Considering the countless events scheduled to take place throughout the United Arab Emirates to celebrate the 40th National Day on the same day at the same time, we chose to attend an event that we had never experienced before—the sky lanterns release! It was a last moment decision considering that I also wanted to go to the Heritage Village for see the cultural show.
Gates at the exclusive Meydan Racecourse opened at 5:30 pm, and it took us thirty minutes to queue for a parking space. It was here that we discovered the gorgeous and very futuristic-looking bridge where BMW 6 Series shot this clip for the Ghost Protocol movie. And I thought this bridge was in Abu Dhabi! I should definitely be going out more frequently.
Here’s the crowd totally unwilling to let go of their precious seats:
After what seemed like forever, the huge hot air balloons finally arrived, rolled out carefully across the open field, and inflated. We all begin to get excited. Cameras started clicking away like crazy.
Remember the people who were practically glued to their prized seats? Well, once the balloons were half-filled, they got so excited the seats no longer mattered.
There is a food court at Meydan, but we brought along tea and snacks. I’m so glad we did.
It felt like seven hundred years since the balloons were filled and the crowd was beginning to get bored. To keep ourselves occupied, everyone began posing for pictures with the balloons as the background. But considering the size of the crowd, there was no way you could have your picture taken without having a stranger in the frame.
“So, is this all this show is about?” asked an elderly lady standing next to me, obviously bored. “Aren’t they at least going to release the balloons?”
“Um, no. They will not release the balloons,” I replied. “But there will be a mass release of lanterns soon. That will be pretty!”
“I don’t see any lanterns,” she said, her facial expressions suggesting she’d rather rest at home than be here, out in the cold.
Moments later, the lights went out and we were shown these illuminated balloons, their lights flickering to the tune of the UAE’s national anthem, Star Wars soundtrack (strange, I know), and finally the Mission Impossible soundtrack.
All but one of the balloons were deflated afterwards. The only one remaining was the one that has Sheikh’s Mohammed’s (ruler of Dubai) picture on it. Some of the people had already purchased their paper lanterns, priced at 10 dirhams a piece. I didn’t see a notice anywhere that said the lanterns could be bought from the food court, so those who actually went to buy food saw the lanterns on sale too!
The mass release of these sky lanterns, the organizers said, was to symbolize the spirit of the union, the seven emirates united 40years ago to form the UAE that we know today. However, someone from the crowd was more excited over the union than others, and released his lantern:
So much for the spirit of union there! A single lantern alone in the massive black sky. We actually laughed about this.
This solitary lantern, however, got the crowd into action and everyone started to light up the candle and release their lanterns.
This was so much fun! Initially, since this was our first time (and also because we didn’t have a lighter) we simply watched others and learned how to release a lantern that would actually float out into the sky gracefully and not burn down (like some did).
The organizers, noticing how everyone have started releasing the lanterns at different intervals (totally not demonstrating the spirit of the union), began dispersing staff members telling everyone to go down the open space and release the lanterns together. They’d been announcing it over the microphone, but everyone was just too preoccupied to pay attention!
But once everyone worked together, it suddenly turned into a spectacular event!
Masood and his younger brother, Mushtaq, were somewhere in that crowd. Theirs was a purple lantern. We have an orange one with us, but we’re planning to release that in Hyderabad so the children there could see it live.
The lights were turned off again, creating a magical moment for everyone present at the Meydan race course that night. I’m glad we chose this over the traditional fireworks, the fountain show, or the car parade.
Here’s a short video that I took that night.