Thursday 22 December 2011

My first National Day in Qatar

At the break of dawn, people were moving towards the Corniche not just to find the best seatbut also to find the nearest parking area, and to see the air show and the Army march in its full glory. Cars were parked as far as the HMC Complex on the one end, to the Musheireb area on the other end, while thousands walked towards the Corniche to watch the parade.
Qatar Airlines flight
People near the Oryx statue

People returning after watching the parade...
People had started turning up at the Corniche from as early as 5 am. Most showed up in style, wearing dresses or accessories inspired by Qatar’s flag or with faces painted in maroon and white, the national flag’s colour.

Don't know what the cops are discussing...
Snack-time before leaving the Corniche...
With an old beauty...
And the cop too...
For future...
We parked our car at Vij’s office and walked towards the Corniche. It was nice to see the empty roads and walking on silent roads was amazing, even though our legs started singing with pain. We reached the Corniche and came to know that there were several seats laid for thousands along the stretch from Al Bidda Park to the Ministry of Interior headquarters along the Corniche Road which were already occupied and the crowd spilled over to the roadside!
The kid looks amused...
He wanna ride now itself... ;)


Proud to be Qataris...
We just stood at the big screen near the Oryx statue to watch the whole event and then joined the crowd to see other events.

National Day Parade
Braving cold weather and traffic blocks on many city roads on Sunday morning, we joined hundreds of people who were lined up to witness the National Day parade, which featured a large number of marching platoons and new armoured vehicles along the Corniche.

Rendition of the National Anthem and recitation of verses from the Quran followed by an 18-gun salute to the Emir signalled the start of the event. The parade showed Qatar’s indelible horse and camel racing and maritime tradition as horse and camel riders paraded while dhows sailed in the bay at the start of the much-awaited national day parade.

It was followed by members of the Qatari army, navy and air force marching smartly on one side of the Corniche Road as tanks and classic and modern armoured vehicles passed on the other side. Vij told me new to this year’s parade was a team of powered paragliders who flew as the parade progressed. Military speedboats dashing across the waters added to the beauty of the event.

Old bus...

As Vij had seen in the last year, this year also vehicles carrying dignitaries led by the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani followed the armoured vehicles as countless flag-waving spectators cheered the country’s leader who responded by waving back at the crowds.

A captivating air show featuring a series of fighter planes zoomed past emitting smoke trails in the national colours of maroon and white, but it was so hazy and foggy that we could hardly get any good pictures.

And a dogie too...

Sorties by parachute jumpers from the armed forces were so remarkable that many, including us, were awestruck. The jumpers made their landings on the spacious lawns in the precincts of the Emiri Diwan. Later, a brand new Qatar Airways aircraft flew past the parade zone at a low altitude towards the end of the show of military vehicles!

The march past featured contingents from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guards, Internal Security Force, Civil Defence, heritage police, cadets of training institutes and other academies, as well as scouts and schoolchildren, just reminded us of our Republic Day celebrations back home.

The show of the country’s military might featured battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, rocket launchers, mine detectors, anti-aircraft guns, propellers, infantry vehicles, surveillance equipment, fire extinguishers, coastguard vessels, anti-pirate frigates, interceptors, fire engines of the civil defence, other monitoring and communication vehicles in the use of the Internal Security Force and Al Fazaa, and other departments of the Ministry of Interior.

Even though the parade’s focus seemed to be on the armed forces’ recent possessions, the organisers also succeeded in bringing to the fore the country’s cultural heritage, fielding groups of soldiers on horses and camels. The cavalcade of horses, led by immaculately dressed soldiers, drew our attention.

As the soldiers marched, many people stood up on their seats to salute the soldiers. Dressed in maroon and white, children were most excited to see the show. It was obvious that many teens took complete advantage of the festive mood and its privileges. Many youngsters had come along with their friends just to shower people with snow-spray and burst the crackers.

After the parade, the Corniche burst into a barrage of honks, songs, shouts and dances in a convivial atmosphere as a variety of cars bathed in maroon and white hues ruled the 7-km stretch. Passers-by in Qatar-inspired costumes carrying various National Day memorabilia greeted each other through party poppers and sprays.

