Abu Dhabi: There may not have been many visitors at the opening day of the Al Dhafrah Camel Festival 2011, but that didn't stop those who came from enjoying its festivities.
"This is the first time we visit the festival… we had heard about it from our friends who visited last year. Everyone here is so friendly and welcoming. I also learnt some surprising things about camels, such as they're actually quite tame and it was lovely seeing the mothers with their babies," Catherine Sundher, a Canadian expatriate and a professional blogger, said.
Her husband, Ajmare, a School Improvement Officer at the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), added: "We also had a great time exploring the traditional market and the [Ministry of Interior Village]. The festival really shows what the UAE is all about."
The festival, which is organised by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach) will run until Wednesday, December 28 in the Western Region.
Its first day also saw the launch of the initial rounds of the Mazayin Al Dhafrah Camel Beauty Competition with 230 Asayel [brown skinned] and 180 Majahim [black skinned] camels vying for top places in the Mafarid [one year old] category. Daily rounds for different age categories will take place during its 11-day run, with an overall number of 20,000 camels competing for prizes worth Dh35 million.
"We've begun judging the camels since early this morning... there are many great camels this year so it will take some time before we are able to announce the final winners for today," Awwal Jabal Al Manhali, one of the competition's 15 judges, said. "Also, as with every year, we also took strict measures to make sure that owners only bring pure bred Asayal and Majahim from either the UAE or the Gulf. In the past we've had some who tried to participate with camels from Pakistan and Sudan, but they were disqualified," he added.
Hundreds of volunteers are also once again on hand to help to ensure that the festival runs successfully.
"I'm excited to be a volunteer again this year. I've been helping out with the camel competition. As part of the programme, we were given training at camel farms, where I learnt a lot, which will not only help me take care of the camels here but back on our farm," Ali Najeeb Al Shamsi, an 18 year old Emirati student from Al Ain, said.
Festival period: December 17 - 28
Venue: Madinat Zayed in Al Gharbia, Western Region.
Directions: Take Highway E11 along the coast towards the Western Region. An hour west of the capital will see signs diecting towards Madinat Zayed, Liwa and the Festival.
Bus schedule: 9am: Bus leaves from Adach headquarters behind Carrefour on Airport Road. 6pm: Returns to Abu Dhabi