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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Like an Oasis

Recently I came across the word ‘aircondition culture’ in one of my neighbourhood blog, and that kept me thinking…

A tall arched door opens to a silky vanilla coloured pavement, with shops on both sides. All big international brands and chains, but we didn’t have time for all that then. White trident villagio-mall-dohastreet lights were lining up the lane for as far as the eye could see. A few more steps ahead, there is this tiny little river flowing across the town. Two boatmen ferrying those incredibly romantic gondola-boats, stopping at the bank, offloading passengers and taking the new pack of travellers for another fresh trip at a nominal fare of 10 riyal per person. A small traverse crisscrossing the waterway, and a cool pleasant bridge. Me and Arijit were sitting in the road side Starbuck outlet, sipping our creamy cup of Cappuccino and absorbing the ambience. I was a little chilled, cause the climate was really cool. Like a dream it was ! How I wished this to be the whole of Doha like !

At the foot of the small cross over, there was a person selling balloons. Balloons not like the one I find in parties at home. Here, these were of rich glossy plastic make, of various Disney faces, filled with some gas that enables them to fly up to the sky. The sky was clear blue, and perhaps it was dusk, and the sun had just set, so a little purplish too. I loved holding the string of a balloon that Arijit bought for me. A little childish though, I know, a lot childish actually. But isn’t it fun to be a child every once in a while !

So there we were, sipping our evening cuppa at 2 pm in Doha summer. From the Starbucks courtyard we were admiring the vanilla buildings across the street, with multi coloured glass panes and glittery shops in the ground level. Careless that I was, as always, the balloon from my hand slipped and flew up above the sky. Then it got stuck at a little purple patch, in between two cottony clouds, right above the vanilla rooftop. Continue reading “Like an Oasis”