Vij is here for the past two plus years and he goes every year to the Corniche to get himself soaked in the spirit of National Day. Moreover, it’s amazing to feel and see how much Qataris celebrate the occasion and this year, I loved being a part of that. The sense of community on display throughout the day provided a feeling of warmth for us and so we decided to venture outside despite the chilly evenings and nights on Saturday and Sunday.

After the event, we just walked towards his office and got an opportunity to click several pictures of the cars, painted in different colours, parading on the roads.

In the evening, there was an exciting party mood all over the Corniche as thousands flocked to witness and enjoy the revelry that would cap the evening edition of the National Day celebrations.

The sky above Doha sparkled with Qatar’s national colours on Sunday night, as maroon and gold fireworks soared above the Corniche during an exciting climax to the National Day celebrations.

The display, which lasted 12 minutes, lit up the night sky with a dazzling array of some of the best fireworks in the world. As well as the incredible quality of the display, the sheer extent of the show was amazing to watch.

We cheered in chorus in great amazement when the barrage of fireworks started to shoot up the sky with different styles and colours plus a mix of a loud boom that synchronised the glittering starry-like sparks coming from the small boats that was used as the base of the pyrotechnics.

Spanning the length of the Corniche, the display was enjoyed by everybody making use of vantage points around the entire area. The highlights of the show was the appearance of hearts, flowers, baby footprints and smiley faces in the sky, as well as letters spelling out the name of the country.

The fireworks display was synchronised to a track which was also composed for the evening and performed by the children who helped to come up with the creative concept behind the show.

I also read in some newspapers that the show had been some six months in the making, and eight computers fired off the fireworks which took 20 technicians around 18 days on site to set up! And I saw a few of my friends saying on FB that it was the best fireworks they had ever seen.

There were about a dozen Dhows which performed the 20-minute laser show cruising off the seashore of the Corniche that unleashed colourful light beams criss-crossing the night sky.

Flags and roadside vendors
I think roadside vendors were most happy with the celebrations, as everybody was buying flags from them since Thursday. They were selling vehicle stickers, featuring pictures of the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and the Heir Apparent Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Most of the vehicles donned them and I think most youngsters enjoyed having them on their vehicles.

Some were even selling T-shirts, scarves and flags besides vehicle stickers. Some shiops even had stress balls in the colours of the Qatar national flag, and some had featured the pictures of the Emir and the Heir Apparent.

Business was brisk at the retail outlets selling ad materials, especially at the auto accessories’ shops. Many retailers across the city were busy fixing stickers on vehicles even in the wee hours. Even though we didn’t fix any stickers, we didn’t forget to have two small flags at the back windows and a big flag on top of our car to get ourselves indulged in the Qatari spirit of celebrations ;)

Painted cars
The fact that everyone in Qatar comes to see a show is what amazes me. The entire country practically gathers at one place that makes the day memorable for everyone. It brings them closer together as a nation.

The motorcade by a mix of expensive SUVs, CRVs and ordinary cars painted with temporary maroon paints and souvenir car stickers while young Qataris standing up on car roofs, waving huge national flag as they sang and yell just to greet thousands of spectators who came and jam packed the Corniche.

Young Qataris who were either walking or standing atop the moving cars occasionally sprayed party crazy ribbons and snow spray to anyone just for fun and make the parade livelier and enjoyable for everybody who braved the chilly night at the Corniche.

There were blowing of horns either from cars and hand-pumped plastic toy horns just to make noise everywhere as another way of showing of fun and enjoyment regardless of nationality or race. Some teenagers even wore Halloween masks and donning comic mascots to make the Corniche parade fill with even more party mood.

There was heavy traffic around 8.15 pm when everybody went home after the fireworks display that vehicle movements were at a snail pace taking more than hour before a motorist can get out from the monstrous traffic jam emanating from car parks towards the different road directions.

