Desert Safari – Qatar.

Desert Safari

As if everything in Qatar wasn’t already cool enough, it is also here that I discovered the incredible adventure that is the desert safari.

So, on a Sunday morning, I joined a group of my fellow bloggers and travel writers to wait eagerly for Falcon Tours to carry us to our next adventure. We headed south, out of Doha, in two 4×4 vehicles accompanied by experienced desert drivers. After a quick mandatory stop to deflate tyres, in preparation for the conditions, we drove out and entered the desert.

(www.falcontoursqatar.com)

Landscape

As the landscape began to change dramatically the scenery overwhelmed me. The dunes rose above our heads and stood majestically against the horizon. There was little else as far as the eye could see. The sand curved, dipped and rose without warning. At times, the drops were near vertical and our 4×4 slid downwards, almost sideways.

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Trying to capture everything around me.

In some places, salt had deposited over the surface and glistened a shiny white. Elsewhere, rain from previous days had nurtured plants which burst through the sand. Then we hit an unforgivingly rocky surface and the jeep jolted over each rock. When I climbed outside, the coolness of the sand under my feet seemed contradictory against the lack of humidity in the air. By this point, I had felt waves of different emotions and we had spent less than an hour in the desert!

Camels Everywhere!

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Camel love.
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Wild camels

If that wasn’t enough, we then drove around scouring the horizon for wild camels. It was wonderful to watch our experienced guide navigate this harsh landscape which had no roads, signs or landmarks. Eventually, we spotted wild camels in the distance grazing peacefully. We drove up so close that we could almost touch one. In Arabic culture camels symbolise patience, tolerance and endurance. When you see these creatures in the wild it’s easy to understand why.

Desert Plants

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Recent rain had changed the landscape. Plants such as these covered large areas with still more tender shoots peeking out of the sand.

The Inland Sea.

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The Qatari desert also boasts an inland sea. If the desert is Qatar’s heart beat then THIS surely must be the jewel in its crown. It’s a hauntingly beautiful yet little known natural wonder. The desert and dunes surround the sea where Qatar separates from Saudi Arabia. It’s a beach like no other that I have ever seen. It will require all your energy to get here but I promise it will be worth it.

Regency Sealine Camp

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Our final stop was the Regency Sealine camp. It’s a beautiful place to rest and relax – a metaphorical oasis in the desert with tented cabanas, a restaurant and great staff. The restaurant served a mouth watering buffet of grilled meats and kabsa accompanied by vegetables, breads and fresh salads with dips. Sweet deserts and fresh fruit followed with plenty of Qatari sweet coffee – qahwa helw. Everything was colourful and full of flavour. The service was impeccable.

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After lunch, I did little but relax and take in the spectacular views. Most of all, following the bumpy ride and the intense experience in the desert it felt good to slow the pace down. The beach here is private so it was possible to walk along it in peaceful serenity.

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So, if I must conclude, this safari went beyond expectations. An intense 4×4 adventure combined with a sighting of wild camels and a mesmerising inland sea are more than I could have hoped for in the space of 2 hours! Finally arriving at an oasis of luxury where I could shower, eat, change and stroll along a quiet white sandy beach for the rest of the afternoon was the icing on the cake. It felt like I had kept my cake and eaten it too and when you get here you will know exactly what I mean.

(www.regencysealinecamp.com)

Arts and Culture in Qatar

The Fire Station Gallery, Doha.

A flourishing art scene may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of the Gulf state of Qatar. That however, is exactly what is happening in the Qatari capital of Doha. Artists, musicians and writers have come together in a converted fire station, in Wadi Al Sail, to work and collaborate.

In one gigantic acknowledgement of the role creativity and heritage plays in Qatar’s development, The Fire Station Gallery provides a contemporary space for resident artists to showcase their work.

My first stop on this cultural exploration of Doha was a visit to The Fire Station Gallery. At the time of my visit, it was host to the first exhibition of it’s kind in the Middle East; Over 120 works by Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti following the larger exhibition at the Musée National Picasso in Paris. It is an exceptional show in an avant-garde setting. Furthermore, it’s curated by Fondation Giacometti director Catherine Grenier and the pieces are on loan to Qatar from the Musée National Picasso, Fondation Giacometti and several international collections. Most importantly, the exhibition is free, making it accessible to everyone and runs until 21st May 2017.
(You can see my pictures of the exhibition at The Fire Station Gallery here:
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Fire Station Gallery, Doha.
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Brunch al fresco at Cafe 999, The Fire Station Gallery.

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha.

My second stop was the pièce de résistance of Doha – The Museum of Islamic Art. The building designed by Chinese American architect I. M. Pei is an astonishing ode to Muslim architecture and history. Arches, water features and geometric patterns central to Islamic design compliment punctured, sculptural light fixtures inside and outside. The building stands alone on an artificial peninsula and is surrounded by it’s own park.

Spectacular entrance to MIA
Museum of Islamic Art.
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Museum of Islamic Art.
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Museum of Islamic Art.

Inside, the museum is home to a collection of artefacts curated since the late 1980’s which includes manuscripts, textiles, metal work, ceramics, jewellery, wood work and glass. Art from Spain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India and Central Asia dating from 7th – 19th century are displayed here making it one of the most complete collections of Islamic art in the world.

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Dagger and scabbard – India (1800)
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Qur’an and case – Iran (18th – 19th century).
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Jewelled falcon – India (circa 1640)
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Armour for horse and rider – Turkey (Late 15th century – early 16th century)

It was my first time in a museum of Islamic art and I found the artefacts breathtakingly beautiful. It is however, difficult to explain the vastness of this collection when it spans over 1400 years and collates objects from Persian, Mongolian and Ottoman empires. The MIA requires half a day at the very least if you are to do it justice and it will be time well spent as it is unlikely that you will see another collection of this size any where else.

At the end of the visit I couldn’t help feeling that Qatar’s arts and cultural development feels a great deal more homegrown and evidently more authentic. As I delved into this further, I found that this is owing to it’s museums being passionately spearheaded by it’s own ruling family. *Forbes magazine describes the head of the Qatar Museums Authority, Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, as “arguably the most powerful woman in the art world today”. As the person responsible for securing the purchase of the world’s most expensive painting (Paul Gauguin‘s When Will You Marry?) in 2015, the accolade is justly deserved. With such credentials Qatar’s cultural development should come as no surprise. It’s creating truly unforgettable experiences. Go see for yourself. I highly recommend them.

  • In collaboration with – Qatar Tourism Authority, Qatar Airways, The Sheraton Grand Doha, Qatar International Food Festival and Falcon Tours. 

www.visitqatar.qa,

www.qatarairways.com,

http://www.qifoodfestival.qa

http://www.sheratongranddoha.com

http://www.falcontours.com

*https://www.forbes.com/profile/sheikha-mayassa-al-thani/ (and Wikepedia)