A Qatar Guide for Tourists and Residents
Home   Qatar   Doha   Contact   Qatar Jobs   Qatar Map   Request

Monday, October 30, 2006

Qatar: First World or Third World?

Qatar is very proud of its modern architecture and beautiful buildings.

Modern Qatar buildings

But not every corner of Qatar is as advanced...

A courtyard in a poor area of Doha

It was my housekeeper, after seeing my pictures of Qatar, who advised me to photograph this area where many Indian and Pakistani workers live.

A poor area of Doha

More Qatar Images

Builders in Qatar

Buy books on Qatar and the Middle East Book Hotels in Qatar


Driving in Qatar: practical information

(Updated 7/11/06)

Which of the road do people drive on?

Supposedly on the right, but generally wherever they feel like. (See Driving: Qatar Style for photo!)

Is it safe?
I reckon I experience an average of three hairy incidents per short journey. (Count on a lot more during rush hour). You will get forced off the road by people driving on the wrong side, screech to a halt to avoid people lunging into your right of way into roundabouts, learn to pause a second before going through a green light because of people shooting the lights... in a word, NO!

So, rush hour is bad?

Yes, and they have four, because many people work split shifts.

Can I use my driving licence in Qatar?

You can use your licence for one week only, and then you have to exchange it for a Qatari driving licence. Alternatively, you can use an international licence for 6 months.

Hang on. I can get a tourist or business visa for two weeks, but only use my driving licence for one week. That doesn't make sense!

Welcome to Qatar!

How do I exchange my licence for a Qatari one?

It depends on your nationality.

Most Westerners can change their licence at the Medinat Khalifat Traffic Department without taking a driving test. You will need your passport or ID card, three photos (these can be obtained at the typists’ offices outside the department), original driving licence and your sponsor’s ID. Your sponsor will have to sign/stamp a form, and may also have to provide a letter. You will have to complete a form in Arabic – there are plenty of typists who will do this for five riyals or so.

If you wear glasses, you must be wearing them in the photo, or you will not be allowed to wear them in the eye test.(They don’t allow you to draw the glasses on, either.)

How long do the licences last?

Five years for residents (ten for Qataris). Expired, damaged and lost passports can be renewed on-line at Qatar E-government.

Where are these typists?

Don’t worry; they’ll jump on you as soon as you get out of your vehicle. They’ll also offer to do all the paperwork. You have the eye test, sign a few forms and leave them to do all the running around. Bargain hard, though.

What about other nationalities?

Sorry guys, you need to do a test. Sometimes you can do the test directly; other times they seem to insist you do a driving course. You’ll have to go to the Traffic Department first and get the driving licence application form completed, signed, signed by your sponsor, stamped by your sponsor, stamped by the traffic department, signed by the traffic deparment and so on (you get the picture), and then give it to the driving school.

How much does a driving course cost?

A full course of 50 lessons costs 1,850 riyals ($500) and a half course costs 1,350 riyals ($370). There's also a 40 lesson course for 1,600 riyals ($440). If you've driven before you might get a 12 lesson course for 600 riyals ($160). A driving test currently costs 50 riyals ($15).

What’s the driving test like?

Even though nobody in Qatar can drive, the test is really difficult. Particularly notorious is the Pocket Parking – manoeuvring your car backwards into a small place. You have to do it in one go, although you can take as long as you want. You can also fail if you stall the car. The theory test is quite easy – the examiner points at a sign and you say what it is.

Can I get finance to buy a car?

With ease. Just ask at your bank.

Where can I buy a car?

Loads of places. There are new car dealers and second hand car dealers. Salwa Road has a lot of second hand dealers, and there are car auctions. Also look in the local newspapers, on supermarket walls (Mega Mart always has a good selection) and on Qatar Living.

Buying second hand cars is always dodgy, though.

Yes, but they have some absolutely brilliant garages here which function purely to test your cars for you. The German Auto Mechanics are especially good. They’ll even tell you how much you should pay for the car.

What sort of price am I talking for a second-hand car?

Of course there’s a huge variation in price but think around 15,000 riyals (about four thousand US dollars) for a half decent second hand car. Double that and you should get a really good car. American cars are a lot cheaper than Japanese cars, but parts are more expensive. We're talking about sedans here, though, four wheel drives are quite a lot more expensive.

Four by fours are probably a safe bet in such a dangerous country.

Maybe, but they overturn easily. If you’re buying one second hand, bear in mind it may have had rough use in the desert.

Do I need car insurance?

Yes, but it is very good value. Incredible, really, considering how many accidents there are. There are insurers outside the traffic department. However, if you buy from a dealer he may be able to get you a better price. Incidentally, your insurance is not valid when you drive in the desert.

Is there anything else I need?

All cars need a road permit. Cars older than three years must first pass an annual inspection of road worthiness - (you'll also need this before you can get your car insured). The inspection can be done at Qatar Technical Inspection Unit in the Industrial area (24th street) for 75 riyals (Tel: 460 4029/460 4086). The centre is open from six in the morning to half past five in the afternoon. You’ll need your expiring Estimara. Many garages will put your car through the test for you, repair anything it fails on and then resubmit it. Having done the test take it the vehicle inspection and registration counter next door along with your insurance to obtain your new Estimara. (See Marhaba Information Guide Issue 34 p.270).

In the event of an accident...

Don’t move, even if you are holding up half of Doha. (You can move if it is a minor accident and both parties agree on the details, but most people prefer not to). Call the police. They will come, and make notes and give you a time to be at a police station. You will have to go to this appointment to obtain a police report. Without this report, you can’t get your car fixed.

Traffic offences

Qatar is committed to reducing traffic offences. It’s certainly increasing the number of speed camera – including on new roads with no visible speed limits. To check if you’ve committed a traffic offence, go to Qatar E-government, and enter your registration number and vehicle type. You can also pay your fine here. (Interest is charged on unpaid fines).

Drinking and driving

There is zero tolerance. As there is Sharia law, Muslim offenders will be lashed. If there is a trial involved, you can’t leave the country until the trial is held. This can be months and months. In the meantime, you may lose your job and accommodation ... basically, it’s not worth taking the risk.

Is it easy to rent a car?

Extremely. There are hundreds of car rental places.

Useful Numbers/addresses

Traffic Department
Tel: 4890644
Location: in Madinat Khalifa (North), off Khalifa Street, close to Al Gharrafa flyover.

Driving schools in Doha

Al Rayah Driving School
PO Box 747 Tel: 4877774

Doha Driving Centre
PO Box 9896 Tel: 4792263

Gulf Driving School (close to the airport)
PO Box 15154 Tel: 4652822

United Driving Co
PO Box 15154 Tel: 4681003

Car Insurance

Al Khaleej Insurance P.O. Box 4414151 Tel: 4414151

Car Breakdown Service

Cedars Motor and Trading Service P.O. Box 23323, Doha; Tel. 4500600


See Driving: Qatar Style

See Books on Qatar

Driving in Tehran

As good as new



Sunday, October 29, 2006

Finding Accommodation in the Asian Games

Following on from our post on Cheap Hotels in Qatar, we look at the availability of hotel rooms during the Qatar Asian Games.

“It’s gonna be really tough, really tough for the whole of November and December,” said David, Sales Executive at Sofatel Hotel (details below), solemnly, before admitting that yes, they did still have some rooms available.

