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26 May 2017Last updated
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Features | The big story

Explore Dubai’s own Jurassic Park

It has cost Dh30 million to create, and boasts walking dinosaurs, talking trees and eco-friendly replicas of the Burj Khalifa and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Shiva Kumar Thekkepat takes a walk on the wild side at Dubai Garden Glow, an innovative development at Zabeel Park, before it opens on December 23

By Shiva Kumar Thekkepat
18 Dec 2015 | 12:00 am
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  • Over 90,000 porcelain cups, plates and spoons have been used to build the incredibly engineered replica of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

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  • From the Ant Party area to a CD Fairy Land, there will be at least 22 different educational and entertaining set-ups that tell a unique story.

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  • Alia Mohammad Malik of Dubai Municipality.

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  • Chanchal Samanta of The Retailers Investment.

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  • Friday editor Karen Pasquali Jones had a ball as she traipsed through the charming, well-lit wilderness of the park, accompanied by Alia.

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  • From cute pandas chomping on bamboo shoots to a talking tree created with thousands of medicine bottles, there’s much to experience.

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The zookeeper Alexa is nervous. She hasn’t slept and with good reason. Today is her first day working with two wild velociraptors – carnivorous dinosaurs popularised by the Jurassic Park movies – that were captured in a South American rainforest just days before.

As she arrives at work and walks towards their pen, their calls ring out in the distance – a strange and terrifying cry that sounds like an angry elephant’s trumpet, only a thousand times louder. Alexa, 23, feels fear creeping up her spine. She knows the half-tonne three-metre-tall raptors are smart, cunning, fast and wildly unpredictable.

Nearing their enclosure, the cries get louder. Alexa takes a deep breath and stares as the raptors emerge from behind the bushes. They move slowly, heavily, sizing her up. She looks at them – as bravely as possible – as they stare back at her. Then slowly the prehistoric reptiles turn their heads to look at the fascinated faces of the audience watching safely from beyond the steel fence.

‘Don’t move, stay where you are!’ Alexa calls out to the crowd. ‘Stare into their eyes to show dominance, and don’t blink.’

The sound of Alexa’s voice prompts the raptors to struggle to break free of their chains. She looks at a child and yells: ‘You blinked.’ As the crowd murmurs in fear, she shouts out: ‘Don’t panic.’

Suddenly, the chains holding the raptors give away. The crowd screams, terrified, as the carnivores step out of their enclosure. Alexa whips out a taser, and as they pause before launching themselves on the panicked crowd, expertly zaps both the dinosaurs. There’s a crackle and sparks as the raptors slump.

‘Move before they wake up,’ Alexa shouts. There is a minor stampede as the audience rushes to leave.

Think this a scene from a Hollywood movie? Think again. This is an experience that awaits visitors at Dubai Garden Glow at Zabeel Park Area B (Gate 6). It is the latest development by Dubai Municipality and The Retailers Investment, and will open 
on Wednesday (December 23). The formal inauguration, though, will take place on December 22. ‘That is the exact scenario that a visitor to Dubai Garden Glow – the world’ first unique themed garden – will experience!’ says Chanchal Samanta, director of The Retailers Investment, the company that executed the stellar project for Dubai Municipality.

This is a park that is part Jurassic Park and part Avatar, with animals and dinosaurs prowling about in an out-of-the-world setting full of lights, sound and music. It offers holistic entertainment – adventure, relaxation and leisure activities – in a lush environment in the heart of the city.

‘The dinosaur show will be just one of the main attractions of Dubai Garden Glow,’ says Chanchal. ‘And it is one of a kind. Nowhere else in the world will you come across such a complete package.

‘We’ve incorporated technology from the US, Japan and Singapore to put it together, all in a span of six months. We’ve to thank Dubai Municipality for this, as it expedited all the approvals and infrastructure.’

The dinosaurs are animatronics, built using the technology patented by BBC. 
They are shells of the creatures driven by computers and controlled by a person who sits inside it. It has cameras all around that allow him or her to see, and walk. So, visitors can expect to be chased, says Chanchal. There will be guides like Alexa 
to show them around.

Stepping into Gate 6 at Zabeel Park, you are transported into another world. The magic begins with the Dream Forest Stage – ‘a forest of imagination and light,’ says Alia Mohammad Malik, head of Promotion and Recreation Office, Public Parks and Horticulture Department of the Dubai Municipality.

And it’s not just PR talk. Once inside, you’ll see giant trees, plants and flowers glowing in various colours, their lights and reflections shimmering on a lake where the stage is set. The leaves of the lilies that float in the water are made of discarded CDs. 
The message starts right there: this is an eco-friendly, sustainable venture. In fact, most of the exhibits are made of recycled or biodegradable material.

‘Due to low-voltage LEDs, compact fluorescents and other cost-saving bulbs, this show only uses 597 kilowatts of power,’ says Chanchal, who has all the facts on his fingertips.

There’s also a CD Fairy Land where flowers made of 500 CDs dance with the flower fairies. Then, nestled amid psychedelic trees is a huge stage where music, theatre and acrobatic performances reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil will be held.

