As the sun gracefully descends below the horizon, a procession of sturdy four-wheel drives, along with a handful of adventurous sedans, pour into the Al Qudra oasis on the outskirts of Dubai.
The sky is painted in hues of fiery red, with the sun casting a scorching orange glow, igniting the vast lakes that punctuate the desert, setting them ablaze with a breathtaking display of color.
The main draw for visitors lies within these expansive bodies of water amidst the dunes. They eagerly set up picnic blankets, camp chairs, and gather for group photos.
The man-made oasis of Al Qudra is adorned with numerous artificial lakes, encompassed by towering sand dunes and local fauna, making it a highly sought-after recreational destination for Dubai’s residents.
However, in 2018, the local tourist attraction experienced a surge in popularity when a mysterious new lake suddenly appeared.
In a remarkable turn of events, two interconnected water-filled lagoons, shaped like intertwined hearts, suddenly appeared amidst an arrangement of vegetation spelling out the word “love.” Thus, the Love Lake was born, attracting hordes of people to its shores for its picturesque backdrops, abundant wildlife, and secluded ambiance.
Interestingly, on this particular night, the lake seems fit for royalty: as we arrive, a Mercedes-Benz G-Class with the license plate “1” passes by—a car famously driven by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai.
This comes as no surprise, as Sheikh Mohammed is frequently photographed around Al Qudra, and it was his son who unveiled the Love Lake to the world in the first place. Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, revealed the new tourist attraction in a surprise Instagram post in November 2018.
The aerial view of the interlinked love hearts made headlines across the UAE, given that they seemingly appeared overnight, with no prior knowledge of lake construction underway.
However, all of this was carefully planned. A spokesperson from Sheikh Mohammed’s engineering office reveals that the project, which commenced construction on March 11, 2018, was shrouded in secrecy from its inception.
“The project was discreetly managed with minimal involvement from anyone outside the project team. The idea was to announce and unveil this beautiful project to the world as a surprise.”
Dubai is no stranger to man-made marvels. After all, it is home to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, the world’s highest outdoor infinity pool at Address Beach Resort, and several other attractions with equally impressive claims to fame, such as Ski Dubai, the largest indoor ski slope in a mall, and the Dubai Frame, the world’s largest picture frame.
The spokesperson says the Love Lake project came with a simple design brief from Sheikh Mohammed himself, of creating “a symbol of love in the desert,” while also providing a unique new tourist destination for couples and families.
And in a city where Instagram reigns supreme, the Love Lake leaped into the social media craze and came complete with a plethora of heart motifs and signage identifying the best selfie points.
Over 16,000 trees and thousands of flowering plants, specially selected for the desert climate, were planted at the site. It’s even supposedly visible from space.
A specialized workforce was brought in to work on the site “around the clock” to meet the targeted completion time of 20 months (while Sheikh 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 construction plan was careful to ensure “the natural tranquility of the area wasn’t disturbed,” and sustainability was a focus early on.
The seating facilities at the site were all made using eco-friendly materials. It has unique bamboo water sinks with traditional-style taps, as well as shaded areas and fire pits.
There’s even a dedicated running track around the site – if you fancy a quick jog through the desert under the beating sun.
And the team has made sure the wildlife will be taken care of too. The Love Lake is home to more than 150 species of birds, including eagles, ducks, swans, falcons, and flamingos. Desert wildlife such as gazelles and oryx can also be spotted if you’re lucky.
These days, the Love Lake can attract between 1,000 to 4,000 people per day. It’s kept in immaculate condition with dedicated maintenance and operation teams assigned specifically for that purpose.
The lake is even equipped with two filling lines, with water level sensors, to ensure that even in the hotter months, the water stays topped up.
“There is considerable expertise spanning several disciplines that goes into the upkeep of a lake such as this,” the spokesperson says.
But Dubai wasn’t done announcing new surprise desert lakes.
Earlier this year, near to the 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, wholly unexpected but celebrated excitedly.
That’s why, on a Friday afternoon, swarms of people are gathering lakeside, in the middle of the desert. The mighty skyline of Dubai isn’t visible here, and while away the days birdwatching or camping in the undulating dunes is a welcome moment of respite from the chaos of the city.
Just, be warned: don’t attempt the drive out to the Love Lake or Moon Lake in a two-wheel-drive, no matter how plucky it may be. You might, speaking from experience, get stuck and require the help of a friendly family out for a picnic to free yourself.