We were talking about accommodation in the Asian Games. Rumours that there are no rooms left in Doha maybe exaggerated, as I found out when I visited some hotels this morning. Howver, you will have a tough time finding in a room in any top range hotels. Sealine beach resort, for example, is now fully booked from 9th – 15th December despite being in the middle of nowhere. Your best bet will probably be with the smaller and cheaper hotels mentioned in our previous post.

Also expect to pay a lot more than normal. Doha Palace Hotel (details below) normally charge 500 ($140) riyals for a single rooms, and 700 ($190) for a double. However, during November and December they will be charging 1000 ($270) and 1200 ($330) respectively. (They still had rooms availaible). Sofatel refused (very politely) to give me any prices directly.

If you are looking for a hotel room, you may be in competition. I met the first secretary of the Indonesian Embassy at a party recently, and he very gloomily told me that they were having a terrible time finding accommodation. Indonesian residents here, he told me, are even putting up journalists on their living rooms floors. Hopefully, you’ll find somewhere a little more comfortable.

Hotel details:

Doha Palace Hotel Tel: +974 4360101 Fax 4423955

Mercure (everyone calls it Sofatel!) Tel: +974 4462005 Fax: + 974 443 9186

Book a Holiday!

Last minute holidays at Thomas Cook, prices from £79 - Click here

British Airways Holidays


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cheap Qatar Hotels

Search for Qatar hotels on the internet and all the results you get are pricey. Fine if you’re on expenses, but what if you’re on a budget? We got on the phone and tried to find some cheaper places to stay.

Note - future updates will made to the Budget Hotels section of our website.

All the hotels mentioned here have rooms costing less than QR500 ($140). (Prices may change with demand). Discounts may be available if you or your family work in Qatar. This is not an all inclusive list, and inclusion does not constitute a recommendation by Qatar Visitor. Exchange rates are approximate and may be subject to change, although currently the riyal is tied to the American dollar.

Doha Youth Hostel
Tel: (974)5867180 (It's probably not worth ringing mid-day).
Fax: (974)4863968
Address: PO Box 9660, Doha, Qatar
Age: despite being a youth hostel they assured us there was no age limit.
Beds: 16 rooms and 56 beds.
Minimum stay: two nights.
Location: Al Lakka.
Price: currently 60 riyals ($15) per night, increasiing to 100 riyals ($25) on the 15/11/06.

Alzahra Hotel
PO Box 1043
Tel: 4321503
Single: QR200 ($55)
Double: QR220 ($60)
Location: “near Regency Hotel”
Rooms: “Too much” claimed the receptionist, and refused to give a number!

Almaha Palace Hotel
PO Box 5330
Tel 4367301
Single: 250 ($70)
Double: 350 ($95)
Location: Al Smakh
Rooms: 64

Qatar International Hotel
PO Box 2572
Tel: 4321761
PO Box 2572
Single: 300 ($80)
Double: 350 ($95)
Location: Wadi Mushereib Street behind Sofatel Hotel
Rooms: 40

New Capital Hotel
PO Box 1003
Tel: 4445445
Single: 350 ($95)
Double: 400 ($110)
Location: Wadi Mushereib Street near Sofatel Hotel
Rooms: 77

Guest Palace Hotel
PO Box 22182
Tel: 4411996
Single: 350 ($95)
Double: 450 ($125)
Location: Al Ghanim Al Ghadim Street, between “Crazy Roundabout” and Sennah Roundabout.
Rooms: 100

Al Muntazah Plaza Hotel
PO Box 9488
Tel 4355677
Fax 4355757
Email: info@almutazahlaza.com
Single room: QR400 ($110)
Double room: QR650 ($180)
Location: Al Muntazah (near KFC)
Rooms: 30
Apartments: 34

Gulf Horizon Hotel
PO Box 22182
Tel: 4432525
Single: 480 ($130)
Double: 580 ($160)
Note: Prices include all tax, service charges, breakfast and airport drop off.
Location: Soukh Al Jaber behind Standard Chartered Bank
Rooms: 76

Note - with the Asian Games coming up, expect prices to go up and availability to go down.

Search and Book Hotels with Expedia

Discount hotels at Trip Advisor

OctopusTravel Hotels

Qatar Luxury Hotel Guide


Friday, October 27, 2006

"Tell me more!": Information in Qatar

"We’re really spoilt for information in the U.K.," a friend said to me recently. It didn’t sink in straight away, but the more I thought of it the more I realised she was right.

Here are some examples of the total lack of information we have here:

- Tourist information: every time I go to a Qatar government tourist website, my heart lifts in joy as a beautiful flash introduction jumps onto the screen. At last, I think, I have found the website I need. Then I find that all the events advertised took place two years ago. And all this with the Asian Games only 30 days away! (Update 1st November 2006 - the Qatar Tourism Authority website has finally been updated!)

- Which leads onto the internet. Qatar must be fifteen years behind the rest of the world – there’s hardly anything on the web. (The exception being e-government – nice piece of work!)

- Visa information. Okay, it’s there all right, but every book and website has different information.

- Emails. With the total lack of information, you have to contact people directly and ask for it. One problem. No replies. Ever.

- Telephones: ditto. I got four replies out of twelve calls to property companies when researching my recent post on property. You have to ring people on their mobiles – which they’ll answer while driving, of course.

- Road works. Two days ago, as I swung onto C-ring road across a major city intersection, relieved to have made it back across the desert alive (all the dune-bashing nutters were heading back home) I nearly crashed into a barrier shutting off one of the main roads of the city. There was no warning sign. (Just in case you think I'm exaggerating, I returned the next day and made a video of other cars having the same problem).

- Speed signs and speeding. I recently got caught by a speed camera. It was in the desert, on a large empty road with no speed signs and I was doing 90 kilometres per hour (road speeds can go up to 120 here).

- Hospitals. I feel a little unfair here, as the health care is superb! (I know from experience). But the one area they lag behind the U.K. (and they’re ahead of them in others (food springs to mind (not that it’s hard to beat the U.K. in that area))) is keeping the patient informed.

- Work. Recently a lady friend had a job interview – but she didn’t know what for, what the wages were or what the position was – or even the name of the company! She drove all over the city looking for the place where she was to be interviewed, only to be driven back to the building opposite her apartment. And did she find out about the job from her prospective employers? No, she found out from the one interviewee who knew the details (and who in turn had found out from a friend in the company).

- Work. I only found out my wife wasn’t coming with me to Qatar when I went to pick up the plane tickets.

- Law. Can you believe the only company in the country allowed to sell alcohol claimed not to know anything about the laws regarding alcohol?

- Banks. When you leave the country you have to go through a long and lengthy process to cancel your bank account and credit card. What your bank (well, HSBC, anyway) doesn’t tell you is that they freeze your account for 30 days in the process, as my friend found out the day before he was due to go on holiday.

So next time you see a poster in the U.K. telling you the correct way to make a cup of tea safely – don’t complain. Better one extreme than the other.

Qatar Visitor bookshop.


Traffic Chaos: Video

Intersection Video

Background: A major Doha highway was recently and suddenly cut off. No warning signs (that I saw) were placed on the road leading up to the traffic lights.

The guy in the red jeep looks especially confused! At least it wasn't dark - I nearly crashed into this barrer the night before I took this video.

See a video on YouTube of traffic chaos in Doha Qatar

Qatar Sounds and Movies

Driving in Qatar

Buy Books on Qatar from Amazon UK


Reduce speed now

Reduce Speed Now Posted by Picasa
Qatar Images

Qatar Store

Pearl fishing in Qatar


Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Qtel has just posted profit growth of 33%. (See
Gulf Times story). Customers of the monopoly may not be as happy as its shareholders.

