Going to Camel heaven
Best of all though is their patience, toughness and hardiness to cope with the unbelievably harsh conditions that they can endure as nomadic transportation. Heaving loads across hundreds of miles of desert in extreme temperatures, sometimes going weeks without food or water, relying on their fat reserves, for survival.
Their milk is the most nutritious of all and the staple diet of the bedouin who can survive only on camels milk for a month if necessary. Contrary to popular belief, it is actually lower in fat than cows milk but higher in vitamins and minerals such as potassium and vitamin C. For this and many other reasons, the bedu refer to the camel as 'Ata Allah' or 'God's Gift'.
So at dawn we headed to Camel City - an area west of Doha - where the business of camel racing takes place. First stop was the Camel supermarket to buy some water - it was only 6am and already it was in the 30s and the sun was rising fast. In this little parade of shops beside the supermarket were all sorts of shops for camel food and accessories from crops and bridals to the delightful muzzles in a variety of colours.
As we headed to the track, we could see groups of camels everywhere being led out for warm up, training and racing, many still wearing their coats and young ones being lead by adults. We found ourselves at the finishing line first where we suddenly realised our car was facing in the wrong direction so we hurriedly moved out of the way of the oncoming charge of land cruisers, all operating their little robotic jockeys which sit atop the camels.
These little robots have replaced little humans which used to ride the camels, until 2003 when using children - mainly from South Asian countries of India and Bangladesh -was banned by the Emirate emir. The owners drive in landrcuisers on a road that runs beside the track. They have 2 walkie talkies with the counterparts strapped into the robot - one which they can use to shout at the camel, the other into which they blow which then activates a robotic whip.
Once this race had finished, we headed to the start line, behind which as far as the eye could see, disappearing into the hazy dawn, were young camels lining up to race. Today was focused on the juniors - starting at around 1 year old.
A variety of colours - from pale cream and light brown to red and dark brown, some quite mottled and some had been groomed to a smooth silky aerodynamic finish while others were almost as woolly as sheep!
Once into the starting area, they are tied to an overhead pole which stretches across the start line with a canvass sheet hanging from it in front of the camel's faces to keep them calm.
Once everyone is happy that they're set.... the handlers quickly clear the area and the pole turns over, the ties drop down, the canvass is raised and off they go! Of course this all happens in a split second and the shouting, energy and excitement as they set off is something to behold up close, standing as we were right beside the start, getting a face full of sand on a couple of occasions as I tried to get a good shot of racing legs!!
And after all the young ones in each race have taken off, they are followed very shortly behind by a few adults which - when they get to the finish, will guide the young ones home. Young camels are more willing to walk behind older camels than be led by humans. Young camels have two trainers - one human, one camel. Now how sweet is that!
At the finish line - 1500metres later, we notice one or two camels with what seems to be orange paint on their faces. This was saffron which is traditionally rubbed onto the camel's face and neck as a sign of honour. There we met Mohammed Islam - a Bangladeshi camel trainer. He was very sociable, friendly and knowledgeable and keen to share more with us. He invited us to join him after the race at his farm to see some behind the scenes action!!..... including, we hoped ..... camel washing!!!......
...... to be continued!