Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Camel Beauty Festival in Saudi Arabia

Did you know there is such a thing as a camel beauty festival in Saudi Arabia?  There is and I went...along with two bus loads of other expats.  Haya Tours organised the trip which saw us travel three hours out of Riyadh to Um Ragbah (spelling debatable) to learn all about the beauty of camels.

The Camel Beauty Festival, a huge event in this part of the world, lasts a month and attracts a tent city of 30,000 men - competitors, organisers, camel herders, camel experts, camel carers, camel buyers and sellers and all manner of people required to keep every human (because the camels were already taken care of) fed, watered and warm.

This is the first time tourists of the western expat variety had attended the annual camel festival in Saudi and we were made a bit of a fuss over with TV interviews and the like.  While we were taking pictures of the festival, others were taking pictures of us.

Haya Tours did an excellent job of organising the trip and many thanks to the camel beauty festival organisers for allowing us to be present and for taking such good care of us.  Saudi hospitality is quite fabulous and expats who haven't experienced it ought to get themselves out and about.  If you're a bit nervous about jumping head first into a cross-cultural experience Haya Tours is a good place to start.

On arrival we were heralded into smaller groups and assigned an expert in the field of camel beauty who answered all our wierd and wonderful questions.

Our Q and A man

So, what makes a camel beautiful?   Big head, firm ears, broad cheeks, big whiskers - a good looking complete package which includes, so I was told, juubbly lips.  The juubblier the better.   The neck and body should be long, the hump and the back should be big with the hump tending to lean backwards, not forwards.  Some owners even trim their camels, just a tad to create the illusion of more space between neck and hump.  

Also important are the posture of the camel and the colour.
Camel Beauty Festival...the girls strutting their stuff.

The day we attended white camels were on display in groups of 30, all female barr one male.  Some of those male camels were huge.  It was obvious they were well cared for.  To allow the judges ample time to ponder the groups finer points lead camels often had a tie on their legs to ensure the girls took a more leisurely stroll past the panel of experts.

Other camel groups were paraded in front of the judges led by the 'camel cowboy' usually beating a drum.  Apparently the less drum beats required to control the camels, the better.

Camel Cowboy

The camels were all very well behaved (the thought of a camel stampede did cross my mind the first time they headed our way) so it didn't take us long to get comfortable having ships of the desert passing within close proximity.


Baby camels were driven ahead of some herds, in the back of utes, to keep the parading mothers happy because a mother camel running amuck in search of her young one is not a pleasant prospect.

Camel Mother chasing her babes.

We were told not to worry.  A camels eye magnifies everything it sees which is helpful in the desert when it comes to delicately choosing juicy leaves from among the thorns on the trees.  It also means that we humans look a lot larger than we actually are and it is likely, though not guaranteed, that a camel in a bad mood would think twice about taking us on. 

Although there were seats set up for the judges, they spent most of their time out nearer the action and the passing camels.  

When they did come back to take their seats they were happy to take a little time out to say 'Gidday' and provide we eager tourists with photo opportunities.

Behind the competition area were the waiting competitors and their supporters.  All male, so when a curious femme fatale thought to wander on over to take photo's of the singing and dancing going on back there, she was stopped by the security and redirected back behind the fence. (One has to try, doesn't one.)

The view through the fence
As the morning competitions came to an end we were able to get close up and personal with a camel or two till the camels got tired of the attention and left.

After learning the in outs of a camel beauty contest we were taken to another area for Arabic coffee and sweets.  The men didn't need much encouraging to participate in the men's sword dance, modified this day with what I think were camel canes.


One cannot go to a camel festival without expecting to get a ride on a camel and we were not disappointed.  Fortunately these camels were much better behaved than the critter I rode on when first I came to Saudi.  The Bedouin men in charge of them were not camera shy either, perfectly happy to pose throughout our visit.

Here's a few shots of our lunch break, though for some reason my camera decided to turn itself on to black and white which I didn't notice for quite some time.
The qahwah

The fire out by the tent

The kitchen
The pots
The boys

The tent
The Camel Rides

We had a blast at the Camel Beauty Festival and if you live in Saudi Arabia I suggest you make a point of contacting Salwa at Haya Tours and getting on the next bus trip.
Ka Kite,

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