There’s little trace left today of the ancient Bedouin lifestyle of roaming the desert following herds of camels, sheep, and goats to their favourite grazing grounds, except for the tent rings – ovals of rocks which once weighted the edges of the bayt al sha’er, the ‘house of hair’.
The pleasant winter sunshine and idyllic locations make desert camping a popular activity during the cooler months between October and April. There are different ways in which people can experience desert life: New residents in Qatar, and those on a short visit to the country, often prefer to go with a tour company, which will whisk you on a thrilling ride over the dunes down to the picturesque Inland Sea to the south of Qatar. They will accommodate you in a luxurious, colourfully woven tent, lay on sumptuous meals featuring traditional cuisine, and may even include a camel ride!
Locals prefer to set up semi-permanent winter camps along the coast where family and friends can be comfortably entertained. These fenced camps are licensed by the government, and have water tanks, generators, and all the comforts of home, including electric lighting, air conditioning, and television. Accommodation is not only in large white canvas tents, but also caravans and trailers, and fishing is a popular activity.
Related post: Driving on the Dunes
Another way of enjoying life under the stars is to take along your own tent and, like the Bedouin of old, be mobile. You can choose between beaches on the northeastern or western coasts, or even an island! And if you crave absolute peace and quiet, the best place to go is away from the coast, among the spectacular limestone plateaus that lie amid the gravel plains in the centre of the country. In the winter these are home to many beautiful flowering plants.
Khor al Adaid or the Inland Sea
At Khor al Adaid, the inland sea which is an hour’s drive south of Mesaieed, majestic golden dunes line the coast. On the far side spectacular pink cliffs rise above the turquoise water, and ospreys nest on rocky stacks in the sea. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are essential for this trip.
Umm Tais and Al Zubara
At the other end of the country lies Umm Tais National Park. Flat, sandy beaches are ideal for camping, and the area is popular at weekends with kite-surfers. The coastline is studded with interesting archaeological sites – ruined villages and old forts. A few kilometres to the west lie the remains of the great pearling and trading city of Al Zubara, now under excavation.
Just offshore at Umm Tais is a complex of small islands, accessible by vehicle at low tide, which are home to a rare colony of living stromatolites, the most ancient form of life on earth. Hawksbill turtles come to nest on the islands, and mangrove forests shelter many species of nesting birds.