After spending some time at the races, we jumped into the car and followed behind Mohammed Islam in his pick-up, as he headed towards his stables. It really is an entire Camel city in the middle of the desert. Row after row, block after block, dusty alley after dusty alley of stables for the camels, grand gated homes and palaces for the owners and not so grand accommodation for the trainers and handlers.
We parked up outside and followed Mohammed into the yard and he showed us around. There were various different areas – one for feeding, one for washing, a stable for the older camels, and an area where a group of camels were tied to posts and hooded to prevent them fighting. There was one retired racing camel in a pen immediately on the left as we entered. After having a quick look around, we were invited to hop on for a short ride around the yard.
I’ve ridden a camel before, but he was tall! Really tall! And as anyone whose ridden a camel knows, the action of a camel getting to its feet can be an interesting experience and no amount of squeezing of the thighs or tightening of the core can prepare you sufficiently to hold on. Maybe it was his age or he just wasn’t in the mood but he needed a little encouragement and told us all with a loud gurgling bellow that he was retired for a reason and would rather rest.
Mohammed and his colleagues were lovely, allowing us to explore the stables and spend time with the young camels as they returned from the races, led in by the adult camels. Their first stop was at the feeding station. There were bales and bales of a fresh green plant being rinsed by stable hands and then placed into mesh troughs. We stood beside the camels as they ate and listened to the lovely chewing noise as they tucked into the juicy shoots. The young ones continued to drift in and all lined up in their different coloured coats, they looked a pretty picture.
Mohammed then led us around to the other side of the paddock where there were a number of adult camels tied to posts with strange hoods which he explained were there to prevent them fighting and biting each other.
We started to notice a number of scars of similar lengths especially at the top of their legs which we were curious about. Maybe it was the whip of the robot jockeys but they were too low for that, or maybe where they’d been fighting but they were too uniform for that. Mohammed explained that it was in fact branding, a traditional bedouin ‘cure all’ for many health problems. It looked quite extreme and disturbing but Mohammed assured us it was quite normal!
More and more camels started arriving back and rotated in groups around the green feed, the water station, where they stood around a large tub and slurped and sucked at the water in unison and then they were fed a large round sticky date ball which they appeared to love the most and nuzzled the handlers for more.
There was only one thing left ….. a shower. We were told this wasn’t their normal bathing day but they would send one to the ‘camel-wash’ just for us. One young camel was chosen but it seemed the others didn’t want to be left out so we had four lined up, all anticipating the feeling of the tepid water on their hot coats. The temperature now was well into the upper 30s.
We spotted that they were using none other than ‘Head and Shoulders’ shampoo, which seemed out of step with the parts of the camels body on which they appeared to be focused – namely the hind quarters! One of the handlers sprayed with the hose, aiming mainly under the tail, while the other scrubbed the back legs and buttocks (of the camels!) with a rough cloth.
I heard more slurping behind me and noticed another 4 lined up awaiting their turn. They did appear to rather enjoy it after the initial shock, and rather amusingly shook themselves like dogs afterwards from head to tail. Although this was a little ineffective, as they were all so closely cropped and didn’t have much of a coat to shake!
Well, we felt incredibly privileged to have witnessed feeding time, drinking time and bath time for the camels and were so grateful to Mohammed for the time he had taken to show us around, we felt our time must be up.
The owner and his young sons arrived, all dressed in their pristine white thobes but stained in the saffron dye which is thrown over the winning camel’s face and neck in celebration. They were curious to see us there but just as welcoming and delighted to talk to us and show us around as Mohammed had been.
It seemed our time in camel heaven was far from over yet!