On Al Mirqab Street at Al Nasser is a tiny carpet store that's been there since 2000. Its neighboring stores come and go but this one hasn't changed its location for 21 years. Now, sandwiched between a shawarma restaurant and a telecom shop, the store regularly brings handmade rugs and carpets from Kashmir and Afghanistan. The store is owned and managed by a man known as ‘The Rugman of Doha’. Why is he known by this name and what is special about his carpets and rugs?
The ILoveQatar.net (ILQ) team reached out to ‘The Rugman of Doha’, Riyaz Bhat, to learn more about his passion for tribal rugs and how he sees each rug he brings to Qatar as a work of art. Let’s get to know him better!
Riyaz: My name is Riyaz Bhat. I was born and raised in Srinagar City in the valley of beautiful Kashmir in India. Since I was a child, I have always been fascinated by rugs handcrafted by my family of weavers — how they would fill tiny knots one by one with natural fibers like silk or wool, and then how those tiny knots on looms would take the shape of a beautiful carpet with amazing patterns. When I was in grade 8, I was given permission to use the loom and eventually learned how to weave rugs.
After I finished college I was planning to go for higher education and take a business course, but my destiny had something else planned for me. When I read the story of the nomad tribes of Central Asia and learned about how they make quality handmade rugs, I decided to travel to Afghanistan to see the process myself. So, in 1987 I started my adventure to war-torn Afghanistan. It really was a difficult journey, but very rewarding. I witnessed how the talented nomad women of the region would weave the most beautiful and fascinating rugs, which they would trade for food and money. I traveled back and forth to Afghanistan for more than 10 years, and as I learned more about designs, patterns, and dyes, my passion for carpets and rugs grew more as well.
Riyaz: In 1999, while I was working with my uncle in Pakistan, a customer visiting from Doha came to our store and bought a few rugs from me. He introduced Qatar to me as a fast-growing and developing country and encouraged me to open up a store here. At first, I hesitated but destiny again planned one more great adventure for me. I landed at the old Doha Airport for the first time in October 1999 with a 14-day business visa, and that visa was extended and extended, and I’m happy to say that it's my 22nd year now in this wonderful country.
Riyaz: After searching for many places here, I finally found a location for my store. On 4 April 2000, I opened my showroom at Al Mirqab Street in Al Nasser and have never changed location since then. During the first few days, customers started coming and my store was introduced to a great group of people from VCUarts Qatar. Among them was Cathleen Ferguson Huntington who upon entering my shop saw me and said, “Are you the Rugman?” And that’s how the ‘The Rugman of Doha' was born.
Riyaz: Weaving rugs has been my passion since childhood, and I really love and value what I do. I value the times I’m with tribal groups and get to introduce nomad women designers and their amazing artworks to the world. By doing this I feel satisfied with what I have done in my life.
I also welcome students and small groups of people in our store for a free discussion about rug art and history. I enjoy discussing and providing information about the history of rugs and the beautiful story behind each rug that we have. I am thankful that I am gifted with the talent to weave and tell important stories.
Riyaz: My store, The Rugman, is not just a carpet store. It is rather a learning class for art and history and I bet once you listen to our stories and see our collections, you are going to love it for a lifetime. Each carpet has a story. Each rug is an art.
Riyaz: As soon as I arrived in Doha, I went around the city and strolled to see different places. I went to markets and to the lone mall during that time - The Mall at D Ring road. I saw one rug store inside that mall with many customers. I also went to the old downtown where there were more rug stores, and I saw people buying rugs. That's when I decided to open a store here.
Riyaz: Yes, at that time it was very easy to open a store and I was very lucky to find a great sponsor who also became my investment partner. He helped in every way to open my shop. Qatar is one lovely country, and living and working here has been a lot easier compared to other countries and has been very encouraging for my business.
Riyaz: We have extremely high-quality handmade rugs from my family of weavers. Besides that, we also have genuine handmade rugs made by nomads like Turkmen, Kazak, Balouch, Uzbek, Shirwan, Ghazni, and many other small tribes of the region. Each rug collected from them tells a beautiful story.
Riyaz: Going to Afghanistan, collecting these rugs from these nomads one by one in person and getting them shipped to Pakistan first by trucks, and then from Pakistan to Qatar by plane. It really is an extremely tiring process.
Riyaz: Yes, I have participated in both local and international exhibitions and shows. I recently returned from my shows in Houston, Texas, and Arlington, Virginia. These were my 5th and 6th shows in the USA. I have also done many shows for American Women’s Association Qatar, Tuesdays Ladies Group Qatar, Qatar Expat Women, US Embassy Qatar, Exxon Mobil Oil Qatar, Shell Qatar, and many other private shows.
Riyaz: Yes, we have local and international customers and we ship our rugs all over the world. Our foreign customers are mostly from the USA, Canada, and Europe. We have a very economical door-to-door shipping facility.
Riyaz: Our rugs are not like those commercial rugs you see in many stores. Our rugs are made by nomads and purely handmade using natural resources. These are the rugs that if taken good care of can end up in museums as they are extremely strong.
Riyaz: It depends on the quality, the material, and the work put into it. Sometimes a very small rug costs much more than a huge rug. But I would say rugs in our collection range from QR 600 up to QR 70,000. It depends on how crazy you are about rugs and how much budget you have.
Riyaz: Carpet weaving is one difficult and time-consuming job. One must be very patient and creative to create rugs. The new generation is not taking it as a vocation, and it's becoming a dying art. Sad to say, I feel that in the next 30 to 40 years we might not see genuine handmade rugs anymore.
Riyaz: Work with all the enthusiasm and confidence in you, and your achievement will just be right there at the corner. Obey and respect the rules and laws of this wonderful country.
Cover image credit: Riyaz Bhat
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