Qtel is expensive. ADSL starts at 200 riyals (over $50) a month. Installation costs a fortune. International rates are outrageous.

Qtel quote: “International calls at a price you can afford”. Presumably addressed to Bill Gates.

Qtel’s service should be excellent at the prices it charges. Yet the internet is slow and sometimes stops, its staff are unhelpful and crossed lines seem to be a daily occurrence. Bills are frequently wrong, and virtually impossible to get sorted.

Qtel is that strangest of things – a telephone company you have to visit in person if you want to get anything done. In fact, it sometimes seems to have more offices then telephones. And those offices are a giggle. They have a reception desk (i.e. your first queue of the day) to hand out application forms that could go in a rack, and give the same information, day in and day out, that could on a notice or in a leaflet.

And, when you finally get your telephone line, can you have ADSL? No, no, no! You have to wait two weeks. Which means that one engineer will visit your house to put in a phone socket, then two weeks later another engineer will visit to take out that socket, and put in an internet and phone socket. Self-install is, of course, unheard of – or rather, un-thought of.

In fact, Qtel looks suspiciously like a job creation and patronage scheme. The last people it appears to care about are its customers, despite the torrent of customer-friendly PR puff that comes out of it. This was really brought home to me while waiting outside a Qtel office. Although it was officially opening time, they were having a PR shoot inside. To avoid looking at the irate people tapping on the glass doors, all the staff turned their backs on the customers and looked inwards.

Qtel loves to boast about its rising profits. However, while it’s not hard to make money when there is no competition, it is hard to please your customers. But why should they care – they’re a monopoly!

Don’t get us wrong. We’re very fond of Qatar, and are impressed with many of the changes this forward-looking and moderate government has been making. But we still hate Qtel!

Also see Qtel incurs customers’ ire on Eid

Update (7/11/06) - the Emir has today abolished Qtels monopoly over the telecommunications sector. Hooray! See: Emir quashes Qtel monopoly.

Also See:

Qtel and Telephones in Qatar: Practical Information

Mobile Phones in Qatar

Another Qtel rant


Buying alcohol in Qatar

Also see: No new permits at the QDC!


Qatar is a place where people, including Muslims, can legally buy alcohol and then be taken to court for drinking it. Earlier this year an Egyptian man had some beers on a plane on the way here to try and forget the toothache he had. After checking in at his hotel he got a taxi and asked the driver to take him to a dental clinic. Instead, the driver took him to the police station and he ended up receiving lashes for being inebriated. When the sentence was passed, he wept (source: Gulf Times).

I wanted to clarify the laws regarding alcohol. Yet when I rang the Qatar Distribution Company, the only legal distributor of alcohol in the country, they claimed not to know the laws regarding alcohol. However, Qatar Law states that drunken behaviour in public or driving under the influence of alcohol is an offence punished by imprisonment, a fine or both (www.qatarlaw.com). As Sharia law is practised for Muslims, the punishment for Muslims may include lashing.

Where to buy alcohol in Doha

The only licensed shop you can buy alcohol at is the Qatar Distribution Company. To do so you need an alcohol permit, which can be obtained at the centre. Unfortunately, you can’t enter the shop without an alcohol permit, and you can only get an alcohol permit in the shop. You can also buy alcohol from hotels, which are (wait for it) supplied by the Qatar Distribution Company.


To obtain an alcohol permit you need a letter from your employer written in English. This must be signed and stamped by an authorised person in your company and be addressed to the Qatar Distribution Company. It must state the applicant’s position, basic salary (must be above 4000 riyals or 1100 dollars, and the letter must use the word basic), state if an accommodation entitlement is received or if the applicant receives free accommodation and whether the applicant is married. The applicant must also provide their ID/passport and residence permit (photocopies are acceptable) and a 1000 riyal (275 dollar) returnable deposit. You also have to complete an application form, and state your religion. All completed forms must be in backwards gothic Sanskrit script size 12 ¾ and with triple spacing, and should be aesthetically pleasing. (Actually, I just made up the last condition.)


Tel: 4699412/4699413/4687547
Address: PO Box 9483, Doha, Qatar
Unfortunately, their website seems to have disappeared.

Opening Hours

Permit Office Sun – Thu 8.00 a.m. – 7.30 p.m.
Sat 10.30 a.m. – 7.30 pm

Shop Sat – Thu 10.30 a.m. – 7.30 p.m.


Drive along C-ring road from the airport. You will come to “Ramada junction” – traffic light signals with the Ramada hotel on your right. Turn left onto Salwa Road. Drive over the fly-over and along Salwa road. Eventually you will come to a roundabout with a sign pointing towards the whole markets. Take the third exit off the roundabout. Drive along the road (whole market street), going straight ahead at the roundabout by the markets, for several kilometres. Eventually you will come to a building with black railings. Turn left straight after the railings, and just before the Qatar Technical College. Follow the road round and you will come to the Qatar Distribution Company. Yes, it’s hidden away in a backwards corner of Doha, but once inside the shop is cool, roomy and very well laid out and the staff are very helpful.

Resident's guide to Qatar
Qatar Visitor Friends

Qatar Jobs

Find the best deal, compare prices and read what other travellers have to say about Qatar


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Qatar Camels

A camel bares its teeth and groans“Up,up,” shouted the men at us, forcing a camel to its knees and gesturing at its back. The camel didn’t seem very pleased, baring its teeth and making a rather impolite noise (at least it didn’t spit), but one of our number was brave (or stupid) enough to get on its back.

The Camel Racing Track

A rider and his camelsWe were at the camel racing track, located in the middle of the Qatar desert. (Don’t let this put you off – nothing is very far away in Qatar!) Although the racing season is still a few weeks away, nobody seemed to mind us photographing and videoing the camels and generally sticking our noses around. We even drove onto the road that follows the track round, chasing, photographing and videoing the running camels and exchanging waves with their riders.

We had a fantastic afternoon wandering around the camel track, and wondered if we could have poked around so freely if there had been a race on. The people we met couldn’t have been more friendly, and were happy to be photographed and to answer our questions, even waving us into compounds to look around – and have a ride!

The Camels

All the A rider with some curious camelscamels we saw were dromedaries, which have only one hump. Fully grown, these camels can measure more than 7 foot (from its toes to the top of its hump) and weigh 1,600 pounds. It’s clear that they are built for speed, because despite their great weight they are tall and slim with long slender legs. We were rather nervous to start with, but overall we were amazed at how calm and placid they seemed. (I wouldn’t want to be left alone in a dark room with one, mind.)


The camels we saw, although they weren’t actually racing, seemed to have an understated speed about them. They didn’t actually seem that fast, but by the time you’ve stopped the car and brought up your camera to photograph them they are half a mile away. I have seen reports that they can travel at up to 40mph – a fact I intend to try and verify next time I am following them on the track.

Training camels

We noticed that the larger camels had smaller ones attached them to by ropes. Further researched revealed that these were younger camels (13-16 months) attached to older beasts to steady them. They also have to learn to wear the Al Khidam (rope), and the Al Shidad (saddle). The training period is short, lasting for between one and three months, and some already had robot jockeys attached. (More on robot jockeys on the next post on camels).

(See http://www.zipzak.com/ for more information.)

