Doha's famed piazza substitute, the most charming and effervescent Souq Waqif, is a meeting place of ages and cultures, as one gets acquainted with the old Qatari tradition of commerce and hospitality.
From morning to night, the souq is like an actor changing costumes, make-up, performing for adoring fans.
In the early hours, one can observe how Arab women, dressed in black, carefully choose ingredients for their exotic recipes. They taste, they check, and they know secrets of colour and perfume, and the plants and spices they choose. And they are very demanding.
Merchandise is displayed so originally that on your tour, you encounter, one by one, handmade oriental rugs, prayers and jewellery shops, perfume and incense burners, models of Qatari traditional buildings and souvenirs, old pictures, paintings, terraces with karak tea and Turkish coffee, ice-cream, 1001 nights sweets (kunafa and mamoul cocktail pistacho are great), shops selling cutlery, silks and scarves, traditional dresses, leather shoes - the bedouin ones are very beautiful and chic.
And then, inside the souq, there is the Art Center, one creative nest where you can assist artists while they create amazing portraits in real time - desert landscapes paintings, camels, falcons, Arabian horses, miniatures in sand and portraits of Arabs. Here you can even take up art classes and become aware of the Islamic aesthetics, motifs and values.
Many of the hidden treasures of Souq Waqif come from India and are available at very affordable prices. Silk and spices, cosmetics and herbal beauty products (turmeric and Chandrika soap, sandalwood powder, jasmine and roses petals, super fine quality teas), they are all from India.
After the Dhuhr prayers, the souq starts to fade in activity, as shops begin closing and you can maybe see the only place in the world where doors are just a piece of textile, no other lock. Merchandise is left outside in original display, when it is closed, like when it is open. Statues, jewellery and souvenirs remain directly on the souq streets and Ibrahim, The Pearl Man is no different.
He is the most authentic Qatari wise man. He was once a pearl diver and even a champion bodybuilder. His shop is filled with pearls and semi-precious stones, agathes, tiger eyes, corals, lapis-lazuli and many rare essences.
After a good sleep and in between the muezzin's call for Maghrib prayers, the souq returns to life. Tourists flock in and invade all terraces and shops. There is no one nation missing. The whole globe is well represented here.
As the sun sets, it brings in its wake, even more life and charm to the souq. And when lights are on, the spiral Fanar tower is visible from all corners of the souq, almost like a light house of a port. Tourists stay enchanted by shisha, dance shows and old traditional songs, sometimes well past midnight.
The author, a Doha resident, is an avid reader of Qatar Tribune & can be contacted at [email protected]