Qatar desert deaming
Shah Gehen at the wheel at Khor Al Udaid, south of Doha – the Inland Sea area. Picture: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

'Ah, the desert is silent, so some music would be good," says Shah Gehen, with a logic that somewhat eludes me. He reaches forward to the Toyota LandCruiser's sound system as we head towards Qatar's beige dunes and then Khor al Adaid, its legendary inland sea, which is connected to the Arabian Gulf by a narrow, deep channel.


There is no comparable lagoonal system of this type elsewhere in the world.

This, at last, is not the construction-site Middle East, but the desert on the south-east coast of Qatar, close to the border with Saudi Arabia - the foundation upon which Arabian culture was built.

This is the gasping interior where Arabian horsemen sat proud in their swirling clothes, a falcon on one fist.

I am in the desert, surrounded by sand, space and a sense of bedouin life. And with that Shah turns on some hip-hop. Black American urban tones ... kuchoo-kuchoo-kuchoo ... "I like the way you burn ...

you burn ..."

"Hip-hop?" Shah smiles.

"I liked the loud music you were playing earlier." (And -in brackets - "any chance of going back to that?") He smiles more. Clearly not.

Shah had picked me up at the Grand Hyatt Doha, where I am staying, and we have driven 58km south from the capital, through the coastal towns of Al Wakra and Umm Said, past oil refineries and fertiliser plants where once, quite recently, there was just a village with a handful of houses, a grocers and a tyre shop.

Shah is wearing the Qatari national dress of a thobe -a long white shirt over white pants - and a white head fabric called a gutra, held on with a black agal rope. He looks the business.

"Were you born near Doha," I ask.

"No," he says. "Pakistan." He smiles again. "But I have been here 25 years.

"That counts," I say.

"And my grandfather came here under the British", alluding to a phase of history shared by both countries.

But Qatar has been independent since 1971 - and independence runs deep through the interior of this 160km peninsula which juts into the Arabian Gulf.

Much of the country is a low, barren, sand-covered plain. In fact, the highest point of the whole country, Qurayn Abu al Bawl, is only 103m above sea level.

Khor al Adaid natural reserve - this inland sea area - is such a good example of Qatar's natural landscape that it has earned UNESCO World Heritage status. Archaeological sites have shown that it supported Bedouin people and their stock.

Desert foxes can be seen. There are still Arabian gazelles in Khor al Adaid, and there are plans to reintroduce Arabian oryx.

I spot cuttlefish skeletons and sanderlings around the edge of the big inlet surrounded by these rolling sand dunes. Each has a name. Perhaps the prettiest I see today is Necklace Dune, which runs tall along the edge of a flat, sandy valley, its top in perfect undulations.

For Shah has deflated the Cruiser's tyres and taken off with great aplomb and experience, up a big dune and along its crest, the great wall of it shearing away to our left.

We scoot round the bowls of some, and then he stops rear to another, and lets the car slide down the 30m of it, backwards.

And all of this with ... kuchoo-kuchoo-kuchoo ... hip-hop.

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But Shah's a good chap, good company, and turns out to be a good instant friend, too.

For we are deep in the dunes when he spots a black LandCruiser stuck up to its bellypan in sand.

The two young chaps don't wave for help, but when Shah drives along a crest of a dune and finally drops down to them, we find them sitting beside the vehicle, clueless but clearly unpanicked.

Shah produces a snatch strap, jerks them out of the sand and then hangs around until they get going again.

Gulf Adventures runs both half and full-day tours from Doha and we stop by at its tent camp, where lunch or dinner is served, depending what's booked. There's plenty of space to lie around on carpets and cushions, and Arabic music.

"One day next week, we will have 75 cars here with up to six people in each," says Shah.

And I am rather glad I am here alone, with Shah, and a chance to walk off on my own and stand on the top of a dune and feel the full force of the hot desert wind. I like the way it burns.


• For Qatar Airways flights and packages visit
• Gulf Adventures Dunes Discover Tour, from 9am to 1pm or 2pm to 6pm is around $65 per passenger over the age of 13, and $50 for those under. Visit or book through concierges at hotels in Doha.
• The Grand Hyatt Doha can be booked by adding as a stopover when booking a Qatar Airways flight. Or book at or by calling +974 4448 1234 (Doha is five hours behind Perth). Prices naturally vary depending on room type, date and length of stay, but there is currently an offer for a stay of a minimum of three nights for about $160 per room per night.

''Stephen Scourfield was a guest of Qatar Airways."

The West Australian

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