Souq Waqif : A Tale of Time

“What are you thinking so hard for? Living in the middle east and you can’t write about Oasis !”, the IT consultant offered advice on hearing me murmur ‘oasis’ a couple of times. I followed the voice and found Arijit getting ready for office, and looking at me through the mirror.

I was walking up and down the room, with rather a different thought in mind.

Where does the tired mind find sanctuary to, if not within itself? When things go wrong, where does the poor fellow run to, but, delve deep within? Isn’t the reservoir of our inner resource and strength serves as the only constant healer of a depressed soul!

“You can talk about the serious psychology stuffs some other time, Madam. Why not write about Doha, for a change?”

Alright ! I know I make a terrible expat blogger. Duh !  

I am yet to find comfort in Doha, yet to come out of my homesickness. Tell me, how can I write about a place, if I’m not enjoying exploring it?

But of course…!

There is this one place where I can forget my yearning for India. Not because this place reminds me of my homeland. No. Not in the least. But every time I feel alien and alone, struggling to cope with the very different culture of Middle East, Souq Waqif reminds me of the magical tells of Arabian Nights. Magic Carpet! And the magic lamp of Aladdin!Souq Waqif1

Believe me, if you search real hard, any of these can be found in this one of a kind cultural bazaar.

The Bazaar:  Albeit they add to its magic quotient, it’s not the touristy artefact that makes this place so special to me. The captivating factor of Souq Waqif is its ambience above everything else.

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This traditional market place of Persian Gulf still resonates with an old world look and feel that adds to the charm.  

20141206_141556Each alley of the labyrinthine market specialises in different product, of which the one with perfume and Oud shops finds me loitering around, mostly. And hence, I have not yet got to explore the shops where they sell honey and dates of Yemen, Qatar and other GCC countries. Lines of shops selling traditional Arabian dresses and robes, the pashmina stalls where the tourists are found bargaining and the huge array of colourful mattresses and cushions all adds to the buzzing glamour of the bazaar.

History of Souq Waqif:  The literal translation of Souq Waqif –  The ‘Standing Market’ aptly conveys it’s history. The market place where the Bedouins use to come to trade goat, milk, sheep or wool, had been standing right here since forever. Around the end of last century it was on the verge of getting demolished. It is only some eight years back, that the Souq has been restored to its past glory. The craftily refurbished concrete alleyways, mud-walled shops and wooden beams on rooftops, bring back the 19th century atmosphere .

Location: Souq Waqif stands at the heart of Doha, next to the Corniche area and Qatar Islamic Centre of Studies. It is 15 kilometer from Hamad International Airport, (and 5 mins walking from my home, making my weekends leisurely yet happening.)

Attractions: Gold Souq and Bird Souq are two sections connected with the broad central area, by the narrow concrete alleys. The enclosed air conditioned Gold Souq makes for a gorgeous hide out during summer months, with plenty of shops to look around. Check out the big fat bridal jewelleries displayed in the shop showcases.

The Bird Souq sells rabbits, persian cats, turtle, guinea pig, and of course birds of hundreads and thousands varieties and colours. However, one must come before sunset to explore Bird Souq in its full swing. With a little assistance from the shop owner you can have a falcon perch on your shoulder for a while, and that’s for free. To own the falcon, however, come prepared with at least a thousand riyal in hand. Cute little leather head gears for the falcons, as well as GPS and landing pad are also sold here. I have seen many Qatari teenagers buying and playing with falcon and accessories here. Qatar is so serious about their Falcon-love, that there is a whole seperate hospital near Souq Waqif for them. Some spends more on a falcon than a racing car. Apart from that, the colours and variety of Macaws and Love birds are definitely a treat to the eye.

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Things to buy:  Fun souvenirs like transparent glass jars filled with contrasting layers of spices, bags made of camel skin, swords and knives, and bronze lamps like the one Aladdin had are some easy to carry touristy stuffs.

