Al Ain Camel Souk: A Bedouin Experience


‘Trust in God, but tie up your camel’

…..Arabic Proverb

Recently we visited the oasis city of Al Ain, UAE. The camel souq or market, provided an interesting and unique experience.

“Yalla – yalla. Come, come, I show you camels” said half a dozen camel minders who suddenly descended upon us, as we parked the car. ” You take photo?”inquired another. ” Ok fees” he said. The souq, the last of its kind remains popular with local Arabic traders and livestock breeders, as well as with tourists. The camel minders of course can make a quick guess who is a real buyer.

Situated behind the Bawadi mall, the market was humming with activity. Hundreds of camels crowded in various large cages, livestock of cattle, goats and poultry making animal noises at the other end.  Large pick up trucks, visitor cars and vans carrying fodder, dry grass and sundries all making a beeline towards the souq in the morning.

Off the dusty roads and sandy patches, braving the scorching summer sun we arrived here for a traditional insight into Arabic and Bedouin culture. For isn’t the camel called the ‘ship of the desert.’?

Domesticated many hundreds of years ago, by traders that undertook arduous journeys across the deserts of Saudi Arabia, camels were trained to carry date fruit and food, turn water wheels and navigate the sand dunes. Camel milk intake is popular in Bedouin culture, and recently found its way into Date milk shakes and ice creams. Bedouin warriors even rode on Arabian camels while engaging in battles during Persian and Byzantine wars!

‘No camel route is long, albeit with good company.’

..Turkish Proverb

It was entertaining observing the animals. Camels came in different colours: soft cream, sandy beige, and dark brown. Some were standing tall, some sitting, some kneeling, others stretched out their long necks and moved their jaws ruminating on cud. Wobbled feet, tall thin legs, one hump ..such a queer sight!

If you want to keep camels, have a big enough door.’

…Afghan Proverb

‘You take photo?’ the camel minders lingered around us and pointed out cages they tended. There were about 50 young camels, all ready for sale and dressed with traditional striped straddle covers. Age, gender,weight and a good breeding determine the sale price.

Majestic glory - Camel getting dressed for auction

Majestic glory – Camel getting dressed for auction

True to Bedouin and Arabic culture, the keepers and other staff were very helpful and engaged in sharing their knowledge about the animals.Though camels have small ears, they are acute listeners, picking up distant sounds. Ears are lined with fur, helping to filter sand. Thick bushy eyebrows contrast with gentle doe shaped eyes. Thickened skin on bare spots develop on knees and chest, an essential natural cushioning for sitting, kneeling and resting in coarse sand.

Young camels in a pen

Young camels in a pen

‘Click, click, click’.my camera sounded. I had to make soak up this experience. Where else would I get this opportunity to stand so close and almost be kissed by a young camel?  The young Sudanese men, dressed in traditional white dishadasha were confident to guide me for a ‘special’ close up photo…..for FREE!

Camel minders pose in ethnic attire

Camel minders pose in ethnic attire

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

‘ In Islam, Allah is known by 99 names. However, there goes a theory that there exists a 100th name, which is known only to camels! Hence, if you may have noticed, they always seem to have a knowing smile on their face.

Read more at Buzzle:

‘Have you seen a Camel Beauty Contest?’ inquired the friendly camel minder. Al Dhafra, Western region UAE, is a must-see! Come winter, every year, 20,000 camels, well-groomed, well fed and dressed in colourful ethnic best, take part, vying for expensive prizes or even enter the Royal families entourage and collection!

And this is what camels eat while in the desert: Bedouins feed them grains like wheat, millet, barley and oats and plenty of Date fruit. They are allowed to eat dry grass and thorny plants. But for a royal treat: let them munch on a platter of almonds and pistachios instead of fodder!


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No wonder then, the Arabic people and Bedouin nomads respect this animal. Sharing much time with the ‘ship of the desert’ the camel be

Few days later, when we drove through the Liwa desert, camels crossing in a silent line painted a perfect, breath-taking picture, a deeper understanding of the animal and the cultural place in Bedouin life. Slow undulations across the sand dunes, as if telling us a story.

A Camel Safari crossing the desert

A Camel Safari crossing the desert

And…we waved to the Bedouin mounted atop the camel hump, wishing him a smooth journey.

Have you ever visited a Camel Souq?  Where ? What did you observe ?


4 responses »

  1. Just to let you know the first saying you quote “trust in God, but tie your Camel” is actually somthing the Prophet Mohammed said and is narrated in a Hadith. Rather than a proverb. Interesting post though, thanks.

  2. Pingback: Scorching Summer, Date Palms, Al Ain market. | Walk to Market

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