Riding the loneliest sightseeing bus in the world
Author Sakhr Al-Makhadhi Illustration Marc Rosenthal
DOHA – Several times a day, a yellow open-top double-decker sightseeing bus circles Doha, but there never seems to be anyone on board.
Buses suffer from an image problem here; many Qataris look down on them as a working-class form of transportation. To make matters worse, the tour bus’s route is currently engulfed in dust and rubble (ironically, from the new metro system that’s under construction and set to welcome riders in 2019). Even so, the people of Doha Bus are giving it a go, and to entice potential customers to hop aboard, they will pick you up at a place of your choosing.
So, on a recent day, I took a ride. I sat on the upper deck, my arm over the side, and in two hours not one other person boarded. “Like an oyster,” a recorded message told me, “Qatar is opening up to the world and revealing itself to be a real pearl.”
According to the driver, “Thursday and Friday are the busy days.” Curious, I called for collection the following Friday. This time, I was joined by one other passenger: an unshaven older man, who also took a seat on the upper deck.
My compatriot was Slav, visiting from Sydney. As we passed the Katara cultural village, I told him he should get off and explore. It’s the town’s best district, a warren of alleyways, galleries and a modern amphitheater. “No way,” he said, “I’ve got to complete the circuit.” As we looked out at a city still very much in the making, Slav shouted, “Look!” I did, but through the haze I couldn’t tell what he was pointing at.