They hold their mobiles and cameras aloft, votive offerings to this most modern of gods whose curved, cleverly illuminated, tiered levels rise ever higher into the night sky, narrowing and thinning to a point in the blackness.
This is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 2722ft (829m) the world's tallest building, which emerges from the edge of the desert like a triumphant warrior.
It is absurdly high, practically a residential Munro. It's nearly three times the height of the Eiffel Tower and more than six times the height of the ill-fated Glasgow Science Centre Tower. There is a water and light show every night at its base, with dramatic music and great sweeping angels' wings of spray, out of which the Burj - as it is known - seems to leap like some great water beast. The tourists crowding the lakeside hurry to take their pictures, as if by capturing this symbol of the possible some of its emphatic magic will rub off on their lives.
Many of these visitors will have made the journey to the top earlier in the day, the sensible ones booking in advance online and paying 100 dirhams (around £16); the lazy, or the hurried, or the fabulously wealthy (and there's more than a few of those in this paradise of bling) paying 400 dirhams (£67) on the spot.
The word "top" is misleading here. You may feel frighteningly high, but in fact you are still some 39 floors from the pinnacle. Yet at 1483ft (452m) the open-topped observation deck is higher than the top of the Empire State Building's antennae, enabling you to look down on Dubai's other tall buildings and enjoy the odd sensation of being above the helicopters as they carry the rich to their helipads.
The journey - or "experience", as the staff like to call it, frequently extolling visitors to "enjoy your experience" - begins with another ritual that has religious overtones: queuing around a see-through Perspex model of the tower in the ticket hall. Then it's into a curious, padded lift, which has loose coverings on the walls, like unzipped sleeping bags, and resembles a panic room; this may be no coincidence, given that you are about to ascend 124 floors at 10 metres per second.
Why do we do it? Why do we feel this need to rise above our fellow man?
Perhaps this need to ascend has some Darwinian root. Does travel - and proof of travel with pictures and Facebook postings - somehow add to our cool status, make us more attractive to the opposite sex? Some psychiatrists would see all tall buildings as phallic. Size does matter perhaps.
But is there a faintly mystical element at play too? A desire to leave our earthbound problems behind and scrape at heaven's door? Stepping out onto an observation deck affords a separation from everyday life and an opportunity to look down, in both senses of the phrase, on our humdrum lives. It gives us perspective. How did Wordsworth put it? "The world is too much with us; late and soon/Getting and spending …" He might have been high on a fell when those lines came to him.
Viewed from the top of the Burj, the cars on Dubai's many highways and sweeping intersections seem silly: where are they all going and why? Gaze further to the horizon, to where the sky and desert merge, and this dusty white-out seems a metaphor for where we are all headed. It's as if before we go six-feet under, we must be 1500ft above.
But all is not calm in the strange world of tall buildings. A kind of race to the skies is on, with Saudi Arabia already aiming to dwarf the Burj with its 1km high Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, and China also beating the Burj, but only by 27ft, with its Sky City which will stand 2749ft (837m) in Changsha. China is also hoping to take another record with this tower by building it in just 90 days.
Time was when the word skyscraper was associated with the US. Today, nine out of the world's newest tallest 20 buildings are being built in China - a symbol of how the East is taking its revenge on the West.
Like many of us, I've been up quite a few tall buildings. The John Hancock Center in Chicago, where I saw signs at the bottom saying "Danger. Falling ice"; the RCA Building (now the GE Building) in Manhattan, which affords the best views of the Empire State Building; and the World Trade Centre, whose roof was - slightly alarmingly - open to the skies. This was back in 1980 on a gap year-style trip around the US. What would I have thought if someone had tapped me on the shoulder and said that in 20 years' time two airplanes would be hijacked by terrorists and flown into these buildings? So many people of a certain age must think that today.
More trivially, six years previously the French tightrope walker Philippe Petit had walked between the towers. Little did I know that 25 years later I would interview him when his book To Reach The Clouds was published.
A combination of a poor phone line to his home in France and his extremely strong accent led to the following exchange: I asked him how he felt when the towers were attacked. "I felt deep belief," he said.
"In what?" I queried. "Something spiritual? What did you feel deep belief in?"
"No no," he replied. "I felt dees belief. It is when you do not believe somesing."
The silence that follows is the sound of me falling off a journalistic high wire into the abyss of embarrassment. I still have the tape somewhere.
But of course, there is only one "tallest building in the world", tallest in the sense of stature, in terms of mythic, iconic status. There can only ever be one, in my opinion - even if it isn't the tallest.
The Burj is certainly impressive, like a steel and glass oasis; no trip to the UAE is complete without a trip to the top. But despite Tom Cruise's vertigo-inducing antics on it in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, and no matter how many Bond or Bourne films are shot in Shanghai, the title can only ever belong to the 1454ft Empire State Building, (443m) even if it lost that crown in 1973.
The reason is simple. New York - or more specifically, Manhattan - is the capital of popular culture, its skyline familiar from countless films and music videos, and the Empire State Building is the "capital" of Manhattan. Even if we haven't been there, we feel we have.
Everyone carries the Empire State Building with them, a symbol of aspiration and hope, of what is possible - all the things people associate with that city itself. The singer Alicia Keyes had it right: we really do have an Empire State Of Mind.
We took our teenage children to New York for the first time a year or so ago. They loved the Empire State Building and we even paid the extra dollars to go up to the very tippy top, the enclosed, wind-battered circular observation deck which was to be the arrivals and departure lounge for a long-ago crazy plan to have dirigible flights to and from the city. As they looked out, they felt that every film they had ever seen was all around them, the streets and towers below were a honeycomb of cool and they were king and queen bee.
A fortnight later, as we taxied down the runway on the flight home, my son shouted at me across the aisle, his hand pointing to the window. "Dad! The Empire State Building!" And there it was, that proud, familiar silhouette, seemingly taller when seen from afar. I know that they might make this trip with their kids. And those children with theirs. It's a sort of universal experience which moves me. Tall buildings can do that to you.