The camel market

We wanted to find out how much camels cost in Qatar. A search on the internet produced no results, necessitating a trip to the camel market. (As if we needed an excuse!)

We wandered rounAt the camel marketd looking for people to talk to – never hard to find in Qatar. A Sudanese man was happy to take a break in feeding his camels (I’m not sure if his camels were quite so pleased), and he told us the prices of camels we randomly pointed out. Two large ones were priced at 5,000 riyals (US$1400) each – these were 15 years old. To the left were some smaller camels, year olds, and these cost 3,200 riyals (US$900) each. These ones were for eating. A fast racing camel, he told us, would cost between 2 and 3 million riyals (US$550,000 – US$800,000 dollars), but the most expensive ones available on the market cost a mere 30,000 riyals (US$8000). We toyed with the idea of setting up a camel stable, but decided we didn’t have enough room in our apartments.


- We have been told that camel racing will take place on the December 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24 th from 5.30 - 9.30 a.m. and from 1.30 - 4.30 p.m. Last time we were given wrong information, so who knows?

-You can ring the track on 487 2028, but if there is an answer you will be having more luck than us. The person who answers may not speak English.

- Even out of the racing season, both the market and the track are worth visiting. In both places, we found people extremely friendly and eager to show off their beasts. (I’m sure we would have been given tea if it hadn’t been Ramadan!)

Also see:

Camel Racing

See a video of camels at the Shahhinaya camel racing track in Qatar on YouTube here

Camel Train

Buy books on Qatar and the Middle East Book Hotels in Qatar


Monday, October 23, 2006

Qatar: Essential Information

Basic information which will be of use to anyone considering coming to Qatar.

Electrical System The electrical system is the same as in Britain, with the same kind of plugs (240 volts, plugs with three square pins). American devices cannot be used in Qatar (although laptop computers, shavers and other devices designed for travel usually adjust their voltage automatically).

Safety Crime is almost non-existent in Qatar, although it does seem to be on the rise, and the police are honest. Qatar has suffered only one terrorist attack, and feels very safe.

Money The local currency is the Qatari riyal (QR) which is fixed to the dollar at a rate of $1= QR3.64. This is theoretically divided into 100 dirhams, although in practice only 25 and 50 dirham coins are available. There is sometimes a shortage of these coins, so expect to be given change in the form of chocolate or chewing gum.

There are no currency controls, and money can be freely taken in or out of the country.

There is a comprehensive and reliable network of cash machines (ATMs), and they are connected to international networks. They are free to use, although your bank may charge.

Credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted, although travellers cheques might be less necessary here than other places because of the very low crime rate.

Major credit cards are widely accepted.

Driving Cars drive on the right in Qatar. Visitors can drive for one week using driving licences from their country. Hire cars are widely available.

Transport Buses are available. They are modern and air-conditioned. They are used mostly by (male) immigrant workers, as most Qataris and ex-pat professionals have cars.

There are modern and cheap (and honest) taxis (Tel: 458 8888). Until recently it was extremely difficult to get a taxi; this has now changed, and you can usually hail a cab in a few minutes. Another alternative is to use ‘limousine’ services. These are effectively unmetered upmarket cabs. They cannot be hailed from the street.

Emergency Number The emergency number is 999 for all services.

Telephones and Internet The international dialling code is +974. There is only one phone company and calls to and from Qatar are very expensive. It may be very expensive to use a foreign mobile phone here. Check with your operator. It is possible to get a pay-as-you-go phone here relatively cheaply, and you only need your passport to get one. You will find more information at www.qtel.com.qa Qtel.

Internet It is easy to find an internet cafe and they are cheap to use. The internet is censored for pornography, but not for politics.

Language English is almost universally used in Qatar. Indeed, as most shop assistants and taxi drivers are not Arab and cannot speak Arabic, the locals need to use English.

Clothing Clothing should be modest, but the required level of modesty is often exaggerated. Covering heads is definitely not required; low cut dresses are probably pushing it a bit too far. A more conservative attire may be required at work.

Weather It can hit 50ºC in Qatar in the summer, and it can also be extremely humid. The weather is much more pleasant during the spring and autumn, and a light jacket will be necessary during the winter.

Weekends and working hours The weekends are Friday and Saturday. On Friday morning all the shops are closed except for a few in the large shopping malls. Saturday shop opening hours are normal.

Shops are frequently open from early in the morning until late in the evening, although many of those outside the shopping malls close in the afternoon.

Working hours are approximately 7.30am-1.00pm, and then 3.00pm-7.00pm, although government departments usually work only in the mornings.

Food and Restaurants There is a huge variety of restaurants with cuisine from all over the world. All the main international fast food restaurants are present. Vegetarians are well catered for in Indian restaurants, although their choices may be limited in other restaurants.

Tipping Tips are necessary but are very much appreciated in taxis and restaurants.

Time Qatar is three hours ahead of GMT. The time is the same throughout the year.

Television and Radio There are two local television stations: QTV1 in Arabic and one in QTV2 in English. On the radio, QBS broadcasts in English and French on 1233AM / 102.6FM

Also see:

Qatar Travel

Residents Guide

Buy Books on Qatar from Amazon UK


The night before Eid

On the night before Eid El-Fitri, the holiday that celebrates the end of a month of fasting, all is calm. Maybe not suprising, as half the country seems to have left the country on holiday. Still, the phones were jammed and internet access impossible as the mostly expat population rang home to say "Eid Mubarrak" (Happy Eid).

Lights reflect of the water in a Doha parkCulture and Religion in Qatar


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Brunch at the Ramada: Review

“Why on earth would anyone want to leave England?” My aunt’s disapproving words, spoken on my last trip home, drifted through my head as I floated in the warm water, gazing dreamily up at the cloudless blue sky.

We were at The Ramada. Every Friday morning, The Ramada has a "brunch and swim". On this day, almost everyone there was expatriate and Western. Not surprising, for this is the end of Ramadan, when it is forbidden for Muslims to eat or drink in the daylight hours. It must be very difficult for those waiters who are Muslim to watch us Westerners stuff our face with successive plates of food.

Unfortunately the brunch is light on Arabic food, though it includes stalwarts like Tabouleh (Lebanese salad) and Om Ali (a traditional Arabic pudding). It has standard breakfast fare (or, at least, its non-pork equivalent), though the bacon and mushrooms are overdone and the toast a little soggy.

The seafood section, on the other hand, was superb. There was prawn salad, grilled hamour (a local fish) and “trout fish”. You can have omelettes and noodles cooked for you while you wait, and there’s Haagen Daaz ice-cream and candy floss for the kids. Overall there was an excellent selection of food. However, it was busy on the day we went, and the waiters were struggling to cope, which meant a very long wait for coffee and tea.

After the meal, you can relax by the swimming pool in the hotel grounds. There’s a Jacuzzi, pool with a large (if ugly) bar, and children’s pool with a superb slide. It’s supposed to be for 6-9 years old, but as we were in Qatar no-one blinked an eye at a two year old and a thirty-two year old whizzing down it in glee.

All in all, excellent value for 90 riyals (24 dollars). Unfortunately, from next week, swimming will be at an additional charge. Tax included, the price will be 165 riyals (45 dollars). See you at the Mercure!

Qatar Hotels

Iranian food in Qatar


Friday, October 20, 2006

Salt Marshes

The salt marshes at Al Thakira, near Al Khor, make a welcome change of scenery from the desert.

