It’s after midnight in Doha and it’s 32C.
I knew it was going to be hot, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, that’s what everyone’s told me about the place.
Yet it still comes a shock, as I step off the plane into a glittery sauna.
It doesn’t take long to glide through the vast and ostentatious airport. Despite the obvious wealth, outside, the flow of traffic is controlled by a couple of men aggressively blowing on whistles.
The heat is pervasive – as if a range of Fujitsu’s have attached themselves to me, ramped the temperature up to maximum, and pumped hot air all over.
The drive into the city is spectacular. Giant, cylindrical glow sticks guide the way, and it’s not long before the clustered array of buildings come into view.
Action movies often showcase a foreign city by night. Doha, as I quickly find out, takes evening cityscape views to the next level – it’s a series of luminous, twisting buildings competing for space in the most expensive of aerial jungles.
The air con at the hotel is a welcome relief. It’s enough to fend off the heat, and allow a few hours of jet-lagged sleep.
And when I rise in the morning, curiously enough, that’s when the city starts to go to sleep. It’s hit 40C, and it’s expected to ramp up during the day. Generally, the best temperatures happen between November and April.
In the sweltering conditions, the only people you see outside are the city workers. They’re dressed to their eyebrows in clothing – sweeping the streets and tinkering with the foundations.
There’s a strange blend of cultures. Just 12 percent of the country is made up of Qataris, which means there’s a lot of expatriates.
That means all the road signs are written in Arabic and English. Chunky Toyota Landcruisers power along the motorway. Men wearing the traditional Qatari thobe sip on milkshakes from Dunkin’ Donuts. Our car has Sia playing on the radio. There’s big billboards advertising Rolex and Mercedes.
The city is busy, but not hectic. The exuberant, eye popping colours from the night before are replaced by dusty shades of sand.
It’s hard to know where to look in the city. Skyscrapers are either being built, or they’re being looked upon by those towering above them.
Along the way, more walking and biking areas are being built, allowing the green shoots of nature to pop through the constructed wonderland.
One of our first stops is the Al Mourjan restaurant. A constant stream of culinary delights arrives at the table, but the highlight is the lemon mint drink the city is known for it. It’s in a tall glass, and looks like some sort of spirulina creation. Instead, it provides a refreshing, sumptuous kick that batters away any idea of dehydration.
On a drive around the city, we pass through The Pearl; an extravagant, artificial island. There’s beach you can swim at, amusingly controlled by lifeguards.
Not too far away is Little Venice – a quirky replica of the Italian city. There’s canals, cute bridges and colourful buildings in shades of pink and blue. It’s strange to see in the middle of a desert, but also the representation of a city that cherry picks what it likes, before adding an extra layer of glitz.
And while it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming Doha is a modern mecca, the Souq Waqif snaps you out of that trance. It’s an old-fashioned Middle Eastern marketplace – endless passageways of rock guiding you through perfume and falcons and turtles and spices. Wise old men drag wheelbarrows behind them, carting nuts and dates, and shopkeepers encourage you in with a friendly manner.
There’s a mix of the old and the new at the National Museum of Qatar. It was designed in the shape of a desert rose – an extraordinarily assembled cluster found in the desert. It’s like a sandy pine cone made out of potato chips that have been stuck together by an eager six-year old with a hot glue gun.
The museum’s interior even reflects the intricacies of the rose – the floor slants in an almost disorienting way at times to replicate the petals that grow in multiple directions.
There’s an array of rich treasures to be explored in the museum, from clothing to early tools, and even the envelope Qatar was drawn out of to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
After a productive day in the blossoming heat, it’s back to the hotel, for a spot of dinner, and a quick, very expensive beer. Only a few, select businesses are allowed to serve alcohol in the Muslim country and the high prices can be intimidating for a Kiwi.
My flying visit ends after just a day, leaving this immaculately presented and utterly fascinating city behind.
Qatar Airways is carrying me back home, wrapped up in the cocoon of their business class Q-Suite.
On the tail of the plane is the national animal – an Arabian oryx. Incredibly, the antelope can survive over six weeks without water.
Luckily for me, I only needed a day and change to drink in the rich potion of the mind-blowing city.