Doha, Qatar - a Walk in the City before Dohaland demolition began

Doha - a Tale of Two Cities

Two cities? Yes. There is the Doha the authorities want to promote and there is the other Doha. The Doha of dusty streets, overcrowding, slum dwellings, little corner shops, juice stalls and street restaurants. Vibrant Doha, walkers' Doha - my Doha. But it is disappearing fast. Much of what is photographed here is already gone.

The New Doha is not hard to find. Pick up any tourist guide and you can read about the 5-star hotels, shopping malls that look like a copy of Vegas's copy of Venice, world-class sporting facilities, international conferences and debates, and of course Al Jazeera Satellite Channel. Most guide books, afraid of offending, coyly refer to 'the controversial Al Jazeera TV'. It has in fact challenged and broken the comfortable Western monopoly on English language news. Jazeera is right up there with CNN and BBC with at least an equal claim to journalistic integrity.

Al Jazeera TV

Main Entrance to Al Jazeera Arabic Channel
Main Entrance to Al Jazeera Arabic Channel | Source

Al Jazeera Network

Al Jazeera is much more than an Arabic News Channel. As well as the original Al Jazeera (Arabic) Satellite Channel, there are the Sports Channels, the Documentary Channel, the Live Channel (Mubasher) covering live events and the much acclaimed English Channel. For political reasons, this is not available directly in US, but can be accessed via the web.

Venice has arrived

Villagio Mall - Venice twice removed
Villagio Mall - Venice twice removed | Source

Complete with Grand Canal, electric gondolas and a synthetic Mediterranean sky, Venice has arrived in Qatar, to quote the huge billboards all around the city. It's fine for those impressed by such things. I just wonder how long it will be before the streets of Rome are boasting - Doha has arrived in Italy!

OK, Let's start walking!

So much for the New Doha. Let's now start the walking tour of the real Doha. Like many cities, Doha developed haphazardly as an urban sprawl with no clear centre. But it's generally accepted that the old town centre is around the Sofitel and Souq areas. So we'll start there, by going to a high place - the roof of the Sofitel (Mercure) hotel - for a look around.

Don't Jump!

musheireb and national, now entirely gone
musheireb and national, now entirely gone | Source

The Corniche & West Bay

Here we're looking over the old commercial area towards the Corniche. The high rise buildings on the skyiline are the New Doha, a soul-less place I am pleased to avoid. Unlike Dubai, which appears to have planned its modernisation, Doha has been led by the nose by quick-buck developers. The resulting hotch-potch of skyscrapers is about as ugly as anywhere on the planet.

The nearer area we're looking down on is a sprawl of lo-rise shops and office blocks, of no architectural interest and largely of poor construction quality, but perfectly functional, coherent and alive.

Now turn around...

Musheireb towards Muntazah, slum district awaiting clearance
Musheireb towards Muntazah, slum district awaiting clearance | Source

Would you live here?

This is one of the city's slum districts, right in the heart of town. It is home to a huge mainly Pakistani community living cheek by jowl in rough concrete shacks with minimal services and facilities. It's a place of corrugated iron and cockroaches, of fallen and falling buildings, and of hope and pride against all the odds. There are no women here. The low-paid workers are not allowed to bring their wives, even if they could afford to. The State categorises them as bachelors and denies them right of assembly in public places. It's not good, apparently, for rich shoppers to see poor workers.

Sights Unseen

Earth has not anything to show more fair...
Earth has not anything to show more fair... | Source
Waiting to fall down.
Waiting to fall down. | Source
The trees are given some respect
The trees are given some respect | Source
Urban clearance
Urban clearance | Source

Going walkabout...

Here's a typical commercial block not a hundred yards from our Sofitel vantage point. Notice the exquisitely honed rectangular windows set off by neat vertical grey-green stripes, the colour clearly chosen to blend perfectly with the shit-brown rust streak to the left.

Then we have an interesting creation in vertical concrete slat-work. This building, marking the top of the romantically named Electricity Street, was nominated for recognition as a Wonder of the Modern World, simply for not falling down. The corporation refuse skips (lower right) also add a certain je ne sais quois.

Next we have a tree on a plinth. Deciduous trees being scarce in the desert, it is a principle here never to destroy one unless there is no choice. So, when urban clearance takes place, the bulldozers clear everything around, but leave the few trees standing proud, like this.

At this point, I'd like to remind you that my walk is in 40C (105F) desert sun. I'm pleased to suffer for my art, all to bring you such sights of wonder!

This one's interesting. On the right, a tree on a plinth, but you know all about these now. Lots of cleared desert, then in the middle distance, a strange token fortification standing on a rock platform. Here and there in Doha, they have built lumps of pseudo heritage. This particular one is living on borrowed time, as there are development plans for the whole cleared area. Beyond, there is the Rydges Hotel, with views over the Corniche and the Royal Palace. Rydges is due for demolition in 2009. Something to do with overlooking the Royal Palace...

