or it fails. He is sure of his place, always driving in a way to impress us, while we rise and fall on the sand hills. After many slides over the hills, we reach the coast where the desert and the sea meet. We are now out of the comfort zone. The sound of the engine melts down in the silence of the desert.; an infinite silence, a balanced heat. The desert is now like a coffee at its best.
When you meet the sea after climbing the hills of sand, the desert safari becomes a magical experience. I remember that moment particularly. The desert was so silent that I felt uncomfortable with my voice. If you are there on a calm day, you will feel this too. Once you get used to the silence, the desert starts to speak to your heart.
I landed into Qatar in a very humid day of August. Actually ,I’m not event sure that ‘humid’ correctly defines the feeling I had on that day, or the following months and years that I spent there. I remember thinking that people who come to Qatar from different countries
of the world are like bugs who fly towards the light,unperturbed or undeterred by the crazy heat. I ‘m pretty sure that people from all over the world experience similar feelings when first stepping into a Middle Eastern country.
The following months and years passed for me, with many departures and landings in Qatar, each invoking different feelings, which were most intense when I returned back home. Qatar, where I moved for work purpose 8years ago, used to be a country whose name was rarely heard in Turkey.
Over the years, it has cleverly manoeuvred itself into a place with an international reputation for the film festivals, the Asian Games, culture and art centres, museums and skyscrapers that multiply each month in silhouette of the city. Following this glorious rise , the best chain hotels, has turned the city into a pleasure centre.
The 5-star hotel chains’ have brought with them the restaurants serving numerous international cuisine, pampering spas and night clubs, contributing to the city’s social life and making Qatar an attractive city. More than that, all this social life has made it easier to withstand the heat. The chic and luxury hotels offer water sports within the city, without the need to drive to the seaside. But in order to feel like a genuine Qatari, one must experience the desert safari, which I tried in my very first week in Qatar and will never forget.
Another must-do, is to leave behind the chic and luxury services of the hotels and hang out in the traditional ‘souq’, which will enable you to feel that and discover a different culture.
The ‘Souq’, meaning ‘market’ or ‘bazaar’, takes you into a magical and authentic atmosphere without the unnatural lights of the shopping malls and their regulated heat, always set at 18 degrees. Here you can discover the beauty of golden desert days and the real Arabic culture. There is a variety of shops in the Souq: Indian shop owners selling colourful fabrics, local shops selling dishdasha – the traditional dress for men-, abaya -the traditional dress for women-, oriental slippers, and the dusty shops where you feel dizzy from the smell of intense fragrances or feel as if you are lost in the story of Aladdin’s Magical Lamp. Surrounded by people of all nationalities- especially Qataris, smoking shisha in front of the cafes, or sitting in traditional dress inside the authentic restaurant -and the policemen on horseback with their fancy sunglasses, it may seem to you as if you are in a film set. The souq is not very big, but one must experience its starry nights, the candlelight decor of the restaurants, the narrow streets and exotic smells evoking the tale of the One Thousand and One Nights, whilst appreciating the tones of yellow in its walls and the mystical atmosphere before sunset.
Qatar, is an ambitious country of expanding cities and attractive opportunities, which is well worth seeing. The multinational population, the colours of the city, stunning high-tech skyscraper designs, the latest car models, proud Qatari people, international restaurants, chic hotels and westernized yet oriental atmosphere makes Qatar a unique place.
All these contrasts enrich the city and alleviate the effect of its challenging climate. For those who travel to Qatar, either for a stopover or to stay for while, the taste of the Tales of One Thousand and One Nights remains in the mouth.