Greet Qatar tourists
Dune tour to the desert sea
Qatar is an emerging tourist country on the Arabian Peninsula. There are interesting historical sites in the north, palm-fringed beaches can be found in the west of the emirate. However, if you want to see huge sand dunes up close, you should travel to the south of the country, as our travel author Ulrich Uhlmann did.
Qatar or Qatar - the gods and the Qatar tourism authority are still arguing about the final spelling of the country's name abroad. Until Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has the last word. Because he has the absolute say in what is said behind the scenes, the most prosperous country in the world. Young families are given special support, education and health care are free, and life expectancy is increasing year after year. The Qataris owe this to their underground treasures. The emirate, half the size of the Federal State of Saxony-Anhalt, can live on its oil and gas reserves for many years to come.
But the Qataris - around only a quarter of the population of around two million are "real" citizens - are already thinking about the post-oil era. We see this in Doha, the country's capital, which was literally "stamped" out of the desert around 50 years ago on the site of the small, lazy fishing village of Al Bidda. Everywhere now, too, cranes, growing green spaces, sports facilities and cultural institutions with a high image, glittering new office and hotel buildings made of glass and concrete. A subway is being built - all thanks in part to the Pakistani, Nepalese and Indians who bustle around the countless construction sites day and night.
Culture in the desert
Qatar is going to rely on tourism in the future. The Swiss hotel expert and country connoisseur Markus Kraus particularly recommends the cultural village of Katara to travelers, especially the Souq Waqif and a desert tour to the Singing Dunes or to Khor al Udeid. So we go to the Cultural Village Katara. Nabil Maaoni, one of the people in charge of the museum village, which only opened its doors a few years ago, greets us in excellent German, learned during long study visits to Germany and Austria. Not an unnecessary step in the heat, he says, and puts us in "electric carriages", whose drivers take us across the oriental alleys. Of course, free of charge for all visitors, such as also admission to the galleries and museums and other sights - after all, we are in wealthy Qatar. So the opera house and drama theater are visited. Institutions where European cultural experts would water their eyes with envy. There is also a spectacular amphitheater, several libraries and museums, an artisan souq and of course cafes and restaurants. Interesting three tower cones as high as a house, clay brown and decorated with Arabic ornaments. There are bird towers, explains Nabil. They were built years ago with their perches to house pigeons in Doha.
Gold and hawks
We continue to Souq Waqif, once a result of the Bedouin barter and renovated at the beginning of the century in an Arabic-oriental style. It is fun to stroll through the narrow streets, sorted by industry: spices, clothing, pets up to and including turtles, handicrafts, household goods, perfumes, gold jewelry - a real feast for the eyes. There is haggling and finally, after the purchase has been made, the shisha, a water pipe, is smoked in one of the street cafés.
At the end of the bazaar tour we land in the Falcon Souq. Lined up on poles, the hunting falcons sit in large numbers, lavishly adorned with their leather bonnets, and wait for well-off buyers. After all, there is hardly any business to be made for less than 30,000 euros. Everything remains open up to 100,000 euros, because falcon hunting has been part of the lifestyle of wealthy Arabs for centuries.
Roller coaster ride through the dunes
Change of scenery at the town of Al Wakra: Departure for the desert safari, also known as dune bashing. Our off-road vehicle driver Jassir Jemal, a genuine Katari in an ankle-length traditional white shirt dress, first stops at the "tire service". A foreign helper deflates in order to enlarge the contact surface of the rubbers. For one of the sons of the desert that would be too inferior service.
Now it goes for several hours from the asphalt road into the middle of the endless sand. Jassir teaches us in bumpy German: Buckle up, don't open any doors and keep the windows closed. And what's more: We don't have to worry, he has already taken part in several rallies in Arabia.
So into pleasure. It's still a leisurely pace on the level, sandy slope. But then the first towering dune appears. The jeep comes up to speed. With the tires spinning, we drive up the slope. The narrow ridge is already in sight. And then - a jump into nowhere? Yasser pulls the car around. Fine sand swirls over the panes. After a few meters we have to go back down. One dune lines up with the next in waves. We slowly drive to the edge. And before we know it, the fall begins 30 to 40 meters straight or diagonally downwards like on a roller coaster. The sand slows down the slide. We have a queasy feeling - is this going to work? It works. Jassir has everything under control.
Nevertheless, we are satisfied, but slightly beaten, when the Bedouin camp on the edge of the Khor al Udeid, the great sea in the desert, invites you to have a picnic. A creek, an arm of the sea, extends far into the country with its deep blue salt water. High sand dunes and ocher-colored salt pans that are second to none shine on its banks. No wonder that the Qataris and their guests cavort here on the weekends - the Bedouin heritage sends its regards.
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