Camels are part of everyday life if you live in the UAE. It’s not unusual to see them roaming in the distance while driving on the highways and camel milk and meat can be seen in many restaurants and supermarkets.
As surrounded as we are by all things camel, it’s easy to forget you can actually have a go at riding them.
Wanting an authentic experience we headed to Qasr Al Sarab, the luxurious getaway spot owned by Anantara about two hours south of Abu Dhabi by car in the Liwa Desert. Qasr Al Sarab do two camel treks daily, one early in the morning and one at sunset. We went on the sunset trek and were picked up from the main entrance of the resort in slick four-wheel-drives.
Driving through the sunburnt dunes we approached four beautiful camels sitting in a line with their handler, Batchu. Our guide, Kareem, told us that the camels are very gentle and all we’d need to do is hold on really tight, especially when they are standing up or sitting down.
Our camel’s name was Samar, which means star, and as we approached her, all ready to hop up on her hump, we realised just how big these amazing animals are. Luckily there was a little step to help us up and Batchu gave us a hand as well. Samar the camel seemed a little less than enthused, unfortunately, and let out an irritated grunt when we settled on her back. At first we felt a little anxious, but then we realised thatif someone sat on our back and made us walk around in the 48 degree heat we would probably be slightly cheesed off too.
Samar stood up abruptly and we understood why Kareem was so emphatic about holding on tight.
It was very high up once Samar was standing, but she seemed to cheer up so we weren’t too concerned as we headed off into the dunes.
Our caravan of camels (four in total) were tied together by ropes, one behind the other with Batchu leading the first camel while the rest followed. After we’d started off, it became clear why these animals are also known as ‘ships of the desert’, because even though they were walking quite slowly the motion is both back and forward and side to side. Like being on a boat, it took a bit of getting used to but after about ten minutes it seemed completely normal.
It was stiflingly hot as we moved through the desert and it was quiet all around except for the sound of the camels feet plodding through the sand. Kareem told us these particular camels can go a month without water and they can hold up to 120 litres.
He also explained there is a common misconception that camels hold the water in their humps. The hump is actually where they store fat, and if they don’t eat for a while they will start to lose their hump.
After about an hour of walking through the desert we approached the bottom of a large dune and were told to hold on again, because we were about to attempt the most difficult part of camel riding – getting down. As Samar bent her front knees we were very happy we’d been given the warning because we nearly toppled forwards and then off. She then lowered herself again onto her back legs and we disembarked. Batchu told us we were more than welcome to give the camels a pat.
We clambered to the top of the dune, which was no easy feat – we managed to destroy any credibility we may have had by falling flat on our face not once but three times before we reached the summit. At the top another guide was waiting for us with cold water and juices which we guzzled down to quench our raging thirst. We were also offered fruit skewers, croissants and turkey and salad rolls to sustain us for the trip back. This was certainly a well organized, luxury camel trek. Kareem told us this would be a good opportunity to get some nice sunset pics so we got our camera out and snapped away.
Refreshed, we went to hop back onto our camels again and Samar let out an even more irritated grunt than before. It appeared that, like her rider, Samar was a bit of a diva and didn’t want to get up from where she was comfortably sitting. The process felt a lot more natural this time and we were more relaxed riding on the camels. The sun had nearly completely set and we marvelled at our once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, www.qasralsarab.anantara.com (02 886 2088)
Others to try
Rise and shine half-day tour on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Drive through the dunes, travel on camelback and experience a taste of Bedouin life from Dhs260 per person.
www.arabian-adventures.com (02 269 1711).
Ride a camel
Dozens of places in the UAE have camels that you can sit on for a few minutes while you pose for your Facebook profile page picture, but Al Ain Camel Safaris is one of the few companies that offers lengthy treks. The firm’s base is located about 30 minutes’ drive from Al Ain Hilton Hotel on the red hills that line the northern-most reaches of the city. Plan for an evening trek and get the chance to pretend you’re Lawrence of Arabia as the repetitive sway of these magnificent creatures relaxes and hypnotises you.
Al Ain Camel Safaris (03 768 8066).