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Modern day Doha, a wealthy retreat of luxurious hotels and air-conditioned malls, could not be further removed from its humble origins. Forsaken by early Stone Age settlers and left uninhabited for centuries, the Al-Thani family established the capital city in the middle of the 19th-century. At this time Qatar’s pearling industry was at its peak, yet the country remained desperately poor. The discovery of oil in 1939 changed Qatar’s fortunes and when it stepped up its oil production in the 1970s it was well on its way to becoming one of the world’s richest countries.

Today Doha is emerging as a key destination for business people and tourists. In 2006 the world’s media will thrust the capital further into the limelight as it hosts the Asian Games. Keen to attract new business and expand its tourist industry, development in Qatar has gone into overdrive, with a forest of skyscrapers and a new multi-billion dollar airport terminal both set to dramatically alter the face of Doha’s skyline. Old traditions, though, still shine through Doha’s ultra modern exterior in the guise of its markets and sailing boats. The city also enjoys an enviable location overlooking the Arabian Gulf, with easy access to Qatar’s inland sea (Khor al-Adaid), year-round sunshine, little rain and temperatures that rarely dip below 20ºC (68°F).

The North

This area contains most of the historic sites, including Umm Salal Mohammed, a relatively large village dominated by the ruins of a 19th-century fort. At Al Zubara is the Qalit Marir Fortress. Al Khor is the second-largest city, situated around a natural shallow harbour. Gharya has a golden sandy beach stretching for miles. Ruwais boasts a harbour, from where there is an occasional dhow service to Bahrain. There are also good beaches at Fuwairat, on the northeast coast, and Ras Abruk, opposite Hawar Island.

The West Coast

There are beaches at Umm Bab (‘The Palm Tree Beach’), Dukhan and Salwah, near the Saudi border.

The South

This is a region of sand dunes and beaches, offering opportunities to go pearl hunting, or to practice any number of watersports. The ‘inland sea’ of Khor al-Odeid is the center of a region of outstanding natural beauty, surrounded by the Sandi Hills, accessible only to 4-wheel-drive vehicles.

Ishat Island
Located on the southeastern portion of the country, Ishat Island has a total area of about 20 square kilometres. It consists of three flat-topped islets bordered with light coloured cliffs and two detached rocks lying northeast of Khor Al-Udaid.

Shra’o Island
Situated about 48 kilometres northeast of Ishat Island, Shra’o Island rises to 36.5’ and has many hummocks. There is also a small fringed reef and a sandy beach used by turtles to lay their eggs. Just three hours away from Doha by speedboat, Shra’o Island serves as a haven to thousands of seabirds.

Haloul Island
This hilly island rises to an elevation of 190 feet and is surrounded by excellent fishing grounds. The seabed is made up of coral reefs with a large variety of magnificent and beautiful coral fish and offers wonderful opportunities for scuba divers to observe marine life.

Al-Saflia Island
Just a 15-minute boat ride from Doha, Al-Saflia Island is considered a tourist resort – even with its tiny size of .8 square kilometres.

Alia Island
To the west and complimenting Al-Saflia Island lies the small land mass of Alia Island – just slightly over 2 square kilometres in size.

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