I love the importance Qatar gives art and the lengths Qatar Museums have gone to install impressive structures all around the country… even in the middle of the desert!
My brother, who is visiting for a month, and I spontaneously took off on a road trip to see an art installation called ‘East Meets West’ by renowned artist Richard Serra which is almost a 100 kms away from Doha city center.
We stocked up on the necessities- an epic music playlist, charged devices, munchies, water and a full tank of gas. We left home around 3:00 pm and Google Maps told us we’d reach in 1 hour, 24 minutes. Even if we’d reach by 5:00, it would still give us an hour of sunlight, after which we’d head back.
Driving long distance in Qatar is a joy because the roads are smooth and there is a decent dispersal of rest stops.
We faithfully followed Google Maps which finally lead us to a sharp round-a-bout, and out of nowhere, we were on an extremely rocky dirt road.
Now, for you to fully understand what happens next, you need to know that I drive a cross over. Which means, it almost has the height and size of a four wheel, but none of its off-roading capabilities.
The dirt road started off easy enough, but started getting rockier the further we went. Google Maps said we had another 10 kilometers to go, but with the cautious 10 kms/hr I maintained, it took us almost an hour and we finally reached at 5:50 pm, an entire hour behind schedule.
Once you get there, you won’t miss it. You will see four giant plates of steel erected from the dessert, fourteen meters high and stretching across a kilometer. The massive plates are perfectly framed by rocky dunes on either side. It’s picture perfect.
The sheer size of the installation makes you realize how vast the desert really is and the effort it would have taken to get them precisely positioned.
The steel plates were produced in Germany, shipped to Qatar and erected with a crane in the middle of the desert. The exact spot of the sculpture was suggested by the former Emir, Sheikh bin Khalifa Al Thani who has fond memories of the spot as a child (source).
According to the artist, over time, the steel will oxidize and its current grey colour will first turn orange, then brown and finally a dark amber.
We decided to head back just before sunset and set Google Maps to ‘home’ and set off. It was a slow, rocky drive back; pitch dark, nothing and no one in sight, moving along at 10 kms/hr. But we had plenty of amazing music (thanks to Sound Cloud-follow me?) to take us through.
The map told us we’d hit a road soon, which would connect us to the Dukhan highway, which would then lead us to civilization.
After endless rocky terrain, we finally hit the road – fully tarred, with speed signs and a huge board pointing towards the highway, we could see the highway right ahead of us, and then… dead -end! The road just unceremoniously stopped! There were huge rocky boulders at the end of the road and fencing that ran along both sides. We were basically at the edge of the desert, completely fenced in with no way to merge into the highway right in front of us. Someone clearly forgot to let Google Maps know that this was no longer a viable route!
Since we were on a fully tarred road in the middle of the desert, we were convinced it would lead somewhere, so we decided to turn around and follow the road backwards. It was a promising drive. The road seemed to stretch as long as my headlights allowed us to see, and then… dead -end! Again, the road just abruptly ended and we found ourselves fenced inside the desert. My brother even got out and walked along the fence for a while to see if there was a way out, but no such luck.
We drove in every direction, hoping to find a way out. But the farther we went, the rockier it got and I wasn’t confident my car could handle it. At one point, while I was maneuvering a particularly rocky terrain, I saw an enormous electrical tower just 10 meters away and at that point I was terrified. This was going nowhere and we were lost in the desert, fenced in from all sides, with zero visibility and no clue.
Finally, I called my friends out of exasperation because we were all out of ideas. Bless them, they told us to stay put and send them our location on WhatsApp. They jumped into their vehicle and came for us!
The two hours we waited for them, my brother and I watched Netflix on my phone, ate all our supplies and used the great outdoors as our private restroom. Might as well make the most of a bad situation right?
After two hours, my friends actually found us! But they were on the other side of the fence. My brother and I jumped the fence, got into their car, and with some skillful navigation and Google Map’s help, found our way back to my car! And we finally got out and onto the highway to home!
Don’t let my little adventure deter you from making this trip and seeing the ‘East meets West’ installation. Three important tips: one- go in a four-wheel drive, two- track your trip using a tracking app so you can find your way back, three- make sure you head back much before sunset.
All photos courtesy Neil Mathew Photography.
And here’s a video of the whole escapade! Good luck with your road trip!