Qatar has always had a long and hallowed history with the sea. The love affair between man and water began several centuries ago, when the first pearl-seeker dived off his dhow into clear blue waters, in search of the elusive pieces of nature’s wonders.

When the country discovered the one factor that would eventually make it a force to reckon with — natural gas — it was once again the sea which showed the way. With their existence so closely intertwined with the ocean, the affinity was only natural. And it was in focus during the recent Qatar Marine Festival (QMF), at the Katara Cultural Village.

The festival was brought to fruition by the Qatar Marine Festival Organising Committee (QMFOC). It aimed at promoting an understanding of the country’s marine heritage through a year-long programme, with the QMF being the crown jewel.

To the casual observer, QMF lived up to the hype. Organisers succeeded in setting the mood for the show perfectly. The location was apt. A slight deviation off the main road brought enthusiasts to a spectacular gate, set in the shape of an ancient sailors’ navigation wheel. The exhibition brought in first-time as well as repeat audience with ease.

There were; fish, clams, crabs, corals, a sea cucumber, performing seals, beachside movie screenings, sand castles, sand designers,a beachside football, and volleyball competition. These value additions set the whole experience apart from usual run-of-the-mill stuff.

The Bahrna Marine Zoo was one of the QMF’s signature attractions. Ever-helpful attendants stood in front of aquariums, ready to explain things in both English and Arabic. Several children screamed in delight as they were allowed to ‘pet the pets’. And so, star fishes, sea cucumbers and crab fishes became their intimate friends for a few glorious minutes.

Live corals from the Pacific Ocean, poisonous puffer fish which inflate themselves when threatened, Lion fish and Octopuses were some of the other ‘attractions’. Getting out on to the seaside, one was met with several recliners and bean bags facing a huge movie screen on the sands. Lying down on the bean bag, watching the killer shark scare the living daylights out of umpteen beachgoers in ‘Jaws II’, was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

Then there were the sandcastle builders. Professionals in their own rights, these people travelled the world to share their passion of sandcastle engineering. Some of them have been in the business for several decades. Building sculptures, castles and shapes out of formless sand has been their way of talking to the world. And when they talked, they took your breath away.

Walking back to the car after the exhilarating four-hour stroll, one felt a deep melancholy and a sense of satisfaction. For the QMF was a great way to learn about the past, live it in the present, and think about it in the future.

– Taita TS

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