View Qatar Images

Buy books on Qatar from Amazon


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Buying property in Qatar: Essential information and unbiased opinion

An optimistic sign of things to come sticks out of the scrubby desertFuture updates to this post will be made on the Property Guide section of our website.

Since 2004 foreigners have been able to buy property in Qatar. However, unbiased and practical information on the web is extremely limited: this is a place where you need to get down on the ground and dig around. We’ve tried to do at least some of that for you.

What’s the choice?

Foreigners can buy property in designated areas. The three main ones are The Pearl, West Bay lagoon and Al Khor but other places are now becoming available. The Pearl is currently being promoted hard, but if you ring Barwa (see below for number) they will offer you other areas.


Prices are sometimes quoted in riyals, sometimes in dollars. 1 dollar is equal to 3.64 riyals. The currency is tied to the dollar, and so is not subject to short term fluctuations.

Property Prices

Hunter and Hunter are charging from 112,000 dollars for a studio apartment to 205,000 dollars for a one bedroom apartment on The Pearl.

The Pearl’s representative offered us a 3 bedroom apartment (312 square metres), top floor with views of the marina for between 2.8 (nearly 770,000 dollars) and 3.14 million riyals (about 862,000 dollars). Town houses vary from 1.9 million (522,000 dollars) to 3.6 million riyals (988,000 dollars). They all have views of the sea.

Barwa Real Estate Agents offered us villas in West Bay for 2-4 million riyals and in Al Khor for between 1.5 and 2 million riyals(550,000 to 1,100,000 dollars).

The Pearl, Qatar


- Man-made island constructed on former pearl diving reef linked by causeway to main land.
- 2.5 billion dollar, 985 acre development which will create 30km of new coastline. According to The Pearl Qatar’s website it will have 40,000 residents and 11,000 villas, town homes, penthouses and apartments.
- Aims to develop Mediterranean atmosphere and style. Will essentially be a gated and self sufficient community, completely shut off from all the riff-raff like me!
- Shops will be targeted at the “top end of the market” i.e. expensive (but there are loads of shops in the City Center mall a few minutes away).
- Will contain three marinas and berths for 700 boats and three five star hotels. There will also be “canals, lakes and internal navigable coves”!

How high above sea-level are the properties?

Marina houses are two metres above sea-level, other properties 8 metres.

wonky tower

Going for the Italian style...

Legal details:

The Pearl – their representative claims you don’t need a lawyer. You sign a standard agreement reserving your right for occupation with the legal department of The Pearl. When you make the final payment you get the title of the property. You have to register the property with the land department at your own cost.

Purchase details

At the Pearl at least the property is completely freehold. Purchase will consist of an initial 20% deposit. The rest is payable in installments over the next two years, with the final 5% paid on completion. Mortgages can be used to pay up to 85% of the price.

Other costs

You pay for the registration of your property with the land department. There is no capital gains or inheritance tax. If you sell your property before it has been completed you pay a 2.5% transfer fee. The developer also has first right of refusal. However, these conditions end when you have taken complete possession of the property.

Is property selling well?

It’s going like hot cakes.

Is there a shortage then?

There seems to be, but buildings are shooting up everywhere, so this could change.

What about visas?

When you buy a property you can obtain residency for you and your dependents. This is guaranteed as long as you are “disease free” (this refers to infectious diseases like HIV and TB), and you do not have a criminal record. You have to organize the visa yourself (or pay someone to do it for you). This involves going to immigration (not the most fun place in the world) and providing proof of ownership. You can also obtain residency for your dependents. This includes parents, wives, husbands and children. According to the Pearl’s representative, when children get married they are no longer considered to be dependents.

Note – it is well worth paying someone to do your paperwork/immigration for you. If you do so it is not normally necessary to go to immigration in person. This should really be done for you by the developer, as it would both save you a lot of hassle and time and cost them peanuts.

Renting out property

Expatriates are allowed to rent out property and can either do so through an agency or by themselves. They retain their residency when renting out property.


Restaurants and cafes on The Pearl will have alcohol licenses.

Who do I buy from?

With The Pearl you can buy through agents or directly from the developers.

Other property is extremely hard to find on the internet, (sometimes it almost seems as if it’s a secret), and requires real digging around to find. The best method is to contact agents with a local presence directly.

Estate Agents

The best – sometimes the only way – to get hold of these guys is to ring them. There are only two of many below, but they answered the phone (not as usual as you might expect, especially just before Ramadan), were helpful and spoke good English.

Barwa (0974 499-8888) – have no email or website but their receptionists speak good English. They also sell in other areas besides The Pearl, and have land for sale.

Mirage – Mirage actually have a website (http://www.mirageproperty.com/) and an email address:info@mirageproperty.com, (they don’t actually reply, so maybe it’s just an illusion). Their agent in Qatar is Ab Sher: Mobile: 5710790 Office 4444431 extension 123. Address: P.O. Box 22621, Doha, Qatar.

On-line Estate Agents

Findaproperty.com currently have three properties listed on-line.

What’s going to happen to prices?

Prices in the short to medium term are notoriously difficult to predict. Developers, obviously, are predicting a price rise. However, the real estate boom has to be tied in part to the huge inflow of money into Qatar from the high price of gas and oil. It’s possible that a fall in these prices could affect prices in the short to medium term.

On the other hand, developers claim this is just the start of what is going to happen.

Could it be possible that this is the start of a real estate boom (or bubble)? Could Qatar emulate Dubai? Well, Qatar may have a long way to go, but it has the oil and gas money to do it.

Are there any other reasons to buy?

Well, have you thought about taxes? This is a tax free country. If you are living here for the long term, or want to rent your property, rents are sky high – rental yields are currently 10% (http://www.ameinfo.com/). Of course, there’s no guarantee these rents will remain high.

The government is putting a huge effort into developing the country (with plans to invest 150 billion dollars over the next five years) and is obviously trying to follow in Dubai’s footsteps.

If you are planning to live here:

- There’s good fishing, scuba diving and sailing.

- There’s a huge range of nationalities and restaurants.

- This is a relaxed and liberal country for the area, and you can easily buy alcohol.

- Schools are good value for money.

- It is virtually crime-free.

Other reasons not to buy:

If you are planning to live here:

Qatar is great for a few days, and is developing rapidly. However, you need to be sure you could live here in the long term. A few things to consider are:

- You are not allowed to purchase alcohol during Ramadan, even in hotels, although you can stock up prior to Ramadan.

- If you like opera and theatre – forget it. Come back in a few years when the place is developed a bit more.

- It can be bloody hot in the summer, even in the evening.

- Bureaucracy!

Terrorist threat?

Where isn’t there a terrorist threat? I’m from London and there have been a lot fewer deaths here than in London. Having said that, we are in the Middle East, close to Saudi Arabia. There is perhaps a danger that Qatar’s modernization and liberalization could make it a target for terrorists.

Further information:

Check out The Pearl - Qatar Website for pictures and FAQS, and the Qatar Property section of our website for more articles.


The Pearl-Qatar: PO Box 7256, Doha, State of Qatar
Tel: +974 4463400Fax - +974 4438971
Email: info@thepearlqatar.com


Laying down roots in Qatar A journalist’s blog. Describes a visit to the home of the first expatriate to build his own house in Qatar.
Property for sale/rent in Crete
Qatar Real Estate
Hotel Search
Qatar on Travel Advisor


Ramadan Boom

Smoke drifts from the cannon

A army cannon fires to mark the end of the day's Ramadan fasting.

