Saudi Arabia: What is the Great Appeal?

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Middle East » Saudi Arabia » Riyadh
March 11th 2022
Published: March 12th 2022
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Wanting to visit Saudi Arabia is not a new thing for me. This Middle Eastern country has been on my list for years, but it was not so simple as an American female tourist. The notion of just hopping on a plane and landing in the desert wasn’t always that easy.

I remember in December 1999 we were in Aqaba, Jordan awaiting the long anticipated arrival of 2000 and we hired a guy to drive us to the Jordanian border with Saudi just so we could peer into the magical, but out of reach country. I am pretty sure the driver thought we were nuts, but he didn’t understand the concept of being a border junkie either.

The list of reasons why I wanted to experience Saudi Arabia is lengthy one that I am sure relates to my affinity with Middle Eastern culture and the mystic of the desert. The list became heftier about 6 years ago when I read about an annual camel festival being held outside of the capital city of Riyadh. The moment I read about it I just knew I had to see it in person.

The article
painted a picture of a camel festival that had everything: beauty competitions, racing, milking, breed specific competitions, exhibits, vendors and pageantry all related to the glory of camels. It was essentially the largest celebration of all things camels. It seemed as if it were tailor made for me.

I have been to other camel festivals in other countries and was never disappointed with the excitement, culture, energy or learning opportunities. But the Saudi’s had a camel competition that I just knew I needed to see with my own eyes…someday, somehow. In this competition, the camel owners stand across the desert and call their camels to them with the object of seeing who has the most loyal and obedient camels. It sounds easy I suppose, but there are major obstacles placed in their way such as other camels and other camel herders trying to distract them. The loyal and obedient camels must overcome these obstacles and find their way to their beloved owner. It sounds so fascinating and unique.

After all these years of dreaming and plotting how I might get myself to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during the months of December and January,
my dream finally came true. I was able to see for myself how the Saudi’s have set their sights on being the grandest and greatest camel festival in the world thanks to an invitation from the International Camel Organization on behalf of the King of Saudi Arabia.

A few details about this celebration in the desert:

King Abdulaziz Camel Festival is an annual international cultural, economic, sports and entertainment event organized by the Saudi Camel Club and the International Camel Organization. It is the product of the King’s desire to celebrate the camel and what it means to the Saudi culture and history. It is his hope that the camel industry will continue to grow even in this modern world where camels may no longer be the primary means for transport.

This is the 6th year and it is considered the world’s largest camel festival. It lasts 40 days, begins in early December and is held north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Each year, 33,000 camel owners participate and more than 100,000 visitors per day are estimated to attend.

The festivities take place in the middle of the desert,
so the camel owners set up large tents and tent communities where they stay, host parties and house their camels. New this year was the addition of a hotel close to the fair grounds, so tourists also have an upscale option.

Daily updates of what is happening at the fair, who might be visiting and class winners are posted regularly on Twitter and Instagram by Camel Club and ICO. The media productions are top notch and are worth a watch even if you don’t understand Arabic.

The King Abdulaziz Camel Festival is a celebration for anyone, even those folks who may not be as camel crazy as myself.

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