We rediscover Doha with our cover star Sonakshi Sinha and end up revealing the rustic and at the same time flamboyant side of the trendiest new destination in the Middle East. By Chirag Mohanty Samal

Produced by Aindrila Mitra
Photographs of The pixel house
Stylized by Sanam Ratansi
Makeup by Savleen Manchanda
Hair by Madhuri Nakhale
Location: Doha, Qatar

How would you feel if you landed in the middle of a sci-fi movie set you saw growing up as a kid? Doha, the capital of Qatar, looks like this at first sight to me. Tall skyscrapers, twisting buildings of glass and steel, bent and protruding at impossible angles – I gaze in amazement at the architectural marvels designed by renowned architects like Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, IM Pei, Rem Koolhaas, Alejandro Aravena and Arata Isozaki—all winners of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

The waterfront corniche and the skyscrapers of West Bay as a backdrop.

A sparkling vision of the future, the city appears as a playground for the wealthy. As if guided by my wandering thoughts, I see yachts anchored on the electric blue of the Persian Gulf with the skyline of Doha in the background. If you’ve seen the trailer for Operation Fortune: Ruse of War, starring Jason Statham, due out early next year, then the city gives you a sense of deja vu. Part of Hollywood movie is shot here.

Doha is like the jewel of the Middle East that is just beginning to be discovered. I’m here for a cover shoot with Bollywood actor Sonakshi Sinha for T+L India. We want to explore the sights, sounds and general vibe of the place with her. Besides filming locations, I have a personal checklist of locations that I want to check off as well. So here’s an account of our cover star’s pursuit as she stops at the city’s well-known attractions for the perfect photo, and a few detours too.

modern marvels

Sonakshi Sinha in Doha
Sinha in a pristine, dreamy white outfit at the National Museum of Qatar. (ON HER: outfit, Shriya Som; jacket, Ridhima Bhsin; headband, Amama; earrings, Radhika Agarwal Jewels; snap nails, Ooh La La by SOEZI; all prices on request.)

As I drive from the airport to the Ritz-Carlton in Doha, where the crew and Sinha are staying, I cross the waterfront corniche with the West Bay skyscrapers glistening in the bright sunshine. Doha boasts of shiny new hotels, splashy restaurants and state-of-the-art museums, galleries and malls. While there are edifices like the IM Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art (this features prominently in Jason Statham’s film), and Burj Doha, the 761-foot skyscraper designed by Jean Nouvel, c t is the National Museum of Qatar, another Nouvel creation, it stands out. The museum looks like a unique formation of interlocking sand-colored discs. It is created to resemble a desert rose, the clusters of sand and crystals found in the region’s arid salt pans.

in a cafe in the souk Waqi
The actor enjoys a laid-back afternoon at a café in Souq Waqif. (ON IT: Blazer, Āroka; skirt, Dhruv Kapoor; belt, AMPM; earrings, Amama; rings, MISHO; shoes, Papa Don’t Preach by Shubhika; snap nails, Legend from SOEZI; all prices on request.)

The museum serves as the first location for our photo shoot. While the exteriors are gorgeous, it’s the interiors that cast a spell over unsuspecting spirits. The museum houses various interactive exhibits that explore Qatar’s heritage and history from prehistoric times to the present day. A walk through the museum gives you a new perspective on the small nation.

Sonakshi Sinha poses in Katara Cultural Village, Doha. (ON HER: Set, CILVR; earrings, Viange Vintage; hand accessories, Amama; nail press, Akira by SOEZI; all prices on request.)

Msheireb Downtown is another place that must be on the list of every new traveler here. It is the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project that has revived Doha’s former commercial district into a center of modern buildings comprising commercial and residential properties as well as commercial and cultural offerings. From niche retail to outdoor dining options and heritage museums, this place is brimming with options for tourists.

Sonakshi Sinha
Sinha in a stunning outfit against a rustic backdrop at the local Souq Waqif. (ON HER: Outfit, Réik; shoes, Runway Reinvented; jewelry, MISHO; nail press, Basanti by SOEZI; all prices on request.)

Speaking of shopping, Doha has state-of-the-art malls with international designer boutiques and brands such as Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Bulgari, Cartier and many more. Each mall, whether Villaggio, Lagoona, Galeries Lafayette, Mall of Qatar or Al Hazm, has something unique to offer. For example, the Villaggio Mall has an indoor canal with gondolas so shoppers can experience a slice of Venice in the desert city!

