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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Race is on to make it to the top of the world’s tallest sand dunes at Liwa festival

Annual Liwa Festival brings along young men passionate about roaring engines and manual cars to reach the top of Moreeb Dune.
The stunning sandscape of the 300-metre high Tel Moreeb dune in Al Gharbia dwarfs participants yesterday at the Liwa International Festival, the popular seven-day winter event that features falconry and camel contests as well as dune bashing. Christopher Pike / The National
The stunning sandscape of the 300-metre high Tel Moreeb dune in Al Gharbia dwarfs participants yesterday at the Liwa International Festival, the popular seven-day winter event that features falconry and camel contests as well as dune bashing. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // Falconry, camel contests and a race to the top of one of the world’s tallest sand dunes are just some of the activities at this year’s Liwa International Festival.

The seven-day event in Al Gharbia takes place every winter, and the dune challenges attract thrill seekers from across the region.

Vehicles of all kinds – 4x4s, buggies and motorbikes – race to the top of the Tel Moreeb dune, which is 300 metres high.

Emirati Mohamed Al Breiki, 29, attends the festival every year with his friends.

“Friends gather and talk – we cook our own food, we get to try different recipes,” he said. “That in itself is a change. When I come back after my trip, I feel my life has changed.”

Mr Al Breiki and his friends travelled to Liwa last week, the gateway to Rub Al Khali – the world’s largest sand desert.

“We packed our tents, generators, food, blankets and pillows and, most importantly, wood for the fire,” he said. “We will be staying here for some time, so we need to feel like we’re at home.

“Looking for the perfect spot to camp is not easy and we have to look for a levelled path. If you get there late all the good spots are taken.

“We go as a group – almost 15 of us. This is the best time, the weather is wonderful and it is a change of our daily routines.”

Thousands of visitors are expected in Liwa for the festival.

There is also a classic car show and traditional activities such as camel, falcon and horse racing.

Fireworks, food stalls and a children’s play area will also make it a week to remember.

Mr Al Breiki said he and his friends enjoyed watching people and taking in all the festivities rather than competing in the dune challenges.

“We have never participated but just looking at everyone enjoying their time is enough,” he said.

They do try to climb the dune without taking part in the competitions.

The festival attracts many people from across the Arabian Gulf.

Mansoor Al Otaibi, 35, from Saudi Arabia, is a member of the Saudi Arabia Cars and Motorcycle Association. He is attending the festival with his team.

“Liwa’s weather is great and so are the people. Young men here find support and I expect this is why they are filled with such enthusiasm,” he said. “I believe that is why young men enjoy the Liwa festival more than others.”

Mr Al Otaibi expects an increase in the number of visitors on Thursday and Friday for the final races.

“The participants are young. Their hobbies are mainly cars and racing. This festival is different and they are given prizes that help their hobby,” he said.

“For someone who loves cars like me, the car races are the main concentrations.”

The Liwa International Festival is organised by Abu Dhabi Motor club and is held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region.

It runs until January 3.

aalkhoori@thenational.ae