And finally -

Even I, allergic as I am to five star hotels and shopping palaces, occasionally am forced to recognise that my wardrobe is in need of a few extra items. No problem. Doha has all the top names, all the fashion houses, outfitters, haute couturiers from every continent but Antartica. We're spoilt for choice. We're so lucky! We even have...

king of fashion - no longer with us
king of fashion - no longer with us | Source

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Comments 27 comments

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey

Thanks for braving the heat and dust with your trusty camera, Paraglider, to bring us a glimpse of the real Doha, warts and all. You make an excellent travel guide and I see you have a gift for irony as well as poetry:-)

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Robie - I like the old town for its life. Of course Doha has to 'develop' like everywhere else, but they are doing themselves no favours by the lack of coherent planning. Meanwhile, I'll just keep walking!

marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

It is our peek into your world. A window of interest! Than you for so eloquently describing your country and cities, with much the same poblems as our own.

I enjoyed this guide.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Marisue :) Every city has its highs and lows. But most are invisible from inside a car. Walking is a must!

jreuter profile image

jreuter 8 years ago from Portland, Oregon

Thanks for the info Paraglider, this was an intersting one to read, and the villagio mall! wow.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks jr - it's not quite Luxor, but you have to find your sights and sounds where you can.

starcatchinfo profile image

starcatchinfo 8 years ago

interesting tour of Doha : tale of two cities!

countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

Paraglider- In India every major city has these two aspects the posh and the slum areas. Nice pictures and yes we can get to see hidden areas when we tread off the beaten track. I was shocked to read that "only pakistanis" existed in that particular slum area. btw your title reminded me of Charles Dickens novel and the story revolving between london and paris.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Countrywomen - the slum areas here don't compare to the ones I've seen in Mumbai, but in a country as rich as Qatar, there's really no excuse for not having cleared them long ago. It's happening, gradually, but the focus is more on building the new Doha than restoring the old one.

countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

Paraglider- Mumbai has the largest slum in the world called "Dharavi". I have a quick question: when the price of petroleum has decreased to 1/3rd how resilient are these economies which predominantly depend on oil exports as the main source of their income.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

OPEC can fix the price they need, so it's not solely market driven. The prices are dropping because of expected reduced consumption, but when that stabilises (at a lower level) I think the prices will rise again. Don't tell Dubai that Mumbai has the biggest slum, or they'll have to build a bigger one!

countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

Paraglider- I heard they were planning to cut down oil production to boost the price. Ok I won't tell atleast in something we should be the largest in the world...LOL. I was stunned by the architecture of el burz in Dubai and wish I get to see it in person. Thanks for the quick response on this (Waiting on that Filipino hub still)...hehe

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

The Burj Al Arab - yes it's a fantastic building, and looks great from the land or the sea. I've never been inside it. When I lived in Dubai I was always meaning to go 'some day' and now I'm not there any more.

RGraf profile image

RGraf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

Goes to show that you shouldn't believe everything you read or see. Great pictures. I doubt I'll ever visit but after reading this piece, it is on my list of places to see.


DohaResident 7 years ago

Thanks for putting up your tour of Doha. As an expat and tempirary resident in Doha, they really do need to think before they build. The infrastructure is not able to keep up with the rate of building here, and if they want businesses to come here then they must introduce more in the way of entertainment for people.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

DohaResident - I couldn't agree more. In fact, in the four+ years I've been living here, the choice of places to go (apart from shopping malls) and the general 'freedom' has worsened, not improved. Check out my blog for ongoing commentary about Doha and Dubai (not too serious!)

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

hmmmmmm, it is like Manila, many skycrapers building and slum on the other sides, and my Manila too, it is your DOHA too< but I think it is still a nice place, specially like Venice one, shopping area, all womne love that.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Even since writing this hub, large parts of the city centre have been cleared with a view to beautifying the old town. It's good, but will probably price out all but the wealthiest.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago

Fascinating hub. Not too dissimilar to Detroit and other cities I've visited.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Ralph - pity my camera doesn't capture the sounds and smells. That's where the main difference lies!

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

Hi Dave, I came back in this hub bec. QATAR won as the country host for the 2022 World CUP, I am imagining what a massive reconstruction it will entail...Maita

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

And I linked this also to my hub!

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Maita - it's more new construction than reconstruction, I think. Because the Qatari authorities will probably want to keep the whole event well away from Doha.

scribboz 5 years ago

A very interesting read. I hope the situation has improved now for the slum. That bit about Venice in Qatar is so much like Las Vegas in the US. And the trees -- wow.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

scribboz - that slum district is still there, but scheduled for clearance within the next year or so. Not sure where they intend to rehouse the people though.

kingsley 4 years ago

I intended coming to Qatar hoping that i will get a good job. However, I was told that there is no opportunity over there. Please how true is it? Thank you

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

That is nonsense. The place is full of opportunities with new projects starting every week. But it's not easy to get a job on spec. You should arrange employment before you come.

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