An Afternoon With the Camel Culture at AL Dhafra Festival

Me doing anything out in the desert usually results of my husband nursing my sun struck head and flimsy body to recover a heat stroke for the next couple of days at least. Since the weather couldn’t be any more convenient nowadays at 26 C° during the day: it sounded like a great idea to check out AL Dhafra Camel Festival in Abu Dhabi. The festival has been making the news for the increasing number of visitors making their way to Madinat Zayed, on the edge of the Empty Quarter for an unforgettable cultural experience. Sounded like the place to be!

We had planned to make an early start yesterday hoping to arrive on time for the Mezayina (camel beauty pageant). That obviously didn’t happen and it didn’t help that my husband and I were craving McDonald’s breakfast and we stopped to get some on the way. Our cultural endeavor for the day just had to wait.


Driving long distances is not a common practice in the UAE. If it takes you more than 90 minutes to get somewhere; you’re probably lost. 110 minutes into it; after we have actually passed the exit towards Abu Dhabi city and my GPS turned upside down I was very grateful when these little yellow signs started showing up on the side of the road

road to Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi

Knowing that we still had a descent bit to drive, I was sincerely alarmed when my husband asked; how long do you think it is to the next petrol station? It turns out we were running out of gas. I didn’t like the sound of that so I punched in few instructions for Annie (the GPS in my car) to search for one. 29km away she said, I was ready to cry. The good news was, since Annie has not been updated for the last two years; she is usually wrong. I must have counted 10000 date palms in the next 10 minutes before the first  ADNOC sign appeared.

Finally we arrived at the location to find that we missed all the morning action. The main event wrapped up earlier than usual. We only had the market and the surrounding camps to explore. Nothing short of spectacular though.

Few days ago this camp site was nothing but more sand dunes, during the festival this area is bustling with various forms of the genuine Bedouin life.

AL Dhafra festival

al dhafra festival camp

al dhafra festival

At this festival camels are judged for their beautiful features, breed and some for their milk production capacity. Their owners travel with them from all around the gulf region to compete for a chance to win a generous prize. The greatest win is usually achieved by the first time visitor like me, who goes home with a wealth of enchanting memories

al dhafra festival

al dhafra camel festival

AL Dhafrah Festival
Omani woman walking about taking care of her tent in a nearby camp

al dhafra festival

Abu dhabi

al dhafrah festival

The Market

On time for lunch we headed to the marketplace on the opposite side of the road to fetch a homemade meal. We stopped by a traditional kitchen set up by a local woman inside a tent where she was selling different types of khaliji and Arabic dishes. My husband opted for Beryani and I was allured by the smell of Kushari with spicy tomato sauce, an Egyptian dish widely adopted by the locals for its familiar content of rice, pasta and black lentils.

As we stood by waiting for our food to be packed, a couple of Emirati girls pulled their car over next to us, followed by a flashy green 4×4 vehicle in which four strikingly stylish young bedouin fellows with a personality larger than life sat. The boys were obviously trying to get the girls’ attention; regardless of what it takes to achieve that, so my husband and I had the chance to witness a rather aggressive demonstration of the art of female pick up in this region. I am no stranger to the scene as I have been through it myself before, but my husband was certainly having his lunch with a side of authentic entertainment. My husband doesn’t speak Arabic so I had to translate for him. The conversation went something like this:

Boy: What a couple of pretty girls like you doing in a place like this?

Girl: Exactly what everyone else is doing? Which is none of your business?

Boy: Now why would you be harsh like that? Are you shy?

Girl: Mind your own business away from here please

Boy: Alright, alright. You don’t want to talk to me in public. I get that

Girl totally ignored him and looked the other way. Second girl got out of the car and headed towards the food tent

Boy: Alright then; take my number and call me later. We should talk…

Girls continued to ignore him in silence…

Boy: Fine you don’t have to waste your credits calling me; I will call you. Give me your number and I will certainly call you later tonight.


Boy: I see. You don’t want my number! You want his number (pointing at the guy in the driver’s seat)

Girl: girl get in the car. I just lost my appetite.

Boy: You don’t want to eat this stuff anyways. I know the best places to eat in this area. Follow us and I will buy you both lunch.

Second girl got in the car and they moved about 50 meters ahead before they stopped at another food vendor. The boys were not taking no for an answer, hence the slow chase continued for a while. I was no longer able to hear the conversation from that distance, but I was certainly impressed by the boy’s persevering spirit.

abu dhabi

abu dhabi

abu dhabi


On our way out we were held up by a car parade organized in one of the camps to celebrate their camel’s win.

al dhafra festival abu dhabi

abu dhabi

abu dhabi

abu dhabi

Lovely Dunes

As the sun was starting to tilt down; it was time for us to head back before it gets dark. On the way home the view of the lovely dunes was a feast to my eyes. It provided enough tranquility and serenity for me to actually doze off for the rest of the way. Next thing I knew; my husband was waking me up to get out of the car as we reach home





6 thoughts on “An Afternoon With the Camel Culture at AL Dhafra Festival

  1. “If it takes you more than 90 minutes to get somewhere; you’re probably lost.” Ha ha ha 😀 I can so related to this!

    Love the pictures, SS (can I call you that?).

    And that boy trying his luck on the girls was surely persistent!


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