Doha - Desert - Singapore

Community Highlights Africa & The Middle East Doha - Desert - Singapore

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Having been up a couple of times in the night with an upset tummy, I don’t feel great this morning. It was inevitable that I would suffer from stomach problems on this trip, but I was hoping it wouldn’t start quite this early on in the journey.

We have another excursion booked through Viator today, this time out into the desert for a different side of Qatar. Bilal picks us up at 09:00, he also just messages me from the car to say he is waiting outside for us. Perhaps this is a Qatari thing – it doesn’t come across as very welcoming, though.

Al Khor Port

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In years gone by, locals used to go fishing from here; these days it is mainly Asians, although some of the boats are still owned by Qatari.

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Jazirat Bin Ghannam (Purple Island)

Known for the purple dye industry in the 2nd millennium BC, Bin Ghannam Island is the country’s oldest registered archaeological site. What we are seeing today, however, is a mangrove ecosystem, which provides habitat, food, and shelter for organisms that live on or in the bottom sediments.

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Salt flats are an important habitat for marine life, including burrowing worms, crabs, snails, and microbes living within the sand. We spot a couple of little crabs and some small fish, including this photo of a sole.

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Can you spot the sand-coloured fish?

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David's video shows the marine life better than my photos do.



The island is set beyond the city and port of Al Khor, and the mangroves reach all the way out to the sea.

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Photo from Visit Qatar website

It is said to be a great place for bird watching, with a number of migratory species passing through between August and October. Not a single bird is in attendance this morning – I guess they are hiding in the shade, and who can blame them?

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Zubara Fort

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Built in 1938, the fort functioned as a military and police post until the 1980s and was restored in 2011.

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The impressive fort, with its one-metre-thick walls, is now a museum where visitors can learn about Qatar’s history.

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Along with a nearby archaeological site, the fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

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David climbs the steep stairs to the roof, while I sit in the shade chatting to some fellow British tourists who are also on a stopover here in Qatar, they are on their way to Australia and Papua New Guinea.

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Located quite some distance from the sea, the fort has never come under attack. It was constructed on the orders of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani to guard and protect Qatar's northwest coast. Together with a series of forts along Qatar's coastline, it formed part of a complex defence system controlling the sea and the fresh water resources of the region. What I cannot understand, is why it was built so far inland. Bilal tries to explain to me, but I still don’t quite grasp the logistics behind it.

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You can barely see the coastline from the top

Zeekreet Limestone Formations

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In an area known as Bir Zeekreet, or Ras Abrouq, are several rock formations caused by the erosion of softer sedimentary rock by strong winds and rain, leaving behind just the harder limestone skeleton exposed. The rocks here are so soft that you can scrape them away with your fingers. Not that we try.

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At 60m above sea level, this is one of the highest points in Qatar, with the tallest ‘mountain’ being only 103m high. The whole experience is quite surreal, as the surrounding area is flat, flat, flat for miles, and then suddenly these rock formations appear.

We stop at a rock known as ‘The Eye’ due to an arch covering an eye-shaped hole in the mound.

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Despite the searing heat, David and Bilal climb to the opening in the rock, while I stay in the airconditioned car.

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Back in the car, we drive over the top to the side of the Eye, where the rock dips down a little. The mound is covered in soft sand, and it reminds me of some exhilarating dune bashing we have previously done elsewhere in the Middle East.

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Continuing on our way, we spot another rock formation that has an uncanny resemblance to a lizard. Strangely enough, we almost run over a small sand-coloured lizard close by.
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Most tour agencies advertise a stop at ‘Mushroom Rock’, one of the most famous of these formations.

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Today there is a film crew here, which apparently happens quite often, so we have to make do with photographing it from a different angle.

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Camel Farm

In a nearby small settlement, we visit a camel farm where animals are kept for producing milk.

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Zeekreet Village

The linguistic meaning of Zekreet is the ‘filling of a vessel’, describing the village’s ample access to water. Archaeologists have excavated a 19th century fort and a date press here.

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The rooms dedicated to madabis (date pressing) are of the same age as the fort.

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It is hard to distinguish here where the desert ends and the beach starts. We spot several campervans on the beach – this is a popular area for weekenders.

