Qatar Off The Beaten Path Tips by jungles Top 5 Page for this destination
Qatar Off The Beaten Path: 13 reviews and 37 photos
Herd of sheep and goats in the desert
While Doha is doing its very best to forget its simple past and bedeck itself with all the glitz and glam of the world's swankiest luxury hotels, there are still places in Qatar where life continues here as it has for centuries. I was reminded of that when I came across a goatherder on a donkey leading a large flock of sheep and goats through the desert near the coast. There was a tent with a few beds and simple furniture nearby, which presumably is where he lives. A few kilometres away was a small village that appeared to be completely abandoned, apart from another herd of goats, and a lone man (another goatherd?) who sat on a bed in the courtyard of an empty building. Life must be hard out here in the desert, and before long these few who are left will probably follow the rest of the villagers to Doha, looking for a better life. But it's nice to see that for now, at least, a few traditions still remain.
Carvings used for ancient games
Near the coast in the northeast of the Qatari peninsula there is a series of limestone hills (jabals). On some of these hills you can find rock carvings that are believed to be several thousand years old. These were discovered during archeological expeditions in the 60s and 70s, when over 900 carvings were catalogued. You'll be lucky to find a fraction of those, but you should be able to spot at least a few. There are said to be carvings which depict boats, some from an aerial view and others from the side. We could not find any of these, but we did see plenty of patterns of circular depressions cut out of the rock; these were used in playing traditional stone-throwing games called Al Aailah and Al Haloosah.
Some sources state that human habitation of the Qatar Peninsula dates as far back as 50,000 years, yet little is known about these ancient cultures, since a harsh climate, lack of resources, and frequent periods of conflict have made it inevitable that no settlement would develop and prosper for any significant length of time before the discovery of oil. Some historical texts indicate that the first inhabitants of Qatar are the ancient Canaanites, who are known for their trade and navigation skills.
Take the North Road from Doha for about 45 min. then turn right at the sign for Fuwairit. Continue until you reach the deserted village at the end of this road, then follow the track to the right that heads back down the coast. A good place to start your exploration is the large jabal near the isolated house with the large wall around it. You can reach this far with a regular car, but to continue into the desert you will need a 4WD. Bring plenty of water.
Me climbing a limestone mushroom
The west coast of Qatar makes a good day trip from Doha, or it could also be a nice place to camp overnight. The first place of interest you'll come to is Bir Zekreet, which is a limestone escarpment where the chalky soft rock has eroded into mushroom-like formations. To get there from Doha, head west past Al-Shahaniya and take the signposted turn-off on the right about 10km before Dukhan. From the turn-off turn right at a gap in the gas pipes 1.5 km past the school.
After exploring the formations, if you get back on the turn-off road and continue north you will likely come across a herd of grazing camels and their herder. Keep following the road as it turns into a dirt track and you will pass by a small archeological site of an old fort. There is not much to see here. If you continue on this track for half an hour or so, you will eventually come to a much grander fort in the middle of a nature reserve. You will see ostriches here and possibly some oryx. Be wary of the ostriches as they can be aggressive. This fort unfortunately has no real history; apparently is was built as a movie set three years ago. The thin layer of mud plaster is starting to peel, revealing the concrete underneath. Still, it's very attractive, as long as you don't look too closely (see photos four and five).
From the fort you can see some stone cylindrical structures a little further on. I don't know the history of this place, but I imagine it's much more authentic than the fort. It could make a good campsite. You could also access this area by following the coastline; either route will require a four-wheel-drive.
It's amazing how many creatures are able to live in this inhospitable climate. I almost ran right over this lizard while he was sunbathing in the middle of the road.
Al Zubara Fort
Al Zubara Fort, built in 1938 during the reign of Sheikh Abdullah bin Qassim Al Thani, is probably the best-preserved of Qatar's historic forts. Used by the military until the mid-1980s, it now stands alone in the middle of stark desert on Qatar's west coast. There are a few dusty, half-hearted exhibits inside showing some coins and shards of pottery found in the area, but the reason to visit is for the fort itself. Unfortunately it has been marred by graffitti, but much of this has been at least partially covered on the outside walls. A friendly caretaker lives alone in the small house just in front of the fort. He will be happy to see you but does not speak much English; he doesn't ask for any admission charge but will gladly accept a small tip.
To get there, take the North Road (not the coastal road) from Doha past Al Khor; you will see a sign for a turnoff on the left-hand side to Al Zubara. Continue on this road for about twenty minutes through the desert until you see the fort. It is about a 1 1/2 hour drive from Doha.
Phone: +974 4701252
Inland waterways and the sea beyond
Al Wakrah is just a 15 minute drive south from Doha. It is a fishing village that still has a very active port and is surrounded by attractive coastline. It is much quieter than Doha, though contruction is booming here as well, and it probably won't be too long before the urban sprawl from the capital makes it just a Doha suburb.
For more info, see my Al Wakrah page.
Taking a break
Al Khor is a small city on the northeast coast of Qatar, about a 45 minute drive from Doha. While there's not too much happening there, it's a pleasant contrast to the noise of traffic of so-eager-to-modernize Doha. Having said that, bulldozers were actually digging up the road just behind the Corniche when I was there, so my peaceful escape was filled with the now-familiar sound of jackhammers. Still, there was no traffic and it's a pleasant place to visit for a day. The Corniche has a beach with amenities such as a children's playground and a volleyball net, and on the day we visited a few South Asian expat workers were playing cricket on the beach. Unfortunately, as with much of Qatar's coastline, the waters of the bay are much too shallow for swimming.
There's an active fishing port with lots of colourful dhows. The town is also scattered with several old watchtowers.
If you're here in the evening, try to find out where Hard Khor are playing. They're an expat cover band that made quite a splash at the Dunestock 2006 music festival, mostly just because everyone liked their name.
There are two roads that lead to Al Khor from Doha. The inland highway is an extension of Doha's D-Ring Road. While the coast road is better and faster (no large trucks are allowed), depending on your starting point you may have to sit through lots of city traffic in Doha before you reach it, thus negating its advantages. By the way, you can't actually see the coast for much of the journey on the "coast road."
This is a small town about 22km north of Doha. It's a very quiet, backwater town, but it holds a few examples of traditional architecture that make it worth a visit.
One is a fort which appears to have been recently renovated. The fort is walled in and both times I've been there the gates have been locked, but there are places where the wall is low enough to jump over it quite easily. Inside there are two large towers, a small mosque, and another small rectangular building, all made from traditional mud construction techniques.
From the top of the towers you will be able to see another set of mud-brick towers in the distance. One belongs to a mosque and the others belong to what appears to be a still-inhabited home next door to the mosque. Next to this dwelling there is a very green oasis on one side with lots of palm trees and grass, and on the other side are the bare stalks of very dead palm trees. I guess the irrigation system didn't extend that far!
To get there from Doha take D-Ring Road north. This becomes the inland northbound highway, though at the time of writing (April 3rd, 2006) there was a stretch on the outskirts of town where this road was under construction. If that's still the case then you'll be forced to take a detour left, then you should turn right a block or two further and try to get back onto the highway once you've passed the contruction. From the highway you will see road signs marking the left turn for Uum Salal Mohammed. Once you're heading into the town, take a right at the first roundabout, and then the first right again. You'll see the fort straight in front of you.
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