downtown doha qatar

Doha, the capital of Qatar, is a a city in the making. For those of you who’ve ever walked the streets of a large city and wonder where and how it came to be, go to Doha to see the entire process before your eyes. There is something being built or totally out of place about every turn around Doha; giving it the essence it’s not nearly complete.

What this photo doesn’t really illustrate well are all of the dark back alleys in between and behind the bright city lights. They take you from modern Gulf architecture overload to slum chic, all within a few footsteps away from the yellow street lamps. The people, mostly workers from southeast Asia (as is common in the region) are, dare I say, guarded. The presence of invisible barriers can certainly be felt between the neighborhoods which can be slightly uncomfortable to walk through at night. I walked as far from the lights as I could, trying to tempt fate to see if those stares might turn into conversation or confrontation, from the groups of young men hanging out into the wee hours of the morning. None such moments materialized, although I did get some answers later that week.

Despite my inclinations in some of the seedier side streets, Doha has a relatively low crime rate, and most of the downtown is alive and accessible to tourists are most hours around the clock. Finding your way around is also particularly easy, since you can see the Fanar Islamic Center (that spiral building on the left) from most angles in town. That also happens to be right next to Souk Waqif, where ever road in town will eventually lead you.

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I’ll be writing more about Doha’s invisible walls and manic composition in the coming days, attempting to flesh out a city searching for its identity ahead of a staring role on the world stage.

For those of you who might have recognized this photo, a cropped version was what I used for the banner of The Best City To Visit Travel Tournament 2011 throughout the month of March.