Given its rapidly growing pace that is poised to make it one of most spectacular cities of the Gulf, Doha is a picture of modernity and sophistication. The capital city of Qatar today is synonymous with the “Corniche” which is its waterfront promenade as well as its ever-evolving magnificent skyline that hosts several snazzy skyscrapers. But, if you are a culture vulture and are looking to experience Doha at its authentic best, head to the unique Souq Waqif in the centre of the city. Translating into market place or commercial centre, the souq is a picture of colour, hustle, bustle and vigour and is one of the most popular spots in the city.
The Souq has been in existence since at least a century, when it was used primarily by the Arabic nomads or Bedouins as a market place to trade cattle, sheep, goat and other goods. The souq has always been located strategically close to the shore so that goods could be transported easily by boats. As time progressed, trading saw a decline and a major fire saw most of the souq destroyed in 2003. An outcry and heavy demand for restoration resulted in the complete rebuilding and refurbishment of the souq in 2008.
Today, the souq is a perfect reflection of the architecture and heritage of the commodity market of the yester years and is in fact one of the very few traditional souqs that exist today in the entire Gulf region.
Shop till you drop
With a distinctive rustic ambience, winding alleys, road side eateries and vintage lamp posts, the Souq Waqif exudes plenty of old world charm. It is literally a maze with a plethora of shops that are uniformly numbered, selling a wide variety of stuff. You can shop here for antiques including the famous Qatari coffee jugs aka “Dallah” and Aladdin lamps as well as traditional Qatari outfits including bukhnoqs and embroidered fabric.
There are a carpets, exclusive incense, spices and dry fruits apart from a whole range of knick knacks and souvenirs. Perfumes, pottery, ceramics and beaded jewellery are aplenty and it is a great idea to soak in the unique culture of Qatar while shopping at the souq.
There is also a full-fledged bird market where umpteen kinds of birds can be bought to keep as pets.
There are several restaurants as well as food carts serving authentic Arabic, Indian and Mediterranean cuisine to complement the whole experience. The souq also houses an art gallery, a heritage police station as well as a gold market.
There are several distinctive offerings that are exclusive to Souq Waqif alone. One such experience is the Falcon souq that is located adjacent to the main building. The falcon is a symbol of status and is reared by the locals in Qatar. At the falcon souq, you can see these birds on display, adorned with leather caps, ready for sale. Apart from the birds, you can find falcon accessories and even a Falcon hospital!
In addition to this, auctions are held in the souq for rare and collectible items including antiques. Auctions are usually in Arabic and are held on Fridays.
There are local dance and music shows that are a perfect medium to showcase the native culture as well as special events like equestrian festivals that are held on particular days. While shopping in the souq, do have your bargaining skills handy and do not miss the sight of the local porters in traditional Arabic outfits with maroon numbered coats. They are a common sight in the souq transporting wares in wheelbarrows when not sitting in them outside their little shops!
This article was originally published in The Tribune here.