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Eateries: The central area of the market is surrounded by number of outdoor restaurants & cafeterias, of which my personal favourite is Café Asherg. I love this café for every possible reason, other than the fact that they don’t pay me for promoting them in my blog – not even a glass of Avocado juice with honey. Sigh ! Arabic and Lebanese cuisines are mainly served in these eateries, along with fresh juices, Turkish and Arabic Coffee, and all other regular hot and cold drinks. That is, all regular drinks, but beer. Double Sigh. (Alcohol remains far away from local people’s reach, only inside 5 and 7 star hotel lounges). To compensate, they have these delicious flavoured Sheeshas in almost all cafeterias in Qatar, but nothing like the ones in Souq Waqif. Sheesha is nothing but a small water pot, through which tobacco smoke is passed  before inhaling from the long pipe. Varied flavours of Sheesha is available here, mostly fruity, and it doesn’t taste bad to the non-smokers either. At 25 riyal you get to relax with a sheesha in hand for long hours, as they will keep replenishing the charcoal to make your Sheesha experience last long.

Lounging on the cozy chairs, smoking away my favourite watermelon sheesha, and people watching – jolting down the few gibberish, whatever is popping in my mind, in here, (free Wi-Fi zone :)) ! Aye! My life is not bad after all.

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Oh by the way, Chicken Kebab, known as Sesh Tawook and Khaboos – the Arabic style bread are my personal hot favourite in Café Asherg.

Remember the little boy from James Joyce’s ‘Araby’? Everytime I visit the Souq, I can’t help but regret that had Joyce send the boy to Souq Waqif in stead of the oriental market that he had gone to, perhaps his ideal dream would not have shattered.  For Souq Waqif lives upto the expectations, always, and never fails to provide a sanctuary from the drudgery of real life.

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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Oasis.”


You might also like a contrasting experience in “Like an Oasis” !

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24 thoughts on “Souq Waqif : A Tale of Time

  1. I’m a fiction freak, but I love this! It’s so atmospheric and full of colour, and some of the pictures are redolent of India, or at least of Goa. I could feel the hot sunshine on my back as I looked at them.
    I don’t know why I haven’t already followed your blog.

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    1. Thanks a lot Jane ! This is a huge complement ! Looking forward to hear your Goa adventure sometime 😀
      During summer months Qatar Sun is way extreme than Goa, you know. The cafe in Souq provides high speed fan and air cooler spraying mist to make things tolerable for the customers. Its nice now though…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your adventures sound so wonderful, I’m jealous! I’d love to travel more and this just makes me want to go somewhere new and exciting. Also, your blog is formatted really nicely! I know, random, but I’m still figuring out how to tweak things on mine. Really looking forward to reading more from you!

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    1. Thanks Woman 😀 I have changed the theme from a simpler one, very recently, and still being apprehensive about it. Thanks for the feedback.
      Guess what, here in Doha the maximum adventure I’m actually getting is in the brave new world of blogosphere. Rest, you know…the same old story of greener grass and blue-er hills 🙂
      I shall come and have a look at your blog in a moment 🙂

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  3. Head to the Souq to write whenever you’re feeling too isolated, and I many of us will be there with you! Love the post, and I like the new title (although I liked Doha Days, but this one is more inviting). I want you to know that SOUQ is an acceptable English Scrabble word, but only when it is spelled SOUK or SUQ. I will have to write Hasbro and Merriam-Webster angry letters about this. 🙂

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      1. Well… I mistyped and said “I many of us,” when I really meant to say only, “many of us.” But by “be there” I mean in spirit, as we read your next post from there. Reading this one was like being there. I’m afraid I am about at the antipode of Doha (actually, if you tunneled straight through the Earth from my location, you would come out the other side in the Southern Indian Ocean). I wish I could be there though!

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  4. Lovely post! I love Souks too, totally ‘Arabian Nights’ 🙂 I think we have a lot in common… I live in the UAE and originate from Assam (I can speak Bangla 😉 ) and when I first got here I was soooo homesick. Home for me is New Zealand, so the UAE was a total culture shock.

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