The display of vehicles, primed in patterns of maroon and white that travelled on the Corniche Road once the official parade was over. The fervour began on Saturday night, which was when many drivers brought out their vehicles, adorned with stickers and paint. The creative display made many instant celebrities, as crows gathered to shoot videos and pictures of the vehicles.

Many four-wheelers, studded in maroon glitter, had a common trademark – youngsters hoisting the Qatari flag from the hood of their vehicles. Driving at the speed of less than 10-km per hour, many drivers even sat out on the windows of their cars as they waived the national flag.

How can I not click a pic in front of his office? ;)

Police vehicle also has flags...
There was certainly no shortage of dare-devil stunts. Some even stood out on the doors of their vehicles, waving the national flag with the help of an enthusiast who held the other end of the flag from a parallel vehicle.

Meanwhile, each moment was being captured by people who had specially come out to capture the enthusiasm of these youngsters. Last year also Vij had photographed these colourful vehicles and we have to appreciate the patriotism of these youngsters.

Vintage car show
Well-preserved vintage vehicles became an instant tourist attraction during the classic car show near the Oryx statue on the Corniche. After the formal launch of the exhibition after the National Day parade on Sunday, we took an opportunity to freely get in the decades-old vehicles, take pictures and experience how the soldiers and dignitaries did in the past.

And Vij was eagerly posing near almost all the vehicles and kept me busy throughout clicking his pictures. Many kids enjoyed the show and were posing for the photographs.

A favourite among the more than 20 classic vehicles on display are five armoured cars dating back to the 1950s. Equipped with 75mm cannon and machine gun with smoke grenade, the Saladin 6x6 armoured car which was brought to Qatar in 1965 was one of the crowd drawers, along with few others including a Daimler MK2 and Saracen 6x6 armoured personnel carrier.

The first motorised vehicle in Qatar which was the Morris 1930 used for geological surveys done in the country between 1932 and 1933 is also featured at the expo which runs until December 30. It was placed beside a 1956 Model Beadle Albion used as a school bus for students during their field trips in the 1960s.

VIP cars have also drawn more visitors at the expo such as the 1958 model Oldsmobile 98, 1955 convertible Cadillac and Ford Galaxy 500 Sunliner, which were valued for having been used by many royals, heads of state, ministers and other high ranking dignitaries during their official visits to Qatar in the past.

A 1942 model C8A HUP, which was used by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah during his excursions along with tribesmen in the countryside was also showcased.

Police cars, including Ford 1961 model and 1947 Land Rover ‘80’ series 1, were also crowd-pullers along with four units of Triumph 1960 motorcycles, which were some of the first ones used by Qatari traffic police when it was founded in 1955. Interestingly, the maroon and silver coloured motorcycles remind every onlooker of the Qatari flag.

Three firefighting vehicles used by the Civil Defence in the 1970s never failed to amaze us for their totally different look from colour to size and features as compared to the modern ones.

Visitors have until December 30 to witness the exhibition which is part of the celebrations of the Qatar National Day.

Darb al-Saai camp
Different aspects of Qatar’s rich cultural heritage came alive at Darb Al Saai camp near Sports Roundabout and we couldn’t miss it as it’s very close to our house.

The camp, which opened on December 10 as part of the national day celebrations, featured a spectrum of activities ranging from poetry recitals to folkloric children’s games such as Sadda Raddha and animals’ exhibition.

The animals’ exhibition, which included Arabian Oryx, was aimed at creating awareness about the importance of the natural habitat and its preservation.

Another area of interest at the camp was the traditional tents corner known as Al-Maqtar intended to reflect the old nomadic way of life in the country. The venue showcased the young falconer competition, traditional cuisine, art with a focus on drawings and historic photographs and hunting with greyhounds ‘Saluki’.

There were hundreds of families, students and individuals who flocked to the venue to participate in the activities and learn about Qatar’s culture.

The camp was not restricted to cultural activities as it offered a display of classic cars, including a Ford Model T and a ’67 Chevy Corvette, both of which are sought after collectors’ items.
Overall, it was a memorable day and we will cherish for days, and yes, will be at the Corniche little early, next year ;) Happy National Day, Qatar!

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