AL AIN // When you look south from Al Ain, it is the towering landmark of Jebel Hafeet that dominates the landscape. At its base, however, is another treasure of nature: underwater springs that rise to the surface to irrigate a broad expanse of green.
The Green Mubazzarah Park and Hot Springs were opened to the public in 2004 - developed by Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, and have since become a favourite weekend and holiday destination.
In addition to the hot springs, the location offers a desert oasis complete with lawns, flowing streams, a man-made lake, spas and dozens of chalets.
"The Green Mubazzarah was one of Sheikh Zayed's last projects," said Ali Hamad al Muhairi, Al Ain Municipality's community services division manager for the Central District.
"Sheikh Zayed was often referred to as 'the man who turned the deserts green', and the Green Mubazzarah stands as a testament to that, as he was the man who drew up its plans himself and personally oversaw its construction.
"In fact when he travelled to Switzerland during the summer, he had a live satellite television feed directly from the Green Mubazzarah construction site beamed to his residence in Geneva, so he could watch its development. This is not just a park as many might believe, it is a historic place close to the hearts of those who know its history."
Thousands descend on the Mubazzarah on weekends and tens of thousands on public holidays, to dip their feet in the 40°C waters, barbecue, fish for carp or laze in the sun. Although it is by far the city's largest park, at 1.6 million square metres, all that traffic can take its toll. After 40,000 people visited the park over three days last Eid, Al Ain Municipality announced it would introduce a system of fines, from Dh1,000 to Dh10,000, for various offences including leaving rubbish behind or making fires outside the designated areas.
Most of the time, however, the Mubazzarah is just a welcome place for an escape, however brief.
Abdulrahman al Kuraidi, 16, visits every other day as part of his attempts to lose weight. "I come here three times a week," he said, laughing while pointing to his belly. "I swim a few laps and then jog around the greenery then come back for a couple more laps. I like it here. It's cheap, healthy and I've made a few friends."
Just metres away from one of the gushing springs Nagle Forester, 31, an electrical engineer from the UK, watched his wife and six-year-old daughter dip their toes in the stream running from the water source.
"We read about this place in the tour books," Mr Forester said. "We weren't going to come, but when we realised that it was just here at the base of the mountain we decided to pay it a visit. We drove about and then saw the gush of water spurting out of the ground and wanted to see if it was as hot as we'd heard.
"We were surprised that it was really hot. Now I have to literally tear my wife away from the springs so we can drive back to Dubai. But we will be back again."
According to Dr Abdulrahman Fowler, a geologist and professor at the UAE University in Al Ain, the hot spring source lies deep underground, the result of thousands of years of tectonic plate movement.
This movement created fractures that serve as channels bringing water up to the surface.
"The UAE lies near areas of active earthquake faults," he said. "We are on the edge of the tectonic area that lies beneath Iran, and with the occurrence of the seismic activity fractures occur. It is through these fractures that the water rises to the surface.
"The fact that the water temperature of the springs at the Green Mubazzarah is between 40°C and 45°C indicates that it's coming from as deep as two kilometres underground, as the water heats up by 25°C for every 1,000 metres that it travels to the surface."
For Hamad al Hamari, 27, the Green Mubazzarah is a favourite weekend destination where friends come to relax and meet former classmates from the UAE University.
"We split the rent for the two-bedroom chalet about twice a month," he said. "My friends live in Sharjah and work at the airport and for them coming back to Al Ain is like coming back home because that's where they were born and raised, and where we all went to university.
"Our friends from college often join us. We prepare the shisha, barbecue, listen to music and talk. It's a very peaceful place. Our friends often invite us to stay with them but we prefer the Mubazzarah."
The Green Mubazzarah chalets are managed by the National Corporation for Tourism and Hotels' catering and services division; prices vary per size.
Entrance to the Green Mubazzarah is free, but those who wish to swim in the pools pay Dh5 for all-day access.