Heart-shaped lagoons connect in the Dubai desert
The sun sinks just below the horizon as a steady four-wheel drive line and a few brave little sedans pour into the Al Qudra oasis on the outskirts of Dubai.
The sky is tinged with red, the sun a scorching orange, igniting the vast lakes that set the desert ablaze with color.
It is these vast expanses of water in the middle of the dunes that visitors have come to seek. They set up picnic blankets and camping chairs and pose for group photos.
Al Qudra’s man-made desert oasis is home to a myriad of man-made lakes, surrounded by towering sand dunes and local wildlife, making it a premier recreation spot for residents of Dubai. But in 2018, the local tourist attraction gained popularity when a mysterious new lake appeared.
Seemingly overnight, two water-filled lagoons in the shape of intertwined hearts appeared, atop an arrangement of vegetation that spelled out the word “love.” And so, Love Lake was born, and people flocked to its shores for its Instagram-ready backdrops, wildlife, and seclusion.
By royal appointment
In fact, that night the lake is a destination literally worthy of royalty: upon arriving, a Mercedes-Benz G-Class passes with the license plate “1” – the famous car driven by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.
This is perhaps not entirely surprising: Sheikh Mohammed is frequently photographed around Al Qudra, and it was his son who unveiled Love Lake to the world in the first place.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, revealed the new tourist attraction, and rightly so, in a surprise Instagram post in November 2018. The aerial view of the interconnected love hearts made headlines throughout the United Arab Emirates – given that they’d apparently appeared overnight, and no one knew that construction of new lakes was underway.
But it was all part of the plan. A spokesperson for Sheikh Mohammed’s engineering office said the project, which began construction on March 11, 2018, has been shrouded in secrecy since its inception.
“The project was managed discreetly with a minimum of involvement from anyone outside the project team. The idea was to announce and unveil this beautiful project to the world as a surprise.”
City of superlatives
Dubai is no stranger to man-made wonders. It is home, after all, to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest outdoor infinity pool, at Address Beach Resort, and a few lesser-known attractions – like Ski Dubai, the largest indoor ski slope in a shopping mall and the Dubai Frame, the world’s largest photo frame.
The spokesperson said that the Love Lake project came with a simple design brief from Sheikh Mohammed himself, to create “a symbol of love in the desert,” while providing a unique new tourist destination for couples and families.
And in a city where Instagram reigns supreme, Love Lake took on the social media craze and indulged in a plethora of heart designs and signs identifying the best selfie points. More than 16,000 trees and thousands of flowering plants, specially selected for the desert climate, have been planted on the site. It is even supposedly visible from space.
A specialized workforce was brought in to work on the site “24 hours a day” to meet the 20-month deadline for completion (while Cheikh Hamdan unveiled the site in November 2018, work continued for another full year to complete the project). And every detail of the site had the environment in mind.
The building plan ensured that “the natural tranquility of the area was not disturbed”, and sustainability was a priority from the start. The seats on the site have all been made with environmentally friendly materials. It has unique bamboo sinks with traditional style faucets, as well as shaded areas and fire pits.
There’s even a dedicated running track around the site – if you fancy a quick jog in the desert under the beating sun.
And the team made sure the wildlife was taken care of as well. Love Lake is home to over 150 species of birds, including eagles, ducks, swans, hawks, and flamingos. Desert wildlife like gazelles and oryx can also be seen, if you’re lucky.
Today, Love Lake can attract between 1,000 and 4,000 people a day. It is maintained in immaculate condition with dedicated maintenance and operations teams specially assigned for this purpose. The lake is even fitted with two fill lines, with water level sensors, to ensure that even in the hottest months the water stays level.
“There is considerable expertise spanning several disciplines that goes into the maintenance of a lake like this,” the spokesperson said.
New Moon Lake in april
But Dubai is not done announcing new surprise desert lakes.
Earlier this year, near Love Lake, a crescent-shaped lake appeared among the dunes, just in time for Ramadan. Moon Lake was announced via a local photographer’s Instagram page with a drone video capturing the site in its entirety. It was, again, totally unexpected, but celebrated with enthusiasm.
This is why, on a Friday afternoon, swarms of people gather by the lake, in the middle of the desert. Dubai’s mighty skyline is not visible here, and spending the day birding or camping in the rolling dunes is a welcome respite from the chaos of the city.
Just be warned: don’t try to get to Love Lake, or Moon Lake, on two-wheel drive, no matter how brave. You might, from experience, get stuck and need the help of a friendly family on a picnic to break free.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of friendly families here for a picnic. It’s part of the experience.