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Spiderman Shivlal – Urban Mountaineer

My first sight of the Spidermen at The Torch hotel - Aspire Tower

My first sight of the Spidermen at The Torch hotel – Aspire Tower


Hanging hundreds of feet above the ground to make big buildings glisten.

I held my breadth. The man in the center fell, but thanks to the safety rope, he got back to his feet.

I held my breadth. This man fell, but thanks to the safety rope, he got back to his feet.

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Ropes get lodged between the steel wire mesh, making it difficult for the spidermen.

Ropes get lodged between the steel wire mesh, making it difficult for the spidermen.

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My Man - Shivlal the Spiderman.

My Man – Shivlal the Spiderman.


Hailed as supermen, stunt artists are paid fabulous sums to risk their necks for a thrill-hungry public; yet their most hair-raising feats are duplicated every day by the daring men who clean the windows and exteriors of towering skyscrapers. Salary in the Middle East is about US$ 18 per day.

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Helping his buddy dislodge an entangled rope.

Helping his buddy dislodge an entangled rope.


Fully prepared – with equipment and prayers.


On Terra Firma, friends pose for my camera (and my story). Urban mountaineers.

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Shivlal, left.

I was inspecting Nano protective glass coating work at The Torch Hotel of The Aspire Tower in Doha. I was also photographing the work in progress. Talk about being at the right place at the right time with a camera, this was one such day. Even though I was wearing a Safety Hard Hat, I often kept looking up for workers above me – a falling object could seriously injure my colleagues and I.

Standing on terra firma, I caught sight of Cleaning Spidermen scaling down the Torch Hotel Tower. Never took my finger away from the shutter release, as I recorded and visually devoured the rare spectacle before me. The men, who were brushing dust from the exterior surface, suddenly started rappelling down, as if in a rush. (Rappelling is a descent on a vertical surface, such as a cliff or wall, by sliding down a rope that is passed under ones thigh and over the opposite shoulder or through a device that provides friction, typically while facing the surface and performing a series of short backward leaps to control the descent). Talking to some of them, I learned that they had to rush down, as the wind up there was unbearable and surely not safe.

Shivlal is one of the Spiderman I befriended. He hails from Nepal and has been in Qatar for the last 4 years. Within a few month of his wedding, he had to come overseas searching for better pastures. He is an ordinary unskilled worker who joined a cleaning company in Qatar, not knowing that his simple occupation would lead him on to taking this perilous job. Within a few months, the company listed him for a training program for high-rise building cleaning – by a French trainer. During the first few weeks fear continuously gripped him throughout the day, but soon he improved his skills, which helped him gain confidence, and overcome his fear. According to him, now it is just another day at work.  His wife does not know that he is involved in this perilous job, he added.

Spidermen start their day early and work throughout the day, sometimes even at night – throughout the year. Shivlal and his Spidermen friends work at least 10 hours a day, which includes 2-3 hours of preparation. They have to plan their day well because nature’s call and lunch breaks are hard to make when they are outdoors and 70-stories high.

Though the Aspire Tower (Torch Hotel) is not the only building Shivlal cleans, it is the most challenging one. The outer metal steel mesh of the building traps dusts; therefore requires cleaning throughout the year. Shivla cleans both the steel mesh as well as the glass – from both inside and outside.

Spidermen window cleaners are experts with knots, ropes, safety harnesses and rappelling. It’s a lot like being an urban mountaineer when a window washer anchors in and rappels off a roof with cleaning supplies like pressure sprayers, brush, water, soap, squeegees, and safety equipment.

Being a Spiderman is a highly challenging and dangerous profession. They can never cut corners and must always look out for themselves. Accidents happen – scaffolding breaks, ropes wear thin, rigging mistakes occur. Some things can’t be helped – dangerous gusts of winds, tilting platforms and scaffolding, seasonal bugs crashing into faces, or peregrine falcons attacking scalps. There are no safety nets and falls are often deadly.

Shivlal starts his day with a prayer before he sets for work, and trusts his life to his God who resides above the heights he works everyday. To keep his fear in check, Shivlal says, he only looks at the windows and the steel mesh required to be cleaned, and seldom at the ground, and he is thankful when he reaches the end of his rope each day.

Shivlal started his job for US$ 220 per month and now earns around US$ 560 per month.

25 April 2009.

The Torch Hotel – (Aspire Tower)

At 300m (984 ft), Aspire Tower is currently the tallest building in Qatar, its design symbolizing a hand grasping the torch – build for the December 2006 Asian Games.

Located in the Aspire Zone (Doha Sports City) complex in Doha, Qatar. Designed by architect Hadi Simaan and AREP and engineer Ove Arup and Partners, the tower served as the focal point for the 15th Asian Games hosted by Qatar in 2006.

The tower housed the Asian Games flame during the games and holds the record for tallest ever games flame and highest positioning of a games flame, which was visible throughout Doha for the duration of the games. The design employs a concrete core, which acts as the primary support. The remainder of the building is a steel structure that cantilevers out from the concrete core. The exterior of the building is glass, which is in turn covered in a steel mesh.

Today this structure with its 360° panoramic views across the whole of Doha, Qatar is The Torch hotel.

Construction began in 2005 and completed in 2006. Costs at completion: 133,395,000 EUR / 174,387,000 USD. As well as functioning as a support for major games, the Torch Hotel includes a large reception and public area on two floors for 3000 guests; restaurants and business center; 17 floors of five-star hotel accommodation; a health club on three floors with a cantilevered swimming pool 80m above ground; presidential suites; and a revolving restaurant and observation deck about 240m above ground. A 62m high lattice shell structure on top of the reinforced concrete central core frames the 15MW flame cauldron.

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