View Qatar Images


Escape from Qatar - continued

By Steve

Back to introduction

Trial the First: or Nobody Knows Anything

Now, I gave my notice in 3 months in advance and they issued the forms shortly after this, all in Arabic of course. So eager and keen, with shiny shoes and winged feet I did set off from the school with my forms, fully armed with all the facts, to the Min of Ed offices.

First stop, the third floor, which is the personnel dept. “No no no not here” they tell me "4th floor first". Oh, this was after they ripped up my form and gave me another one… thankfully, as the new one doesn’t require me to go to the State Library etc for a stamp. Ok so then, first stop 4th floor. “No no no” they tell me, “Your school must be do this first”. Ok first stop the school. Ah. Everyone has gone home. Then I discovered that as the process cancels your sponsorship, it should not be done more than 7 days before you leave… Also, in order to get paid you have to get clearance from your bank, but I couldn’t do that as someone had cancelled my pay for the previous month and so I couldn’t close my bank account…

Trial the Second: The Banks; Who Think They Know, But Don’t

Your primary bank / credit card supplier needs 45 days to cancel your credit card. They will lock your account to the credit limit of your card for 30 days as soon as you cancel it. They will not, of course, tell you that they are going to do this… you can unlock it if you find a guarantor who has an account at the same branch. Anyway, note that to the cancellation period you must add enough time to get the bank’s letter of clearance, without which you cannot get your closing pay or final clearance. In case anything goes wrong I suggest this is done at least a week early. Therefore, at least 2 months before you go you have to cancel your primary bank credit card… not much use if you are terminated on the contracted 30 day notice…

If, like some of us, you got a second credit card with a different bank, i.e. not your primary salary bank, the cancellation times are different. Commercial Bank stopped my 2nd card, and said they needed ‘about’ one week for clearance, but again be warned; I was first told they needed no time, then 3 days, then a week, then 15 days… this last was 14 days before I was leaving… Really, no-one knows anything, but they all think they do. Check everything twice. At least. They eventually sorted it out in 24 hours as I hadn’t used the card for a while and had actually left it at the bank since the previous week, thinking they had cancelled it… They hadn’t. Grrr!!

Of course, having settled my card and cancelled it, I found out when I went back to my primary bank to get my clearance letter from them that they in turn must get one from your secondary bank (if you pay by direct debit) saying you are clear before they issue it. The second bank had just 20 minutes earlier told me that I didn’t need a letter from them… grrrr. As I had yet to be paid I needed the clearance letter, but also needed to keep the account open and they, surprisingly, said that was ok. The Commercial bank letter cost QR50 and it takes them 5 days after you cancel your credit cards (note this is for second cards; they still have the 45 days rule if you also bank with them). HSBC charge QR100 and did it on the spot, but obviously this was 45 days after I cancelled my credit card and I have no other loans. If you have a car loan ask your bank about the procedures.

Trial The Third: or Queuing at Qtel, Who Tell You Nothing

City Centre Qtel are hopeless unless you are bill paying so don’t go there. Ever. Especially for this. In fact the Al Sadd main office is the only place you do this, I was told. You cannot, as for all Qtel services, do it on the phone…

I have only the very simplest Qtel package for my landline and a pre-paid mobile, what could be more simple? I never use the phone except for pre-pay internet. I would expect the system to be basically the same for broadband users, but it may be more complex. Who knows? Well not Qtel for a start! The fourth person I spoke to, at the Al Sadd branch, gave me a phone (which, by the way, didn’t work properly… ) and the upshot is that you have to pay your bill, cancel the service and 24 hours later go back and get your form stamped and a clearance letter. Easy. You must have done this before work will finalise you, leaving you without a phone or home internet until you leave.

You MUST have your ID and passport with you when you fill in the cancellation form (at customer service queue A). Again, once I’d zipped home to get these and returned to Qtel the lovely lady cancelled me on the spot and indeed 24 hours later I got the clearance letter and stamp (at the information desk). The 24 hours gives time for calls to mobiles to get registered. Note that if you have international dialling and/or a post-paid mobile this may be longer. Ask them as they change it all the time.

Trial the Fourth: The Ministry Know-How

So anyway, back to my Employer’s forms… the school filled in their bit, a colleague filled out the guarantor form to say he will pay any bills of mine for up to a year after I leave… and I, fleet of foot, went back, with high hopes, to the Ministry. Fourth floor. Salary dept. No problem, he says as he writes down all this money that I will be getting (considerably more than I was expecting for some reason). And did he look pleased with himself. Until I asked why I hadn’t been paid for November on pay day the previous week. Cue consternation, consultation, exasperation and finally, explanation; It was someone else’s fault. Definitely not his. Ah.

Luckily, some departments are well over staffed and a chap I know from the school helped out. Don’t close your bank account they said, or we cannot pay you until the day before you leave… yeah like I’d risk that! They had to recalculate, re-apply for and re-write (and re-confirm of course) my final pay. And add 20% to it because of the recent pay increases. My Boss pulled out all the stops and they found my papers in the bottom of a drawer underneath a pile of paperclip requisition forms or something in a completely different ministry and I was duly issued with a cheque (correct as well!) a full week before I left! Couldn’t believe it! Then the cheque was taken off me as it was only the cheque to the Min of Ed to cover my eventual pay cheque… not actually my cheque at all. Of course. Money is transferred between ministries on an individual basis, not budgeted and then dolled out. So every single person’s every pay packet must get arranged, transferred, paid in, checked, paid out. By hand. Every month. Wow.

The rest wasn’t so bad really. 1st floor for housing (he wanted my key… I just asked if I could sleep at his house for the next 10 days and he signed the form!) back to the fourth floor to stamp this. Back to the housing guy to sign for gas and electricity, as ours are included, and back to the 4th to get that stamped. Down to the 2nd floor to the supply dept for god knows what reason. No-one checked me in a file or on a computer or anything! In fact they would have got ‘one of the boys’, by which they mean Indians/Pakistanis (they have a little catching up to do around here…) to do it but they had all been given 2 weeks off to fill up the seats at the Asian games.

Trial The Last

So the final bit. All is done. Please sign this part nice Mr. 3rd floor man. “No no no not sign before 7 days you go out Qatar.” Ummm what? I am glad Qatar Airways have a free cancellation and rebooking service, I booked and cancelled four times! Juggling pay by dates just to keep a seat on my preferred flight. I couldn’t get the flight voucher from the Ministry until after all this is completed and while the refund procedure is too not too bad, QR100 I was told, I couldn’t pay for the ticket as of course I had had to cancel my credit card and hadn’t been paid! Again at the fourth time of trying a chap at QA said ok no problem I mark it ‘billed’ and it won’t be cancelled as it looks like you paid. Huh? Oh well, it worked so who am I to complain?!

So back I went 7 days before I was due to leave. I got my Qtel form and everything, nicely timed to finish it all off on the Thursday morning. Except my next stop on the third floor was the travel section, who gave me a new form to fill in at the immigration dept. It is they, not the employers, who have to cancel the sponsorship. Then come back here he said and looked at his watch. No time today do on Sunday. Arrrghh. I had been too efficient for them and now had no internet over the weekend!

