Dubai: Though Liam John Barker is originally from some rainforest in Americas, he now calls Dubai his home. Though he is an endangered species at his natural habitat, Barker is at home in the middle of Arabian Desert – thanks to Green Planet, a carefully curated rainforest that serves just the right kind of air, water and vegetation for him to thrive.
The Green Planet rainforest is not the only 'misplaced' attraction in Dubai – add the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo also to that list. These are the results of Dubai government's effort to create a 'foreign' ecosystem right in the middle of an arid landscape where the average temperature is 41 degrees Celsius.
A careful amalgamation of the real and the artificial, Green Planet opened its doors to the public in September 2016 and figures prominently on every tourist's must-see list.
The project began in 2013 to create awareness about the environment, and later transformed into a place that lets people in Dubai experience what it is like to be in the middle of a rainforest.
Built around a 25-meter-high man-made Kapok tree, Green Planet is tucked away in a corner of Dubai City Walk. It is an artificial yet life-sustaining tropical rainforest with over 3,000 plants, animals, birds and insects.
The entire forest is enclosed in a glass structure that allows enough natural light for both the plants and animals.
"The tree is made of wood and cement, and spaces within it are filled with soil for natural plants to grow so that animals and birds feel they are in their natural habitat," said Marissa, one of the over 70 staff and experts who operate The Green Planet.
"Fifty per cent of the plants on the tree, including the algae on the bark, are real," she added.
The Green Planet is spread over four levels the canopy or the roof of the rainforest, the mid-story, the forest floor, which is humid, quiet and dark, and the flooded rainforest.
To get a holistic experience, Marissa suggests a top-down tour – starting off with the hornbill and the Brazilian parrots, and then meeting Barker and the green emerald boa before winding it by up feeding arowana fish.
"The green emerald boa has one of the slowest bowel movements. It feeds once a week on frozen mice," Marissa explains.
On your walk down the winding path, you get to say hello to a number of other inhabitants – a golden conure and a black-napled oriol, Caledonian gecko, the Asian forest scorpion, tamarin monkeys, Amazon milk frogs, green basilisk, etc...
Housed in the Dubai Mall, Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo also offer similar experiences.
Dubai Underwater Aquarium and Zoo
The aquarium is 11 metre high, 20 metre wide and 51 metre long. The artificial aquatic habitat holds 10 million liters of water and is home to over 140 species of marine animals.
"Over 300 sharks and rays live in this tank, including the largest collection of Sand Tiger sharks in the world," a staffer at the Dubai Aquarium said.
Visitors walk through a 48-meter-long glass tunnel, giving a 270-degree view of the tank.
For those looking for more, the Aquarium offers several interactive experiences that lets them get up close and personal with the sea creatures.
There's the glass-bottom boat ride, for instance. Adventurous ones can also choose between cage snorkeling and a shark dive.
"The dive brings you within inches of the sharks and rays," the staffer added.
Located on level two above the aquarium tank, is the Dubai Underwater Zoo, which is divided into three ecological zones -- the Rainforest, the Rocky Shore and the Living Ocean.
It is home to a variety of creatures including otters, piranhas, humbolt penguins, African dwarf crocodiles, lionfish and giant spider crabs that inhabit our rivers and oceans and is one of the more popular destinations in the city.
Having seen 14.9 million visitors in 2016, Green Planet, Underwater Aquarium and Zoo are vital draws and an example of how this desert city continues to innovate to offer more to its lovers.
Places to go
Burj Khalifa, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Creek, Al Fahidi, Theme parks
Things to Do
Desert camping, Desert safari, Helicopter flight or Hot air Baloon flight, Water activities, City walk
Al Harees (non-veg), Tabbouleh (veg) - Try this at home: This versatile salad with broken wheat for breakfast, Falafel sandwich (veg), Shish Tawook (non-veg), Knafeh (desert)
Dubai Tourism's official website offers an essential guide to visiting the desert city.