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Participants, visitors and competitions reached great numbers in this 10th edition


The dust behind the caravans of camels and cars riding on Million Street is beginning to lift in the last of the day's sunlight. The daily mazainah - beauty - shows are over and the Bedouins are guiding their camels back to the camp. Some are singing and dancing around the beautiful animals, sounding the horns of their four-wheel drives to announce a top prize win at one of the competitions. Crossing the sand fields from the main arena for the camel competitions, the caravans enter the Million Street, flanked by small shops and cafes. On either side of the wide, unpaved road that goes on for over 10 kilometers into the desert, Bedouin camps spread for as far as the eye can see.


This is the sight of Al Dhafra Festival, a sight that has grown ever more popular every year for the past decade. Organised by the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee - Abu Dhabi, this 10th edition, about to come to an end on December 29th, was everything, and perhaps even more than the organisers hoped for.


"The Festival went extremely well. The GCC participation in the 72 camel competitions this year was very high and the biggest contest, the Bayraq lap awarding AED one million for the best looking group of 50 camels in each golden Asayel and black Mujahim camels categories, is yet to take place on December 29th," said Abdullah Butti Al Qubaisi, Director of Communications Department at the Committee.


"This year we added two new competitions, the falcon and saluki mazainah, which complemented the returning falcon and saluki racing contests. Both competitions attracted a big number of participants," he added.


Part of the ancient traditions of Arabia, the new saluki and falcon shows were meant to diversify the heritage activities at Al Dhafra Festival, and they both proved highly popular with hundreds of participants competing for the top prize of AED 15,000 (first place winners in saluki beauty categories) and AED 75,000 (first place winners in falcon beauty categories)


"We saw this year many falconers coming to the Festival. For the first time, Al Marzoum Traditional Hunting Grounds took part. They not only organised the falcon beauty show, but also set up a special majlis for falconer at the Festival, which was very popular," mentioned Al Qubaisi.


"Another special addition this year was a tent dedicated to marine life. The UAE has very rich marine traditions and in the old days coastal folk used to spend the summer months in the desert, where the heat is more bearable, with less humidity, so it is fitting to bring the sea heritage into the desert Festival. The marine tent, with exhibits and demonstrations of traditional fishing and pearl diving was a success. A lot of visitors came in, asking about the various fishing tools and how do they work."


"We had a great number of visitors, not just UAE nationals and residents, but tourists too from the Gulf and beyond, a sign that the Festival has really reached maturity. I must say, Al Dhafra Festival would not have had such a great success without its sponsors. I would really like to say a big thank you to ADNOC, ENOC, Secure Tech, Etihad Rail, Bin Hamoodah Auto, Al Masaood Automobiles, all our sponsors and, of course, government supporters," concluded Al Qubaisi.


Since the first day of Al Dhafra Festival, December 13th, at least 20,000 camels were believed to camp here, most entering in the 72 camel competitions, along with over 1,500 participants from all over GCC countries. 


Their camping tents, not missing a majlis for receiving guests, would always welcome visitors, offering them the traditional Emirati hospitality - Arabic coffee, dates and fresh camel milk. As daylight gave into starry night sky, small fires began to flicker in front of each camp and a rainbow of colours lit up the desert, as each camp was decorated with lights in the national colours of participants’ countries. This was the time when the souk came to life. The main stage next to the kids' playground would keep children and families entertained with various shows and competitions, the exhibition hall would take visitors on a journey into the past with artistic photographs depicting life in the old days, the classic cars and heritage exhibits would open other windows into Emirati traditions, while the food trucks and cafes would offer a break to visitors looking for one more souvenir among the 100 brand new shops built this year in the open market area.


Al Dhafra Festival will conclude on Thursday, December 29th, with the biggest and final camel mazainah show – the Bayraq competition – and the award ceremony for the Dates Packaging competition.