Al Noor Island: Isle be there...

The Al Noor Island in Sharjah offers a serene retreat in the middle of the Middle-eastern desert.

The Butterfly House

The Al Noor Island in Sharjah offers a serene retreat in the middle of the Middle-eastern desert. After soaking in Sharjah’s atmospheric souks, museums and mosques, I hopped across to the Emirati city’s newest attraction, Al Noor Island, that sprawls across Khalid Lagoon and offers a refreshing cocktail of recreation, art, and education.

To reach the island, I didn’t have to cross an ocean. I just ambled across a scenic bridge and found myself enveloped in the idyllic haze of Al Noor, a welcome respite from the city’s urban whirligig. Art and nature coalesce to form one enchanting landscape here. Blanketed by a canopy of lush trees and overlooking a towering skyline, the island made me forget that I was smack dab in the middle of a desert.

Engaging cultural encounters further enhanced my sensory experience. Al Noor is peppered with many attractions — a literature pavilion, award-winning sculptures by globally acclaimed artists, futuristic light installations, paintings, a butterfly house, ornamental gardens sprouting exotic plants from around the world, including towering cactuses from South America, all joined together by a 3,500 m walkway.

There’s glam and glitter as well. As the sky turned a shade of lavender, the whole island lit up with twinkling fairy lights, warm glows and bright neon that made for a delightfully dazzling display. “Lighting is at the heart of the Al Noor experience,” the resident experts explained as we glided across the island in a golf cart admiring gigantic installations and structural designs illuminated by glowing displays of light in varying intensities and colours.

Committed to sustainable lighting practices, LED is the main component that lights up the island’s buildings, walkways, trees, and bridge. “Al Noor Island has been conceptualised and built to expose visitors to myriad expressions and experiences,” he added. Next, we strolled across to the Gleaming Meadows to watch a glowing flowerbed of 1,200 fibre-glass blossoms change colour in a synchronised manner with the LEDs casting colourful shadows on the surrounding foliage.

As we approached the island’s beautifully sculpted gardens, I took a deep breath to drink in the serenity. I reconnected with nature among 70,000 trees and plants, both indigenous as well as endangered, sourced from around the world. The guide pointed to a 250-year-old olive tree, bottle- and umbrella-shaped trees, towering cactuses, medicinal plants, ornamental grass and more.

Al Noor Mosque
Al Noor Mosque

Bespoke art installations and sculptures crafted by celebrated artists and sculptors integrate seamlessly with the island’s natural space. ‘Torus’, a 240-cm, shiny mirror-polished sculpture by renowned British artist David Harber showcases the illusionary play of light and reflections. `Fossil Rock’ at the island’s northern tip has three gigantic fossil rocks — Crystal, Amethyst and Stone Tree — guarding Al Noor like angels. The egg-shaped OVO installation leverages wood, LED lighting and water to create an eclectic visual display. I stop to snap photos of ‘Columns’, colourfully-painted columns standing tall in various locations around the island, handcrafted by German artist Susanne Schmögner.

We next walk across to the Butterfly House where over 500 exotic butterflies greet us in their natural habitat. This is the island’s primary attraction with natural light streaming in to retain humidity to create a safe haven for these winged wonders of all shapes, sizes, and patterns.

As we amble through the space camouflaged by tropical flora, the resident expert explains the origins of the myriad delicate beauties. “That one is the ‘Tailed Jay’,” he said pointing out a spotted green butterfly which originated in South East Asia and Australia. “And that is the ‘Emerald Swallowtail’ which likes to flutter high up in forest canopies.”

However, my favourite section was the island’s Literature Pavilion, a big draw among bibliophiles who like to seek succour in the written word. A diverse collection of books on literature, poetry and fiction are stocked here. Mellifluous music plays in the background while you read even as a bubbling fountain, tastefully designed seating areas and subtle calligraphic reflections add to the salubriousness of the setting.

Sharjah, the third largest emirate in the seven-member constellation of the UAE, was named by the UNESCO in 1998 as the Cultural Capital of the Arab World, a title it uses effectively as a tool to market itself. Al Noor exemplifies this endeavour best with its juxtaposition of the old and the new, the artisanal and the manufactured, the real and the simulated.

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Al Noor Island: Isle be there...

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