Swaihan comes alive with season’s first camel race

ABU DHABI — The beautiful Eastern Region town of Swaihan came alive last weekend with the first camel race of the autumn-winter season organised by the Emirates Heritage Club (EHC).


Silvia Radan

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Published: Wed 31 Oct 2007, 8:49 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:59 AM

The two-day event attracted 367 competitors from all emirates and hundreds of spectators, both UAE nationals and expatriates, including ambassadors and diplomats.

The race was held under the patronage of Shaikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of EHC. He followed the competitors on his vehicle to the town on the first day of the event on October 26.

The EHC organises two camel races in the autumn-winter season and the next is in January next year.

Swaihan, about 120km from the capital, lies among the golden sand dunes of Al Khatem desert. Most of the local residents are farmers.

On the first day, camel keepers started gathering and camping near the tracks from early morning. Only UAE camels and nationals were allowed to take part in the race, which started at 3pm.

All through the day, a heritage village set up next to the stadium attracted hordes of visitors. Some Bedouin women displayed their skills in embroidery, weaving and cooking in tents and palm tree houses, while other locals rode camels.

In the majlis and souks, men were preparing Arabic coffee, moulding pots, making daggers or just chatting. Traditional dancing and singing in local Bedouin dialect enlivened the atmosphere.

The race started with the competitors in the age group of 60-70 years. They raced on a 500-metre track, while the following groups, up to 50 years old, raced on 1,500-metre tracks.

The next day was reserved for the young participants, from 10 to 30 years, who competed on a 3,000-metre track.

Only 10–12 camels and riders could race in each round. Altogether, 30 rounds were held.

The winners of each round were rewarded with a Dh20,000 cheque, plus a golden sword. The second and third runner-ups received Dh18,000 and Dh16,000, respectively. Shaikh Hazza bin Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, son of Shaikh Sultan, gave away the prizes.

“It was a bit windy, but I loved the race. In fact I like to come to any event connected with local heritage and tradition,” said Marcus Kolescky, a Danish national who works in a law company in Abu Dhabi.

His wife, Susana, was equally excited. “It was real fun watching the cars racing with the camels,” she told Khaleej Times, referring to the arrival of competitors and spectators in vehicles in the arena. Visitors were allowed to follow the race in their cars on both sides of the tracks. This seemed to be a favourite activity among the local men, who were racing in cars trying to reach the finishing point at the same time as the winning camel rider, then turning back on squeaking wheels to the starting line for the next round.

As the race progressed, wind picked up speed, kicking up dust that engulfed the riders, amid sounds of cheers from the crowd, car horns and folk singers, all adding to the festive atmosphere.

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