In Search of Lakes

On the outskirts of Al Ain, next to the truck road to Abu Dhabi, lies a freshwater lake in the soft embrace of sand dunes. It is an unexpected sight to see so much water in the desert. Known by various names, Tilapia Lake seems to be the most widely used name for it. Having only been in existence for the past eight years or so, various newspaper articles have been written about it.

My favourite byline appeared in a Gulf News article that was published on 22 November 2011: “Photographers brave scorpion-infested shores to capture images”. A more recent article that appeared on 19 October 2012 in The National focuses on the fact that authorities have fenced in the area after two deaths in the lake, as well as mentioning the fact that “the steady flow of water supplying the lake has now been stopped”. Shortly after this article, another, far more interesting one appeared, also in The National, that attempted to shed light on the origins of this lake.

The lake has an interesting beginning in 2004 when groundwater levels in areas of Al Ain rose to just about half a meter from the surface, causing endless problems. Various reasons for increased water in the area are cited in the article. The bottom line was that the municipality had to get rid off excess water and decided to direct it here. By 2008 the lake was almost dry, but an unusually large amount of rain in December 2009 when the city received more than its average yearly rainfall in one day, infused the lake with another chance of survival.

Tilapia lake

On the day we drove out to Tilapia lake to have a closer look for ourselves, the many weekend visitors that have been mentioned in the articles were nowhere to be found. Neither were the fence, the poisonous insects, or scorpions. Although the idea of a lake in the desert is an appealing thought, standing on its banks left us disenchanted. The roaring noise from traffic, the litter-strewn banks, and the slight stench that hung in the air did not conjure up an image of paradise for us. We decided not to linger on the banks of this shrinking, controversial lake.

What we were after was something a lot more isolated, unpolluted and unknown. This we found on Google Maps as what looked like a scattering of lakes surrounded by desert. The GPS co-ordinates unfortunately led us, not to water, but endless sand dunes. Although we were slightly disappointed that the lakes have disappeared, we were not really surprised. It was only the bright green bushes, broken pieces of pipe and hard ground that bore evidence of the water that once, not too long ago, nestled here.

desert al ain

On this day we may not have found what we were searching for, but the desert is always full of surprises if one looks closely. Everywhere was evidence of life in the myriad footprints and markings left by little creatures that roam these dunes unseen for most of the time.

al ain desert

** Click on this link for more photographs of all the ‘footprints’ I found on this day.