2023 sees the 16th edition of the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon, famously known for its breathtaking race route that…
Camels are highly revered in the UAE, and racing is deeply rooted in the nomadic bedouin and Emirati cultures. Camels have long been considered a source of nutrition and luxury across the Middle East. They have provided milk and meat for sustenance, wool for clothing, rugs and tents for shelter, leather for shoes, transportation for supplies, and exciting recreational entertainment. Their dung was an excellent fuel, and their urine was once thought to have impressive medicinal properties. Camel racing is the epitome of significant Bedouin heritage in Ras Al Khaimah.
For centuries, Bedouin tribes organised camel beauty pageants and races to provide entertainment and resolve disputes. The races across the Emirates today are under the patronage of the ruling sheikhs. Owners use camels native to the UAE, Oman and Sudan for the races. The United Arab Emirates’ Mahaliyat, Oman’s Omniyat, Sudan’s Sudaniyat, and the interbred Mahajanat camels are hand-selected by experienced trainers. They can run great distances at 40 kilometres per hour or up to vast speeds of 65 kilometres per hour for short sprints. Their name Camelus dromedarius, is derived from the Greek words for running and racecourse.
Camel trainers hold their herds in high esteem and nurture them with a special diet of dates, bran, oats and salt. They are sometimes given cow milk to strengthen and promote muscle building. Before participating in any camel races, they must receive a full health check to ensure they are healthy.
Camel racing is an extraordinary sight. The races take place on winter Friday mornings in the Digdaga and Hamraniya areas of Ras Al Khaimah. Glorious dunes and ancient ghaff trees surround the racetrack. Between 50 and 100 camels usually lumber around, waiting for their call to race. The races are between 6.30 am and 9.30 am, so be prepared to be there early. It’s worth arriving at the crack of dawn to experience the mesmerising energy and excitement of the owners and trainers as they battle for luxury cars, trophies and monetary compensation, adding up to millions of dirhams.
You might be surprised that camels are not just ships of the desert; they have a surprising aptitude for swimming and the ability to survive in dry and coastal ecosystems. Scientists suggest that camels have a peculiar physiological makeup and can withstand extended periods of dehydration without any adverse effects. It’s thought that the Indigenous Bedouins raising Camelus dromedarius understand that the camels require a large amount of salt in their diet. Their body’s high salt content gives a slightly salty taste to their milk. According to camel pastoralists, salt is reputed to have an excellent beneficial effect on their general well-being, skin conditions and fertility. It’s well-known that saltwater contains natural nutrients and has antibacterial properties, which can benefit skin health. Seawater contains trace amounts of magnesium, potassium and zinc, so it’s historically thought that soaking in the salty Arabian Gulf will relieve camels from some skin conditions.
Fadi Hachicho, the founder of Adventurati Ras Al Khaimah, is a passionate certified guide and understands the fragile microclimate of the Bedouin community and has encouraged them to share unique insights into how they live, raise livestock and camels, grow crops, nurture honeybee colonies, practise medicine and eat. Exploratory experiences include swimming with camels, a unique encounter that is fiercely protected and respected. And very Instagrammable. Daily, Adventurati guides and local camel trainers take young race and calm school camels to the beach early in the morning. The camels will improve their overall strength from the aquatic training session, their skin will be relieved of any irritating desert bugs, scratches, itches and scrapes, and they will naturally ingest salty water that is so important for their diet.
Swimming with race camels on the beach is an extraordinary experience undertaken by very few. Watching them swim gives you an insight into their strength, stamina and manoeuvrability. You will have the opportunity to paddle and swim alongside the camels as they swim and float in front of you. When they have tired of their aerobic water antics, you’ll have the opportunity to wander in silence along the shallow shores of the beach whilst they dry. You can ride alone or with an Adventurati guide if you’ve never ridden a camel. Not only will you be able to take some unique content for your social media channels, but you’ll be able to learn more about these fascinating animals that are only really known as desert dwellers.