We rediscover Doha along with our cover star Sonakshi Sinha and end up unveiling the rustic as well as the flamboyant side of the hottest new destination in the Middle East. By Chirag Mohanty Samal
Produced by Aindrila Mitra
Photographs by The House of Pixels
Styled by Sanam Ratansi
Makeup by Savleen Manchanda
Hair by Madhuri Nakhale
Location: Doha, Qatar
How would you feel if you landed amidst a sci-fi movie set that you saw growing as a kid? Doha, the capital city of Qatar, feels like that at first sight to me. Tall skyscrapers, twisted buildings of glass and steel, bent and jutting out at impossible angles—I stare in amazement at the architectural marvels designed by A-list architects like Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, I.M. Pei, Rem Koolhaas, Alejandro Aravena and Arata Isozaki—all Pritzker Architecture Prize winners.
A gleaming vision of the future, the city seems like a playground of the wealthy. As if on cue to my meandering thoughts I catch sight of yachts anchored on the electric blue Persian Gulf with the Doha skyline in the backdrop. If you’ve seen the trailer of Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, starring Jason Statham, that’s set to release early next year, then the city gives you a feeling of déjà vu. Part of the Hollywood movie is shot here.
Doha is like the Middle Eastern gem that is just beginning to be discovered. I am here for a cover shoot with Bollywood actor Sonakshi Sinha for T+L India. We want to explore the sights, sounds and the overall vibe of the place with her. Besides the shoot locations, I have a personal check-list of places that I want to tick off as well. So, here’s an account of trailing our cover star as she stops at the well-known city attractions for the perfect shot, and a few detours as well.
As I drive from the airport to Ritz-Carlton, Doha, where the crew and Sinha are put up, I cross the waterfront Corniche with the skyscrapers of West Bay glittering in the bright sun. Doha boasts of shiny new hotels, splashy restaurants and state-of-the-art museums, galleries and malls. Though there are edifices like the Museum of Islamic Art designed by I.M. Pei (this prominently features in the Jason Statham movie), and Burj Doha, the 761-ft skyscraper designed by Jean Nouvel, it’s the National Museum of Qatar, another creation of Nouvel, that stands out. The museum looks like a unique formation of sand-coloured interlocking discs. It’s created in a way to resemble a desert rose, the clusters of sand and crystals found in the region’s arid salt basins.
The museum serves as the first location for our photo shoot. While the exteriors look stunning, it’s the interiors that cast a spell on unsuspecting minds. The museum houses various interactive exhibits that explore Qatari heritage and history from pre-historic times to present day. A walk through the museum gives you a newer perspective about the tiny nation.
Msheireb Downtown is another location that needs to feature in the list of all first-time travellers here. It’s the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project that has revived Doha’s old commercial district into a hub of modern buildings including commercial and residential properties as well as retail and cultural offerings. From niche retail to al fresco dining options and heritage museums, this place brims with options for tourists.
Speaking of shopping, Doha has ultra-modern malls featuring international designer stores and brands like Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Bulgari, Cartier and more. Each mall, be it Villaggio, Lagoona, Galeries Lafayette, the Mall of Qatar or Al Hazm, has something unique to offer. For instance, the Villaggio mall has an indoor canal complete with gondolas for shoppers to experience a slice of Venice in the desert city!
If you think Doha with its landmark architecture is a futuristic city, you have only half the picture right. The Arab city is also a cultural nerve centre—while it has held on to its roots, it has added global traits in terms of new museums, investments in art and film festivals. To get a better understanding, we head to Katara Cultural Village, another venue for our cover shoot.
Bordered by a vast beach on one side, and the twin Katara Hills on the other, Katara spelt like its ancient name, takes you back in time. The 15-metre high perforated, baked clay towers is the first thing you notice. These, unlike their fancier counterparts in West Bay, are pigeon towers that were earlier used in Arab villages as pigeon shelters to collect droppings to be used as manure for crops.
The vast self-styled village follows a uniform colour palette of muted golden with well-laid out alleys and cobbled streets leading to art galleries, exhibition centres, convention halls, theatres, a library, stores and mosques. The Katara Masjid, featuring an outer surface covered with turquoise and purple tiles, draws inspiration from several famed mosques from the Islamic world and is known as the Blue Mosque. The other mosque in the premises has its exterior covered with small golden chips, and is aptly called the Golden Mosque.
At the onset of dusk, the crew moves to Souq Waqif, a local marketplace that offers you a glimpse into the soul of Qatar. Here, you are almost teleported to a time when Bedouins traded spices, pearls, and food. Narrow alleys and back lanes open up to intriguing courtyards lined with shops selling everything from spices, dry fruits, sweetmeats, leather goods, clothes, daggers, bakhoor (Arabic incense), carpets, and birds! Men dressed in white long robes and kaffiyeh and women in inscrutable black abayas move about in the market, conversing and buying stuff. The scene is oddly reminiscent of the exotic Middle Eastern markets we often witness in Hollywood movies.
By evening, when the shoot wraps, the marketplace has donned a different hue and look. The labyrinth of alleys and shops are lit up with shisha bars and azaan streaming in from slender towers of nearby mosques. Some of the streets now have women selling diverse foods and scents. The different aromas mingle and fill up the recesses of my mind, sure to reappear as memories of this unusual evening.
Food and nightlife
Life takes a fun turn as the sun sets. Doha has a variety of dining options offering everything from local Qatari cuisine to French, Syrian, Japanese, Indian and more. If you want a rustic experience, head to Al Jasra, a bistro that lies inconspicuously in one of the alleys of Souq Waqif. Run by five Qatari women, the place has plenty of local handicraft on display, streams camel races on the plasma screen, and serves traditional Qatari cuisine. On any regular day you find Qatari men enjoying tabouleh and engrossed in deep conversations. And if it’s a good view you like with your food, then Al Shurfa Arabic Lounge is the place to be. It looks out over Souq Waqif, offering stunning views of the Middle Eastern panorama unfolding in the streets.
Doha also houses world-class fine dining restaurants serving global cuisine. While the five- star hotels each have a lounge or a restaurant that’s worth visiting like the B-Lounge at Ritz-Carlton, Coya Doha at W, Morimoto at Mondrian, it is Nobu at the Four Seasons Hotel that Sinha wants to experience.
Nobu has restaurants around the world, but the one in Doha is the largest. Designed by New York-based architect David Rockwell, the sleek restaurant offers sweeping views of the gulf. The food by chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa blends traditional Japanese dishes with Peruvian ingredients and each dish is a sensory delight. We savour black cod in miso, foie gras shiitake dumplings, and whitefish sashimi, ending the meal on a high note with an assortment of desserts including mochi ice cream, Nobu cheesecake, miso chocolate sphere and exotic fruits. They are beautifully served like a piece of art.
As we are about to wind up our last night in Doha, Sinha beautifully sums up the experience: “One word that comes to mind when you are in Doha is opulence. You see beautiful architecture—a mix of the old and the new—with a touch of flamboyance.”
Getting to Doha
Qatar Airways operates multiple flights to Doha from major Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kochi, and more.
Where to stay
Located on a private island in West Bay Lagoon, the Ritz-Carlton Doha overlooks the Arabian Gulf and offers a plethora of world-class dining options. Doubles start from INR 17,391 + taxes.