If you’re looking for something to do with the family over the weekend, an excursion west of Doha to the camel race track at Al Sheehaniya, or to Bir Zekreet, the bay to the northeast of Dukhan, might be a refreshing change from the usual lazy Friday routine.
Located midway on the road to Dukhan and Bir Zekreet, the Al Sheehaniya camel race track and Al Shahania Stud are bound to be an exciting and memorable outing, while the bay of Bir Zekreet has something for everyone: fascinating geological features and ruins for the intrepid explorer, fabulous stretches of beach for a picnic or overnight camping, and favourable weather conditions for adrenalin junkies to engage in kite surfing and parasailing.
Al Shahania Stud
Al Shahania Stud, one of Qatar’s most successful race stables, owns and breeds some of the world’s best horses. Take a tour with us as we discover what lies behind the gates of this impressive facility.
This traditional sport has its origins in the desert culture of the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and the Middle East. Known as the ship of the desert, the camel has played a vital role in everyday life, providing transportation, food and shelter, as well as entertainment for the Bedouin people. Camel races formed an integral part of festivals and special occasions. Although much of the traditional culture of bygone days has been lost since the discovery of oil in the region, the spirit of camel racing remains.
Al Sheehaniya camel race track is a 30-minute drive to the west of Doha on Dukhan Road. You will see plenty of camel pens on the roadside, so there will be no doubt as to whether you are in the right place.
The camel-racing season runs from October to May, with several events taking place in March and April. Races are usually held on Saturdays and starts around 1 pm.
The camel races are a spectacle not to be missed, but be prepared for long waits between races while trainers line the animals up behind the starting chain. Once the camels are in place, the chain is dropped and the trainers make a mad dash for the railings to take refuge from the charging camels! Many camel owners drive their four-wheel-drive vehicles alongside the racing camels on the special track that runs parallel to the racetrack, operating the remote-controls for the robot jockeys. Expect billows of dust created by the charging racers and the large vehicles! It is a thrilling event, and quite unique to this part of the world.
Many camel owners drive their four-wheel-drive vehicles alongside the racing camels on the special track that runs parallel to the racetrack, operating the remote-controls for the robot jockeys. Expect billows of dust created by the charging racers and the large vehicles! It is a thrilling event, and quite unique to this part of the world.
As thousands of men and camels live in the camel city that has sprung up beyond the oval racetrack, visits to Al Sheehaniya during the off-season will not disappoint as there is still plenty to see – colourful camel trains along the dirt tracks, riders dressed in traditional garbs and camels adorned in decorative blankets and crocheted nosebags.
With the thrill of the races and the friendliness and hospitality of the people at Al Sheehaniya, you will leave having experienced an ancient culture that modern society cannot replicate.
The bay of Zekreet is at the very tip of a peninsula northeast of Dukhan. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended if you want to go exploring. To get there, follow the main Doha-Dukhan road, but turn off at the new interchange about 5 km before Dukhan. Pass the Cuban Hospital on the left and onto the road that heads up the northeastern side of the Ras Abrouq Peninsula. After 2 km, turn left or right at the Qatar Petroleum site and pipeline. Turn left and you will see an abandoned police post on top of a jebel after 9 km. Go round the hill base and over the causeway on your left to get to the top of the peninsula. Full of interesting coves, and bays, you may see flamingos in the half-moon bay. If you turn right, you will go past the Ministry of Municipality and Environment’s SCENR reserve for gazelles and ostriches.
The surrounding landscape forms a stark contrast to the flat gravel terrain of Qatar’s interior. White cliffs of Miocene limestone have been sculpted over centuries by the relentless onslaught of wind-driven sand. The hills or Jabal, their sides hollowed by erosion, are topped by a harder layer of sand and gravel which has withstood the test of time. There are many free standing mushroom-shaped pillars dotting the countryside, giving the landscape a rather surreal character.
If you travel about 18 km north of Bir Zekreet Beach, you will find yourself in the middle of a movie set at Ras Abrouq! A few years ago Qatar Television undertook an ambitious project, filming ‘Eial al Deeb: The Sons of the Wolf‘ in the small village and the surrounding area. Three film sets were constructed in the style of traditional Gulf architecture. A caretaker guards the fenced-off village, and visitors are welcome to go in and take a look around. Ostriches roam freely outside the village, but visitors are warned to keep their distance – these wild birds can become quite aggressive if disturbed!
The actual village of Bir Zekreet was established around 1939 when oil was discovered and has very few inhabitants.
If you travel towards Dukhan on the west coast, you will encounter a number of sites and old settlements, some of which date back to the 18th century. One such site is the remains of the Zekreet Fort, which has a very distinctive layout reflecting the two different phases of construction.
The beaches around Bir Zekreet are very pleasant and the area is very popular with day visitors and weekend campers, as well as with Qatar’s parasailing or kite surfing enthusiasts. Swimmers are warned to be aware of sharp rocks in the water. Remember to pack your first aid kit.
There is nothing quite like the serenity of Qatar’s desert landscape and its beautiful beaches – a trip out of the city may be just what you need to recharge your batteries!
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Marhaba would like to thank Daniela Fakhoury for her contribution to this article. Cover photo by Anthony Buenafe.