So Sunday came and I asked where I should go. I didn’t know where they were talking about so they said try the Post Office as there is an immigration service there. The nice non-English speaker told me to ‘go on roundabout and next and next see bridge’ and desperate hand gestures. I trusted him and duly drove off looking for a bridge. I finally found the traffic police building, you’ll have been there to get your driving licence transferred, and asked a bloke where the immigration dept was. And hey presto there I was… in the right place! But in the wrong room of course. Go to the right side of the building, ground floor, entrance three and get a ticket and wait. It’s really easy when you know how! I just walked around pleading with anyone who spoke English and a nice chap just stopped his queue and did my stamp. Easy. Back to the min of ed to get paid.

Um no, in fact, of course. The final check and staple guy said ‘no this not right’ he wanted the guarantor form stamped, not just signed, and a photocopy of the guarantor’s ID card. No-where on the paper does it say we have to do this so I went to the head of department and ‘suggested’ that they amend the form. Of course no-one knows whose job it would be to do such a thing so it’ll never happen! Anyway there was just enough time to belt the 13km back to the school and then the 13km back to the min of ed. Ok finish finish I said!! No now go downstairs to ground floor. Every peice of paper has to have a paperwork number put on it and a copy kept by a bloke on the ground floor. He worryingly unstapled all my forms and split them up. He smiled and said go 4th floor for pay. I got my flight ticket (3rd floor). Pay cheque? No. The manager had gone home early. Aaarrghh! Come back tomorrow! Next day, it was waiting for me. Humdallah!

Last thing, and a good job I asked as no-one told me… you still have to have the normal exit permission papers to leave the country. And have them stamped at the airport of course. A final note on the Min of Ed: To change sponsorship, and this extends to two years after you leave, a ‘no objection letter’ is required from the previous employers. I am informed by the horse’s mouth that the Min of Ed do not give no objection letters. Otherwise you are free to come and go as a normal visitor.

Overall it cost me only QR200 and, in the end, just over 230km of extra driving around the city! (68.8 on the final day alone!) I quite enjoyed it, as nothing really went wrong compared to what I had heard from other people. One lady who didn’t do all this when she left at the end of last still hasn’t been paid, and probably won’t be. So grin and bear it, it ain’t so bad! There is enough time to do the last day in one go.

So the perfect schedule should look like this:
Choose a day to finish on; Hand in your notice and wait for your forms. Your school does bits, your guarantor does bits. Ask the local boss to check your pay is being counted. Wait. Count 3 days before your leaving date. 45 before this date cancel your credit card and 10 days before cancel any 2nd cards). 4 days before you leave cancel your phone at 8 am, then get your bank letter and then get work to do all their housing and supply bits. At 8am 24 hours later get the Qtel stamp, go straight to the immigration dept and then go to get your pay and flight coupon. This gives 2 whole days spare! Good luck!

Also see:

Qatar Visitor's Resident's Guide

Book flights,hotels or cars with Expedia.

Qatar Visitor Bookstore

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fancy a holiday in Qatar, anyone?

Qatar has been working hard to promote itself as an attractive destination. But is it working, and is it worth going?

Growth in travel

Anyone who has been in Qatar for long will have noticed the extraordinary growth in buildings, many of them hotels. Sometimes it seems that every time you turn your back a building shoots up behind you. (Unlike in the public sector, private construction is super fast). This growth in infrastructure has been matched by a growth in population, much of it expatriate or transient.

Obviously, with all the extra people coming into the country there is increasing pressure on Doha's airport, and sometimes it seems there is barely room to stand. And it’s going to get busier. Not only is Qatar Airways expanding at a phenomenal rate, planning to double the number of planes it has by 2015, there is also an ever increasing number of airways flying to Qatar. (See the full list of airlines that fly to Qatar at the end of the article – including some that you’ve probably never heard of before).

New airport

Qatar is responding by both increasing the size of its existing airport, and by building a multi-billion dollar new airport which will cover 2,200 hectares (8.5 square kilometres) of land, some of it reclaimed from the sea. This new airport will be able to handle millions more travellers a year.

Getting the punters to come

How is Qatar going to get all these travellers to come? Well, it is conveniently placed, although its claim to be the centre of the world might be a slight exaggeration. (It also claims Qatar will change your life. Hmm). There are some great stopover deals available, and it is promoting itself as a place for conferences through its MICE. (No, it doesn’t use small furry rodents as diplomats – it’s an acronym for meeting, incentives, conferences and exhibitions). It’s also increasingly liberal (i.e. easy to get a drink). The shopping is fantastic, and at the moment it can still be very good value for money - see my article on A Night with a Whirling Dervish!

Is it working?

You bet! There isn’t an empty hotel in the place, even though they keep sticking up more. Last year saw 600,000 tourists (Qatar Tourism Authority) and Qatar hopes to more than double that by 2010.

Is it worth a visit, then?

For a few days, yes. There’s actually quite a lot you can do including dune bashing, game fishing, scuba diving, sand boarding and sailing. And you can bet your life Qatar will keep on adding to what’s here. See their flashy website for what’s on (and see if you can work out the difference between coming events and future events! And past events, for that matter.)

What about sport?

There’s a huge emphasis on sports, despite (or perhaps because of) Qatar’s growing obesity problem. The coming Asian Games are only one example of this. Not only are most of these events free or very reasonable (50 riyals for the world super bike racing, for example), you can also win prizes.

Which airline?

Qatar Airways has superb service. (The wine’s nice too). As it keeps reminding us, it’s a five-star airline. If you’re flying direct to Doha, however, it’s not always the cheapest – personally, I use Gulf Air when I pay for my own flights, but I’m a cheapskate. As ever, you need to look around and suss out the best deal. (See below for Travel Advisor and Expedia links).

The Privilege Club

If you are living in Qatar (and that often means free flights on Qatar Airways) you should definitely join Qatar Airways privilege club. In addition to air miles, you also earn other bonuses like extra baggage, admission to the business lounge and priority upgrades.

The Future

Qatar still has a lot to do. Last weekend I went off in search of the burial mounds in Umm Salal Ali. There were no signs, and the locals denied all knowledge of their existence. On the way back (having admitted defeat) we stopped to see a fort in Um Salal Mohammed. Although the fort had been refurbished (read knocked down and rebuilt) and was open, again there was no guide, no information and no exhibits, only an empty porta cabin It wasn’t a wasted journey – we saw a different side of Qatar, dustier and more run-down with camels in make shift pens – but it’s not very impressive for a country which is trying to develop its tourism industry.

Nevertheless, Doha is trying to follow in the footsteps of Dubai, and certainly has the money and resources to do so. Watch out world, there’s a small, flat desert country out to make a name for itself.

See also:

Qatar Travel

Qatar Visas

Visa Services

Cheap flights to Qatar

Search for flights

Full list of airlines that fly to Qatar

American airlines, Air Arabia, Air India, Biman: Bangladeshi Airlines, British Airways, DHL, Egypt Air, Emirates, Gulf Air, Iran Air, Iran Aseman Airlines, KLM, Kuwait Airways, Lufthansa, Martinair, MEA, Oman Air, PIA, Royal Jordanian, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Shaheen Air International, Sri Lankan Airlines, Sudan Airways, Syrian Arab Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, Yemenia


Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Night with a Whirling Dervish

Whirling Dervish
Friday night saw us at the Ramadan tent in The Marriott Hotel. Ramadan tents traditionally provide free food for the poor, but have been adopted by the big hotels to, er, make money. Some tents start at Iftar, at sunset, but The Marriott’s tent starts at nine o’ clock.

The tent Actually, to my disappointment, it wasn’t a tent, but a room done up like a tent. The decor is very traditional and luxurious, with moons and stars hanging down from the ceiling. You can sit at a table, or lounge on a sofa with a shisha, as waiters walk round swinging coals to keep them hot. It actually feels very decadent, which is strange, since this is Ramadan, the month of fasting and abstention.

