…the day I turned my layover into a free bonus trip

Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.”
― The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt

I flew from Melbourne to Doha on a 15-hour long flight (phew!). It left me jet lagged, heavy-eyed, and disheveled. My connecting flight wound up having a 14-hour layover, after which I was bound to take another 4-hour flight to Islamabad. Counting my total transit time in your head? 33 hours! Yes. Crazy. Insane. However, everything in between was simply magical, absolutely pleasurable!

While generally considered to be nothing short of a malediction, a long layover can actually be a sweetener. We all dread the idea of sitting around the airport for hours – how uneventful and insipid - but turning that layover into a mini vacation can prove to be a delightful experience. With 14 hours on the ground, I had roughly about eight hours to explore the city (and to stretch my legs). I only got a taste of what Doha had to offer, but it was just enough to make me want to go back. This wasn’t preplanned – and I’m not the one known for being spontaneous or adventurous but I guess that is all about to change soon.

So, I decided to knock my socks off! Not literally, though. Got my transit visa approved, checked into a hotel, dumped my hand carry there, and booked a city tour with the hotel services. Overjoyed with the excitement of exploring a new city, a new country, while still dog-tired, I embarked on an adventure!

Being (somewhat) an art aficionado, my first stop was at the Islamic Museum of Art, the signature of Doha. The first thing I noticed as I entered the building was the magnificent large window looking out over Doha bay. Spending a year in Melbourne has somewhat westernized me (to some extent), so in a country that is presumably guided by Islamic or unfamiliar laws, I was petrified to do even the most normal things a tourist would do in fear of offending anyone (however, I later realized my fear was unfounded). You cannot imagine how thrilled I was when I spotted a white man that I comfortably approached to take a photo of me with the grand window in the background. I felt I could relate to a white man more than those Muslims strolling around in thawbs. Weird, I know.

Walking through this building, which is well known for the largest collection of Islamic art than any other museum in the world gave me a different view of cultural heritage and religion. Though from the name one might assume the museum is about Islam but you’ll be gratified to know that it also contains non-religious, Arabic, Asian and African art.

Doha, a cosmopolitan, modern city, is mostly man-made (you’ll hardly see anything ‘natural’ other than the sky over your head) with its skyline dominated by uniquely designed skyscrapers, however, the wonderland isn't short of green parks and spaces. My next visit was to Al Dafna Park; a seaside district which gives the park an astounding beach view. It was around 3 pm and the place was over-brimmed with women and children. Women, dressed up in traditional clothes, occupied benches and sat on the grass in small groups while they chatted in hushed ‘Arabic’ tones. Thanks to the ocean breeze; children were flying kites filling the sky with colors. I reckon they were on a school trip.

The restless shopaholic in me then magnetically pulled me towards Souq Waqif - a traditional, and probably the oldest market in Doha. The moment I rested my eyes on it, it transported me to the life and times of Disney’s Aladdin and Princess Jasmine. The ambience at this mud-coated iconic spot gives both locals and tourists a true feel of Arabic environment and a glimpse of past and a quainter Doha. It is a one-stop market where I found myself freely interacting with Qatari culture. From traditional food and souvenirs to diamonds, utensils, spices, sweets, rugs, and textiles a walk through the souq gives you an opportunity to explore hidden gems that are yet to be discovered. I even witnessed camels, birds and horses being bought and sold. Fascinating! Another interesting observation – photos of the king adorned most products, store walls and windows. Hail the king!

My next destination was Katara Cultural Village - located between the Pearl and West Bay on the eastern coast, it is a breath-taking spot of history and heritage. Although fairly new, and some of it is still under construction, yet it creates a beautiful feel of a small Arabic settlement. A young Sudanese driver gave me a free ride around the village in his neat little white buggy. During my brief interaction with him, he was able to fill me in with his life story. I took my time to appreciate the beauty of the sculptures artistically positioned between the amphitheater and the beach. There was also a considerably small but beautiful replica of the Blue Mosque of Turkey, and many other well known buildings and structures.

From a fascinating culture to awe-inspiring architecture, it’s a foregone conclusion that Doha is one of the best destinations in the gulf that would get any tourist electrified (no matter how long their flight was). The best thing about the city has to be its multiculturalism. In those few hours, I was able to interact with people from across the globe. Despite Qatar being an Islamic state, I observed that they show great cultural tolerance towards non-Muslims. Most local women were clad in abayas and burqas, while many foreigners could be seen wearing their regular clothes. No men were found ogling, no eyes were found wandering – I noticed! Maybe just a pair of my own!

It was an exhilarating experience that truly lifted my spirits. I do agree that these short trips may not be an ideal way of traveling to every city on your bucket list but seeing it as a bonus trip can often make it worth the added time. So I would suggest you to never miss the boat (or/and the plane)!

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  1. Great to see posts after 6 months.
    My website is islamabaddiaries.comvand can hardly take out time. Same routine of degenerating money machine.