Alia advises visitors to arrive early, not because of traffic or lack of parking space – there are around 860 dedicated parking lots in and around the area, as well as a proposed taxi and shuttle service to the Dubai World Trade Centre and the Metro. ‘It is to catch the awe-inspiring LFC Chinese Acrobatic Performance Troupe in action!’ she exclaims.

During its 30-minute show, the troupe will wow crowds with daring acrobatics, up in the air above the lake. For children, the performance itself might be worth the price of admission (yet to be decided), says Chanchal. The troupe will perform every night at 6.30pm and 7.30pm (please check timings on the website).

It is all magic reimagined, with around 22 stories themed around lanterns as they light up the night in spectacular colours and vivid imagery. Each set tells a different tale, braiding it with its botanical or zoological partner. For instance, the Tulip Garden, aside from its aesthetic value, tells the story of the exotic flowers known for their wide range of colours; of how they were first introduced by Leiden University to Holland (Netherlands) in 1594 and became the symbol of the European nation.

In the Rabbit Love and Carrot Trees section, guides will tell you why rabbits are often used as a symbol of fertility or rebirth, and have long been associated with spring and Easter in western society. The dual role the species plays – as an animal of prey and symbol of innocence – is explained as visitors walk around the date palms that are transformed into giant carrots. You can even have your picture clicked with the Love Rabbits.

In all of this, Dubai Garden Glow has a two-pronged approach: it will educate schoolchildren – discounted school trips are being planned – with workshops created for them, while the entertainment will attract families at night. Visually too, the garden will be incredible by day, and out of the world by night.

As guests walk through the park, from set to set, a new story is told at every stop. 
At one, they hear the story of a young girl who is transformed into a lotus – handmade by Chinese artists on location – that floats in the ocean. At another, they are entertained by pandas playing with volleyballs and eating bamboo shoots.

The centrepiece of the attraction comes as you move ahead – a recreation of the African Savannah. It is an interesting tableau of more than 50 African animals grazing in an open grassland – herds of zebra and wildebeest, lions lapping up water from a lake created in the middle, giraffes eating leaves from the trees and elephants lumbering around. There’s an entire section on Big Cats, some 20 of them. Tigers from India, lions and leopards from Africa, jaguars from Central America – beautiful, lit-up creations in wire-and-silk.

‘Did you know even the African savannas are under threat, [especially owing to] the introduction of exotic plant species and the cutting and clearing of native plant species?’ asks Chanchal. Lesson learnt.

Each segment teaches as well as entertains, like the Ant Party. They play music, dance, work and eat! The specially designed ants walk about, carrying food, cutting leaves and laying eggs to showcase the life cycle of an ant.

Animals and insects are not the only entertainment. There’s the Medicine Bottle Talking Tree, nine metres tall and made of 10,000 discarded water bottles. It has lips and eyes that move, and if you talk to it, it records your speech and plays it back for you. So, whatever the language, the tree speaks back to you in your voice.

The I Light Tree is another innovation that’s sure to fascinate kids. It looks ordinary enough, but pull the cord and the tree comes to life. ‘The LEDs [which are used to light up the tree] use 80-90 per cent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last 33 times longer,’ says Alia.

Apart from all this, the garden also features two creations that are aiming to enter the Guinness World Records – a porcelain replica of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and a model of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. More than 90,000 porcelain cups, plates and spoons make up the incredibly engineered mosque, whose inspiration is the largest mosque in the UAE. The scaled-down version is equally impressive, and will vie for a record once the park is open.

The replica of the Burj Khalifa has been created using small medicine bottles filled with coloured water. ‘We will seek a Guinness record for the tallest structure made from medicine bottles – over 330,000 [have been used to create the structure that’s more than] 12 metres tall,’ says Chanchal. Placed on a high mound, with a façade of the Dubai skyline running around it, 
the imposing structure look almost as spectacular as the original when lit up in different shades.

The best is saved for last – the Land of Reverie, characterised by an entire stretch of grass that lights up as you walk over it, thanks to power-saving LEDs that appear like a carpet of different coloured lights. 
It springs to life in different hues as you pass, making you feel like you really are in an enchanted forest. Think Avatar-meets-virtual-reality.

Dubai Garden Glow is now part of the Happy Dubai initiative of the Government of Dubai, says Chanchal. It will be held daily from 6pm to midnight (subject to change).

And if you build up an appetite walking through the gardens, there’s a fully fledged Tim Hortons and a stall selling assorted foods to quell your hunger.

Dubai Garden Glow will run until April 2016, when it will close for summer. ‘We will reopen after some months with all-new shows, better items, and lots of new entertainment,’ says Chanchal.

That Dubai Municipality is committed to extending Dubai Garden Glow is certain. ‘We may even look at taking it to some of our other parks,’ says Alia.

Faridoon Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Awadi, head of the Investment Section at Dubai Municipality is upbeat about spreading its glow. ‘Certainly, as it is a result of our vision to promote sustainability and help showcase the world’s beauty to our younger generations. Dubai prides itself as one of the world’s leading leisure and entertainment destinations and we’re committed to invest in its commitment to continuously offer innovative family focused entertainment. We are hoping to attract over 5,000 visitors a day to Dubai Garden Glow.’

With all the unique attractions, that should be child’s play.

By Shiva Kumar Thekkepat

By Shiva Kumar Thekkepat

Features Writer