When you tell people that you’ve been on a Qatari Safari, they look at you somewhat bemused. There’s no elephants or lions or hippos in Qatar, granted, so how can it be called a safari? Well, the safari is not so much about focusing on the actual wildlife (although there is plenty, if you know where to look), but to enjoy the journey. After all, the word “safari” is actually a Swahili word that means “journey”, and this Swahili term was actually borrowed from the Arabic word “safariyah”. So it’s all still a ‘circle of life’ in some ways. Simba would be proud.
My tour company picked me up mid-morning, and we travelled south from Doha to the desert in a equipped 4WD vehicle. I realised that I hadn’t actually travelled in a 4WD vehicle for AGES, so even on the roads leading up to the desert, it was still a great experience. At one stage, we got interrupted by a stray camel, and our guides said was quite rare to see a single camel on its own, since they usually move in groups. Anyway, once the sands got thicker, we pulled over and deflated the tyres, so we could navigate the dunes without sinking. It took an hour to get to Khor Al-Udeid.
The good thing with my tour operator Inbound Tours Qatar is that they can tailor make your desert safari for you. Depending on your time and interests, they can add things and omit things in the overall itinerary and this suited me perfectly. I was only on the safari with one other solo traveller from Sweden, and we seemed to hit it off from the get go. Yet neither of us particularly wanted to swim in the Inland Sea, for example, so this was omitted from the day’s plan. We still got to experience a lot of other amazing things though in this mysterious desert landscape.
The Inland Sea is a large tidal embayment with a convoluted shoreline of 15km by 12km. It is connected to the Arabian Gulf (very close to the border with Saudi Arabia) by a relatively narrow, yet very deep channel. My guide remarked that there is no comparable lagoon system of this type anywhere else in the world. The diverse water quality and bottom substrates create an exceptional variety of aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats of considerable importance for some endangered marine species, particularly turtles and dugongs (but I didn’t see any dugongs). Furthermore, there are several valuable archaeological sites and a diversity of cultural heritage sites to be found in the area, as the rocky desert of the Khor Al-Udeid area clearly supported bedouin and their grazing stock such as camels. There is a chance with your tour group to go for a swim in this ‘sea’, but I was more than happy to just look at the strange sight before me where the dunes meet the ocean on the back of a camel! I was also told that only in Namibia in Africa is there something similar where the sands meet the sea in such a way.
The Arabian oryx is the national animal of Qatar, and you cannot come into the desert on the border with Saudi Arabia and not see one of these ungulates (hoofed animals). There are a few other species of oryx in the world, but the rest of these are native to Africa – and no single nation has adopted them more so than Qatar! As a keen fan of aviation, I also know that Qatar Airways uses the oryx as the mascot on its tailfins. All Arabian oryx have whitish skin with darker patches, as well as two strikingly huge horns that I wouldn’t like to be hit with! Our informative guide told us that the oryx can go for weeks without water, which is just as well out here in the dead of the desert! Usually, these oryx will feed on grasses and desert shrubs, and to shelter from the searing Qatari sun it can dig itself a small hole in the sand underneath a tree. However, they certainly look most impressive they are grazing the dunes.
I was lucky enough to have two day trips planned with Inbound Tours Qatar. Today I went into the Qatari desert and spent some time watching the oryx and various camels and some birdlife, and it was a great day. The following day, before my flight to India, I would get the chance to come back to the vast sands to do some dune bashing – and I could only hope that I wouldn’t get sick before I headed back to the airport!