Saddle up

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Denise Van Outen et al have all been snapped sunning themselves in Dubai, in recent weeks. But there’s more to the kingdom of bling than sun, sand and shopping says one member of the CD Traveller team

Sun, sand and camel rides

Bored of lying on a beach all day? Camel riding – which offers a unique opportunity to spend your holiday in Dubai doing something different from lazing by your hotel pool, frying yourself in the sun or schlepping around the shopping centres – is where it’s at. Every tour operator under the sun (we went with Orient Tours;www.orient-tours.ae) includes a camel ride as part of their half day desert safari tour and thankfully, given that my riding experience was restricted to rocking-horses from my childhood days, no experience is necessary. As our guide – the amiable Yarif – was quick to emphasise, camel riding is open to all regardless of ability.

camel

The sun was doing its incredible Middle East thing as we pulled into the Bedouin camp where we would be spending the evening. A tableau of camels stood bathed in the yellow light, shifting daintily from hoof to hoof. When the handlers arrived, the camels folded down on gangly knees to let us up onto their saddles. But be warned when a camel comes up – if you aren’t ready – the sensation is akin to riding a catapult or in this case a camelpult. The camel lurches forward, its rump coming up first, which means you want to be leaning back or else you get your first flying lesson. Then the front comes up, meaning you need to switch to a forward lean so as to avoid getting your second flying lesson backwards. Like dancing, once you get the hang of it, you move with your partner in a smooth motion. CD Traveller was immediately smitten with our cud-chewing animal (expect to see camels constantly chewing – even when they haven’t eaten, they still find something to chew). Of course, not everyone is camel crazy… Several people reported not liking their camels, who made loud snorting sounds and shifted their weight erratically. But their complaints were swept aside by the local Bedouin and our four-footed, one-humped convoy took off along a vague trail through the desert. Our oddly shaped shadows spread along the sand, racing over the contours of the desert while the striated hills and valleys grew a deeper orange as the sun sank on the horizon. The sand itself seemed surprisingly soft and as fine as makeup powder, making it look like even if I fell off my camel it would be an easy landing.

camel-riding-dubai

We didn’t know where we were going, but I was content to allow my camel to pad hypnotically over the cinnamon covered sand while I drank in the views of the sparse, desert environment. Ship of the desert, ship of the desert, the wave of motion caught me into its rhythm as I made like Lawrence of Arabia. However all too soon, you’ll return to your origin where the camel-ships will do their sinking thing again, allowing you to disembark. Once upright, there’s the opportunity to take some snaps of the big brown-eyed creatures for the holiday albums. Meanwhile curious types can ask any questions they might have about the camel – the main source of survival of nomadic people in a hostile desert environment over centuries – and its nature.

As experiences go, riding a camel out in the true heart of Arabia should top any itinerary list – be sure to make it a must do when in the Middle East.

Quirky camel facts

The world population of camels is currently estimated at some 20 million. Somalia is believed to have the world’s largest herd, with almost as many camels as humans.

World production of camel milk for human consumption is officially put at 1.3 million tonnes – 500 times less than cow’s milk.

Camels are called ‘ships of the desert’ because they can carry heavy loads – as much as 1000 pounds.

Camels can go for days with little or no water or food.

There are two species of Camel: Camelus (the single humped variety) and Bactrian (the double humped variety).

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