Revellers on Abu Dhabi's Corniche were treated to an unforgettable night as they rang in the new year on Sunday.
People thronged the first-ever “countdown village” on the breakwater lining the capital’s Corniche to enjoy the fireworks and new year celebrations.
Conditions were perfect, with a clear sky and barely any breeze.
The countdown to the new year was displayed on the Adnoc headquarters building and at the stroke of midnight, an image of the UAE Founding Father Sheikh Zayed was displayed, heralding the Year of Zayed.
Fireworks shot into the sky in a 10-minute pyrotechnic extravaganza lighting up Emirates Palace, Etihad Towers, and the Abu Dhabi skyline.
A simultaneous laser and fire display added to the excitement.
“We had been in Dubai on holiday before but this time we decided to visit Abu Dhabi,” said Malcolm Patterson, here from Scotland.
“Scotland is very cold,” he said with a chuckle.
“We think that this this is absolutely incredible, it’s amazing what’s here. I love all the interactive things. It’s absolutely amazing. Everything for kids, everything for adults – it’s brilliant,” he said.
The sights and sounds around the breakwater were taken in by massive crowds, drawn by appearances by Emirati star Hussain Al Jasmi and Egyptian musician Tamer Hosny as much as the fireworks.
“I’m a big fan of Hussain Al Jasmi. Both actually – Tamer Hosny too. But I prefer Al Jasmi because he’s a local guy,” said Mohammed Al Suwaidi, from Abu Dhabi, who was enjoying his visit to the village.
“It’s pretty good, a fantastic idea,” he said of the activities at the village.
It was no surprise that Al Jasmi attracted massive crowds.
Neil van der linden, who was part of the advisory team that shortlisted the bands, said “Hussain Al Jasmi is very innovative with Gulf music and takes it mainstream. That is very rare – he is very popular from Morocco to Egypt to Lebanon to Iraq and across the Gulf," he said.
"He paved the way for more artists from the region to break through such as Fouad Abdelwahed.
"This show shows how Abu Dhabi is promoting Arabic talent.”
It was a fitting close to four-days of celebrations at the breakwater, with footfall sharply increasing on the final night. The village opened at 4pm and hours later, many of the ushers still had not managed to take a break.
“It’s quite full compared to the other days because of Jasmi and Hosny,” said Ali, one of the harried workers, who was rushed off his feet fielding queries about where the gigs would take place or when the fireworks would start.
“People are fascinated and there are lots of new activities this year rather than the same old stuff. Everyone is asking about the fireworks,” he said.
Visitors took a particular shine to the “wishing wall”, where people from across the globe posted their hopes and dreams for the new year on a multi-coloured installation. “I love the UAE,” read one, while another simply said “I wish to be happy.” A more reflective hope stated: “That Palestine be free,” underlining the enduring challenges ahead for the Middle East in 2018.
It may have been called a village but the Department of Culture and Tourism initiative had the feel of a small city. Fanning down all the way past the flag pole and incorporating the Heritage Village, there was a retail zone, multiple food and beverage outlets and several stages.
Among the more popular beverage stands was “Project Chai Wala” – a Dubai-based pop-up serving steaming cups of karak chai. “Karak, karak, karak,” the servers shouted from the door as queues formed outside. But forget your condensed tinned milk - this karak is made from organic tea. Most popular was a cup for Dh15, a top secret recipe which the owners refused to divulge.
As the night wore on, performers roamed across the venue on stilts. Children practised their moves in a specially-built boxing ring, while youngsters also had their faces painted. There was also every type of activity imaginable: a running wall where children tried to outrun animals such as a camel and penguin; a bouncy castle; Angry Birds show; digital graffiti wall, LED tunnel, a snow fight area, mirror sculptures and a pin art 3-D board. The Heritage Village was popular with many people keen to learn more about oyster opening, falconry and the traditional Al Ayala dance. The large coloured signs that dotted the village such as “AbuDhabi2018” and “yolo” were also quickly surrounded by selfie-takers.
The final day also featured performances by violinist and vocalist HAANA and Algerian Berber singer Souad Massi. Following the fireworks, the “King of Laughter” Ali Al Sayed brought the curtain down on the celebrations.
“It’s very nice here, it’s wonderful as it’s the first time in Abu Dhabi they are doing this. It’s amazing, fantastic – a good job has been done," said Emirati Ahmed Al Khoori, who attended celebrations with his wife and three children.
“The children like it here, there is the food court and also the gigs by Tamer Hosny and Hussain Al Jasmi. Everything is nice here."