Meet Ghaouda, the camel destined for celebrity in the UAE
ABU DHABI // Intelligent and a natural perfomer, she wore strings of imitation coins and tassels of golden thread to show off her chestnut coat and perfect hump.
Only a year old, Ghaouda is destined for camel celebrity.
She beat 200 competitors in the second division for one-year-old black camels on the opening day of Al Dhafra Festival.
"She's very smart. If she sees a judge, she performs," said her Emirati owner, Salem Al Baqemi. "I trusted that Ghaouda would take the prize."
Ghaouda lives in a remote village so small it isn't even on the map. At her farm in Badu Al Muttawa, near Ghayathi in Al Gharbia, she is only one of 100 beautiful camels. But by the end of the festival's first day, Ghaouda was suddenly worth more Dh1 million and qualified to compete against camels owned by sheikhs.
Salem, 37, inherited his herd from his late father. He is young for a camel champion. A beautiful camel can be worth millions, and Al Dhafra is where 25,000 of the world's best compete.
The first day of the two-week beauty competition was for one-year-old camels. Two-year-olds will compete today.
Over the weekend, the dunes north of the Liwa oasis filled with canvas and goat-hair tents, decorated with flags from across the Arabian Gulf.
Camels and owners announced their arrival by parading down a sand track signposted for events such as camel milking, camel auctions and beauty pageants. Men in luxury 4x4s led their superstar camels to campsites that filled the surrounding desert.
An estimated 25,000 camels and 1,500 competitors are expected before the festival ends on December 29.
"This is the Millions Street," said Saleh Al Dossary, a competitor from Saudi Arabia. "Everybody makes a show.
"This," said Saleh, "this is beauty."
Drivers revved their engines and blasted music as camel beauty queens strode beside them, with a gait of inner serenity.
"This is a show place," said Saleh. "Every beautiful camel she should come on this street. Sometimes, the camel she cannot show her beautiful side until she walks."
The grandstands before the beauty theatre filled with men, chewing sunflower seeds and twirling camel sticks. Daggar-clad boys climbed the fence to cheer for their darlings.
"I swear, I love beauty camels the most because the racing camels needs a lot of effort, a lot of care," said Hamed Khalfan, a returning Omani champion. "With beauty, it is all about the shape."
Hamed shared a pair of binoculars with the men on his row in the grandstands: his friends and family took up most of the row. He calls the festival "the majlis of the Gulf".
His champions, Mayasa and Aliya, are raised on honey and dates. Each won a LandCruiser pickup at Al Dhafra last year. They are back this year, but his highest hopes are with Samha, a one-year-old.
"Her mother and her grandmother and her great grandmother, all are from my camels and her father is Sultan Qaboos's camel," said Hamed.
"I love them all."