Visit this week's camel beauty festival deep in UAE dunes
A man hangs photos of the late President Sheikh Zayed outside the tent of Fatima Al Hameli at Al Dhafra Festival in December 2012.

Visit this week's camel beauty festival deep in UAE dunes


Prepare your tents.

It’s beauty contest time.

The Baynunah Camel Beauty Competition, or mezayana, starts tomorrow (November 15) in the dunes south of Madinat Zayed. It runs until November 21.

This is the precursor to Al Dhafra Festival (December 14-28), one of the biggest for beautiful camels. And by big, I mean 25,000 camels big.

Small is an advantage here. I consider this a way to meet future celebrities before they get discovered. Competitors that will sell for a few hundred thousand this week will be worth millions next month at Al Dhafra.

Competitions officially begin Saturday, November 16 but camels and their owners will arrive early to prepare campsites and strategy.

The Baynunah festival is exclusively for Emirati entrants so if you hoped to bring your finest she-camels and win a Nissan pickup, think again unless you’ve got the right passport.

There’s more than Dh4 million in prizes, a small amount compared to the Dh46million on offer at Al Dhafra Festival but enough to guarantee a turn-out of the country’s most gorgeous dromedaries.

The events to watch are the best herd competitions, in the six and ten camel herd tactics.

Herd competitions are usually a culmination to days of rounds where individuals compete by age and breed. This gives owners a chance to buy and build the best herd.

There are individual rounds in two breeds: the saluki-shaped, honey-coloured racing asayel breed and the dark milking majahim camels found in the deserts of Al Gharbia and Saudi Arabia.

(Mahloul, if you’re wondering, is an asayel camel. She’s stunning but does not compete in beauty contests, which are more popular in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia than Dubai or the northern emirates where camels race but don’t pose.)

Big money means big temptation. The announcement contained a stern warning from Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, a culture and heritage advisor at court of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince:

“Camels that are dyed in any part of the body, unmarked camels and camels that are found with drugs in their lips will not allowed.”

Big, droopy lips are one of the distinguishing marks of majahim beauty camels. Cheat tactics include collagen implants and hanging heavy objects from a camel’s lips.

Al Mazrouei warned that owners may be asked to swear an oath on the Quran about their camel’s age. If pedigree is suspected - pure lineage only please - it will come down to a DNA test. Owner have 14 days to present the camel’s parents to the committee.

So, now that you know the rules, head to the festival.

The competition is about a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi. Campers are welcome but should stock up on firewood and water beforehand. The Tilal Liwa Hotel is a two-minute drive from the judging pens.

It’s about four km south of Madinat Zayed on the east (left) side of the E45 to Liwa. Here’s a map:

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