Having missed out on all but the last day of the Al Dhafra camel festival at New Year time, I was determined to attend a camel festival on my own doorstep!
Sweihan is a small country town, some 50kms as the crow flies from Al Ain (but nearer 80 on the road) and like most towns in the UAE, has its own camel racetrack. It’s not a big place so I was expecting the festival to be small but how wrong I was!
The road to the racetrack which is lined with farms is around 4kms long; you know there is something special on as the road is lined with flags!
The first place you come to is the souq – where you can pick up everything to keep you warm in the UAE winter, from tents, through to thick jackets and even firewood. As you would expect, there are stalls catering to the main feature of the event – camels. My favourites are the ones selling decorative camel harnesses, their sequins and rhinestones glinting in the afternoon sun.
The plan was to meet up with my Madinat Zayed friend Chris Lidster and his friend, Abu Dhabi Tourism Guide Mr Ali Al Mazrouei, so camera in hand I made for the gate, only to be turned back as I needed to show my ID card. Thankfully by the time I returned with it Chris and Ali were at the gate and they whisked me through to give me a guided tour.
The camel beauty contest for two year olds was underway and we wandered around these prime specimens of the Camelus world – some were getting a bit fed up of being tied up to poles and were a little restless so I didn’t need telling twice to keep a safe distance!
Once Chris and I had decided which one we would choose as winner – and I admit I chose the one with the prettiest, “blingiest” harness – we were escorted to lunch in a nearby tent. We feasted on lamb, roast camel, rice and salad – “cutlery free” and finished off with some coffee and rather fine chocolates.
We were whisked back to the festival where both Chris and I were interviewed on TV cameras – twice! – and enjoyed the chance to relax in the massive majlis (Arabic: meeting place) tent and feast on more chocolates.
We had seen Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed’s entourage in the distance and now he took his place in the majlis tent; the men danced with sticks, the young ladies did their “hair” dance and finally the winners of the camel beauty contest were announced.
There was much rejoicing, Sheikh Sultan presented the prize to the winner then worked his way along the pens congratulating the runners up too; tv crews, photographers and families all jostled for a place to capture the moments for posterity.
All in all we had a great day out; having a guide to tell us more about the festival and culture greatly enhanced the experience and if you go, please try to seek one out (just ask someone with a lanyard round their neck to point one out).
I’d highly recommend a visit here – it’s not often we get the chance to glimpse the traditional culture of the UAE! Yalla yalla!
GPS – turnoff at roundabout N24 28.874 E55 19.178 and follow the flags.
See below for Camel Festival programme – the best time to go apparently is around 10am and it is certainly worth staying for the prize giving ceremony mid-afternoon.
Free Entry. Free Parking (the activities are over several sites so you really do need a car and a 2WD will do).
Dress code: Smart/casual/comfortable
The great Leisure Restaurant from Al Ain is one of a number of outside catering outlets or you may be lucky like us and be invited for a traditional meal inside a marquee.