BuffetFood The food took the form of a buffet, with traditional Arabic and Turkish foods. There were almost no meat dishes: the second evening meal in Ramadan is normally a light one. I started with a shorbet gaza, or carrot soup, followed by Arabic bread, fattoush and tabouli ( Lebanese salads), humus and mohamarra: a dip made from red pepper, garlic, pomegranates and walnuts. I finished off with a delicious basbousa umm ali, an old Egyptian recipe which can perhaps best be described as a cross between rice and bread pudding.

Drink The buffet includes a range of sweet juices to accompany the meal, none of which I’d ever heard of, topped with roasted pine nuts. They included orkusus, a dark juice made from a type of grass and karkade which is made from hibiscus flowers. After the meal we finished off with strong Turkish coffee.

Shisha Shisha refers to the smoking of tobacco with a hookah. There were three types of tobacco to choose from: apple, grape and strawberry. The smoke is smooth, not at all like cigarettes, and very relaxing.

WaitressThe Entertainment Through most of the evening there was traditional Arabic music, pleasant but over-loud. However, the highlight of the evening was the whirling dervish. Whirling dervishes were originally mystic dancers, and the dance involves spinning around, often very fast, for 20 minutes or so. As the dervish does this, his huge costume rises and falls making incredible shapes, at times obscuring his body so that only the blur of his feet are visible. And he doesn’t fall over when he finishes!

Whirling DervishService The service was excellent from start to finish, and when we admired the friendly waitress’s traditional clothing she was happy to pose for a picture.

Price The buffet cost 75 riyals + 17½ percent tax and service. Shisha was 25 riyals, a Turkish coffee 17 Riyals. For seven of us the total bill came to 819 Riyals: incredible value, considering the entertainment, and we couldn’t help comparing it to what we could have paid in England!

Location The Marriot hotel is located on Ras Abu Abboud Street next to the Sailing Club and close to the Dhow Workshop and Oasis hotel. Drive along the Corniche, past the harbour, and take the third exit off the roundabout by the Doha Club.

Qatar Hotels

Special offers @ Marriott

Compare prices and read what other travelers have to say about Doha Marriott Hotel

Search and Book Hotels


Fasting in the desert

Note: You can see an update and expanded version of this post here: Ramadan in Qatar.

In Qatar, as in the rest of the world, we are entering the final stage of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month. Muslims don’t, of course, fast at night, but from dawn to dusk. The last ten days are the most important to Muslims and a time of prayer and meditation for many.

The most important night is Lailut-Ul-Qadr, the 27th night of Ramadan, or the night of power, when the first verse of the Koran was revealed to Mohammad. According to Mohammad, this night is more important than a thousand months. Some Muslims spend the entire night in prayer.

Every day will start before dawn with Suhur, the pre-fast meal. During the day the devout will abstain not just from food, but also from drink, sex and other pleasures. Many Muslim friends have told me that the thing they find hardest is not smoking.

During the day Muslims hope that the fasting will not only draw them closer to God, but also lead to greater empathy with the poor and hungry. All capable Muslims must give Zakat, a proportion of their wealth which is donated to the poor and needy. Throughout Ramadan, food and drink is distributed for free in Ramadan tents.

In Qatar, Ramadan also means major changes in lifestyle. Working hours are often dramatically reduced, and nearly everything in the city is closed from midday, re-opening after eight o' clock in the evening. Many people sleep in the afternoon, and sometimes it seems that day has been moved to night. One Sudanese friend compared fasting in Qatar to Sudan:

“The people here are just playing at fasting. They should try it in the Sudan, living in a hut with no fan, let alone AC, and working hard in the sun all day. That’s fasting!”

Fasting may not be as easy as he suggests, but the changes in lifestyle probably means it is easier for many indoor workers to observe Ramadan than it is in many Western countries. In addition Muslims outdoor workers, (rarely Qatari), often work night shifts, with colleagues of other religions replacing them in the day.

At the end of the day it's traditional for Muslims to break the fast with water and dates. They then pray, before eating the main meal of the day. (Some people have a second, lighter, meal later in the evening). This is a lovely time to drive on Qatar’s normally busy streets! The busiest place is the Corniche, with many families choosing to break their fast under the palm trees at the sea front.

All this fasting doesn't mean that there is no fun to be had. Feasts are laid out at night, and music and entertainment is laid on. Indeed, sometimes it seems more eating takes place during Ramadan than at normal times, and certainly some people put on weight during Ramadan! Expatriates and visitors of other religions are welcome to join in this feasting.

Non-Muslims are not required to participate in the fasting, although it's advisable to show respect in public places. Food and drink during the day can be obtained at hotels and some clubs, although the sale (not the consumption) of alcohol is banned for the duration of the month. These restrictions on eating and drinking do not, of course, apply to children, the sick, the pregnant or the frail.


Do say:
Ramadan Mubarrak / Ramadan Kareem
(Roughly equivalent to Happy Ramadan).

Don’t say:
“I’m starving. Pass the biscuit tin, will you?”


Ramadan in Qatar: Fasting and Health

The Five Pillars of Islam

Adhan: The Muslim Prayer Call

Festivals in Qatar

Qatar, Ramadan and Expats

Ramadan on Wikipedia

An idiots guide to Ramadan (BBC website)


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pearl Fishing

Visit the Gold Souk and ask to look at pearls and a shop owner will show you a huge range of perfect, identical shiny Japanese cultured pearls. However, if you nag him, he will eventually bring out some original Qatari ones. These are not the same size, nor do they have the same perfect identical shape – but these are the remains of a once huge industry that provided the backbone of the Gulf economy.

It was not an easy industry. Men would leave their homes for months, although financial reward was far from certain. The process was dangerous, for the waters were shared with jellyfish, barracuda, sword fish and sharks.

Men would close their noses with clips made out of bone and wood, and grasp a stone to take them to the bottom of the sea. Once there, they would grasp the oysters, cutting them from rocks if necessary, and put them into bags attached to the line. When their bags were full, or they were exhausted, they would jerk the line sharply and their handler would pull them to the surface.

Each dive could last up to two minutes, and a diver would make 60 to 100 of these dives in a day. With depths of up to 200 feet, divers could suffer from hallucinations, earaches and the bends. These afflictions were attributed to evil djinns, and the sailors would treat the suffering diver by covering him with a sail, sitting upon him, reading him verses from the Koran and burning incense under his nose.

The retrieved pearls were sometimes skinned to improve their quality and appearance. A delicate balance had to be struck between improving the shape and removing too much of the skin. Ronald Codrai, in his book The Seven Sheikhdoms, recalls this being done during an auction. As more skins were removed and the appearance improved the bids went up.

Pearl trips were financed by merchants, who subsequently took half of the proceeds, subtracted costs and any cash advances and distributed the remaining profit among the crew. In a bad season the result could be debt. It’s not surprising, then, that with the combination of cultivated pearls from Japan and easy oil money coming in the industry died.

Nowadays memories of the pearl industry shape Qatar’s image and are exploited for tourist and business reasons. Statues of oysters and pearls are common and close to Doha is the massive Pearl Lagoon development. Or you could go and nag that shop owner to pull out some old Qatari pearls...

More on pearl diving

Pearl diving: A personal perspective

Buy pearls

The rise of the Qatari ruling family