x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sharjah paintball centre recreates English capital

In a Sharjah warehouse, paintball enthusiasts can shoot it out with paint pellets in Hyde Park and the Ritz - and if a genuine Rolls-Royce is caught in the crossfire, such is war.

London calling: a paintball player takes cover behind a sign at Sharjah Paintball Park.
London calling: a paintball player takes cover behind a sign at Sharjah Paintball Park.

SHARJAH // It feels like walking into a video game. Gun-toting combatants swarm the streets of London, ducking behind a black cab for cover.

This is the scene that greets paintball enthusiasts in a warehouse at the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club.

A miniature London, complete with a Harrods storefront and red phone booths, has been created for "urban combat".

Ziad Al Sharabi, the sales and marketing manager at the club, says once staff members dreamed up the scenario of the streets of London, the ideas started to flow.

"What we put in our minds, we made it," Mr Al Sharabi says. "We wanted to recreate something and we needed buildings, postboxes, trees, the red phone booths and even Hyde Park."

All of this in a space of 21 metres by 40 metres.

Before the game begins, players pick up their guns and ammunition in the Knightsbridge Tube Station. They enter a near-perfect replica of a metro carriage, complete with red seats and advertisements.

On a screen at the back of the carriage is a projector with a five-minute loop of footage taken from the back of a car driving around Leicester Square.

After a quick briefing, players exit the Tube (mind the gap) and dodge the paint-filled pellets from enemy combatants on Carnaby Street.

Almost all of the furnishings were imported from the UK. Mr Al Sharabi oversaw the delivery of the famous red phone boxes - without the phone - the postboxes and a London black cab without its engine.

A classic 1970s Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, engine intact, sits outside the mock Ritz Hotel. It was bought locally and is not exempt from a daily spray of bullets.

The doors are locked and players cannot shoot from inside the car, which has the original leather and wood trimmings.

Players can shield themselves from pellets inside the Ritz before making a dash to Harrods or across Hyde Park, which features the Serpentine Lake painted on the floor among the artificial trees that stand about five metres tall.

A white-painted tea shop and a paper boutique sit at the end of Oxford Street, which joins Carnaby. There is a ladder to the first floor of the boutique, where a sharpshooter can take out unsuspecting enemies.

Everything on the course, including the Rolls-Royce, is covered in a special paint so each night the pellet splotches can be washed off with power hoses.

Mr Al Sharabi says the club is close to installing a replica bank, which even has a safe. They are in the process of selecting a bank to name it after. He says the bank ATM to sit at the main door will not have any cash in it.

"Everything else will be the same," he says.

The bank will have male and female waiting rooms that are a perfect setting for gun battles. Players can attack those behind the teller desks or inside the mortgage application office. The safe will have a hidden door on the inside.

"Usually you can't see the door as it's flush with the wall," Mr Al Sharabi says.

"You think you're stuck but if you push it, it opens and there is another room with another white flush door. When that opens you come out the other side of the field."

The sound of airplanes flying above the indoor arena from the nearby Sharjah Airport adds to the atmosphere.

Playing with a group of girlfriends, Rana Al Waqfi, 21, takes shelter behind the taxi to avoid a hail of pellets.

"It is really good in there as it's dark and really good fun," Ms Al Waqfi , from Jordan, says after leaving the course and re-emerging in the Tube carriage with a large orange splat on her goggles.

"I've never been to London but it looks like the real thing from what I know on television."

Lina Mazeen, 21, says it is her first time playing and she particularly likes the layout of the course and the London fittings, which add to the experience.

"I'd rather be outside and like the weather and be around real trees," Ms Mazeen says. "But it looks like London, especially with the old cars."

eharnan@thenational.ae