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Back in the desert, Bilal suddenly stops, reverses back for a bit, and gets out of the car. He has seen a small wild watermelon plant. As well as picking up a tiny fruit, he pours a whole bottle of water over the plant to give it a chance to grow.

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East West, West East

This unique art installation was created by America’s most famous living sculptor, Richard Serra, following a commission by Sheikha al-Mayassa al-Thani.

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Consisting of four standing steel plates, the artwork is said to celebrate man’s frailty in the face of nature’s immensity.

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The four plates, which are four metres wide, but only about 10cm thick (as you can see below), are arranged at regular intervals in a straight line for around one kilometre in the desert along the East-West compass points.

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The height of the pillars varies between 14 and 16 metres to allow for the different elevations of the terrain as the tops of the slabs are calibrated to be exactly even with one another.

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The installation is constructed from German steel, chosen for the different shades and hues it acquires while rusting. Erected less than 10 years ago, in 2014, the plates are already showing a significant amount of rust.

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Apart from a security guard in a car, posted to protect the installation from vandals, we are alone. Standing close to the plates, we can feel the heat radiating from the metal. Touching it is not recommended.

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Retiring to the car to get out of the blistering heat, Bilial serves us some refreshing tropical juice, and a couple of packets of local biscuits as a small car picnic. In this heat a large meal in the middle of the day is not required – or even desired – so this is ‘just what the doctor ordered’.

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Al Shahaniya Camel Racetrack

Camels are big business all over the Middle East, and Qatar has a long tradition of racing camels. In the old days, families would run their camels up and down the street at special occasions such as weddings, which then later developed into a sport.

The track was constructed in 1972 by the previous king and features three race tracks at differing lengths (4/6/8 kilometres). These days camels do not carry jockeys, but are led by robots operated remotely by the owners. With no race meeting taking place today, there is very little to photograph, and I do as the locals do: refuse to get out of the car!

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Warwick Hotel

Back at base, the security guards let us slip in without passing through the body scanners – we must be VIPs now! Ha!

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After a snooze and a shower, we visit the restaurant – still no Qatari food.

We order from the menu this evening – I choose biriyani with chicken, while David has nasi goreng with chicken.

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David's nasi goreng

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My chicken biriyani. Two large chicken pieces are hidden underneath the rice, making it a huge portion.

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My biriyani is accompanied by a refreshing raita

Both dishes are very good, I particularly like the crispy fried onion on top.

Doha Airport

We order an Uber to take us to the airport for our flight onwards to Singapore. On arrival, I ask the porter outside where I can find a wheelchair, and he not only rushes off to bring me one, he also pushes me to the check-in desk.

The lady at the counter is very kind and attaches ‘First Class’ tags onto our luggage.

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I change into another wheelchair to the waiting area, then a buggy to the meeting point, and a new chair to the gate. We go through a lovely indoor garden, with tall trees and flowering plants, piped bird song, and a complete wall of water.

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On the mezzanine floor, there is a train leading to some of the gates. The airport is huge, but surprisingly quiet at this time of night (midnight)

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There is a long, long wait at the gate for the porter to arrive, and we are getting a little concerned when all the other groups have finished boarding, including Business Class. A delicious coffee ice cream – one of the best ice creams I have ever had – helps to pass the time.

Eventually the porter turns up, and wheels me out to the bus, which takes us on what appears to be a convoluted journey to the plane. The plane seems to be very much higher than usual, I guess normally when I have boarded an Airbus in the past, it has been via a tunnel, not the 35 steep steps from the tarmac. Thankfully I don’t have to, as we go up in the lift, and are the very last to board.

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The flight is anything but pleasant, with my knees, coccyx, foot, back and hip all hurting at some stage. After the rather ghastly wet chicken sandwich served earlier in the flight, I make a point of missing the main meal, instead taking extra painkillers which means that I manage to get some sleep. When I wake up we will be approaching Singapore, which will be the subject of the next blog entry.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this incredible trip of a lifetime for us.

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This featured blog entry was written by Grete Howard from the blog Grete's Travels.
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By Grete Howard

Posted Mon, Dec 18, 2023 | Qatar | Comments