Cultural trail

Shop Galeries Lafayette
The Galeries Lafayette store in Doha is a pit stop for most.

If you think Doha, with its iconic architecture, is a futuristic city, you only have half the picture. The Arab city is also a cultural hotspot – while retaining its roots, it has added global traits in terms of new museums, investment in art and film festivals. To get a better understanding, we head to Katara Cultural Village, another location for our cover shoot.

Bordered on one side by a wide beach and on the other by the twin hills of Katara, Katara, spelled like its old name, takes you on a journey through time. The 15 meter high perforated terracotta towers are the first thing you notice. These, unlike their more sophisticated West Bay counterparts, are pigeon towers that were previously used in Arab villages as pigeon houses to collect droppings for use as manure for crops.

Souk Waqif
The old Souq Waqif.

The sprawling self-proclaimed village follows a uniform color palette of muted gold with well-appointed lanes and cobbled streets leading to art galleries, exhibition centers, convention halls, theatres, a library, shops and mosques. The Katara Mosque, whose outer surface is covered with turquoise and purple tiles, is inspired by several famous mosques in the Islamic world and is known as the Blue Mosque. The other mosque within the premises has its exterior covered with small shards of gold and is aptly called the Golden Mosque.

Islamic Art Museum
The Islamic Art Museum is a sight to behold

At dusk, the crew heads to Souq Waqif, a local market that gives you a glimpse into the soul of Qatar. Here you are almost teleported to a time when Bedouins traded spices, beads and food. Narrow lanes and alleyways open into intriguing courtyards lined with shops selling everything from spices, dried fruits, sweets, leather goods, clothing, daggers, bakhoor (Arabic incense), carpets and birds! Men in long white robes and keffiyehs and women in impenetrable black abayas move around the market, chatting and buying things. The scene is eerily reminiscent of the exotic Middle Eastern markets we often witness in Hollywood films.

Villagio Shopping Center
Experience a slice of Venice at the Villagio Shopping Center.

In the evening, when filming wraps up, the market has taken on a different hue and look. The maze of alleys and shops is lit up with shisha bars and azaan flowing from the slender towers of nearby mosques. Some streets now have women selling various foods and perfumes. The different aromas mingle and fill the recesses of my mind, sure to reappear as memories of this unusual evening.

Food and nightlife

Downtown Msheireb in Doha
The Msheireb Downtown in Doha with its contemporary architecture.

Life takes a fun turn at sunset. Doha offers a variety of dining options featuring everything from local Qatari cuisine to French, Syrian, Japanese, Indian cuisine and more. If you want a rustic experience, head to Al Jasra, a bistro that hides discreetly in one of the alleys of Souk Waqif. Run by five Qatari women, the place showcases many local handicrafts, shows camel races on the plasma screen, and serves traditional Qatari cuisine. Every day you will find Qatari men who enjoy tabbouleh and are engrossed in deep conversations. And if it’s a beautiful view you love with your food, then Al Shurfa Arabic Lounge is the place to be. It overlooks Souq Waqif, offering stunning views of the Middle Eastern panorama unfolding through the streets.

Nobu at the Four Seasons
The luxurious Nobu at Four Seasons offers breathtaking views of the Doha skyline.

Doha is also home to world-class gourmet restaurants serving international cuisine. If the five-star hotels each have a lounge or a restaurant that is worth the detour such as the B-Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton, Coya Doha at the W, Morimoto at the Mondrian, it is Nobu at the Four Seasons Hotel that Sinha wants experiment.

Nobu has restaurants all over the world, but the one in Doha is the biggest. Designed by New York architect David Rockwell, the elegant restaurant offers stunning views of the Gulf. Chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa’s cuisine blends traditional Japanese dishes with Peruvian ingredients and each dish is a sensory delight. Savor black cod with miso, shiitake foie gras balls and whitefish sashimi, and end the meal in style with an assortment of desserts including mochi ice cream, Nobu cheesecake, miso chocolate sphere and exotic fruits. They are beautifully served as a work of art.

Sonakshi in Doha
Sinha embraces old world charm at Souq Waqif. (ON HER: Outfit, Nikita Wadhwa Mhaisalkar; jewelry, Amama; pressed nails, Love the Bronze by SOEZI; all prices on request.)

As we are about to wrap up our last night in Doha, Sinha sums up the experience beautifully: “One word that comes to mind when you are in Doha is opulence. You see beautiful architecture – a mix of old and new – with a touch of flamboyance.