You don't really see this lush green part of New Dubai as you whiz down Shaikh Zayed Road, until you take interchange six and come down the ramp.
It will still be hidden from sight and you have to take a right from the impressive Ibn Batuta Gate to finally get a feel of The Gardens—a community of about 30,000 families.
The Gardens community lives up to its name and to the first-time visitor, the luxuriant greenery hits you straight on as it is not what you expect to find in a coastal desert town.
"It's like a tropical area," said Gulf News photographer Oliver Clarke looking at the thick foliage and happily snapping away.
In focus: Districts in the UAE
Early mornings you can hear quails cooing, parrots squawking, a sand partridge taking her chicks for a walk across the road, while a woman stylishly dressed for jogging runs down the pathway oblivious to everything except the music from her iPod.
Whoever designed the landscape of The Gardens had a keen eye for detail. Huge boulders have been strategically placed to form rock gardens while the sand has been brought from the beach some distance away.
You can still find sea shells in the sands when you dig in your toes in the play areas. All around are trees, grass and bushes which offer a green cover against the harsh sun.
The main streets are lined with date palm and almond trees which shed their fruit this time of the year. The fruits are so abundant that you hardly see anyone picking them up from the ground after the initial excitement of tapping the ripening bushels and catching a basketful of dates.
Oksana Arenolt a young mother from Kazakhsthan, finds this community just right for her baby boy, Dena. "You have a swimming pool and this play area,' she says, pointing to a large play field. The rent for her two bedroom flat is also not too bad-— Dh60,000 per year.
Karthika Menon, who moved to The Gardens from nearby community Discovery Gardens finds the place "beautiful' and "excellent" for her children and she does not intend to move anywhere again else for a long time.
She made the move because the apartments at Discovery were being shared by bachelors, the various "clusters" were becoming crowded and the amenities were being "over-used".
Her workplace is nearby at Jebel Ali and her son Aditiya and his friends find the playground in The Gardens an ideal place to practice their cricket, even at 4pm with the humidity running high.
Perspiring profusely the boys, studying in various schools — Dubai Modern, DPS and Our Own English, said they are teammates from 9 Force Academy and are champions who have lifted the Interface Cup.
Bulgarian expatriate Dragumir Ganchev was shopping at Ibn Battuta Mall, a unique themed mall nearby which celebrates the travels of the renowned Arab explorer from the 14th century.
Comparisons to Discovery Gardens
He and his girlfriend moved two years ago to Discovery Gardens nearby. "It's not like in downtown Dubai, where buildings are so close to each other,' he said. "You get everything here of European standard," he said.
His workplace is nearby and they are paying Dh3300 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. "Abu Dhabi is also nearby," he says.
It is about an hour's drive from the capital and over the weekend, cars with Abu Dhabi number plates can be seen in the Mall parking lots. Earlier, many people who worked in Abu Dhabi lived in The Gardens and made the one-hour commute to work because they loved the ambience and the cheaper rents here.
Elias Mohammad, a civil engineer from Egypt, moved to Discovery Gardens two years and feels that it is one of the few good places to live in Dubai. But rents now are cheaper elsewhere. He is paying Dh55,000 for a one-bedroom and said he is sure to get something cheaper in International City, for about Dh30,000.
Madina Mansurova, a homemaker from Kazakhstan, who was shopping in Ibn Battuta with her daughter Amira, said that while living in Discovery Gardens was cheap, there were no shops in her cluster. (A number of supermarkets, groceries, restaurants and a medical clinic have now opened but only at the beginning of Discovery Gardens). "I have to take a taxi for even a loaf of bread," she said, as the Discovery Gardens stretches way out into the desert.
There is also no proper maintenance now. "The garbage shute was clogged and I called up maintenance many times and nothing has happened," she said.
Things are now also slowly changing in "paradise" since the time Nakheel built The Gardens community and made it an attractive place to live. Residents now complain that the grass is becoming browner and the plants are dying in many spots. "Maybe it is summer, but it seems that they are not being watered," says Karthika.
At one point there was a huge waiting list of people trying to move in here. Not any more. Every day you see moving vans and a crew drive in and yet another flat empties out.
But despite the many vacancies here, it is much more expensive now to live in The Gardens.
Huneza Usman, a Pakistani teacher who moved into The Gardens three years ago, had to pay Dh20,000 as transfer fees to get a three bed-room flat right across the Mall. Her rent is Dh95,000 but her neighbours who have been living here longer than her are paying between Dh55,000 to Dh60,000.
"This inconsistency is not fair," she says. "Why is this big difference [in rents] when they use the same facilities?"
She has also noticed that many residents from Discovery Gardens come to The Gardens to use the pools here. "You should have some sort of a checking system," she feels, adding that she feels there should be a residents' association to organise events or to discuss issues.
What's near The Gardens
1 Mall: Ibn Batuta, the world's largest themed shopping mall. It is uniquely designed to celebrate the travels of Arab explorer Ibn Batuta in the 14th century. It has a mix of nearly 300 retailers, 50 restaurants and food outlets and an Imax theatre.
2 Hotels: Ibn Batuta Gate Hotel is a modern interpretation of oriental elegance. It is accessible through a magnificent 60-metre high Moroccan style gate.
3 Hospitals and Clinics: Jebel Ali Hospital is located a little distance from The Gardens. Aster Medical centre Plus recently opened its doors at the Zen Cluster of Discovery Gardens.
4 Restaurants: A range of restaurants which offer everything from Indian snacks to Lebanese cuisine are located at Ibn Batuta Mall
5 Grocery stores: Al Madina and West Zone
How it started
Nakheel built The Gardens in 2003 in Jebel Ali to offer affordable living in a themed community. Its lush landscaped gardens extend over 220 hectares and has playgrounds, tennis courts, swimming pools and 24-hour maintenance and patrol security.
It is home to 10,000 residents. In its second phase 208 freehold villas and 1526 furnished apartments were built. On the other hand, Discovery Gardens was built three years ago and its six themed communities are also inspired by garden living.
Have your say
Do you live in The Gardens and have a story to tell us? What is your opinion of the changes that took place in your area? Do you live in another neighbourhood and would like to tell us about it? Send your stories to email@example.com or post your comments through the link below.