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Oil that glitters is gold

In Doha, people know they have the money and they sure know how to spend it in style, writes Ajai Masand.

india Updated: Dec 09, 2006 02:24 IST

Fancy cars — you name a brand, you’ll find it here — palatial bungalows, imposing architecture, and all that can pamper your palate. Everything seems to be in abundance in Doha, capital city of Qatar, a tiny desert state in the Middle East.

And Doha is blissfully aware of the fact. With crude oil reserves that are not likely to be exhausted for the next couple of centuries, its denizens aren’t worried. As the saying goes in Doha — water is dearer than oil. Dig a well anywhere, and you’ll only get oil not water!

Plenty isn’t enough

The expatriates — they number more than half the local population and are mostly from Kerala — say the ongoing Asian Games have given Doha a brand new sheen. The plush Al Corniche area, which is also the hub of the city, defines Doha’s plenitude. Situated here are the Aspire Dome, which is the largest indoor dome in the world with a ‘floating’ roof, the Khalifa Stadium with the Games’ tallest Torch Tower ever built, and the Al Sadd Stadium, a replica of the Manchester United Stadium in the UK. Quite simply, Al Corniche, overlooking the massive blue waterfront, is a physical manifestation of the nation’s flourishing economy.

For the average Qatari, the sky is the limit. They tell you nonchalantly that Doha will one day have the world’s tallest tower. Living life kingsize comes wrapped in petro-dollars — natural gas and crude has brought with it a host of multinationals, and western culture is now ingrained in Qatari society. Local sheikhs and emirs, the most affluent community here, are looking at tourism as a prospective moolah-raker. And given the way the real estate prices are skyrocketing, be sure that this country will outstrip Kuwait and most other Gulf destinations on the tourism front one day.

Slice of India

Three in five of the 10-lakh population are expatriates, which shows Doha is the melting pot of global cultures. While Indians outnumber the rest, you also find Syrians, Kenyans, Egyptians, Bangladeshis and a sizeable representation from Nepal and the Philippines.

In fact, the Indian presence is so overwhelming, one doesn’t feel one is away from home. Only the other day, India’s ace long jumper and reigning Asian Games champion Anju Bobby George, and tennis star Sania Mirza said how Doha seemed like a home away from home. Speak to anyone in Hindi or Urdu and you won’t be disappointed. Indians are everywhere — driving cabs, working as architects, as top honchos, shipyard workers, and computer engineers. They are all here to make a quick buck.

Gracious hosts

The one thing you can’t help notice is the sense of camaraderie that prevails among the locals. To foreigners, the expats are polite, though the same cannot be said about the locals — they can be rude at times. At the Asian Games, however, the Qataris have been gracious hosts — evident during the Games, where they really laid out the red carpet for the international media and athletes.

Money, no problem

If Qataris have money, they also know how to spend it. The imposing Athletes’ Village and the massive Media Centre, locals say, were built in just a few months’ time ahead of the Games. If money isn’t a problem, time is not a constraint, clearly.

The glitter of money is also evident in the Porches, Chevrolets, Ferraris, Bentleys, BMWs and the ‘humble’ Mercedes Benzs that scorch the roads. You can spot the gas-guzzling Hummers too — thanks to the influence of the US, who have a military base here. No small cars here, mind you.

Five-star luxury caters to expensive tastes. Drop in at the Intercontinental, The Sheraton, Ramada International, Four Seasons or The Ritz Carlton, and you’ll know.

Indian cuisine lovers have options in the Najma area in the heart of the city. Try the local shorma, quite like Indian rolls. There are cheap alternatives too: The massive City Centre has affordable but exquisite coffee shops, besides cheap Italian and French restaurants. American fast-food joints like Hardy’s, KFC and McDonalds are to be found here too. They run well past midnight.

For those looking for cheap shopping, there are the awe-inspiring Carrefour and Demebham’s plazas in Al Corniche. At Gold Souk, you can bargain to get the best buy.

Sea-nic getaway

If you love the sea, Doha has a lot in store. The Al Koot Fort, Al Khor, Al Ghariay Beach, Al Thakhira beach, Dukhan Beach, Fuwairit Beach and the Sheikh’s Palace beach are a few places that offer outdoor entertainment and an enjoyable evening by the sea.

A word of caution. Qatar is an Islamic country and those flouting rules can be in for big trouble. Remember: Liquor is a strict no-no. But then, ‘drinkers’ can always make do with the famous Malayalee chai waala who stays awake all through night. And drive safely on the right side of the law because this is a left-hand drive zone.

Email Ajai Masand: ajaimasand @yahoo.co.in