By Chris Killey
13 August 2010
It’s 7:00 AM on a steamy hot and humid Friday 13th. I’m driving
in the middle of Doha City. It’s sleepy quiet on the streets –
two days into the holy month of Ramadan. Temperature has reached
35° already as I pull into the Family Section Gate of the Dahl
Al Hamam Family Park on Al Markhiya Street.
I park beside a tiny guard house and hear laughter coming from
inside – two guards – one of them spots me and they open the
door. “Salam alaikum and good morning.” Not much English
language here. I ask about Dahl Hamam.
“Yes - Dahl Hamam Park.” he replies.
“Where is the Dahl?” I ask.
I’d searched on Google for the sinkhole and pinpointed it right
bang slap in the middle of this tourist park, on the corner of
(of course) the busy Dahl Al Hamam roundabout.
“No speak English.” – he replies.
I repeat - “Yes - Arabi – Dahl?”
Recognition in his eyes – he grins and points over through some
trees. The park offers beautiful flower gardens and shrubs
surrounded by grassy lawns and trees, meandering concrete
skateboard canals, playground swings etc. During the cooler
months of the year the park will be well used and enjoyed by
“Can I go down?” I ask, pointing down to the ground.
“No” he says “Closed.”
“When open?” I ask.
“Not open – only look over.” he replies.
“Not open?” I persevere...
He shakes his head.
“Never open?” I press him further.
“Never.” he replies with a smile.
I decide to investigate anyway – there’s laughter – “Can I go
“Yes – Yes”.
“OK to drive?” I ask - pretending to drive a car, “or walking?”
- pointing to my feet.
“No drive” – he says, and then “OK” pointing to his feet.
“OK Shukran” and I head for the trees.
By now the perspiration is rolling down my face as I follow the
carefully manicured pathways through the gardens. The irrigation
water sprays are cooling on my skin – I wonder where it’s
I reach a high netting fence encircling a gravel area about 50
meters across. The high iron-grilled entrance gate is padlocked.
In the center of the enclosure is the sinkhole. A concrete
pathway leads from the entrance gate to the sinkhole opening.
Steps and handrail disappear down into the black hole.
Not much more to see from outside the fence so I decide to
explore the beautifully tended gardens – a rare feature in this
harsh summer environment. It’s deserted apart from one sole
gardener raking leaves.
I head back to the guardhouse and again ask when the Dahl will
“Never open.” he repeats.
I plead..... “Please can I go down?” pointing again to the
“After tomorrow – big boss will come - maybe open” (he pretends
to turn a key) “after 8 or 9 morning, something like that”.
Lots of Shukran’s and Ma’salamas .
Reviving in the air conditioned vehicle, I decide to wait for
cooler weather before making a return trip.
October 2, 2010
Its 9 AM on hopefully a cooler Saturday and I’m driving again to
Dahl Al Hamam Park. This time, Thania Freele comes along too.
Thania is another keen explorer. She and her husband Morgan also
spent many years working in Saudi Arabia, and enjoying the off-roading
and camping adventures in the desert there.
We pull into the main entrance and hear voices coming from a
nearby building. Greetings all round with the security guards
and we ask to see the boss to unlock the entrance gate to the
Dahl. Again, there’s not much English here, but Thania knows
more Arabic than me and helps with the translation. No
problem—one of the guards can take us. He gets up from the desk
and walks with us to the garden pathways. He is Mohamed Sheikh
Al-Sabri, from Sanaa in the Yemen. We comment on these beautiful
gardens and he says we should also visit the Yemen because it is
very nice there too!
We reach the entrance gate to the Dahl enclosure and he lets us
through. The sinkhole opening is around 10x10 meters across and
a rough estimate of 50-60 meters deep to the current base.
We all three go down the twenty steps to the edge of the slope
and peer into the shadows below.
A small tabby kitten scampers down the rocks and disappears into
the depths. The cave is active, the ground slopes down with lots
of breakdown, boulders, sloping loose gravel, rubble and sand.
My uninformed guess is gypsum and limestone composition.
We scramble through the rocks and big boulders and make it down
to the bottom. Water lies around the edges of the sinkhole
floor. On one side there is a small shallow pond of brackish
water several meters wide, covered with a whitish crust of what
looks like solidified dust. It cracks like thin ice when I touch
it. On the opposite side of the sinkhole floor, water is
dripping from the rocky limestone ceiling to form puddles of
clear water. There doesn’t appear to be a current but the water
is clear and perhaps there is a little stream flowing away under
Some research tells me the sinkholes are a karstic feature of
the Qatar environment. Karst geology is prolific on the
peninsula with thousands of hollows and depressions across the
country, and also a number of sinkholes and caves, several of
which are known. Many caves and Dahls have collapsed, and with
the huge construction and development now under way in the city,
the building foundation investigations need to be exact and
thorough! Bulldozers have been known to break through and fall
into such previously unknown Dahls.
A sudden wing flutter distracts me as a small bird flies out
from under the ceiling up and away through the cave entrance
into the blue sky. Might be a sparrow but it was moving too fast
to tell. We clamber around for about 20 minutes and take some
pictures until the heat gets to us. So much for cooler weather;
the perspiration soaks through my clothes as we climb back out
of the cave.
Mohamed tells us that the sinkhole is now permanently closed to
the public because of the risk of continuing collapse and
movement of rocks and boulders inside. He clangs the heavy gate
closed after us.
We walk back through the deserted park to the guardhouse,
hugging every bit of shade along the way. It’s much, much too
hot yet for any sane person to be outdoors for long. We exchange
contacts, Shukrans and Ma’salamas with Mohamed and retreat to
the air-conditioning in the 4WD.