Qatar day trip: Zekreet Peninsula comes with desert, art

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Out in the hot, shifting desert sands of western Qatar, something alien, large and very strange is on the horizon.

There seems to be no logic to the appearance of four large monoliths jutting out into the distance along a barren corridor between low limestone cliffs.

And yet these metallic invaders have made themselves strangely at home in the rugged landscape – adding a majestic dimension to this corner of the small Gulf nation.

The steel plates, which are located over a kilometer of desert on the Zekreet Peninsula in Qatar, are the work of Richard Serra, an American artist known for creating magnificent sculptures of metalwork.

Entitled “East-West / West-East”, the landmarks, which rise up to 16.7 meters, were installed in 2014 after Serra requested the Qatari royalty who love art to make its mark on their country.

Several years down the line, the plates stand as bold as ever. Rust-damaged and graffiti-scratched, but not so much for it.

Follow the camel: Unusual signs point the way.

Keeping watch over empty land, these guards seem to last forever.

For the creator, the ambiguous location of the artwork in a destination where summer temperatures can break 50 C (122 F) was both a source of inspiration and concern.

“It’s the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done,” he told The Independent at the time of his submission. “This is a piece I would like to see and I don’t know if I will.”

He need not worry.

Although not overrun, “East-West / West-East” has become a place of pilgrimage from time to time for locals, tourists and artists alike, putting to a schedule of Qatar desert activities that include showering, Bedouin camps and camel treks.

It’s not easy to get there though.

The nearest highway is more than five kilometers away. There is no road that leads to the sculpture and the paths that cross the nearby desert are not clearly marked.

Anyone driving an off-road vehicle, which is not usually rented, is required to self-drive in Qatar. So visitors will need a local friend with access to big wheels, or go on an organized tour – Qatar Inbound Tours comes highly recommended (Souq Waqif, Souq Asiri, Waqif, Doha; +974 5553 1002).

Reaching the sky: The metal sheets are up to 16.7 meters high.

And if you’re not with someone who knows the route, a GPS device will come in handy. Despite its size, it cannot be seen “East-West / West-East” from the main road. The only hint of the turn off is a sign pointing the way to “Camel Underpass No. 7.”

Then it’s a matter of picking a path carefully through a maze of rusty tracks in the sand, past the occasional camp.

It’s a bad place for a flat tire or a breakdown – there aren’t many other vehicles out here and, apart from acorns and maybe a stray camel, hardly any living creatures.

When the sculptures come into view, however, it’s worth it – especially for fans of the classic sci-fi movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Since they are spaced at 250-meter distances in a straight line, they slowly rise up, each passing over the next in a deliberately clear view.

Up close they are neck high, casting large shadows that widen quickly as the hot sun fades through the afternoon. They are strong enough to absorb strikes without making much noise, but seen side by side they are barely there at all.

The sculpture has become a magnet for graffiti.

It’s hard to get a true sense of scale unless other people are around, but it’s worth the rather rocky five-minute drive to the top of the nearby cliffs to get a full view of the jutting monoliths. to the sea.

And if the temperature is not too unbearable, it is necessary to walk the full kilometer of the sculpture.

It is clear that Serra’s fears about a lack of visitors were unfounded if the amount of graffiti scrawled on the metal plates over the years is anything to go by. Although it is not an enhancement, it has become part of the artwork.

Back when CNN visited in 2014, some of the graffiti simply said “I was here,” but others are centers for artistic debate or national pride — with some of the latest Qatari changes coming recently entered defiance of regional sanctions.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tallest graffiti on one of the plates is the work of visitors from the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal.

While there’s plenty to take in at “East-West/West-East,” the artwork isn’t the only attraction Zekreet Point has to offer.

The desert winds have created unusual shapes in the rock.

A short drive further west leads to the Al Reem Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO protected area which is believed to be home to gazelles, oryx, osprey and other rare desert fauna, although it seems that they are difficult to see.

Inside are more local oddities.

First there is Film City, a small fortified town that stands empty in the desert, a Qatari flag flying on the mast atop its tallest tower. The gates are usually open and visitors can stop, check and, if they are lucky, share a cup of sweet tea with the security guard.

There are no real surprises around this place. It was built as a filming location and has occasionally appeared in Arab dramas and promos for the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosted in Qatar.

A little more mysterious – at least in appearance – are the “desert mushrooms” in Qatar, a few kilometers further on the peninsula.

Here, centuries of wind erosion have carved out the limestone bowl, carving the rocks into beautiful mushroom-like shapes. One prominent feature, known as a “rock cliff,” is an island of weathered stone with an inaccessible building.

This, and other small structures in the hollow are repetitions of traditional shelters used for storing dates.

Today, they are just the last stop on a tour of one of the most exotic destinations in the Arabian Gulf.

Or the beautiful backdrop for a night camping under the stars, swapping stories about strange things in the desert.

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