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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Heritage festivals are as enjoyable as they are educational

Immersing yourself in Emirati traditions and culture is a reminder of how far the UAE has come

Batoola the camel was named a beauty queen / Satish Kumar for the National
Batoola the camel was named a beauty queen / Satish Kumar for the National

Today marks the close of another successful Al Dhafra Festival, attended by tens of thousands of visitors and bringing such memorable moments as the prizewinning sashay of beauty queen Batoola, whose long legs, perfectly curved hump and elegant lashes marked her out as a winner. Batoola was one of 15,000 camels entered in the festival's beauty contest, just one of the events held over the 15-day festivities, now in their 11th year, which included auctions of dates, salukis and falcons as well as horse races. It is one of just a number of events on the calendar which mark an embracing of Emirati heritage and culture. But rather than simply offering residents and tourists alike a taste of a life gone by in yesteryear, these festivals offer a glimpse of real, rural, working life, rarely seen by those who fail to venture out of the UAE's cities. The camels, sheep, salukis and the farmers who tend to them work year-round; the celebrations simply give them a chance to show off some of their skills. It is a privilege to get a glimpse into the lifeblood of the UAE rooted in the Western Region, where life might have been historically tough but hospitality and a warm welcome still reign supreme.

Al Dhafra Festival marked a season of heritage festivals. Earlier this month, the International Festival of Falconry celebrated the elegant birds of prey, which were traditionally used for hunting and are still held in the highest regard today. Adihex, the International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition, is now a regular fixture on the cultural calendar. And if you missed Al Dhafra, there is still time to catch the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival, which takes place in Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi, until January 27 next year and marks the Year of Zayed in 2018. It brings to life the legacy of the Founding Father of the UAE with performances, pavilions and displays.

Earlier this year, Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and the Emirates Heritage Club signed an agreement to protect, preserve and revive national heritage sites and practices. As The National reported, the partnership will showcase the traditions still held dear in the Emirates. We might all enjoy the modern perks the country's cities have to offer – but sometimes, immersing ourselves in a more rustic experience can be both eye-opening and rewarding.