One of the events of Emirati life we wanted to experience was a camel race. We knew they were held regularly at one racetrack or another in the desert in the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but finding information in English was difficult to come by. Often we learned about a race after the event. But finally we were lucky: on a flight returning to Abu Dhabi I was offered this in-flight magazine and found a date and time to go. If you look closely you will see that the first races start a 6:30 am which is the more common time. But luckily there were races at 2 pm as well and easy for us to arrive on time.
Typically, camel races are a male dominated sport in the UAE and we did notice that the there were expat families, men and women in attendance, but no traditionally dressed Emirati women or girls. Everyone involved in the care-taking before and after the race was male. Still, this race which was sponsored by Sheik Hamdan bin Mohamed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the son of the ruler of Dubai, expected visitors and had buses at the ready to drive us along the owners cars and the camels to see how the race was unfolding. We arrived after around 2 pm and parked close to the start line which was covered by a bridge for spectators with a great bird’s eye view to see the camels in their gates – always a few to each one – and the start. Before the race the animals were held in a big area often together with a companion who was not racing. We assumed it was to keep them calm before the race.
You can see the companion camels with their blue and white blankets while the race camels are wearing their small electronic jockey which can spur them on with a short, remote-controlled whip. Once they were guided into the gates some restless shoving and pushing ensued despite the caretakers trying to calm them. When the gate opened with a big “clang” the race began and most contenders started forward in their loping, gangly running style. Since the track is 8 km long the camel owners follow their animal alongside on a paved or gravel track by car. This way they can call out to them for motivation or start the whip to garner more speed.
The race we followed alongside in the bus was great! We watched the last camel which lagged behind by about 100 meters for most of the race. But once we reached the 6,000 meter mark it started to catch up. This contender was running at the same speed for the entire track while the others started to tire and slow down. Interestingly, no matter how much the whip was used once a camel was done running it just didn’t care and continued on at its own speed. In the end the one lagging behind made third place just by having the endurance to run consistently for the entire 8,000 meters.
Between events I continued knitting on a pair of socks I really wanted to finish that day to use the needles for the next pair (purple and rainbow colours).
After the race the remote-controlled whips were quickly removed and the camel covered in a Blue-white blanket to keep it from cooling off too quickly. While they were guided back to their stables we were offered some free water, Arabian coffee and snacks. The chocolate flavoured camel milk was delicious and filling and the cardamom pudding jelly with crunchy almonds on top was a treat which went really well with the coffee. Filled with food and a fantastic experience we drove home.
Information about camel races in Dubai can be found here. Generally, camel races happen during big festivals in the winter and spring. In Abu Dhabi the Sheik Zayed Heritage festival which starts at the beginning of December organizes a few races during the first week. Another race can be seen during the Liwa Sports festival at the Tal Moreeb dune. This festival runs for one week starting close to Dec 30th. If you know a camel owner even better. They will be able to tell you all about it. A truly local experience worth the effort of finding.
Thank you, for reading and following along with my adventures. Until next time!